Without Fanfare, New York Giants Lead Division
by Eddie Mayrose

Somewhere around the time that Rex Ryan and his New York Jets started their miraculous run through last year’s playoffs, the Giants became a forgotten team. As Gang Green began to dominate the back pages of the local tabloids; for reasons both good and bad, Big Blue quietly went about the business of repairing a defense that disappeared during last December’s collapse. There were no sexy trades, no television shows and, certainly, no Super Bowl predictions. There was simply a change at defensive coordinator and a commitment to the work necessary to regain the top spot in the NFC East.  Funny how effective that formula’s been.

Since Big Rexy showed up in town and started shooting his mouth off, the Giants have almost become the forgotten team in New York and that’s just the way they like it. Free to go about their business with a minimum of distractions and media scrutiny, they’ve seen their defense return to a dominating level while Eli Manning continues to shine.  The Giants seem very content to leave the bluster to the boys in green.  Just as well, as they can better use the time to polish those Lombardi trophies Rex keeps promising. Continue reading »

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We hear it during every game. No matter the team, the broadcaster or the network, at some point we’ll be made aware that the total number of pitches thrown by one of the game’s hurlers is approaching 100, as if we should expect the guy on the mound to spontaneously combust if he dares to throw 101. It’s the magic/tragic number that’s been set over the course of the last decade as young mound aces secure increasingly higher signing bonuses and franchises seek to protect their investments. Unfortunately, the practice has spawned a generation of pitchers with no experience making late game adjustments in order to finish a game while fatigued.

A generation ago, it was commonplace for a pitcher to log more than 250 innings per season. In 1975, the game’s initial big money free agent, Catfish Hunter, registered 30 complete games over his 328 innings during his first season as a Yankee. Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins, Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry all eclipsed 300 innings more than once. Perhaps the most durable of this or any era was Nolan Ryan, current President of the Texas Rangers, who played until he was 47, even spinning two of his seven career no hitters after his 40th birthday. Of the many eye popping statistics that document his career, my favorite is this: He once threw 250 pitches in a 14 inning complete game win. That Ryan’s career lasted 26 years despite such an enormous workload was a function of his ability to get in shape over 40 rather than an adherence to the limitations of pitch counts. It’s a philosophy he’s passing on to his young charges in Texas.

Since moving into his new office, Ryan has sought to re-educate his organization as to how success on the mound is attained by banishing the use of the pitch count in determining how long a pitcher stays in the game. Coaches will still keep track of the number but will not use it to evaluate whether or not a pitcher should be pulled. Mike Maddux, Rangers’ pitching coach, agrees that you don’t need a pitch count to know when a pitcher is done. “The hitters let you know that”, said Maddux. “The ceiling is off,” continued Maddux. “This is a mental thing we have to overcome. We have to change the attitude of the starters to want to go deep and believe they can.” Ryan also established a year round fitness program for pitchers that will help them get in shape and be able to log more innings. Referring to his own career, Ryan noted that he, “had to develop stamina because it was my intent to pitch a lot of innings.” So far, the plan seems to be working as the Rangers’ staff, expected to be the team’s weak link coming into the season, has registered five complete games in leading Texas to the top of the AL West.

Ryan, a guy whose weight training and conditioning over 40 helped get him to Cooperstown, told the Dallas Morning News what he expects from his staff. “The dedication and work ethic that it takes to pitch an entire season as a starting pitcher and the discipline to continue to maintain his routine all year. And he wants the ball every fifth day and he’s going to go out there with the intent of pitching late into games and not complaining.”

If you were in an AL only league, it is highly unlikely that you enjoyed a successful season without a few of these sleepers falling into your lap.  Even in deep leagues, it is likely that most, if not all, of the list was either drafted very late or acquired as free agents.  However they were acquired, they provided a much needed boost to owners who went on to win their leagues.

In a season that saw perennial Fantasy studs like Jorge Posada, Carlos Guillen, Hideki Matsui, Erik Bedard, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Chien Ming Wang all miss huge chunks of the season to injury, the skill of Roto players was tested throughout the season as free agent pickups became critical to each team.  Missing from the list below were players like Texas Rangers’ CI/OF Chris Davis who were called up in midseason.  Although their performance was terrific, it fell just short of our sleepers’ year long excellence.

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Catcher- Owners of Indians’ C Victor Martinez suffered through a miserable two months before his injuries became too much for him to deal with.  Taking a little sting out of the high pick that was likely used to acquire the Tribe’s backstop, however, was Kelly Shoppach, whose performance as VMart’s replacement may have permanently moved Martinez to 1B.  Shoppach belted 21 HR for Cleveland to lead all AL catchers and vaulted himself into the upper echelon at the position for 2009.

First Base-Even though he had produced a few 100 RBI seasons in Tampa Bay, it had been quite awhile since Aubrey Huff of the Orioles’ had drawn much fantasy draft day interest.  That won’t be the case next spring as Huff was one of the AL’s most productive hitters.  His .304 BA 32 HR 108 RBI were better than many that were picked in the first few rounds.

Second Base-Even though his post season performance brought him a lot of attention last season, there were not many who predicted the MVP caliber season turned in by Red Sox second sacker, Dustin Pedroia.  His .326 BA was a mild surprise but his 17HR and 83 RBI vaulted him into the first three rounds of 2009.

Third Base-Melvin Mora of the Orioles managed to turn the clock back a few years in his most productive season since 2004. Melvin poked 23 HR and had 104 RBI despite going undrafted in many leagues.

Shortstop-In a weak crop, Royals SS Mike Aviles gave owners a mid season boost by posting a .324 BA, 10 HR and 51 RBI after being called up to the big club in June.

Outfield-Jack Cust had 33 HR and posted a .374 OBP in Oakland.  In the Windy City, Carlos Quentin managed to win the AL HR crown despite missing the last month with a broken wrist.  His 36 HR and 100 RBI were leading the MVP race when he went down.  Milton Bradley rebounded from a knee injury and emotional meltdown in San Diego by making the AL All Star squad.  Hitting behind Josh Hamilton in the Rangers’ powerful lineup, Bradley flourished.

Starting Pitcher- Cliff Lee came off of most free agent lists and onto the top of everyone’s Cy Young list.  His 23-2 season was even more impressive considering the Indians’ season long struggles.

Reliever-With all of their sleepers, it’s no wonder the Orioles had their best season in a few years.  RP George Sherrill rounds out the list.  His 31 S in his first season as a closer boosted many owners into the top half of the standings.

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