JLB 2009 Midseason Report

By Carlton Davis, GM Falls Church Foxes

 

First let me say that it is an honor to write this Midseason Report.  After two years of toiling in the cellar of JLBŐs standings and one year in the middle of the standings, even though the 2009 JLB Season is only halfway complete, the fact that Falls Church is on top of the standings shows that rebuilding can be done and done successfully.  For posterityŐs sake, letŐs take a look at the 2009 Standings at the midway point of the JLB Season:

 

Falls Church Foxes                 102

Arlington Arsenal                   89.5

Centreville 66ers                     77

Fairfax Firemen                       68

Clifton Clams                          65.5

Reston Roosters                     63.5

Reston Robots                        62.5

Herndon Heroes                      60

Oakton Outlaws                     60

Great Falls Grenades              57.5

Reston Roundabouts              57.5

Sterling Starfish                       17

 

The first half of the season has been marked by relative consistency for the teams at the top.  Unlike last seasonŐs down-to-the-wire finish, this season, at least at the top of the standings, has so far been pretty boring.  Falls Church grabbed the lead in late-April and has never looked back, maintaining a lead in double digits with the exception of only a couple of days.  Arlington, with its incredible offensive output (57 points), has vaulted into second place, and has had a very comfortable cushion over the rest of the league ever since.  These two teams appear to be in complete control.  However, the season is only half over.  Will either one of these teams fade and be caught by a team lower down in the standings?  Will players get hurt or slump, or will the managers do something stupid?  There is plenty of time for any of these things to occur.  The second-half promises to be nerve-wracking for the owners of both of these teams, as expectations are astronomic and there is little margin for error.

After a poor start to the season, especially on the pitching side, Centreville has found itself comfortably in 3rd place for much of the past month.  Its offense is starting to come alive, and despite the loss of ace Jake Peavy, the pitching staff has put up strong numbers recently, too.  Centreville has the capacity to easily move up the standings with a strong second half of the season, and could again challenge for the title.  Perhaps the most disappointing team of the first half, Fairfax, currently finds itself in the last money position, though not without a lot of hard work.  The Firemen have been beset with a rash of injuries, and with few if any backups on the 40-man roster, were forced to make a lopsided trade with Clifton as well as sign some washed-up scrubs off the waiver wire.  As little as a week ago, Fairfax was within a point of third place, but after a poor week with even more injuries to Firemen starters, Fairfax finds itself on the cusp of falling out of the money.  Fairfax GM Mike Keenan has made some good in-season moves to keep his squad afloat, but poor offseason roster construction in the mold of Jim Bowden looks to hold this team back from finishing any higher than 3rd this year while struggling to finish in the money.

Challenging Fairfax for the fourth spot are arguably the next five teams in the standings.  One of the surprise teams of the year has been the Clifton Clams, currently in 5th place.   The Clams have risen to as high as 3rd, and made a spectacular signing off the waiver wire in Ben Zobrist, who is having a breakout season and was selected to his first JLB All-Star team.  Using an uncanny strategy to build his team for this year as well as the future, Clifton owner Jon Lasken is basking in the limelight after years of being the butt of jokes around the league.  A trade for a closer could gain Clifton some easy standings points in the second half, but with a little luck, this team could easily slip into the fourth spot in the standings.

The sixth place Reston Roosters have had a decent season to date.  Led by young pitchers Jon Lester and Chad Billingsley, the Roosters have the makings of a strong rotation that could get even stronger if they give Cliff Lee regular playing time in the second half after spending most of the first half on the bench.  The Roosters offense has been led by All-Star Torii Hunter as well as strong seasons from Michael Young and Adrian Gonzalez.  If their offense can stay hot and the Roosters manage their pitching staff well and pick up the innings pace, this team is my dark horse to finish in the money.  The talent level is certainly there, even after an inactive offseason.

The seventh place Reston Robots have had a surprising yet disappointing season.  After spending the early part of the season in second and third place, the Robots made a couple of trades to solidify their spot, only to see their pitching taper off wildly as they have fallen into seventh.  This is all the more frustrating after signing Brandon Webb to a long contract in the offseason, yet Webb looks like he will be out for the year after making only one start for the Robots.  However, if the pitching staff turns it around, the Robots could easily vault up the standings.

