Fantasy Baseball: A 'Community' Themed Guide to the 2014 Season

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2014

Fantasy Baseball: A 'Community' Themed Guide to the 2014 Season

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    What can the recently canceled Community teach us about fantasy baseball? I'm not sure, but it's something to keep the show alive.
    What can the recently canceled Community teach us about fantasy baseball? I'm not sure, but it's something to keep the show alive.Vivian Zink/Associated Press

    The darkest timeline has arrived with Community reaching its inevitable end after five incredibly bizarre seasons of television.

    The unconventional NBC cult comedy managed to survive through five seasons, a solid run run for a show with poor ratings that constantly defied typical sitcom conventions and expectations. Unfortunately, Dan Harmon's show fell one season shy of its "six seasons and a movie" rallying cry.

    Viewers either revered in following the absurd happenings of Greendale Community College, or they left without the slightest clue of what they just watched. Safe to say, the author writing an ode to Community through the platform of fantasy baseball loved it.

    Like Troy Barnes, I'm struggling to contain my composure over the devastating news. When losing something so near and dear, the best way to stay sane is to focus on another passion.

    For me, that's of course fantasy baseball. Many of the lessons taught by the dysfunctional study group apply to our game, although most of the characters would likely have objected to doing a fantasy baseball episode.

    Protagonist Jeff Winger would undoubtedly claim to be too cool to spend his time with us number nerds. Britta Perry would protest the game on account of players getting treated like objects rather than human beings. Annie Edison would go crazy when her team dropped to fifth place in May, and Shirley Bennett would probably call all competition a sin.

    Troy would get disappointed when fantasy baseball wasn't baseball played by wizards and dragons, but he might get on board when Abed Nadir embraced the sports movie and TV homage and pretended to lead his fake team like Coach Taylor.

    Harmon has covered everything else, so why not a fantasy baseball theme? If you still have no idea what Community is, go and binge watch now, with a heavy focus on Seasons 2 and 3. If not, well just skim ahead to the baseball analysis. 

    Cool? Cool cool cool

     

    Note: All advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.

     

The Darkest Timeline

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    First Community was taken way, now Jose Fernandez is forced to undergo season-ending surgery. Everything is awful.
    First Community was taken way, now Jose Fernandez is forced to undergo season-ending surgery. Everything is awful.Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    In "Remedial Chaos Theory," perhaps Community's best episode and one of TV's top half-hours altogether, Abed noted that Jeff created six different timelines by rolling a dice to determine who goes to pay the pizza delivery guy.

    Every scenario unfolds, some producing positive results, some negative and some mixed. But one particularly dastardly one, as Abed declared, was clearly the darkest timeline.

    Death, alcoholism and insanity all plagued the study group in this briefly explored universe, and an unharmed Abed embraces the trope by crafting a goatee to morph into Evil Abed. Fortunately for them, a seventh timeline prevails as reality, where the status quo is maintained without Troy trying to eat a burning troll doll.

    MLB pitchers, however, are not so lucky. Hurlers are falling like flies, with so many getting infected with arm injuries that we're close to diverging to a Walking Dead theme with no surviving tossers standing.

    Mike Minor, Mat Latos, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Anibal Sanchez, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Alex Cobb, Tony Cingrani, Matt Moore, Matt Cain, C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Doug Fister have all spent time on the disabled list this season. Derek Holland, Josh Johnson, Patrick Corbin, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy all didn't make it to Opening Day.

    But the darkest catastrophe struck earlier this week, when ace Jose Fernandez was added to the list of pitchers forced to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL. The 21-year-old was on his way to usurping Kershaw as baseball's premier pitcher, boasting a 2.44 ERA and 12.19 K/9 ratio through eight starts.

    Dating back to last May, the young stud procured a 1.97 ERA and 235 strikeouts through 201 innings. Now we're robbed of watching him pitch all season, and it comes less than a year after the cruel baseball gods took Matt Harvey away from us with the same ailment.

    Losing Fernandez is a brutal blow for fantasy owners, but everyone else is dealing with injuries of their own. Misery loves company. For some more helpful advice, go grab Dallas Keuchel, who is quietly touting a 3.06 ERA and 4.27 K/BB ratio for the Houston Astros while remaining largely unowned in fantasy leagues.

