Passing the Fantasy Baseball Torch

Ken Griffey in June 2009.

Image via Wikipedia

Last week we saw the retirement of one of the truly elite talents in baseball history and one of the most dominant players that played in my (and every other ~23 year old’s) generation.  Ken Griffey Jr. was my first favorite baseball player, the first guy that I would wait to watch on Sports Center and the first (and only) guy that I went out of my way to collect baseball cards for.  As a matter of fact, I still have a box of his cards in my closet.  This got me to thinking about some of the greats that have recently retired (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz – unofficially, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, Jeff Kent, Bonds – still great despite his steroid cloud, Mussina, etc.) and some of the guys who are close to calling it quits.  It is just a funny feeling for me seeing guys like these wind down their careers and fade away into the game’s background.  These are guys who I admired and sought on my fantasy squads not all that long ago, yet here they are, today, with rapidly waning fantasy relevance – if not non-existent.  Here’s the All-“My Generation” Team.  Guys who as recently as 2004 had fantasy significance, but are now at the point in their careers where they need to step aside for the new wave of talent.

C – Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez
1999 – .332/.356/.558, 35 HR, 113 RBI (AL MVP)

Is it at all possible that Pudge’s offensive achievements fly under the radar?  Not likely I hope, but that is just how good his defense was/is.  Defensive ability is not normally a factor that comes into play when talking fantasy baseball, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the guy has 13 Gold Gloves.  Obviously, there was plenty to like about his bat as well.  He had his share of injuries that took out a decent chunk of his prime years, but he still played 140+ games five times which is impressive considering he was playing those games in Texas and Florida.  The buzz these days has him making the transition into the managerial ranks.

Passing the Torch: Joe Mauer, Matt Weiters, Buster Posey (if he remains at C), Carlos Santana, Jesus Montero

1B – Todd Helton
2000 – .372/.463/.698, 42 HR, 147 RBI

It is hard to believe that Helton did not take home some MVP hardware with a season like that.  In fact, he didn’t finish 2nd, 3rd or 4th.  Regardless, his 2000 season was a representation (a very loud one) of the type of player he was for much of his career.  Coors Field, pre-Humidor, certainly inflated those numbers a bit, but that is something that fantasy ballers should have taken into consideration on draft day.  Coors effect or not, Helton was a dream to have on your squad.  He had HR power, was a doubles machine, drew more walks than strikeouts in his career and had 10 seasons batting .320 or better.

Passing the Torch: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Justin Smoak

2B – Luis Castillo
2000 – .334/.418/.388, 62 SB

Castillo will not send fantasy managers into a nostalgic frenzy, but he is a guy who played an important role as a SB specialist for several years.  Power was absent from his game, but his ability on the base paths was a valuable asset to many fantasy owners who missed out on the power options in the middle infield.  In addition to the 369 swipes he has accumulated in his career, he has also batted .291 and on-based at a .368 clip.

Passing the Torch: Gordon Beckham, Rickie Weeks, Martin Prado, Chris Getz (future SB specialist?)

3B – Chipper Jones
1999 – .319/.441/.633, 45 HR, 110 (NL MVP)

Oh yeah, Jones tossed in 25 stolen bases during his MVP campaign as well.  Unfortunately, Jones has really struggled with injuries since 2004, but that should not keep him out of the Hall.  Jones, like Helton (and a lot of the guys that will end up on this list), was everything you can ask for as an anchor for a fantasy lineup.  Again, the injuries may keep him from reaching the 500 HR plateau, but that does not take away from the superior power/patience/batting average package that Jones provided.

Passing the Torch: David Wright, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman

SS – Miguel Tejada
2004 – .311/.360/.534, 34 HR, 150 RBI

Another doubles machine, Tejada ushered in the 2nd wave of offensive minded shortstops that followed Jeter, A-Rod and Nomar.  One of the most impressive stats of Tejada’s career that is sure to fall a bit under the radar is his six straight seasons (2001-2006) of playing 162 games.  Of course, fans in Baltimore were not impressed by that streak, but you can’t win in fantasy baseball when your studs don’t play.

Passing the Torch: Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Stephen Drew, Yunel Escobar

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

OF – Manny Ramirez

2000 – .351/.457/.697, 38 HR, 122 RBI

Nice season, huh?  He only played 118 games.
OF – Vladimir Guerrero
2002 – .336/.417/.593, 39 HR, 111 RBI, 40 SB

What needs to be said about a season like this?  It is not very often you come across guys who can provide power and speed in surplus while walking (84) more than he strikes out (70).

OF – Bobby Abreu
2004 – .301/.428/.544, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 40 SB

Abreu produced several seasons similar to 2004, but was always a guy who was slept on.  He has been a very solid player throughout his career, but has not received the same type of star treatment that others in his class received.

