Ryan Howard Makes More Money Than You: Is He Worth $125 Million Dollars?

Ryan Howard won't have to settle for $5 dollar footlongs with his massive new contract.

No, he doesn’t work for Goldman-Sachs, but Ryan Howard is still making a killing in the down economy. The Phillies star slugger signed a 5 year/$125 million dollar contract yesterday to stay in Philadelphia through 2016. The contract also includes a $23 million dollar club option for 2017 which would push the total value of the deal to nearly $150 million–making him the second highest paid player in baseball per season behind only Alex Rodriguez.  

Though Howard got a late start to his career (he didn’t reach the majors until age 25 with Jim Thome at first in Philadelphia), the burly lefty has done nothing but hit since, averaging 49.5 home runs and 143 RBI’s over the past four seasons. Howard captured the NL MVP in 2006 on the strength of a .313-58 HR-149 campaign, and while his average has dipped since that year, he has proven to be one of the most consistent power producers in all of baseball.  

The Phillies were eager to keep the face of their franchise in red pinstripes even though he wasn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season, perhaps fueled by an offseason rumor that the team had considered trading Howard to the Cardinals for Albert Pujols. Both Philadelphia and St. Louis denied that any trade talks had occurred, but the Phillies needed to prove they were committed to Howard, and did so by making him a very rich man. Is the big first baseman worth $25 million a year?  

Yes and no.  

There’s no denying that Howard is one of the best run producers in the game, and the signing is a good PR move because he’s a fan favorite, but Howard is certainly not without his flaws in the field and at the plate. The 6-4, 255 lbs. Howard has worked hard to become a passable first baseman, but is still below average at the position and would be better suited as a designated hitter in the American League. There are also concerns that his weight will become an issue in the latter stage of the contract as Howard will be 36 when the deal runs out. He has worked hard to stay in game shape, including losing 25 pounds during the offseason, but historically players of his size and skill set don’t age well. 

What the Phillies are really paying Howard for are his charismatic personality, moonshot home runs and clutch RBI’s—all of which mask some glaring weaknesses at the plate. Howard has averaged 191 strikeouts in his four full seasons and hasn’t posted an OPS over 1.000 since his MVP season of 2006. He is a .225 career hitter against left-handed pitchers and hasn’t shown the ability to improve in that area (only .200 so far in 2010). When the home runs stop flying off the bat, and they will, Howard’s contract will look like an albatross for Philadelphia. 

Were the Phillies smart to sign Howard to a new contract? Yes. Were the Phillies smart to sign Howard to a five-year/$125 million dollar contract? No. 

In other news, the St. Louis Cardinals are holding a combination bake and yard sale this weekend to help raise money for the ever-growing Albert Pujols free agent contract…

The Day After: A Closer Look At What the Cliff Lee Deal Means to the Mariners.

The acquisition of Lee gives Mariners' fans plenty of reasons for optimism in 2010.

While the dust has yet to settle on the biggest deal of the offseason, it’s evident that Seattle’s acquisition of Cliff Lee will have some dramatic effects on the Mariner’s franchise for next year and beyond. Long an afterthought in the baseball landscape due to an incompetent front office’s baffling signings and trades, Seattle has put themselves back on the map by becoming a major player in the free-agent market for the first time since getting burned on the acquisitions of Richie Sexson and Carlos Silva (the team overpaid for Adrian Beltre too, but he wasn’t nearly as bad as Sexson and Silva). Under the guidance of new general manager Jack Zduriencik the Mariners are suddenly a chic pick to win the AL West in 2010 and possibly to make some noise in the playoffs if the team can acquire a few more bats for their lineup. Though there is much work left to be done, Seattle is certainly making their presence felt this offseason, and the Lee deal is a major step towards redemption for the Mariners’ franchise. 