    No Harvey, no Fernandez and Mark Buehrle is on pace to push for 30 wins. This is truly the darkest timeline.

Pop, Pop!

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    Like Magnitude, Mike Olt is all about the pop.
    Like Magnitude, Mike Olt is all about the pop.Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    Like a true championship squad, no TV show operates at full capacity without role players. It's the ancillary characters that give a sitcom its zest. 

    Sometimes it feels like the world all too conveniently revolves its focal characters, a thought Community masterfully mocked during the end of Season 3. While Harmon's world often succumbs to that same fault, a myriad of other faces occupy the halls of Greendale, which Dean Pelton occasionally rents outs for raves. 

    There's Garrett shrieking at the top of his lungs and Leonard leading the pack of disobedient senior citizens. Star-Burns delivered a right amount of creepy to the community college before faking his own death.

    Then there's of course Magnitude, a one-man party who delights the campus with his simple catchphrase of "Pop, pop!" No, there's no deeper back story and added detail there. That's his whole character, and yet it works.

    Fantasy owners, however, are searching for more than just pop, pop. We like plate discipline, contact and speed as well, but power bats are often as scarce as Greendale's limited funding. Not every manager can be picky when searching for home runs, but these under-the-radar options will make Magnitude proud.

    Since returning from a hamstring injury, Mark Teixeira looks like the slugger of old, sporting a .934 OPS with eight homers through 26 games. Although he hasn't hit over .260 through a full season since 2009, it's great to see his power return after battling a wrist injury last year.

    Jhonny Peralta is hitting .250, but only Troy Tulowitzki amid an all-time scorching start has gathered more than his eight long balls at shortstop. Expect Peralta's .259 BABIP to increase, improving his average enough to make him a sterling middle infielder.

    Mike Olt is steering down the path to become Mark Reynolds 2.0, in all its glory and perishes. The young third baseman has already blasted eight home runs with a .447 slugging percentage for the Chicago Cubs, but that comes with a .181 batting average and 31.1 strikeout percentage. He's a pure power play for someone who can take the average hit.

Britta Perry's Buzzkill Team

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    Prince Fielder has been a major letdown this season.
    Prince Fielder has been a major letdown this season.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    No cheerful moment is safe from Britta, the group's "fun vampire" and ultimate buzzkill. A former anarchist, Britta slowly became relegated to the group's punching bag for her pattern of ruining everything.

    Even her successes are a mistake, such as penning a column in her high school paper titled "Britta Unfiltered" without realizing the play on words. Her transformation into a "therapizer" led her to diagnose everything as an Oedipal complex. No wonder everyone says she's the worst. 

    This year, these players have been the opposite of Batman. They're human tennis elbow. Yet many of them have their positive qualities, such as Britta's caring and perseverance. They should get better, but they're all buzzkills to own right now.

     

    C: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians - Drafted as a top-five catcher, Santana is hitting .158 with a .302 slugging percentage. Boasting more walks (35) than strikeouts (34), he's bound to bounce back, but ample damage has already been done to his owners.

    1B: Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers - So much for breaking out in Texas. Fielder is hitting .252 with three home runs, which is awful from a slugger who netted a first- or second-round selection in most mixed leagues.

    2B: Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres - The popular breakout candidate is hitting .153/.209/.278 with a 25.9 strikeout percentage. His five home runs won't make up for that eye-soaring slash line.

    3B: Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals - Wow, we fell for it again. Moustakas earned himself another second chance after a phenomenal spring, but he has ruined the hype yet again by batting .161. The Royals would have benched him a long time ago if not for his glove, which provides no solace for ailing fantasy managers.

    SS: Brad Miller, Seattle Mariners - Last year was Josh Rutledge, this time it's Brad Miller breaking hearts as a popular middle-infield sleeper. It's time to stop falling for these unproven guys after limited sample sizes.

    OF: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals - How about everyone waits for Harper to deliver something close to first-round production before drafting him in the first round? He's provided all of one homer and one steal.

    OF: Curtis Granderson, New York Mets - Mets fans aren't booing; they're saying "Boo-Urtis." What's that? They are booing because he's hitting .194, and that's after a recent hot streak embedded by his brief return to Yankee Stadium? OK then.

    OF: Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies - Brown hit 12 home runs last May, but he's currently sitting on just one deep fly for the season. Not the power supply drafters expected from the 26-year-old.