Manny and Vlad have been two of the most feared sluggers in baseball over the past decade and a half.  The two are only portions of themselves today, but every now and then you can still see them turn back the clock and show off the type of talent that made them perennial first rounders in fantasy drafts.  Abreu is not quite in their class, but that is not to say that he was not a great contributor in his prime as well.  One of the most balanced players, he would provide speed, power, score runs, drive in runs and draw 100+ walks per season.  Each of these guys was a fantasy stud and simply having one of them to serve as a pillar of a lineup was a good start.  In 2004, I actually had all three in my outfield.  Imagine that.

Passing the Torch: Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton
, Andre Ethier, Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Heyward, Mike Stanton

SP – Pedro Martinez

Greg Maddux
Image via Wikipedia

1999 – 23-4, 213.1 IP, 2.07 ERA, 313 K (Cy Young)

SP – Randy Johnson
2001 – 21-6, 249.2 IP, 2.49 ERA, 372 K (Cy Young)

SP – Greg Maddux
1995 – 19-2, 209.2 IP, 1.63 ERA, 181 K (Cy Young)

1995 was only his fourth consecutive Cy Young.

I cheated a little bit considering Martinez is the only one who is still “active”, but its tough not to give it up for these guys.  Maddux was different from the other guys in that he utterly dominated with command, movement and craftiness.  Any “soft tosser” that can make fantasy managers excited deserves some props.  It would be nice if I could find something to say about the dominance achieved by Pedro and the “Big Unit”, but I think their career numbers speak for themselves.  They are simply staggering.  John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine and a handful of others that could make a case to be on this list as well.

Passing the Torch: Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson, Tommy Hanson, Jon Lester, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg

RP – Trevor Hoffman
1998 – 53 S, 1.48 ERA, 86 K

Hoffman has been one of the best closers in the game for the past 15 years or so.  The most unbelievable thing about his career is that he has walked the road to immortality with one main weapon – a change-up.  He has struggled this season for the first time in my baseball watching days and he currently sits four saves away from 600.  Closers and saves are always a polarizing topic in fantasy circles, but there really was nothing to debate when it came to evaluating Hoffman’s value and contribution to fantasy staffs.

Passing the Torch: Joe Nathan, Jon Papelbon, Jonathan Broxton, Neftali Feliz, Daniel Bard

Stars have been coming and going for generations, but the guys I touched on above are interesting to me because I have had the privilege of watching these guys excel in their prime and now I watch them as they play in the twilight of their career.  This is the first time in my recollection that such a large wave of future Hall of Famers has hung up the cleats in a relatively close period of time.  As one generation of great talent writes the final chapters of their careers, the best is yet to come for much of the new wave of talent that has been infused into the league.

Story of the Week

Top prospects getting the call.  Stephen Strasburg and Michael Stanton made their highly anticipated debuts last night.  At this point, there is not really anything for me to say that has not been said by anyone and everyone from seam-heads to the casual fan and even those who do not even particularly like baseball.  Interestingly, the top three prospects according to Baseball America will reside in the NL East.  We have already seen Jason Heyward get off to a nice start with the Atlanta Braves.  The toughest thing about the promotions of Strasburg and Stanton will be for fans and fantasy managers to temper their early expectations.  More often than not, even the most highly touted prospects struggle early on in their careers.  Ensuing struggles or not, it is very exciting to have these two phenoms set to kick off what we can only hope are long and productive MLB careers.

Players to Watch

Ryan Doumit, C – Doumit has been taking grounders at 1B in anticipation of future PT there when he does not catch.  This does not necessarily mean that he will be any better of a hitter than he already is or that his tepid trade value will heat up.  HOWEVER, one important thing to consider will be having a catcher in your lineup every day.  After you get past the top two or three tiers of catchers, the next best thing is a solid bat that will get lots of ABs and provide value by volume.  Doumit is particularly intriguing because he is a guy who still has some potential that he could tap into.  Keep an eye on this situation.

Luke Hochevar, SP – I don’t expect Hochevar to contribute to the success of fantasy squads anytime really soon – maybe not even this year.  I do think he is a guy that people will want to stash in the back of their minds.  His electric arm was on display in his most recent start against Detroit in which he struck out 10 Tigers in seven innings.  I like his stuff a lot and I think he is a guy who can emerge as a very solid producer before too terribly long.

Andrew Cashner, Tanner Scheppers, RP – Neither one will factor into save opportunities in 2010, but electric bullpen arms are always a helpful commodity down the stretch in H2H leagues.  Cashner offers a little bonus in that he has SP eligibility.  Seeing that both are rookies (in Schepper’s case, he’s still a minor leaguer), there is a safe chance that fantasy managers don’t receive much in the way of consistency let alone dominance.  They are both still worth keeping tabs on though.

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