The eighth spot is occupied by last yearŐs second place team, the Herndon Heroes.  Herndon has struggled this year, with its lack of firepower on the offensive side from some key starters, as well as somewhat inconsistent starting pitching.  Herndon has plenty of trade chips available if they want to make a push, and they have already traded for stud closer Francisco Cordero. 

The Oakton Outlaws are tied with Herndon for eighth place, but have the pieces in place to move up the standings, as well.  After a strong April where Oakton remained in first or second the whole month, the Outlaws have slid to the middle of the pack.  Oakton has the best starting pitcher in the game in Dan Haren and a dynamite relief corps, and the return of Manny Ramirez from his 50-game suspension will add a jolt to the offense.  If Oakton gets its pitching innings up and its offense rounds into form, it would not surprise me in the least if they finished the year in fourth place.

The next two teams in the standings, the Great Falls Grenades and Reston Roundabouts, are in the midst of what appears to be a quick one-year rebuild.  Time will tell if this strategy is successful, but both teams have an inordinate amount of young talent that will hopefully be ready for JLB next year.  Great Falls is employing the unusual Ň27 pointÓ pitching scenario, which has already led to a change in league policy.  However, while this scenario is without question boring for the Great Falls GM, as he does not play any pitchers, it appears as though this boredom has crept over into the offensive side for Great Falls - the team only has 30.5 offensive points while having the best offensive player in the game, who is also having the best year in his career.  Will Great Falls continue to tank, acquire the best draft pick possible, and possibly subject itself to UMC charges?  Or will it try to utilize its wide array of talent on the offensive end and maximize its number of standings points?  For the Roundabouts, the teamŐs pitching staff has been a pleasant surprise in the first half.

After flirting with the 14 and 15 point marks earlier in the season, Sterling has begun to make some moves to gain some standings points.  The Sterling GM, fresh off a return from a six-month stay in the Middle East where one of his base commanders banned fantasy sports from the military computers, has recently traded away low-ceiling prospects to make room for their high-ceiling draft picks, as well as gaining fringe JLB starters who promise to help the squad in the second half.  The big question mark regarding SterlingŐs second half is simply, will they challenge the record for the lowest point total in JLB history with 19?  Or will the moves Sterling has made push them above the 19 mark and save them millions of dollars in standings points penalties?

One common theme of the season is that with a little bit of tweaking, nearly all of these teams have chances to finish in the money.  Much of this is dependent on a collapse by Fairfax (which is already in the works) and potentially Centreville, but if either of these things occurs, two of the Reston squads, Oakton, Clifton, and even potentially Herndon have the possibility to make a strong move and take home some cash.  Which of these savvy owners will make the trade that is needed to vault their team into the money?  Which of these owners will continue to sit back and, as Dennis Hopper famously said in Hoosiers, Ňwatch[] the paint dry?Ó  The last two and a half months of the 2009 JLB Season is certain to answer these questions.

In addition to providing a quick summation of the first half of the season, the main duty of the author of the Midseason Report is to present the JLB All-Star Team.  Before doing so, however, I would first like to present you with the JLB 2009 First Half All-Bust Team.

 

Catcher

 

Russell Martin, Foxes - One of the top three of four fantasy catchers in the game coming into the year, Martin has been a disappointment to the tune of only a .240 average with 1 homer and 4 stolen bases.  As such, he has been benched in Falls Church in favor of backup Pablo Sandoval, who has grabbed the starting job by the horns.  If MartinŐs massively disappointing season continues, Falls Church may look to trade his cheap but long-term contract in the offseason.

 

First Base

 

Carlos Delgado, Arsenal – While there were no obvious candidates for this position, Delgado gets the nod because of his long-term injury and 4 HR contribution to the Arlington lineup in the first half of the season.  Sure Arlington expected more out of this aging veteran, but the emergence of Carlos Pena (20 HR) has made the slumping and injured Delgado easier to cope with.

 

Second Base

 

Howie Kendrick, 66ers – While the second base situation was unclear in Centreville at the beginning of the season, it was hoped that Kendrick, with his immense talent, would grab the starting job and run with it.  However, after a combination of injuries, poor play, and a trip to the minors, second base has been a gaping hole in the Centreville lineup, and Kendrick has contributed only .164 average, 6 runs, 3 homers, 11 RBI, and 2 steals in the first half this year.