    SP: Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds - The trendy breakout hurler has a 4.72 ERA and 1.51 WHIP, mostly resulting from a 18.2 home-run/fly-ball percentage. His peripheral numbers are not too alarming, so expect the late bloomer to find his groove like Britta at a Sophie B. Hawkins dance.

    RP: Sergio Santos, Toronto Blue Jays - Filling in for the recently returned Casey Janssen, Santos has relinquished 11 walks and 12 earned runs through 12 innings. That, and another arm injury, made it much easier for Janssen to reclaim his ninth-inning duties.

Moving Past the Gas-Leak Season

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    Albert Pujols is back to performing like a top-notch hitter after a tumultuous 2013.
    Albert Pujols is back to performing like a top-notch hitter after a tumultuous 2013.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    When we're describing Community to our confused children in 15 years, it'd probably be best if we left out the fourth season, of which Harmon had no part in creating.

    The heart and soul of this wacky sitcom, Harmon was fired after three seasons for differences with Sony Pictures TV. Although the show went on, it was a lobotomized, watered down version that tried too hard to appease viewers who like their programming "normal" and full of the standard tropes.

    So instead of dealing with paintball battles and a brewing mafia whose power revolved around the cafeteria's limited supply of chicken fingers, it forced Jeff to experience emotional epiphanies and connect with his father. Annie lived in her fairy tale where she was Mrs. Winger, Britta was relegated to ditsy blonde status and Troy stood on the sidelines as Abed's sidekick.

    Seeing the life sucked out of the show, Harmon was brought back to the fold, where he wasted little time having Abed blame the last season on a "gas leak." Anyone who gave the show a second chance saw it return back to its own tricks during the fifth and final season.

    Athletes are also prone to gas-leak seasons, and some of 2013's biggest offenders are successfully achieving redemption early in 2014. 

    After hitting at least 30 homers in 12 straight seasons, Albert Pujols sent just 17 balls over the fence in 2013. The 34-year-old has also rediscovered his roots, hitting 10 homers through 40 games. He's tailed off since a scorching start, so it's worth exploring what his premier name value could fetch on the trade market.

    Despite brandishing terrific strikeout and walk numbers last year, Dan Haren finished with a 4.67 ERA. His K/9 ratio has dipped to 6.75, but his ERA has also dropped to 2.84. The veteran's foray into pitching to contact has succeeded due to surrendering just three homers with a 48.1 percent ground-ball rate.

    Season 4 at least featured some redeemable moments, but Ryan Braun's 2013 campaign was an unmitigated disaster. The former National League MVP saw his stock shattered with the Biogenesis scandal that cost him a chunk of the season.

    Furthermore, the admission that he lied about his PED use made him a greater villain than Pierce Hawthorne in Season 2 and Ben Chang during his campus takeover combined. While he'll never fully redeem that saga, he has morphed back to All-Star form with a .316/.361/.561 slash line, salvaging his status as a superstar.

Streets Ahead

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    Gregory Polanco isn't in the majors yet, but it'll be too late to add him after receiving his eventual promotion.
    Gregory Polanco isn't in the majors yet, but it'll be too late to add him after receiving his eventual promotion.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The biggest tragedy is not Community's cancellation, but the fact that Pierce's "streets ahead" never became verbal wildfire.

    If you have to ask what streets ahead means, you're streets behind. Just know that all fantasy gamers must be streets ahead if they want a happier ending than Chevy Chase's character, who was written off rather unceremoniously when the famed actor quit. 

    Fantasy managers can't wait around while competitors are making moves on the waiver wire. A successful owner must be ready to pounce at a moment's notice, acting proactively to any developments.

    Guys and gals who are truly streets ahead will monitor these players, and perhaps stash them in leagues with sizable benches.

    Gregory Polanco has no real business toiling away in Triple-A, other than the Pittsburgh Pirates wanting to delay his arbitration clock as long as possible. While they struggle to receive any production in right field, the top prospect is hitting .370/.436/.604 with five homers and nine steals. It's only a matter of time before Pittsburgh brings him up to the big league.

    The closer carousel remains in constant motion. As expected, the Cleveland Indians have ousted John Axford and his 4.91 ERA. Now that Axford is no longer walking the lineup in the ninth, Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw has the opportunity to shine as a top-15 closer. Both are worth speculative adds, as either one would become a major asset if winning the role outright.

    Kyle Farnsworth, the third closer in line for the New York Mets, was released on Wednesday night. Recently jettisoned back to the bullpen, Jenrry Mejia could now work his way back to relevance as the closer. Although far too erratic in the rotation, he recorded 41 strikeouts through 39.2 innings. Jeurys Familia, another converted starter, also has a shot despite tallying an unappealing 15 walks and 10 strikeouts this year.

    Fernandez's injury is still the darkest timeline, but it could generate a slight silver lining if the Marlins call up Andrew Heaney to take his spot in the rotation. The 22-year-old lefty is carrying a 2.35 ERA in Double-A, and a squad never shy about calling up prospects could feel the need to cheer up a desolate fanbase.

Now Take Us Home with a Winger Speech

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    Jeff Samardzija, who has zero wins despite a 1.45 ERA, can use some words of encouragement.
    Jeff Samardzija, who has zero wins despite a 1.45 ERA, can use some words of encouragement.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Of course, no Community episode ends without a well-crafted Jeff Winger speech to perfectly tie up the plot and explain the importance of friendship, loyalty, fear, the meaning of Christmas, ghosts or whatever the situation demands.

    The former lawyer has a way with words, which he uses to manipulate those around him for the first 25 minutes before mercifully halting the madness. At their best, the speeches are clever with just as much sarcasm and pop culture references as sincerity. 

    We could all benefit from a Winger pep talk to slap us back on course. These lucky three players will get that Winger speech to take us home. And for my sake, pretend that Jeff is an avid baseball fan with a keen interest in statistical analysis. 

     

    Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds

    Hey, I get that you don't care about your on-base percentage. Who am I to judge you when I coast through life thinking about nothing and nobody but myself? It's easy not to care, but if you don't start caring soon, you'll have nothing left to care about. You know who else didn't care? Justin Bieber. Donald Sterling. Everyone who wrote Two and a Half Men.

    Those years I spent as a lawyer were the most glorious of my life, but I was a fraud, and the lie eventually caught up to me. How is that .311 on-base percentage treating you now that Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce aren't there to enable that lie? Deceiving everyone with those 103 RBI last year was fun, but you're lying to yourself if you don't think that number was lying to the world.

    You want to just be a deep-league middle infielder? That's fine. I know I'm perfectly OK as a C-student, but I commit to my ambivalence. Can you commit to being nothing special? Can you accept being Season 8 of The Office, with the best years clearly behind you? If not, you better start taking walks and getting on base.

     

    Allen Craig, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

    Last year you batted .454 with runners in scoring position. You're hitting .206 this year with RISP. Wow, that incredibly unsustainable number wan't sustainable? I'm so shocked!

    We've all been told our entire lives that everything happens for a reason, and it was all meant to be. Well, guess what? This isn't Slumdog Millionaire or any other cheesy movie where everyone but the main character gets stomped on and dies, but it's alright because it's part of the destiny that leads him to a happy ending. Life is messy. Life is random. Things happen simply because something has to happen to break the stagnant monotony.

    I hate to break it you, but you were never some clutch god with an innate gift for coming though with runners in scoring position. You just happened to have hit a few baseballs after other people on your team hit a few baseballs. Now you're hitting less baseballs. That's just how it goes sometimes.

     

    Jeff Samardzija, SP, Chicago Cubs

    From one Jeff to another, I know what it's like to get tossed into an eclectic group of underachievers who are always counting on you to fix all their problems. You've done your part, and more, with a 1.45 ERA, yet you haven't earned a single win.

    That's not fair. But you want to know what else isn't fair? Dane Cook has sold out giant arenas doing something that vaguely resembles comedy. People still listen to Nickelback in a not-ironic way. And I'm stuck in this crazy toilet of a school where I'm forced to babysit paintball wars and pillow fights on a Friday night.

    Life isn't fair, but it's not fair for anyone. Life steps on everyone's grandest hopes and dreams, crushing our every desire until fighting for priority registration represents your biggest victory of the year. Yet bad luck eventually strikes everyone, so in a way, isn't that unfairness the fairest thing of all?

     

    If I don't return for another season, either an asteroid destroyed civilization or I went sailing with Troy and LeVar Burton.