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Thursday, July 8, 2010
Resurrecting your season

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

The Talented Mr. Roto
CART-MASTER: Bring out your dead! [clang] Bring out your dead! [a body is put onto his cart] Bring out your dead!
CUSTOMER: Here's one.
CART-MASTER: Ninepence.
DEAD PERSON: I'm not dead!
CART-MASTER: What?
CUSTOMER: Nothing. Here's your ninepence.
DEAD PERSON: I'm not dead!
CART-MASTER: 'Ere. He says he's not dead!
CUSTOMER: Yes he is.
DEAD PERSON: I'm not!
CART-MASTER: He isn't?
CUSTOMER: Well, he will be soon. He's very ill.
DEAD PERSON: I'm getting better!
CUSTOMER: No you're not. You'll be stone dead in a moment.
-- "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"

One of the best fantasy baseball seasons I ever had started with what could politely be described as an inauspicious debut. The year was 2002. My first job in the fantasy sports analysis industry was with a site called Rotoworld, in 1999, writing a column called "The Talented Mr. Roto" for football, basketball and baseball.

By 2002, my column had proved popular and I was growing an audience, but in the larger fantasy analysis community, I was still relatively new and unknown. At this point, I was still many years away from wanting to make this a full-time career, let alone actually attempting to do it and making it happen. But I still wanted to prove that I "belonged," you know?

I hate the term "expert," as I don't believe there is any such thing (and you'll note I never call myself that), but at that time, especially before large media companies had started to devote lots of resources to fantasy, anything you could do to separate yourself from the ever-growing crowd of folks giving fantasy analysis helped.

Which is where "expert leagues" came in. Over the years, I've won my share and finished last in others, and neither proves anything about how good or bad I am as an analyst. I've been very public about my belief that most "expert leagues" are a crock and prove nothing other than how one person did in one league, one year.

But in 2002, when I was just starting out, I was thrilled to be invited to any of them. A league called the FSIC had invited me to play in their 12-team NL-only "expert league." I don't remember who was in the league, but I remember thinking at the time that there were some impressive names. At any rate, the FSIC had a twist: The bottom two finishers in the league would be kicked out and not invited back the next year.

So imagine you're a young TMR. Stop gagging; it's just a quick imagination, dammit. You're trying to establish yourself as an analyst in the fantasy world beyond the site you're writing for, it's one of (if not the first, I don't remember) your first "expert" leagues, and you get humiliated if you finish in the bottom two.

So imagine my anguish when everything went wrong. Injuries, guys underperforming, players losing roles … you name it, it happened. When the All-Star break rolled around, I was in 12th place. And not by a little. It was a 5x5 12-team roto league and I was actually 10 points out of 11th. I needed double-digit points just to get to 11th!

But I was not dead yet. And no matter where you are in the standings today, neither are you.

With nowhere to go but up, I decided to pull the fantasy baseball equivalent of a Hail Mary. I traded everything that wasn't nailed down. I had only a few quality pieces, like a leading-the-majors-in-saves Eric Gagne. And I immediately sold him and anything else for as many underperforming guys as I could find.

"Wait," my leaguemates were saying, "you want to trade me your very good player for two of my bums?" Yes, I did. And often.

I was already in last place, I figured. What did I have to lose? I traded for every single underperforming guy that I felt had just been unlucky, every injured bum that I felt just needed to get healthy … and I hoped.

As I've written before, I'm a big believer in the old "back of the baseball card" saying. That basically, by the end of the year, more often than not, a veteran player will put up the numbers that he is more or less supposed to. Spare me the lectures on the gambler's fallacy; I am well aware of it. I'm speaking very much in generalities.

At any rate, what happened was a "perfect storm," if you will (or even if you won't). Everyone turned it around, had huge second halves, I stormed back and, on the second-to-last day of the season, I was actually in first place in the league.

Luis Castillo
Luis Castillo stole 48 bases, and Matthew Berry's championship hopes, in 2002.

I ended up losing by a half-point on the last day when stupid Luis Castillo stole three bases for another team, pushing me down one slot and allowing my now-colleague Brendan Roberts (then representing Sporting News) to pass me. But from 10 points out at the break to up by a half-point on the second-to-last day in a very competitive "expert" league was a great ride.

Everything went right. It's hard to duplicate. But it can happen. In fact, Brendan was so impressed with my performance, he later hired me to write for Sporting News when I started my own site and was looking to write somewhere to get links back for promotion.

The way you execute the fantasy baseball Hail Mary is pretty simple: You have to trade what few good players you have for junk. Lots of it. You need home runs at this point, not solid players. And when you're swinging for the fences, you also tend to strike out some.

With that in mind, here are my top 20 long shots, a death wagon full of guys that have been terrible, may end up being something between terrible and passable, but who have the goods to have huge second halves.

Keep in mind that there aren't a ton of stats to back this up -- they've all been terrible this year. This is more about faith, prayer and freedom, which, according to Janis Joplin, means nothing left to lose.

The All-Long Shot Team

C: Matt Wieters, Orioles. Currently the 22nd-ranked catcher on our player rater, Wieters is batting .299 when hitting sixth this year (where he hit Tuesday night). Remember, he's just 24 and hit .301 post-All-Star break last year.
(Honorable mentions: Ryan Doumit and Bengie Molina).

