Sunday, September 21, 2008

Your 2008 Fantasy Baseball All-Stars

Let’s travel back in time about five months.

Imagine you’re sitting at your fantasy baseball draft, a fresh season on the horizon.

With your first pick, you confidently call out the name “Josh Hamilton!”

And everyone laughs.

You’re not done with your comedy routine. Next round you follow that up with Cliff Lee. Then Carlos Quentin. Then Aubrey Huff, Nate McLouth, Jhonny Peralta, Mark DeRosa and Brian Wilson.

When the laughter has subsided and the mocking has ceased, you sit back, look over your roster and smile. Little do your leaguemates know, but you’ve just assembled a near-unbeatable fantasy team that will have little trouble locking up the championship trophy.

Unfortunately, the whole time travel thing is still just a theory, and even the most forward-thinking gurus among us couldn’t have built such a rag-tag team of diamonds in the rough. It’s only natural to gravitate toward familiar names, and those superstars usually deliver, but it’s those draft-day afterthoughts and breakthrough performers who really shift the balance of power in a fantasy league.

With the season nearly complete, let’s honor this year’s best. Most are big names we expected to see on the list, but a few surprises snuck up on us with unbelievable seasons. Here are your 2008 Fantasy All-Stars:


Joe Mauer's a batting average beast, Russell Martin's got unnatural speed for the position (17 steals), rookie Geovany Soto looks like a keeper, and previously unknown Ryan Doumit has blossomed into a stud. But the tiniest edge goes to Brian McCann, who’s hovered around .300, leads the position with 23 homers and swiped five bases in his spare time.

Ryan Howard started slow but is finishing at an MVP’s pace. Lance Berkman had a torrid start but has tailed off in September. Howard’s way ahead in homers and RBIs; Berkman’s .322 average puts Howard’s to shame and has contributed a most unexpected 16 steals. It’s tight, but give the honor to Howard, only because we live in a “what have you done for me lately?” world.

Maybe the least debatable position, because Chase Utley contributed in all five major rotisserie categories (.289, 31 homers, 95 RBIs, 102 runs, 12 steals).
You’d like to get more speed out of your second baseman ideally, but Utley gives you corner infield power at a weak-hitting position.

Another great debate here: Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez? Ramirez has double the homers and 16 more runs scored; they’re almost dead even in RBIs and average; and Reyes has 17 more steals. It’s Ramirez by a hair.

Alex Rodriguez is another five-category cat who helps you across the board. This year he also became the first player with 35 home runs and 100 RBIs in 12 seasons - one more than Babe Ruth. That's called consistency, and it's why A-Rod will probably be the No. 1 player on next year's board.

Josh Hamilton’s remarkable personal story warms the heart, but the cold, hard stats matter most in fantasy, and he doesn’t disappoint there either. Manny Ramirez’s L.A. renaissance (.396, 14 homers, 40 RBIs in 38 games with the Dodgers) have kept him in the fantasy spotlight. And Carlos Beltran’s .282 average isn’t all that, but he’s reached the magical plateaus of 100 runs, 100 RBIs, 20 homers and 20 steals for a remarkable seventh time.

If I had to pick one ace, it comes down to Cliff Lee vs. Tim Linceum. The difference in ERA and WHIP is negligible, and while Lee does have 22 wins, Lincecum is only five behind … and has 80 more strikeouts. Lincecum’s my guy.

If you’re simply looking for saves, Francisco Rodriguez, who set the single-season record, is an obvious choice. His 2.38 ERA and 74 strikeouts won’t make you regret it.

Photos by The Associated Press

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