By trading for Cliff Lee the Mariners create the most dynamic starting duo in all of baseball, pairing the left-hander with righty Felix Hernandez (fresh off a second place finish in the 2009 Cy Young balloting). Lee, a pitch-to-contact type hurler, should thrive in the spacious confines of Safeco Field and will also benefit from having one of the best outfield defenses in the league (depending on who fills out leftfield). The left-hander has primarily been a fly-ball pitcher throughout his career, but in recent seasons has induced more groundballs and will rely heavily on a strong left-side of the Mariners infield anchored by Jack Wilson and Chone Figgins. Though not overpowering, Lee has a solid fastball and an above-average curveball, which should allow him to average six to seven strikeouts per start. The fact that Lee is lefthanded will also pay dividends for the Mariners if they reach the playoffs, allowing them to neutralize some of baseball’s best hitters, many of whom struggle against southpaws (Ryan Howard, Curtis Granderson, Chase Utley, Andre Ethier, Raul Ibanez, etc). Additionally, Lee does a stellar job of neutralizing opposing team’s running games, having never allowed more than nine stolen bases in any one season, which will take pressure off Seattle’s young catchers. Cliff Lee is a certified staff ace in every since of the word, and his addition alone significantly closes the gap between the Angels and the Mariners in the AL West. 

Cliff Lee and King Felix give the Mariners the best 1-2 combo in baseball.

The one caveat to this trade is the fact that Cliff Lee is only signed through 2010 and there are rumors that he is looking for C.C. Sabathia type money (7 years/$161 million). While it’s clear that the Mariners won’t have the necessary funds to sign both Lee and Hernandez to long-term deals, Seattle’s commitment to winning will give the franchise leverage when (if) they decide to resign one of these two pitchers. If somehow the Mariners find themselves out of contention at the trade deadline Lee will be the best pitcher available once again, and would allow Seattle to recoup prospects for their farm system. The other scenario, Lee leaving at the end of the season and testing the market, would also net the Mariners two draft picks (a first round pick from the team that signed him plus a sandwich pick) because Lee would be a Type-A free-agent. Zduriencik really covered all the bases with this trade; however you slice it, the Mariners are going to come out winners. 

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Seattle Mariners traded away a package of prospects for another left-handed pitcher, and it’s painfully obvious now that the Erik Bedard deal was doomed from the start (except for the Baltimore Orioles). This time around though, the Mariners are acquiring a pitcher with a much stronger track record for success and durability, and they aren’t selling the farm in order to bring him aboard. It appears that Seattle will be sending three prospects to Philadelphia; pitchers Phillipe Aumont and Juan Ramirez, as well as outfielder Tyson Gillies. While all three players have some upside none of them are labeled as “can’t-miss” prospects, and they presumably won’t haunt the Mariners like Adam Jones and Chris Tillman. 

Can Griffey and the Mariners get to their first ever World Series in 2010?

Aumont was Seattle’s first round choice in the 2007 draft, a long, lean right-hander who was originally a starter but since has been converted to the bullpen. The 20-year-old was good but not great between Single and Double-A in 2009, struggling with control at times while walking 11 batters in only 17 innings for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. Ramirez projects as a number two starter, a right-hander with a hard fastball and developing off-speed pitches. If he is unable to handle the strain of starting, Ramirez has the stuff to be a quality arm at the end of the bullpen, possibly even as a closer. Gillies is one of the fastest players in the minor leagues (he has 96 speed on a scale of 100) who stole 44 bases for the Mariners’ High Class-A affiliate. He had an outstanding season at the plate in 2009, hitting .341 with 9 HR’s and 42 RBI’s, though it should be noted that the High Desert Mavericks play in the hitters’ friendly California League. Out of all the prospects involved in the deal, Gillies has the best chance to become an impact player at the next level, but Seattle already has a long-term answer in centerfield with Franklin Gutierrez.

Thanks to an aggressive general manager and some key offseason moves the Seattle Mariners are once again relevant to the baseball world. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago this team lost 101 games, but the franchise has clearly turned over a new page in their history, and GM Jack Zduriencik has the team poised for a return to the postseason for the first time since 2001. With King Felix and Lee anchoring the rotation, and Ichiro and Figgins setting the table, Seattle is a very dangerous team on mission to win and win now. Next stop, the 2010 World Series?

Fatally Flawed Phillies: Can Philadelphia Win the World Series with Brad Lidge?

All the Ryan Howard HR's in the world won't mean a thing if the Phillies can't figure out their bullpen.

All the Ryan Howard HR's in the world won't mean a thing if the Phillies can't figure out their bullpen, and soon.

After a dominating showcase of offensive firepower and clutch pitching in last year’s World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Philadelphia Phillies quickly found themselves a favorite to become the first team since the 1999-2000 New York Yankees to repeat as winners of the Fall Classic. The team bolstered their already prolific offense with the signing of free agent Raul Ibanez, teaming the veteran slugger with Chase  Utley, Jimmy  Rollins, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth to form the NL’s most feared and complete lineup. And as if that wasn’t enough ammunition to capture another pennant, Philadelphia added an one of the game’s elite starting pitchers in reigning AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. World Series hero Cole Hamels was expected to be even better with one more year of maturity, and a healthy Brett Myers and Joe Blanton would serve as worthy counterparts in the middle of the Phillies rotation. Rookie J.A. Happ and a revitalized Pedro Martinez were both pleasant surprises and gave Philadelphia five quality starters to trot out to the hill. A stacked lineup, a quality starting five and a closer coming off one of the best seasons in recent memory…it seemed as if the all the pieces were in place for the Phillies to repeat as World Series champions. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

The difference between the Brad Lidge of 2008 and the Brad Lidge of this year is so gargantuan that it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the real Lidge was abducted by aliens after last season’s historic run and replaced with a cheap knockoff version. In 2008 Lidge was nearly flawless, converting all 41 save chances on the strength of a 1.95 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 69 innings. Believe it or not, he got even better in the postseason, going a perfect 7 for 7 in save opportunities with a 0.96 ERA and recording the final out of the World Series. At only 31 years of age, the Phillies felt like they had found their long-term solution at closer. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

Lidge hasn't received many high-fives for his performance this year.

Lidge hasn't received many high-fives for his performance this year.

Lidge is no stranger to meltdowns. After coughing up a titantic go-ahead 3-run HR to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS something snapped and he clearly wasn’t the same pitcher afterwards, giving up a walk-off HR to Scott Podsednik in Game 2 of the World Series and a game-winning hit to Jermaine Dye in Game 4. The hangover from Pujols’ homer lasted throughout 2006 and 2007; Lidge blew 14 saves combined in those two years with a cumulative ERA of 4.36. He was demoted to the minors and moved to a set-up role, all to help him regain his confidence, but it never really clicked until he left the Astros and joined the Phillies last season. He looked like he had it all together again after a scintillating 2008 regular season and playoff run, which made it all the more the more puzzling why Lidge struggled so mightily this year. It looked like he had finally conquered the mental demons that haunted him since the 2005 postseason. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

How bad has Brad Lidge been this year? So bad that if he was a free agent this off-season it’s unlikely that even the Nationals would try and sign him. In 57 innings Lidge has given up 47 earned runs for a whopping 7.34 ERA and has blown 11 saves in 42 chances. After only giving up 2 HRs last season, Lidge has served up 11 longballs in 2009, which helps to explain his 0-8 record. Sure even the game’s best closers blow 4-5 saves in a season, but 11? The Phillies still have been one of the NL’s better squads all year and they already clinched the East, but this team should be considered a disappointment because they had 100-win potential. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

charlie-manuel

Charlie Manuel has some tough decisions to make heading into October.

So where do the Phillies go from here? Do they keep sending Lidge out to the mound hoping that one good outing will get him back on track or do they keep him off the playoff roster and pray that he never shows up at Citizen’s Bank Park again? Charlie Manuel has shown himself to be extremely loyal, but at what point does loyalty morph into utter stupidity? Philadelphia has other options in the bullpen, both Brett Myers and Ryan Madson have prior closing experience, but neither one is a sure thing. A team that should be riding high after clinching a playoff spot finds itself with more questions than answers in regard to their bullpen, and they only have four more games to figure it out. Despite having five players with at least 20 HRs, four players with at least 15 stolen bases, last year’s World Series MVP and the 2008 AL Cy Young winner the Phillies aren’t going to win the Fall Classic this October. Everything was lining up for Philadelphia to celebrate back-to-back World Series titles. That is, until Brad Lidge took the mound.