 

Third Base

 

Aramis Ramirez, Firemen – Resigned to an enormous contract in the offseason, Ramirez was playing well for Fairfax in April until he dislocated his shoulder and sat out for nearly two months.  As a result, Ramirez has contributed only 10 runs, 4 homers, 17 RBI, but a .337 average to the extremely disappointing Fairfax offense.

 

Shortstop

 

Jose Reyes, 66ers, and Jimmy Rollins, Foxes - Coming into the season as inarguably the second and third ranked shortstops, these two players have been nothing but boondoggles on their respective teams.  Reyes is signed to a massive long-term contract, while Rollins took home the highest annual contract in last yearŐs Free Agency period.

 

Reyes had only 2 homers and 11 stolen bases before leaving the lineup with knee and other leg problems, but thankfully, strong roster management by Centreville allowed them to play Jason Bartlett during the hottest streak of his career.  Falls Church has not been so lucky, as Jimmy Rollins backup Stephen Drew has been a disappointment, and has been injured for part of the year.  As such, Rollins has stayed in the Falls Church lineup, dragged down its average, and has contributed only a .232 average in 341 at bats.

 

Outfield

 

Carlos Quentin, Foxes – One of the top outfield performers last year, expectations coming into the season were high for Quentin in Falls Church.  However, injuries have limited him to only 19 runs and RBI, 8 homers, and a .237 average.  Returning from the DL shortly after the Break, Quentin will look to turn things around in the second half.

 

Vlad Guerrero, Firemen – The third piece in the offseason mega-deal with Sterling, Vlad won a starting spot in the Fairfax outfield coming into 2009.  Though he has had a strong JLB career, Vlad, despite his large 2009 salary, is clearly in the autumn of his years as a JLB contributor.  Regardless, Fairfax was hoping on strong contributions from the veteran, only to have him play poorly and combat injury in the seasonŐs first half, as he contributed only 22 runs, 21 RBI, 4 homers, and a .291 average.

 

Josh Hamilton, Clams – Like Quentin, Hamilton is coming off an extremely strong 2008 (albeit in limited playing time due to his call-up) with astronomic expectations heading into 2009.  Like Quentin, Hamilton has battled injuries and has only 23 runs and RBI, 6 homers, 4 steals, and a .248 average.  Like Quentin, Hamilton is coming back after the Break and hopes to finish the year strongly.

 

Util

 

David Ortiz, Arsenal – Though Ortiz has performed better in the two weeks prior to the All-Star break, he started out the year slumping extremely badly in the Arlington Util spot, and was eventually demoted to AAA, a crushing blow to the grizzled veteran.   Ortiz though took the demotion in stride, worked on his swing, and is now back in the starting lineup.  However, Ortiz is being paid a hefty salary to a luxury-taxed Arlington squad to put up only 7 homers, 26 RBI, and a .217 average in the first half of the season.

 

Starting Pitcher

 

Brandon Webb, Robots - Signed to a 5 year contract valued at $13.5 million annually, Webb has only pitched 4 innings this year for the Robots due to injury.  In terms of massive disappointments, WebbŐs season is equaled only by the lack of results that the Obama economic plan has attained over the past several months, as well as the PresidentŐs poor short-armed ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star Game.

 

Relief Pitcher

 

Kerry Wood, Outlaws – Signed to a $6.6 million contract in the offseason, Wood has disappointed across the board with only 12 saves and a very high 5.28 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.  At least he has 33 punch outs in only 30.2 innings.

 

And without further ado, here are your 2009 JLB All-Stars, as voted on by the GMs around the League:

 

Catcher

 

Brandon Inge, Roundabouts – Inge has essentially come out of nowhere to have a ridiculous first-half power surge.  IngeŐs spectacular defense at multiple positions across the diamond has also helped out the young Roundabouts pitching staff, thus building confidence in the young staff and allowing pitchers to work deeper into starts, as evidenced by RestonŐs 12 points in the Win column in the first half of the season.  As such, IngeŐs defense this year could be one of the hidden factors that propel the Roundabouts into the money in 2010.  Inge is currently hitting .268 with 51 runs, 21 homers, 58 RBI, and 2 stolen bases.

