Most baseball experts and fantasy baseball pundits are perplexed about the team at the top of the toughest division in baseball.
It is not the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays. It is not the team with the audacious new stadium and the countless amount of injuries, the New York Yankees. And it is not the perennial powerful, Jason Bay-driven Boston Red Sox.
No, the Toronto Blue Jays are leading the American League East after a month-plus. So how exactly are they doing it? Sure, Roy Halladay is awesome, Vernon Wells is healthy and Adam Lind is unconscious, but fantasy baseball owners know the real reasons why the Jays are ruling the roughest roost in the sport.
There have been three players who have been hitting above their heads since Opening Day. Who are they, what have they done and will it continue? Here is a look:
Someone is summoning his inner Mike Piazza. Barajas has been a decent journeyman catcher during his career, yet suddenly balls are jumping off his bat like he is swinging a 25-pound Slim Jim. Barajas is hitting .319 with three homers and 18 RBI. That’s better than blurry-eyed Brian McCann, homerless Russell Martin and the injured Ryan Doumit.
Chances Barajas keeps this up: Manny Ramirez has a better chance of hitting cleanup for the Dodgers next week than Barajas does at hitting like he has all season long. Let’s be real, fantasy folks. Barajas is a lifetime .244 hitter, so that .319 average he is posting right now is a mirage. He has only topped the 20-HR and 60-RBI plateaus once in his 10-year career, so he is not going to end up with 25 homers and 75 RBI when the season concludes. Trade Barajas now while his value is high before the 0-for-4 nights start coming in bunches.
Fantasy owners and linguists have always loved Scutaro’s name, but his stats have left a little to be desired. He has primarily been a semi-starting infielder the past six seasons who has not shown much power (career-high in homers: 9) or speed (career-high in steals: 7). Basically he has been Placido Polanco without the .300 average and the 90 runs.
But something has gotten into Scutaro this year. He is on pace to shatter his personal bests in the two main power categories because he already has five home runs and 18 RBI in just 34 games. He is also topping his career-highs in batting average and OPS as well. Scutaro has been producing regularly at the top of Toronto’s batting order and has been given more run-producing opportunities because of how potent the rest of the Blue Jays hitters have been so far.
Chances Scutaro keeps this up: Johan Santana has a better chance finishing the 2009 season with a 4.50 ERA. Toronto’s offense has been infectious as everyone in the lineup has seemingly fed off one another. But eventually things will get back to normal in Blue Jay Land, just like it has in San Diego and Seattle. Scutaro has average offensive talent–at best. Fantasy owners should be overjoyed if he has 10 homers and 65 RBI at season’s end.
Hill showed flashes of brilliance and power bursts in 2007 when he slammed 17 homers and drove in 78 runs, but 2008 was dreadful for him. An early-season concussion had him wobbling through the year like he was Eric Lindros and limited him to two homers and 20 RBI in 55 games. Many fantasy owners probably wrote him off during drafts and auctions in March.
Now guess who is leading all second basemen in RBI and batting average? With 29 RBI and a .353 average, Hill is outdoing Chase Utley, Ian Kinsler, Dan Uggla and the creamiest of the crop at second. He also has eight homers, 25 runs scored and a .943 OPS, which ranks him among the top second basemen in those categories, too.
Chances Hill keeps this up: Hill is not going to win the AL MVP award, but he has the best chance of maintaining an above-average fantasy value over the course of the season than his other teammates mentioned in this column. A 25-HR, 85-RBI campaign would not be a shock considering he is only 27 years old and showed this potential two years back. Let’s just pray Hill does not slide into home plate headfirst one of these days and concuss himself again.
Hittin’ and Runnin’ (Random Fantasy Thoughts):
What are the odds that both of the catchers on your fantasy roster can’t see? Last week I watched helplessly as my two catchers in one fantasy league, Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, missed games at the same time due to ongoing vision problems. The pair has since returned thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, but I am still thinking of renaming that team "The Blind Backstops."
2009 has not been the Year of the Ortiz. Boston’s David has lost all of the luster in his bat, hitting a paltry .224 with no homers in 116 at-bats, and Houston’s Russ has just been demoted to the bullpen thanks to an ungodly 5.91 ERA and 2.02 WHIP. While David’s problem has been hitting pitches over the fences, Russ’s has been keeping his pitches over the plate. Russ has walked 20 batters in 21.1 innings.