Fantasy Baseball: Andy Pettitte and 10 Veterans Who Can Still Make a Difference
Lost in the early-season excitement of Josh Hamilton's Ruth-ian beginning and the surprisingly hot starts of the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals are the terrific performances by some veteran players who were thought to be in the twilight of their careers.
Here are 10 veteran players that figure to play key roles throughout the season.
Rafael Furcal, St. Louis Cardinals
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Rafael Furcal won Rookie of the Year in 2000 with the Atlanta Braves as an under-sized shortstop with a cannon of an arm and phenomenal speed.
Atlanta opted to not sign him after the 2005 season with concerns over his character, as he served jail time due to a drunk-driving charge, according to NBC Sports.
Furcal played well during his career in Los Angeles as well, hitting .357 in 2008 and playing solid defense while leading the Dodgers to two division titles.
It seemed he was beginning to decline, however, and the Dodgers traded him to St. Louis while he was hitting just .197.
Furcal ended up playing a pivotal role during the Cardinals' September charge, which ultimately led them to winning the World Series.
This season, Furcal is off to a tremendous start, ranking among the league leaders in hits, batting average and OPS.
The Cardinals should remain in the thick of the NL Central race, and Furcal should be a key contributor during the run.
Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals
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Adam LaRoche has had himself a terrific bounce-back season after it appeared he had hit rock bottom last season.
The 32-year-old first baseman had a dreadful season for Washington last year, batting .172 with a .546 OPS in an abbreviated season.
This year, LaRoche, who is playing for his fifth team, is off to a great start for the upstart Nationals. He is among the league leaders in batting average and OPS, and with the injuries to several key members of the Nationals, his production becomes much more important.
His career numbers suggest his stats will regress to .270/.340/.480, but perhaps he is able to find his age-32 season to be a renaissance one.
Paul Konerko, White Sox
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In the post-steroid era, most power hitters begin to lose their value once they hit their age-33 season.
That is not the case for Paul Konerko, who has had himself a remarkable under-the-radar career in Chicago. The 36-year-old has over 400 major league home runs and does not seem to be slowing down any time soon.
Last season was Konerko's seventh season of 30-plus home runs and his sixth with over 100 RBI.
He has placed in the top 22 of the MVP voting four times and appeared in five All-Star games.
Konerko is off to another hot start this season, posting solid power numbers for the White Sox. He remains one of their key threats in the middle of the lineup and will be a pivotal part of their team if they are to return to the top of the AL Central standings.
Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals
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It is certainly odd that Carlos Beltran will perhaps end his career for the team he is notorious for owning.
In the 2004 postseason, then 27 years old, Beltran hit a postseason record eight home runs for the Houston Astros.
He also hit three home runs against them in the 2006 NLCS while playing for the New York Mets. A called third strike, however, is what fans will ultimately remember about that series.
Beltran has a history of serious knee injuries, including micro fracture surgery in January, 2010, but he has been healthy since being traded from New York to San Francisco at the deadline last season.
The 35-year-old right fielder is no longer the stolen base threat he was in his younger days, and he is unable to play center field, but he remains a solid defender with a plus arm.
Beltran is currently leading the National League in home runs, which comes as a surprise considering he has not eclipsed 25 homers since 2008.
If the Cardinals can continue to receive this type of production from Beltran, in addition to their starting pitching, they will remain a formidable team come postseason time.
Luke Scott, Tampa Bay Rays
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Aside from the creative facial hair, Luke Scott has garnered some attention this season as a power threat.
The 33-year-old Scott has quietly put together a solid career thus far, averaging 26 home runs per 162-game season, doing much of his damage while a member of the Baltimore Orioles.
Scott has been a big reason for Tampa Bay's early-season success, and he must continue to contribute if the Rays are to replace the offense of the injured Evan Longoria.
Jake Westbrook, St. Louis Cardinals
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Jake Westbrook is a perfect example of a pitcher that has resurrected his career under the guidance of legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan.
The 34-year-old right hander was experiencing mediocre success in the AL Central, and he was coming off Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss half of 2008 as well as all of 2009.
The Cardinals acquired him at the deadline in 2010 and he has been solid for them ever since.
Thus far, he is pitching like a Cy Young candidate, along with teammate Lance Lynn. Together, they have the Cardinals off to a tremendous start.
Dave Duncan might not be in St. Louis anymore, but apparently his principles remain, as he has been able to get the best out of pitchers who were struggling to find consistency.
Westbrook is not a sub-2.00 ERA type of pitcher, and that number will rise as his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) regresses to the league norm of .300.
He will remain as a winning pitcher due to his terrific command (1.8 BB/9) and will help the Cardinals defend their crown.
Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox
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Jake Peavy has had a bevy of injuries since his Cy Young season in 2007. He has not pitched in more than 25 games since 2008.
Some of that involved freak injuries such as his torn latissimus dorsi muscle, and an injured ankle while running the bases.
Last season, Peavy moved to the bullpen for the first time in his career in an attempt to utilize his arsenal of pitches without leaving a game due to fatigue.
But 2011 was his worst season to date, with a 7-7 record to go along with a 4.92 ERA. He seemed much older than his birth certificate would indicate, given his penchant for injuries.
This season, Peavy is pitching lights-out for the White Sox. He has been efficient and effective, averaging more than seven innings pitched per start.
If the White Sox are to contend in the AL Central, Peavy must pitch like the ace that he was prior to his injuries. Perhaps he as figured out how to remain healthy, which was the primary reason he has not lived up to his high expectations set in 2007.
Is 20 wins and a low 2.00 ERA likely? No. But 15 wins and a 3.20 ERA may be easily attainable.
Chris Capuano, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Coming off a pedestrian 11-12 season with the New York Mets last season with a 4.55 ERA, not many teams were lining up for the services of the 33-year-old left hander.
The Los Angeles Dodgers signed him to a two-year deal worth $10 million. On top of his mediocre performance, he also is one of the few pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery twice.
Whoever made the decision to ultimately bring Capuano in is now looking like a genius, as the left hander is 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA.
The 33-year-old has had one terrific season in his career; that was an 18-win, sub-4.00 ERA season in 2005 for Milwaukee.
Capuano will obviously not continue pitching like Clayton Kershaw, primarily because his arsenal of pitches is not elite but also because his opponent BAA of .192 is unsustainable.
His command has been phenomenal, however, as well as his 8.0 K/9 rate, which shows he can continue to pitch well throughout the season.
Carlos Zambrano, Miami Marlins
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The eccentric Carlos Zambrano has had his fair share of peaks and valleys in his career.
He has won the second-most games since 2001, but was also planning on quitting on his team after a horrendous August start last season.
He is apparently past his anger issues, which were taken care of during his anger management classes.
Thus far, Zambrano is making the Marlins' decision to trade for him look extremely cost-effective. He has a 1.88 ERA through 48 innings, but has received only one win due to a lack of run support and three blown saves from Heath Bell.
Zambrano may be 30 years old, but he appears to be in much better shape and is motivated to provide consistently solid starts for Miami.
I think his ERA will ultimately land in the low 3.00 range, but he will compile more victories as the Marlins' offense begins to fire on all cylinders during the summer months.
Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees
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What better way to improve the Yankees' rotation than adding a future Hall of Fame lefty who has won 240 games, 18 postseason games and five World Series titles?
The upside of adding a healthy and rejuvenated Pettitte is tremendous because there are not too many free agents or available starting pitchers who are equipped or battle-tested enough to win games in the loaded AL East.
Pettitte may be 39 years old, a year removed from the game and without his best fastball, but he possesses tremendous guile on the mound and has the postseason acumen to win gutty games for the Yankees down the stretch.
He has never been a huge strikeout guy, and his lowest full-season ERA came 15 seasons ago. But Pettitte is a pitcher that can win by mixing his speeds and keeping hitters off balance the way Tom Glavine was able to for the Mets in 2006 and 2007.
I would anticipate 10 wins with a sub-4.20 ERA, which is fine for a No. 4 starter at age 39.