I chronicled two fantasy baseball drafts last spring.
The first, a new American League-only affair that I had begun with readers, did not go according to plan. I thought I left with a thin outfield and too few reliable starters.
"I hate feeling out of control," I wrote, "and that's exactly what happened Sunday."
The next weekend, I drafted my National League team in a long-standing keeper league. I entered the auction with a solid core and augmented it with numerous solid bats. My pitching wasn't great, but I thought St. Louis youngster Anthony Reyes would blossom, and I also figured I could trade offense for arms if necessary.
Well, wouldn't you know that I won the AL league by 19 points and finished fourth in the NL league, 22.5 points out of first.
On the one side, players such as Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton and Cleveland's Fausto Carmona became stars well ahead of most predictions. On the other, veterans such as Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles let me down while fresh faces such as Reyes and Colorado catcher Chris Iannetta never came on.
It's yet another reminder that we all know less than we pretend at draft time. Anyway, here's a look back at the best of this fantasy baseball season before the focus shifts fully to football.
Jorge Posada, catcher: This certainly proved to be a confounding position, as preseason favorites Joe Mauer and Brian McCann demonstrated the physical perils of playing it regularly. Dodgers youngster Russell Martin brings an unusual dimension with his speed, and Victor Martinez bumped up his power numbers. But old-man Posada, 36, reeled off an improbable .338 average and solid power numbers at an age when many backstops are ready to retire or move to first base. Look at his career numbers against those of other catchers. He's a Hall of Fame candidate, folks.
Carlos Pena, first baseman: I'm not sure I've ever seen waiver fodder transform so suddenly into one of the league's leading power hitters. Pena was thought to be a failed prospect, but he shocked the Devil Rays and everyone else by hitting 46 homers and driving in 121 runs when power numbers were down overall. The surprise factor pushes him ahead of Prince Fielder, who posted slightly better numbers and established himself as an early candidate for 500-plus home runs. I don't know how to rate Pena for next season. That'll be a question to ponder.
Brandon Phillips, second baseman: Chase Utley is the best player at this position, but he went in the first round of many drafts. Phillips was available much later and put up one of the quietest 30-30 seasons in memory. I expected his free-swinging ways to catch up with him, but I guess he's talented enough to thrive without such discipline.
Alex Rodriguez, third baseman: Umm, yeah, he was pretty good.
Hanley Ramirez, shortstop: Competition at the top of the NL is fierce with Mets speed maven Jose Reyes and Phillies' MVP front-runner Jimmy Rollins. But Ramirez hit for more power than Reyes, stole more bases than Rollins and hit for a higher average than either. He's a top-three pick next year and perhaps the most valuable long-term property in the fantasy game.
Matt Holliday, Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson, outfielders: Holliday piles up many of his numbers at Coors Field, but that doesn't matter in fantasy, where his package of average, power and production is unmatched at his position. Ordonez was treated as a second-tier outfielder three years past his prime by most drafters. But he pushed Rodriguez for the AL MVP and seriously bolstered fantasy teams in the often-overlooked batting average category. I don't like his chances for a repeat, but that hardly matters right now. Ichiro Suzuki and continuing surprise Eric Byrnes made strong pushes for the last spot. They couldn't, however, match the all-around charm of Granderson's line. If, for some reason, you played in a 12-category league, he probably helped you in all 12 categories. Too bad triples and stolen-base percentage don't help most of us.
Josh Beckett, C.C. Sabathia, Jake Peavy, Fausto Carmona and Erik Bedard, starting pitchers: Beckett rebounded from a terrible Boston debut to post his best season. Sabathia completed his rise to true ace status. Peavy got right back to his 2004-2005 excellence after an unlucky 2006. Carmona shocked me, showing that a groundball pitcher with excellent stuff doesn't need heaps of strikeouts to succeed. He may have done more than any $1 pitcher I've purchased in my 20 years of playing fantasy. Bedard was outproducing them all before he lost September to injury. Anybody who reads this column regularly knows how much I love strikeout pitchers. Well, Bedard was starting to do a nice Sandy Koufax imitation this summer, so keep expecting great things.
J.J. Putz and Takashi Saito, relievers: I think Joe Nathan has become the best overall closer in baseball, but with their high strikeout rates and minuscule ERAs, Saito and Putz outperformed him this year. Both were excellent in 2006, too, so I guess they'll be drawing the big draft dollars next spring.