Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes    (09/07/01)

Had someone told me at the beginning of the season that the likes of Kenny Lofton, Mike Hampton and Livan Hernandez could be had off waivers wire in September, I would have been as skeptical as anyone.  But there they were, picked up this week for the stretch run off the wire.  Granted, none of them have been particularly impressive this year, but it's still surprising to see guys who've had as much success as they've had, shuffling through fantasy baseball's soup line.  Gabe Kapler, Terrence Long, David Justice, Ben Grieve, Rondell White, Richie Sexson, Pat Burrell, Brad Fullmer, Jose Ortiz, Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo and Tony Womack, each viewed as a star or as a star-on-the-rise at the beginning of the season, is available still.  That's just the nature of a mixed league.  There are always good players to be had.  Which is one of the reasons why injuries aren't nearly as significant as they are in a single league game.

Ground Control to Major Tom...

The Woodmen lost Nomar Garciaparra for most of the season.  In most AL-only leagues, that would have been a devastating loss.  Acquiring Garciaparra to start the season cost either a significant amount of the team's salary cap, or a top draft pick for which the owner would have been depending heavily on a high level of production for the year.  Anyone who was still around in the free agent pool after the draft probably would have had trouble equaling one quarter of what was expected out of Garciaparra.

However, in a mixed league, that is not the case.  Since the roster sizes are too small to hoard many extra players, there are plenty of major league starters available all year long.  And while none of them individually are capable of producing what Nomar can, a fairly decent approximation, perhaps a half to two thirds, can be accumulated using guys like Lugo, Damian Jackson, David Eckstein, Alex Gonzales, D'Angelo Jimenez and/or Rickey Gutierrez judiciously.  With a little bit of luck, one might even be able to equal what Garciaparra can do because everyone goes through hot streaks where they produce far above their career norms. 

So while it's certainly difficult to lose a player as great as Garciaparra to injury, in a mixed league like Sandbox, it's not a catastrophic loss.  Challenging, yes; season-ending, no.  The Woodmen have proved it with excellent roster management throughout this season.

Pray tomorrow takes me higher...

Boy, had the Red Sox had any luck this year, they would have had a very good chance of beating the Yankees for the AL East title.  But losing both Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez for extended periods of time really exposed the fact their roster has a lot of expensive players who aren't much better than average.  In real life, that mediocrity has value.  A team devoid of players that create extra outs will likely be successful on the strength of it's stars.

The same is true to a certain extent in a mixed fantasy league.  Coming into this season, I thought the Baseball HQ team was pretty solid talent-wise.  With Pedro Martinez leading a stable of promising young starters, I expected to be battling them in the standings for much of the season.  Sean Wright, the owner of that team, not only drafted well, but also proved to be an excellent evaluator of talent in season as well, beating me to the punch on both Roy Oswalt and Bud Smith.  And before Pedro went down with shoulder troubles, he was certainly in the fray for the title.

At the time Pedro went on the DL, Baseball HQ had used as many starts as ...Jumanji!.  That is, his team was behind the major league pace and had the luxury of being able to make up starts down the stretch.  September is a great month for pitching, especially starters.  There are a notoriously high number of good-to-great performances by pitchers on playoff teams and from call-ups whom the league hasn't seen.  For these players, it's the time they have to prove something,  For playoff pitchers, it's time to show their team deserves to make the post-season and for rookies, they're trying to demonstrate they belong in the big leagues.

However, for whatever reason, from the beginning of July to today, Baseball HQ used up 70 starts and now only has 15 starts left for his talented staff of starters.  Perhaps he felt a need to keep pace in the overall points race.  I don't know.  But if there was a chance that Pedro was going to come back in August or September, I think I would have made sure that I had plenty of starts left over.  Getting quality starts is far more important than keeping close in the standings through the summer.  The only day the point totals matter is on October 1.  If one has extra starts to use, one can make up lots of ground in September.

As it stands, rather than going full bore down the stretch with Martinez, Russ Ortiz, Freddie Garcia, Roy Oswalt, Bud Smith, Albie Lopez and Joel Piniero, he's going to have to be very selective who gets each of those last 15 starts.  The point might be moot however, as there are now questions whether Pedro will be shut down the remainder of the season due to his continuing shoulder woes.   

There's a Starman waiting in the sky...

Catching continues to be a sore spot for ...Jumanji!.  Ivan Rodriguez, who was acquired via trade less than a month ago, went down for the season with a knee injury, once again throwing that spot on the roster into flux.  There aren't that many attractive alternatives in the free agent pool, so the likely scenario is to go with a catcher du jour the rest of the way in hopes of riding a hot hand that could come close to approximating Rodriguez' production.  Today's hot hand is Greg Zaun, who is getting enough playing time in Kansas City to make an impact.  Over the last 30 days, he's been the 4th most productive catcher in the majors, behind Piazza, Kendall and LoDuca.  He's never really shown that level of production over the long haul, so don't start thinking that he's next year's super-sleeper at catcher.  However, he is known to be a pretty streaky hitter and might be able to sustain this level of production for another couple of weeks.

Other changes to ...Jumanji!'s roster included dropping Mark McLemore for David Eckstein.  Eckstein offers the same position flexibility as McLemore, playing both second and short, but hopefully will offer more offense over the last month.  McLemore is in somewhat of a slump, hitting just .238 in August and September with little power.  I say somewhat of a slump because he's also drawn 28 walks over that span.  But a player without much power and questionable speed (he's been caught stealing in 5 of his last 12 attempts) really can't help much if he's not hitting.  Eckstein has been hitting fairly consistently all year and getting a decent number of steals, so he should be a viable back-up for Jose Vidro and Alex Rodriguez on their off days.

Juan Cruz was also added to the roster.  He may be starting to show signs of a let up - he's allowed more baserunners in each successive start - but that's not a major concern.  With 134 starts in the book, and 3 more coming today, ...Jumanji! is still 3 or 4 starts behind the major league pace in games played.  Assuming that Matt Morris, Kerry Wood, Mark Mulder, Javier Vazquez and Wade Miller each take all of their regular turns starting, that means that there will be at least 4 extra starts to split between Tony Armas Jr, Kelvim Escobar, Carlos Hernandez, Cruz and Roy Halladay (also added this week).  Even if Cruz were to completely bomb and I felt a need to replace him on the roster, I could always acquire Josh Beckett, who's six-inning one-hit debut performance this week was an example of what he's been doing to minor league hitters his entire career.

The Standings

                                    Starting P        Relief P        Hitters FP
Rank  Team                        FP    G   FP/G    FP   G  FP/G    FP    G   FP/G   Total
1     ...Jumanji!                2341  134  17.5   975  119  8.2   4378  1348  3.2    7694
2     SF Mock Woodmen            1999  141  14.2   978  124  7.9   4591  1356  3.4    7568
3     BaseballHQ Bombers         2452  147  16.7   938  125  7.5   4022  1352  3.0    7412
4     Sandbox Sports             2113  140  15.1  1035  123  8.4   3965  1359  2.9    7113
5     Fantasy Baseball HQ        2318  140  16.6  1131  134  8.4   3624  1360  2.7    7073
6     The Write Stuff            2248  133  16.9   891  119  7.5   3656  1296  2.8    6795
7     Dr. Stats Juggernauts      2570  144  17.8   912  113  8.1   3302  1296  2.5    6784
8     Desert Dwelling Scalawags  2035  162  12.6   590  122  4.8   3930  1353  2.9    6555
9     WSS Hurlers                2349  146  16.1   646  121  5.3   3472  1292  2.7    6467
10    Press Room Pundits         1891  139  13.6   730  126  5.8   3595  1357  2.6    6216