 

First Base

 

Albert Pujols, Grenades – How does Pujols, the best hitter in the game and consensus top 2 draft pick in regular fantasy leagues, make the JLB All-Star team?  Simple.  By having a career year, surpassing already lofty expectations.  Receiving the third-highest vote total for the 2009 team, Pujols has 73 runs, 32 homers, and 87 RBI, all tops in JLB, is hitting .332, and even chimes in with 10 stolen bases.  Unfortunately for King Albert, he is currently wasting away his career in Great Falls.  Will GFG GM JD Moss finally trade this monster for a bounty to help his strong rebuilding movement?  Or will he continue to sit on a prized asset and spend oodles of money this offseason to surround him with decent protection in the order?  Perhaps the second half of this season will give us some insight into MossŐ strategy.

 

Second Base

 

Ian Kinsler, Foxes – Kinsler has had a spectacular first half as he finds himself on his second straight JLB All-Star team.  Kinsler is one of three players on Falls Church at the break with 15 home runs and 10 steals and leads off for the second-most potent offense in the League.  Kinsler is currently hitting .250 with 62 runs, 20 homers, 55 RBI, and 18 steals.

 

Third Base

 

Mark Reynolds, Robots – Reynolds, making his second straight JLB All-Star team, was the second highest vote getter for this yearŐs team.  Reynolds is having a career year.  We always knew his power was there, but an increase in average and a large uptick in steals has made ReynoldsŐ fantasy contributions more valuable than ever.  At the break, Reynolds has 23 homers with 54 runs, 61 RBI, 16 steals, and a .260 average.

 

Shortstop

 

Derek Jeter, Arsenal – Having a renaissance year, Jeter was glad to have re-signed with Arlington this past offseason.  Arlington was glad to retain JeterŐs services and offer him the chance to battle for a starting job, as well as bringing some veteran leadership to a young squad of hitters.  Little did Arlington know that Jeter would turn into an All-Star!  Through the first half, Jeter is hitting .317 with 51 runs, 8 homers, 33 RBI, and a lofty 16 stolen bases.

 

Outfield

 

Jason Bay, Foxes – After a miserable 2007 season playing on the last place Falls Church team, Bay has continued his breakout as the Foxes have climbed in the standings.  Bay is one of the big reasons Falls Church sits atop the standings, as his low salary and strong production have given Falls Church payroll and roster flexibility.  At the break, Bay is hitting .260 with 56 runs, 20 homers, a whopping 72 RBI, and 10 stolen bases.

 

Torii Hunter, Roosters - A veteran of the 2007 JLB All-Star team, HunterŐs numbers at the break look almost identical to those from two years ago.  (.305/56/17/65/13 this year compared to .301/55/19/69/11 in 2007).  Hunter has also provided spectacular defense in center field for young Rooster studs Billingsley and Lester, thus allowing the young Roosters staff to settle in.  Hunter, however, is currently on the DL and will be replaced on the All-Star team.*

 

Raul Ibanez, Arsenal – Signed as a fourth or even fifth outfielder by the Arsenal at the paltry sum of $1.9 million this year, the 37-year old Ibanez was neglected by other owners even though he was moving into the hitterŐs haven known as CitizenŐs Bank Park.  Despite a trip to the Disabled List, Ibanez certainly has produced, with a .305 average, 46 runs, 20 homers, 55 RBI, and even 4 stolen bases.  Ibanez is this yearŐs highest vote-getter for the All-Star team.

 

*Nelson Cruz, Clams – Ridiculed for his lengthy 3-year contract signed in the offseason, Cruz has without question surpassed all expectations in the first half of the season.  At the break, Cruz has a .264 average with 49 runs, 22 homers, 53 RBI, and a surprising 13 stolen bases.

 

Util

 

Ben Zobrist, Clams – Zobrist was a brilliant waiver wire signing by the Clams.  While holding down multiple positions in CliftonŐs ever-changing defensive lineup, Zobrist is having a career year with a .296 average, 29 runs, 9 homers, 22 RBI, and 7 stolen bases.  Zobrist is a perfect candidate to fill the Util role on this yearŐs team due to his versatility in the field, playing different positions on a nightly basis in the Clams lineup due to unique lineup structuring by Clifton GM Jon Lasken.

 

Starting Pitchers

 

Felix Hernandez, 66ers – King Felix has finally become the dominant performer that many pundits always thought he would be.  A crucial part of the Centreville pitching staff, especially since ace Jake Peavy appears to be done for the year, Hernandez has performed to the tune of 9 wins, a 2.68 ERA, and 1.16 WHIP with 115 strikeouts in only 117.2 innings pitched.  Hernandez has finally found the consistency he has always lacked.