Phillies Finally Get Their Ace: Cliff Lee, Not Roy Halladay, Headed to Philadelphia

The Phillies hope Cliff Lee can help the capture another World Series.

The Phillies hope Cliff Lee can help them capture another World Series.

For a second straight year, the Cleveland Indians sent the reigning AL Cy Young award winner to a National League contender in a deadline deal. Last season the Indians shipped out C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers, this time around lefty Cliff Lee is packing his bags for Philadelphia after Wednesday morning’s trade. The Phillies had been part of the Roy Halladay sweepstakes over the past few days, but with the team at an impasse with Toronto and little progress being made, Philadelphia decided to shift its focus to Cleveland’s star southpaw. The Indians didn’t ask for any of the prospects that the Phillies were unwilling to part with in negotiations with the Blue Jays, and a deal was quickly struck that sent Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco to Philadelphia in return for minor leaguers Jason Knapp, Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco and and Jason Donald. The trade will be finalized pending physical examinations (just turn your head and cough please).

The Indians had high hopes of competing for an AL Central title in 2009 but quickly fell out of contention, leading to speculation that the team would try and move Lee before the deadline. Lee stumbled out of the gate but improved with each passing month, and had posted a 3-0 record with a 1.44 ERA since the All-Star break. At the time of the trade Philadelphia was seven games ahead of the Florida Marlins in the NL East, but were only 13th in the league in ERA as a team, and had largely been carried by their modern day Murderer’s Row of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. Last year’s World Series hero Cole Hamels has been inconsistent for Philly all season, and with #2 starter Brett Myers still on the DL, the team was anxious to bolster their starting rotation in hopes of capturing back-to-back Fall Classics. This move likely vaults Philadelphia above Los Angeles as the favorites to capture the NL pennant and the team was able to do so without forfeiting Kyle Drabek or Dominic Brown, two of the organizations best and most prized prospects. Like Halladay, Cliff Lee is controlled through next season, meaning that the lefty can help the Phillies in two pennant races and isn’t simply a two-to-three month rental as is the case in many deadline deals (like Sabathia last year). Philadelphia hopes that Lee is the final piece of the puzzle in their march towards becoming the first team to win two straight World Series since the Yankees ten years ago.

18-year-old Jason Knapp is thought to have the greatest potential of the players Cleveland acquired.

18-year-old Jason Knapp is believed to have the greatest potential of the players acquired by Cleveland.

For the Cleveland Indians this latest move is a historic, though not necessarily a good, as they become the first team in baseball to trade away Cy Young winners midseason in back-to-back years. The Lee deal is strangely similiar to last year’s Sabathia deal, as both seasons the Tribe was expected to push for the playoffs but struggled early and decided to move their best pitcher. Though they didn’t get Drabek or Brown, Cleveland still received 4 of the top 10 prospects in the Philadelphia organization, and stocked up for a run at the AL Central in 2010 or 2011. Lou Marson is a good-hitting catcher who is expected take over for Victor Martinez if the Indians trade Martinez before the deadline or in the offseason. Jason Donald is a fundamentally sound shortstop, Carlos Carrasco could be a middle of the rotation starter and 18-year-old Jason Knapp is rumored to have better stuff than Drabek. Some scouts are already criticizing this move, saying that Cleveland got too little in return for Lee, but the organization has a good track record in dealing star pitchers. After all, Cleveland pulled off one of the greatest heists in recent history, trading Bartolo Colon for a young Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips in 2002. If this group of prospects turns out anything like Lee, Sizemore and Phillips, the Indians could be contenders for the next decade in the Central.

Another day, another big deal in baseball as the trade deadline fast approaches. Philadelphia sets themselves up as the favorites in the NL and Cleveland stocks up for the future as they send yet another Cy Young to the Senior Circuit. Will Lee make the impact that Sabathia did for the Brewers? Does this move mean Halladay is staying put, or is their another destination for Toronto’s ace? Stay tuned, the baseball season is just heating up.