1B: Derrek Lee, Cubs. Striking out a lot more than normal, Lee has been all sorts of brutal. But a guy that hit 35 home runs last year, has almost 80 the past three seasons and is a career .282 hitter (50 points better than he's currently hitting) just isn't this bad.
(Honorable mentions: Lance Berkman, Carlos Pena, Justin Smoak … and Mark Teixeira to be "Mark Teixeira").

2B: Brian Roberts, Orioles. Aaron Hill is the obvious choice here, but I've written about him (and Wieters, frankly) before, and as long as we're talking long shots, how about Roberts, who is one of the top fantasy second basemen when healthy? That's the key word, of course, as Roberts has at least started baseball activities. There's a decent chance he doesn't play at all, but if he does, he could be great.
(Honorable mention: Jose Lopez, Chone Figgins and Gordon Beckham).

SS: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies. With no power or speed so far and an average under .250, Rollins has also been hurt and just lost two of his better teammates. Good times. But he's hit more than 20 points better post-All-Star the past three years than he has before. (Honorable mention: Stephen Drew, Jhonny Peralta).

3B: Aramis Ramirez, Cubs. Frankly, I wish he hadn't hit the two home runs Tuesday night. I tweeted about him returning a little over a week ago, saying I thought he could turn it around. So after the two jacks, his price probably went up. But with an average still under the Mendoza line and his injury history, he still shouldn't be too expensive. He's on pace for 19 home runs right now, but he could easily end up with 30 if he got hot. And stayed healthy. And, you know, ate spinach or something.
(Honorable mention: Lopez, Figgins, Beckham, plus Edwin Encarnacion in deeper leagues).

OF: Carlos Beltran, Mets. He's coming back. Is he healthy; will he run; will he reverse the declining power trend; will he sign with the Knicks, the Heat or the Cavaliers; will he watch "Big Brother" this year (I will); will he finally find his long-lost twin? These are just some of the questions that may or may not be asked of this fantasy superstar.
(Honorable mention to any of the currently injured guys: Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Manny Ramirez).

OF: Adam Lind, Blue Jays. As bad as he's been, he's still on pace for basically a 20-homer/75-RBI season. Well below what was expected, but not horrific. A current BABIP of .245 raises hope that the career .271 guy can get his average to respectable levels and start raking like he did last year, when he hit .303 with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs after the break.

OF: Pick an Upton. B.J. with the Rays and Justin with the Diamondbacks have both underperformed in everything but "Upton-only leagues." But maybe trade talk will light a fire under B.J., and Justin has shown signs of life recently, hitting .312 in June with six home runs (though just 12 RBIs). Justin will be more expensive than B.J. but both have the potential to far outgain their cost.

OF: Dexter Fowler, Rockies. Playing time and a .244 average are among young Dexter's challenges, but if he continues to stay hot (fifth on our Player Rater the past seven days), he is what the kids like to call "really speedy."

OF: Michael Brantley, Indians. Speaking of speedy, he's getting a second chance thanks to the injury to Shin Soo Choo, but if he does anything he'll stick, even when Choo comes back. Cleveland is also playing for next year, and Brantley hit .313 in a cup of coffee last year for the Tribe in '09, while stealing 46 bases in Triple-A.

Curtis Granderson
It took several weeks during spring training, but Curtis Granderson finally managed to make it through an entire practice without ripping off his New York jersey and running screaming from the diamond.

UT: Curtis Granderson, Yankees. It's taking him a while to adjust to the new stadium, new team, get healthy, overcome his disgust at being a Yankee … or maybe that's just me projecting.

SP: Erik Bedard, Mariners. As contractually required. By my heart. There is no rhyme or reason for my continued support of this fantasy tease.

SP: Wandy Rodriguez, Astros. Play up the fact that he's only been good recently and it's been against terrible and/or struggling teams.

SP: Josh Beckett, Red Sox. Has something to prove. Other than that, the Red Sox overpaid him.

SP: Dan Haren, Diamondbacks. I know, I know. But you play dumb and pretend not to know that he usually is terrible in the second half. And hope Dan has forgotten this year, too.

SP: Ricky Nolasco, Marlins. He did it last year. Why not again? Very strong strikeout-to-walk ratio recently.

SP: Scott Kazmir, Angels. Trust me when I tell you I hate Scott Kazmir more than you. But we're shooting for the moon here, and he's both a streaky player and a guy who had a 3.27 ERA post-All-Star last year (1.73 with the Angels) after having an ERA worse than 7.00 before it.

SP: Jair Jurrjens, Braves. He's been decent in his past two starts since coming off the DL, and with the Braves actually in the race this year, hopefully he focuses on not sucking, which isn't a category but should be.

SP: Ben Sheets, A's Thinking he gets traded to a contender, gets some run support and pitches like he used to, thus getting himself a new contract that he won't live up to.

SP: Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks. Hope springs eternal.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- hopes no one in Tout Wars reads this. He has over $100 in draft-day value on the DL and has to try this strategy in that league this year. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend