Mark St. Amant

Fantasy Man-Crush Index

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Surprise, Surprise

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


One benefit of my now three-month stint on the workforce DL has been extra time to play pickup hoops at a nearby park. It's great exercise, gets me out of the house and takes my mind off my most stressful life issues – namely, is Jimmy Rollins really back or is he just on another cute little hot streak before completely decimating our teams again? (What, did you think that finding a job/supporting my growing family causes me more stress than Rollins? You should know me better than that by now.)

Of the twelve or so regulars, I'm usually about the ninth or tenth best baller: not great, but not bad. Usually 40-ish % from 3-point range. Meddlesome defensive hands and deceptive quickness for a 41-year-old. Great assist-to-turnover ratio. In short, I'm a poor man's -- no, a homeless man's -- wait, a dead man's -- no, a homeless dead man's Jose Calderon (if Calderon resembled a slightly paunchier Greg Kinnear and had to play wearing deep sea diving boots.)

Anyway, the other day during some full-court 5-on-5, over walked a dumpy, hairy, balding-on-top/ponytail-in-back white guy. About 6'4" and easily three flabby bills, he was sporting the Celtics headband-wristbands-tube socks trifecta, baggy Celtics shorts and a #20 Ray Allen jersey, all of which were two sizes too small. And the cherry on his sports nerd sundae: he was rockin' the Breathe-Right strip and wearing yellow-tinted protective goggles . . . over his actual glasses. I wish I were kidding. Think Kareem-meets-this guy.

After loosening up on the sidelines with some squat-thrusts and deep knee bends, he then yelled out, to no one in particular, "I got next, baby!" He was either a crackhead or an escaped mental patient (who apparently had a running tab at the Celtics pro shop). But he had size, and my team needed a "big." So I hoped that maybe, just maybe, his appearance was merely a ruse to lull competition into a false sense of security before unleashing some Earl "The Goat" Manigault/Rucker Park domination, and I fed him the ball as much as possible to start, to welcome him to the team.

And he wasn't nearly as bad as he looked . . . he was worse. Awkwardly hoisting long threes. Flopping in the lane to draw charges (in a non-refereed pickup game). Recklessly driving from practically mid-court and shooting arc-less line drives that rebounded like an outlet pass and started fast breaks for the other team. All while talking "streetball smack" that he must've looked up on Wikipedia yet didn't use quiiiite right ("They call me the Bus Driver because I drive children to school!")

After realizing that he was an actual guy and not Sacha Baron Cohen just screwing with us, I instantly became ashamed not just for him, but for our whole race. Let's be honest: despite a few Larry Birds, Steve Nashes and a handful of flashy Euros, we still have a long way to go before we achieve hoops equality. So I wanted him – needed him – to be good. Yet here was Cable Guy, setting my people back decades with every awkward moving pick or hamfisted, behind-the-back pass hurled into the adjacent dog park. He was the anti-Rosa Parks . . . in a wedgie-tight Ray Allen uniform.

Point is, in real life and in roto, looks are sometimes not deceiving. At all. If a player showed telltale signs of sucking heading into this season – age, injuries, contract malaise, annually plummeting OPS or skyrocketing WHIP, wearing goggles over his glasses, you name it – then why should we be surprised when he actually does suck? Case in point, I had bad gut feelings about guys like Rollins (sucked most of first half), Big Papi (ditto), Garrett Atkins (sucked all first half), Russell Martin (now sucks at stealing bases and hitting home runs), and more, yet still deceived myself into drafting/buying them in all my leagues . . . because I hoped that my eyes didn't deceive me.

Speaking of surprises, I now present the most pleasant and unpleasant first half surprises at each position. . . followed by the player who will surprise most/whom I'd like to buy low & own in the second half.

CATCHER:
Pleasant -- While Joe Mauer's 14 HR might qualify as a surprise, I'm going with Brandon Inge's 19 HR/54 RBI/48 R, with a semi-respectable .269 AVG that's 30 points above his career mark. (Honorable mention: Victor Martinez staying healthy; Pablo Sandoval living up to sleeper hype; Miguel Olivo's 13 HRs).

Unpleasant -- Tie between Martin's aforementioned power/steals lameness (his career HR high is 19 but, really…one HR so far?) and Geovany Soto's grinding start. (Honorable mention: Ryan Doumit getting hurt. Again.)

Second half surprise – Soto. He's slowly finding his stroke.

FIRST BASE:
Pleasant -- Albert Pujols' 31 HR and Adrian Gonzalez's 24 are quasi-surprising even for them. But it's career .237 hitter and draft day afterthought Russell Branyan's atypical .300ish first half average -- with his usual upper deck power (21 bombs) -- that wins. (Honorable mention: Kendry Morales' .283/14 HR/44 RBI/36 R line; Todd Helton's .317/9/54/44; Hank Blalock's 17 HR; Lance Berkman's recent surge when he looked positively toasted early on.)

Unpleasant -- Owners knew Chris Davis would K a lot. But once every 2.2 ABs? Somewhere, Rob Deer, Pete Incaviglia and Dave Kingman are giggling. (Honorable mention: Atkins' .225/6 HR debacle; Jason Giambi was never going to be confused with Ty Cobb, but .197? Uber-prospect Matt LaPorta's .192 stinkfest of a call-up.)

Second half surprise -- Joey Votto. Seems to be over the unfortunate anxiety issues stemming from his father's death, hitting .372 with 2 HR and 8 RBI in 12 post-DL games.


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For two seasons, Mark St. Amant was the fantasy football writer for the New York Times.com. He is also the author of Committed: Confessions of a Fantasy Football Junkie and Just Kick It: Tales of an Underdog, Over-Age, Out-of-Place Semi-Pro Football Player, and has written for New York Times, Boston Globe Magazine and Salon.com.
Email :Mark St. Amant



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