Cards are Stacked: Can Albert Pujols Capture the NL Triple Crown?

Man or Machine? Either way, Pujols is the game's best.

Man or Machine? Either way, Pujols is hands down the game's best hitter

Well, the secret is finally out. Albert Pujols is a machine. Although ESPN may have been first to officially break the news, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has followed baseball since 2001. After all, in 8+ seasons Pujols has been the best in the game, averaging a batting line of .334-43 HR-129 RBI-124 R; a feat unmatched in the history of baseball and an accomplishment unthinkable for any mere mortal. Even though Pujols is stuck in a rather pedestrian St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup (though the recent addition of Mark DeRosa should help), last year’s NL MVP continues to prove that he is the best hitter in the game today, and arguably one of the greatest right-handed hitters in the history of baseball (move over Greg Vaughn Jimmie Foxx). After going deep twice against Minnesota on Saturday, Pujols was hitting .328 with a league leading 28 HRs and 78 RBIs, despite already drawing 59 free passes.

As the season moves closer to the midway point, and Pujols continues to mash at the plate, is it time for the Triple Crown talk to begin? It seems every few seasons there’s a player in baseball who jumps out of the gates quickly only to fade in the dog days of summer (i.e. Derek Lee in 2005), but Pujols is clearly in a league of his own and shows no signs of slowing down (12 HRs in 88 ABs in June). It’s been 72 years since the last NL Triple Crown winner, and strangely enough it was another Cardinal. Joe “Ducky” Medwick had a season for the ages in 1937, hitting .374 with 31 HRs and 154 RBIs (numbers which, besides the HRs, would probably still lead the league today). So, is it in the cards for St. Louis to have another Triple Crown hitter in 2009, or will Pujols find leading the lead in the three major batting categories impossible even for a machine?

Pujols will have to stay on fire for the NL's first Triple Crown since '37.

Pujols will have to stay on fire all season long for the NL's first Triple Crown since '37.

Let’s take a look at his current numbers, main competitors in each category, and Pujols’ chances of leading the league in HRs, RBIs, and batting average:

Homeruns (28-1st in NL): Believe it or not, Pujols has never led the league in HRs, although in his defense he did play in the NL during the peak of Barry Bonds’ accidental steroid usage power barrage. The closest Pujols has come is finishing tied for second in 2004, hitting 46 HRs to Adrian Beltre’s 48 (loud groan from Mariners’ fans). Pujols’ current HR rate puts him on pace for 59 longballs which would almost assuredly lead the NL. His closest competition at this point in the season are Padres 1B Adrian Gonzalez (24 HRs), Phillies OF Raul Ibanez (22 HRs), Diamondbacks 3B Mark Reynolds (21 HR) and Phillies 1B Ryan Howard (20 HRs). Ibanez has been on fire all season long but is currently stuck on the DL, and at the age of 37, is not likely to keep up with Pujols as the summer drags on. Reynolds definitely has some pop in his bat when he hits the ball (his 102 Ks lead the league by a wide margin) but is too inconsistent and will have too many slumps to lead the league in longballs. Gonzalez will probably set a career high in HRs this season but has little protection in the San Diego lineup (he leads the league in BBs) and has slowed considerably since hitting 20 HRs in the first two months. The player with the best shot out of this group to keep Pujols from topping the NL in HRs is Ryan Howard. Howard is one of the game’s best sluggers, averaging 51 HRs a season over the past three years, while leading the league in 2006 and 2008. He plays in a homerun friendly ballpark and hitting between Chase Utley and Ibanez sure doesn’t hurt, but like Reyolds he is prone to the punchout and is already 8 HRs behind Pujols.

Odds Pujols leads league: 75%

Will the world's biggest vegetarian play spoiler this season?

Will the world's biggest vegetarian play spoiler this season?

Runs Batted In (74-1st in NL): RBIs are another statistical category that Pujols has never led the league in due in large part to the Cardinals lineup(s) and the fact that he draws so many walks (24 intentional walks already); he has finished 2nd three times (2002, 05, 06). His 74 RBIs have him on pace for 157 total, yet he leads Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder by just one RBI. Besides Fielder, no one in the league is within 15 RBIs of Pujols, with Ibanez (59) and Howard (59) the closest behind. It will likely be a two-horse race all season long and could come down to which player has more chances with runners in scoring position. As mentioned before, Pujols hits in an average Cardinals’ lineup, typically manning the #3 spot behind leadoff hitter Skip Schumaker (.358 OBP) and Colby Rasmus (.307 OBP). Fielder on the other hand hits in a solid Brewers’ lineup and is entrenched in the cleanup spot behind Craig Counsell (.368 OBP), JJ Hardy (.299 OBP) and Ryan “Brains &” Braun (.416 OBP). Neither hitter has great protection behind them in the order, leading to their inflated walk totals. This might be the most difficult leg of the Triple Crown for Pujols to capture but his chances have been bolstered thanks to the Redbirds addition of Derosa.

Odds Pujols leads league: 60%

Batting Average (.328-8th in NL): Despite the fact that he is currently behind 7 other players, Pujols will probably have the easiest time winning the batting average portion of the Triple Crown. Why? Well, for one thing Pujols’ career .334 average is the highest among all active players and he’s already captured a batting title (2003) and finished 2nd two other times. Additionally, despite the fact that he is hitting a robust .328 on the year, Pujols has suffered from bad luck so far. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is only .277 this season, which is 40 points lower than his career .317 BABIP meaning that Pujols should be due for an upswing in average soon. Most of the players ahead of him in batting average (Pablo Sandoval, Miguel Tejada, Cristian Guzman and Carlos Beltran) are hitting well above their career numbers, and are likely to regress in the coming months. Pujols’ primary challengers for the batting title are Mets 3B David Wright (.342) and Florida SS Hanley Ramirez (.333). While Wright has sacrified his power for contact this season (just 4 HRs), the results have paid off so far. However, a recent 0-11 slide has chopped 14 points off his average and he seems to be coming back down to earth after a torrid May and early June. Ramirez is no slouch either, a .311 career hitter who topped out at .332 in 2007. He has been hitting well since a slow start, but his .360 BABIP will be difficult to maintain throughout the course of the year.

The NL's last Triple Crown winner, Ducky Medwick.

The NL's last Triple Crown winner, Ducky Medwick.

Odds Pujols leads league: 90%

Pujols definitely has the career numbers, positive statistical trends and talent to put him on pace for the NL’s first Triple Crown in 72 years. He’s proved season after season that he is a special talent and is virtually peerless at the plate in baseball. However, there is a reason that no one has captured the NL’s Triple Crown since 1937–it’s not easy. It will be an uphill battle all season long for Pujols, with heated competition in all three categories, but if any player in the game today can do it, it’s Pujols. Because, if a machine can’t do it, who can?

Overall odds Pujols wins Triple Crown: 40.5%

Not Just For the Sad and Lonely: A Defense of Fantasy Baseball

Hong-Chih Kuo doesn't exist unless you play fantasy baseball.

Hong-Chih Kuo doesn't exist unless you play fantasy baseball.

Playing fantasy baseball is a lot like watching the English Patient. It’s long, tedious and in the end you really aren’t sure if it was worth all the trouble. It’s the overlooked little brother of fantasy football; kind of nerdy and viewed with all the same skepticism of Dungeons and Dragons(by the way Randy Johnson has a nice slider +5, but you have to equip him with the enchanted Hands of Tyman first). Sure there aren’t 20-sided dice, but fantasy baseball isn’t exactly something you want to bring up on a first date. The season drags on from March through September, or roughly the gestation period of an American Black Bear. Unlike football, where you have to check your roster about once a week, fantasy baseball requires that you look at your roster every day for seven months to avoid the embarrassment of leaving Ty Wigginton in your lineup even though every else in the league knew that he was out with a pulled hamstring (not something that is easily lived down). I mean you could go on a three-day vacation and by the time you come back, your whole season could be shot! Kaput! Gone in the blink of an eye.

The ultimate prize. Was it worth seven months of your life?

The ultimate prize. Was it worth seven months of your life?

Additionally, there are numerous other traps that first time fantasy baseball players can fall into. Wanting to get as many starts as possible, an owner may pick up pitchers every day and plug them into their rotation. This seems like a good idea until you realize that there is a maximum number of innings allotted to a team’s pitchers and once you cross this threshold you no longer accumulate stats. You then wrap your mind around the horrific truth that you have banked your playoff hopes on pitchers like Jeff Weaver and Livan Hernandez, the only ones available on the waiver wire, and burst into bitter tears. By gosh you could burn out your pitching staff on mediocre starts by July if you really worked at it, and where would that leave you? In a quite a pickle, that’s where. Also, a number of players that seem valuable in real life, like Derek Jeter or Bobby Abreu, aren’t nearly as much of an asset on your fantasy squad, and are overvalued year after year by new fantasy players (you get exactly 0 points for leadership or clutch hits). Stats like steals mean just as much as homeruns in most leagues, leaving baseball fans turned fantasy players wondering if Willy Taveras is really as valuable as Ryan Howard (not quite).

With all that said, why would anyone in their right mind want to commit to a season of fantasy baseball? Well, the reasons are as endless as the hairs on David Hasselhoff’s chest.

The Crown Prince of Fantasy Baseball

The Crown Prince of Fantasy Baseball

First and foremost, baseball has always been the most stat driven of all sports. Even most casual fans can identify the significance of such numbers as 61 (Roger Maris’ single season HR record), .406 (Ted Williams average–the last man to hit .400) or .304-56 HR-147 RBI (Ken Griffey Jr’s 1997 MVP season). Fantasy baseball gives fans a chance to see these numbers or records as they are actually happening; certainly any fantasy baseball owner won’t forget Lance “the Big Puma” Berkman setting a career high with 18 stolen bases last year because it may have helped them knock off a hated rival to win their league, but just about everyone else outside of Houston will. Fantasy baseball also allows fans to understand the importance of such complex statistics as WHIP (walks + hits/# of innings pitched, a great way to gauge the efficiency of a pitcher) or BABIP (batting average on balls in play, the league average is around .300). For example, a player with a low BABIP, say .280, is probably suffering from bad luck and is due for a breakout, which is something a casual fan will probably overlook. Following this principle, expect Evan Longoria’s average to improve this coming season.

Moreover, fantasy baseball allows you to discover players that normally go unheralded. For instance, Hanley Ramirez and Ian Kinsler are two of the top 10 players in fantasy baseball (thanks to their combination of speed, power and high average) but they normally get lost in the shuffle of higher paid players in large media markets. Think of Ramirez and Kinsler as the indie music of baseball, they’re so great because no one else knows about them (but thankfully, they don’t wear flannel, slackline or drink out of mason jars). Playing fantasy also allows you to discover the next crop of young players. Many owners will draft prospects who are in Triple-A at the beginning of the year and then salivate (like dogs after bacon) over their minor league stats until they are finally called up. Names like Max Scherzer, Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen might not mean much to you unless you play fantasy baseball; it’s a great way to learn about the future all-stars of the game before anyone else does.

Did Pete Rose have it right all along?

Did Pete Rose have it right all along?

The MLB season is a long one; no one will contend that point. So why not add a little spice to a 162-game season by having a little something riding on each game? Of course Pete Rose thought the same thing and look where that got him, but I digress. No longer will a July series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres be as pointless as another installment of The Land Before Time series. Owners of Nate McClouth and Adrian Gonzalez will have no choice but to pay attention to the games and chart their players’ performances. It’s not quite turning water into wine, but the ability to turn something meaningless into something meaningful, now that’s fantasy baseball’s true gift to mankind.

So the next time your friend mentions an upcoming fantasy baseball draft,  don’t call him a pale worthless excuse for a human being (sticks and stones may break but bones, but words will hurt forever). Instead, ask him if you can join and tell him you know all about WHIP and BABIP. After all, you do get a shiny little trophy if you win; isn’t that worth seven months of your life?

Best site for fantasy baseball: http://sports.yahoo.com/fantasy