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Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Updated: September 25, 9:59 AM ET
FANTASY WORLD:
THE MLB SEASON & LESSONS LEARNED



"I used to hit more home runs when everybody else was on the sauce."

[Ed's Note: All week long, we'll be recapping the MLB regular season. Check it out.]

It's that time of year. Leaves are changing their colors, girls are contemplating what honest profession they'll turn into a sexy Halloween costume and the first bye weeks are adding frustration to the fantasy football season. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to put another fantasy baseball season to bed. But before we do, let's take one last look through the stories that shaped our lives over the past six months.

Mo' Money, No Problems If you spent the big bucks on the well known hitters, chances are you had a pretty successful year. Sure, there were a few minor disappointments such as A-Rod (although he still hit his 35 HRs and 100 RBIs) and Jimmy Rollins (who compensated for his power outage by stealing a near career-high number of bases), but pretty much all of the top players performed as expected. In fact, the only glaring disappointment that comes to mind is that we finally found out that:

Carl Crawford Is Not Invincible If you claim to have seen this one coming, you're lying. Crawford, a Top 5 mainstay in Roto leagues for the past half-decade, finished with his worst batting average since his rookie year, his worst HR output since 2003 and, most importantly, with only 25 stolen bases—one less than Ian Kinsler. Sure, he didn't have as many at-bats as Kinsler—Crawford was oft-injured most of the year, leading to his fewest at-bats since first coming into the league—but he also had his lowest stolen base-per-at-bat number since his rookie year. Next year he's going to go for a lot of dough again based on his name, but you might want to let someone else take that gamble. Those knees of his aren't getting any younger.

Kenny Williams Knows What He's Doing If the White Sox go deep in the playoffs, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more worthy of the GM of the Year award than Mr. Williams, who ended up turning over 4/9ths of his starting lineup over a year's time. But his biggest impact might have been in the Fantasy World. The much-loved Carlos Quentin is still on a short list for fantasy MVP (honestly, when was the last time you got that much production for such little cost?), but that's not where it ends. Newcomer Alexei Ramirez—from the Cuban League, people!—put himself in the Rookie of the Year conversation and is a Top 5 fantasy second baseman for next year. And the two pitchers who were the biggest question marks for the team, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, both contributed admirably. They have a combined 27 wins and sport 3.20 and 3.84 ERAs respectively. Next year, it might be wise to take a flyer on any interested project Williams suits up. Next year, it might be wise to take a flyer on any interested project Williams suits up.

Time To Wake Up Let's all agree: From now on, Jeremy Bonderman and Daniel Cabrera will never be mentioned on anyone's list of "sleepers" ever again. Okay? Bonderman has yet to have a sub-4.00 ERA in any of his six seasons and looks like a burgeoning DL-addict, and Cabrera spent this year issuing more free passes than the people in charge of trying to fill seats for Dr. Phil. From this point on, let's never speak of them again.

The Undead Throw Among Us! The big story, as it should be, was Cliff Lee essentially returning from the dead (a 6.29 ERA last year) to become the best pitcher in baseball. But besides him, there were an awful lot of reformed-pitcher stories "plaguing" the league this year. Brad Lidge officially became his old pre-Albert Pujols self; A.J. Burnett got past his arm troubles and pitched the most innings he ever has in a season, leading the A.L. in strikeouts in the process; Ryan Dempster and his mitt-pump proved that he didn't have to toil in middle relief obscurity, but could go to the All-Star Game as a starter; Kerry Wood lasted an entire season, a shock in itself; and Randy Johnson returned to the fantasy map with his best season since 2005.

Francisco Rodriguez = Pretty Good Let's just say that if you ended up with him, you probably didn't have to worry about saves. That said, for the love of God, please don't draft him next year. His peripherals were way off this year (his lowest strikeouts since taking over as closer) and he's going to be valued off the charts following the record-breaking season. Don't get me wrong, he's still going to be a Top 5 closer next year, but he's going to be overvalued by roughly a gagillion percent.

The Youth Vote Is Always Unreliable One of the common themes this year was just how fickle young players can be. Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, both trying to build on successful looks last year, pitched a combined 65 innings with ERAs over 7.50. Clay Buchholz added to this latest Red Sox-Yankees rivalry—having disappointing young pitchers—following up his no-hitter season with a 2-9 record and a 6.75 ERA. The Diamondbacks' Chris Young continued to not hit for average, but this time he didn't even hit for power or steal bases. Billy Butler, everyone's favorite sleeper bet to hit 30 HRs, hit 1/3rd of that. Howie Kendrick, meanwhile, continued to never be healthy. Ever. I guess the lesson to learn here is to let other folks see if that sophomore slump is coming.
Do you trust that next year this scream doesn't imply pain?

Get An Unpaid Intern Nothing made more of a difference to my team this year—which finished in a respectable 3rd place, by the way—than the help of Unpaid Intern Jason. (Your check's in the mail, Jason. And by "check" I mean "$5 gift certificate to Hot Topic".) It was so nice to have someone to bounce my trade schemes off of—and, more importantly, to have someone actually look up the stats—that I wouldn't be doing my duty if I didn't recommend every one of my readers to obtain their own intern. It's easy! Just go to the local college, visit a math professor, and introduce to him the idea of one of his students spending time working in a statistically-heavy field. In fact, you'll even offer "college credit", whatever that means. Failing that, blackmail one of your friends into doing it by purchasing a disposable camera and inviting him on a long weekend to Tijuana.


Player On My Team of the Week: The year's final baseball version of this award goes to good ol' tried-and-true John Lackey, who racked up 16 strikeouts over two starts last week. Lackey finished with a very respectable 12-4 record, especially considering he missed the first month of the season. I'd like to buy him a lemonade.

How to Heckle One Of My Players of the Week: "Hey Milton Bradley, hope you enjoyed your 2-year stint on my teams, because you're never allowed in the clubhouse ever again! Sure, you finished with very respectable stats (.318, 22 HRs, 75 RBIs, 76 Rs), but never knowing if you're going to play because of your annoying 'bumps and bruises' was too much for me to take. No. Shhh … just go. Please, don't turn around. You're just going to see my heart breaking."

Best Use of Technology of the Week: A decade ago, scientist Raul Cano harvested a colony of bacteria from inside a weevil that was trapped 45 million years ago in a large drop of amber, just like the dinosaur DNA in Jurassic Park. This week, Cano revealed that he is using the ancient yeast from the discovery to brew his own beer. Awesome.

Buy High: Homemade art, after Charlie Kratzer of Kentucky decorated his entire basement with a giant mural using only $10 worth of Sharpie markers. Something like this is a nice palette cleanser after last week's disgusting Damien Hirst auction for the super-pretentious.

Sell Low: That indefinable Wrigleyville "charm", after the city of Chicago asked owners of the surrounding bars to stop serving alcohol after the 7th inning stretch during "clinch" games in the playoffs. More like Ronnie Boo-Hoo!