 

Zack Greinke, Clams – Clifton manager Jon Lasken appears to be getting the last laugh after his much maligned buyout of Zack Greinke a couple of years ago.  Greinke is off to the best start of his career and is one of the top starters in all of baseball after leading Clifton in the first half with 10 wins, 129Ks in only 127 IP, and an ERA of 2.12 and WHIP of 1.08.  Whether or not Greinke can keep this up or if he will fade in the second half as he did last year will be one of the most closely-watched pitching questions of the second half.

 

Justin Verlander, Roundabouts – Acquired in an offseason trade for Geovany Soto, Verlander is back to his 2007 form as he is tied for the JLB lead in strikeouts with 149, has reached double digits in wins, and has a 3.38 ERA with 1.19 WHIP.  Verlander has looked dominant this year.

 

Chris Carpenter, Heroes – Coming off two lost seasons and in the last year of his contract, Carpenter has been an extremely pleasant surprise for Herndon as he has once again found his Cy Young form.  Carpenter has 64Ks in 83.2 innings, but is second in Herndon with 7 wins and has a 2.47 ERA with a sparkling 0.87 WHIP.

 

Dan Haren, Outlaws – Continuing to prove that he was part of one of the most lopsided deals in history, Haren yet again finds himself on another JLB All-Star team.  Haren was JLBŐs best pitcher in the first half of the year with 129Ks in 130 innings, 9 wins, and a 2.01 ERA with a ridiculous 0.81 WHIP.  Will Haren continue his absurd dominance of JLB hitters and give Oakton a chance to finish in the money?

 

Edwin Jackson, Starfish – Finally fulfilling his long-awaited promise, this top prospect from many years is ago is tearing it up in Sterling, evolving into the ace of the young staff.  Jackson, who Sterling was smart enough to sign cheaply through next season, has 97 Ks in 121.1 innings, 7 wins, and a 2.52 ERA with a fantastic 1.06 WHIP. 

 

Relief Pitchers

 

Heath Bell, Firemen – In his first full year as a closer, Bell has settled into the role quite nicely as he is tied for the team lead in Fairfax with 23 saves.  More importantly, Bell has 3 wins, 42 Ks in only 37.1 innings pitched, and a 1.69 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP.  Bell has been a dominant reliever this year.

 

David Aardsma, Robots – Non-tendered by Falls Church last year and then signed off the waiver wire by that very same team, Aardsma was quickly traded to Reston while it was thought he had value.  However, since coming over to the Robots, Aardsma has been nothing short of dominant, racking up 15 saves for Reston with 31 strikeouts in 21.2 innings.  Further, Aardsma has a 2.49 ERA and 1.29 WHIP for the Robots, who in retrospect made an absolute steal of a trade for the flame throwing closer.

 

Trevor Hoffman, 66ers – Left for dead by many pundits and fellow owners after last season, Centreville took a chance on this aging closer by bringing him back for one more year.  And boy is Centreville Owner Debdeep Maji glad he did.  Hoffman has raised eyebrows with his spectacular performances, with 20 saves, 20 Ks in 26.1 innings, and a fantastic 2.05 ERA with 1.06 WHIP.

 

Francisco Cordero, Heroes – After suffering a complete second half collapse for Sterling in 2008, Cordero was traded to Falls Church in the offseason and subsequently shipped to Herndon in May for a top draft pick.  Cordero has been nothing short of dominant this year, as he has split 21 saves between the two clubs with 30 strikeouts in 36 innings and a 1.78 ERA with 1.13 WHIP.

 

Your 2009 JLB All-Star Lineup:

 

1.  Ian Kinsler, 2B, Falls Church

2.  Derek Jeter, SS, Arlington

3.  Albert Pujols, 1B, Great Falls

4.  Raul Ibanez, OF, Arlington

5.  Jason Bay, OF, Falls Church

6.  Mark Reynolds, 3B, Reston Robots

7.  Nelson Cruz, OF, Clifton

8.  Ben Zobrist, Util, Clifton

9.  Brandon Inge, C, Reston Roundabouts

 

SP – Dan Haren, Oakton