Fantasy stars not who we thought

May 23, 2008 

Excuse me while I take this crystal ball and smash it into a million tiny and equally useless crystal balls.

The lyrics to the Beatles' "I Am The Walrus" ("... Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna, man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe") make perfect sense compared to the rise to fantasy stardom of several unknowns and the swan dives from grace taken by many old reliables during the first two months of the 2008 Major League Baseball season.

Some curveballs most whiffed at:

Cliff Lee (6-1, 1.37 ERA, 0.79 WHIP) and Ervin Santana (6-1, 2.97 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) are AL Cy Young candidates -- yes, the same Cliff Lee and Ervin Santana who were a combined 12-22 with 6.30 and 5.76 ERAs a season ago -- while Justin Verlander and Jeff Francis, whose combined record was 35-15 in 2007, have just three wins and 11 losses between them to go along with ERAs of 5.61 and 5.87.

Somebody named George Sherrill ($5 to the first person who knows which team he plays for and with which arm he throws without looking) is second in the majors in saves with 17.

Nate McLouth (12 HRs, 36 RBIs, .314) and former Modesto Athletic Ryan Ludwick (12 HRs, 35 RBIs, .336 avg.) are MVP candidates, while Mark Teixeira (5 HRs, 27 RBIs, . 279 avg.) and Vladimir Guerrero (6 HRs, 27 RBIs, .266 avg.) have been pedestrian at best.

Edinson Volquez -- owner of a career record of 10-12, 4.82 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in three-plus seasons -- is tied for third in the majors in victories (7), first among starters in ERA (1.33), fifth in strikeouts (62) and has a 1.27 ERA for the Reds.

Oh, and Josh Hamilton, the player Cincy shipped to Texas in exchange for Volquez, would be baseball's first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 if the season ended today thanks to an AL-leading .335 average and 12 HRs and a major league-leading 53 RBIs.

Part-time Angels catcher Mike Napoli has 10 HRs in 93 at-bats, while All-Star Indians catcher Victor Martinez has gone 140 ABs without leaving the yard.

While it's a safe bet folks like Texeira and Guerrero will turn things around, don't assume guys like Sherrill and Hamilton will be coming back down to earth any time soon.

Sometimes it's just a person's year.

How else to explain Esteban Loaiza winning 21 games and striking out 207 in 2003? Or Adrian Beltre getting his Babe Ruth on and hitting 48 HRs with 121 RBIs and batting .334 in 2004? Or Derrick Turnbow compiling 39 saves with a 1.74 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 2005?

Sherrill, a 31-year-old left-hander who had four career saves in parts of four seasons with the Mariners prior to this season, pitches in relative obscurity in Baltimore, where there is no pressure or reasonable expectation of success, and could easily finish with the quietest 40-save season in the history of the game.

Volquez is a 24-year-old with a high-90s fastball and a CGI change-up who has a legit shot at winning 20 games for a team that will give him runs in abundance.

Hamilton, a former No.1 overall draft pick (1999) whose career was derailed by a bout with substance abuse, made the most of his first big-league audition last season, and has been arguably the game's best hitter so far this season.

Though they've each taken a turn leading me down the road to ruin, Lee and Santana have had success in the past, with Lee winning 18 games in 2005 and Santana 16 in 2006. Maybe this is the season the bloopers will fall foul and umpires will give them the black.

If you were fortunate enough to luck into any of the aforementioned surprise studs, we advise you to count your blessings, laugh at the poor saps who drafted Manny Corpas and are currently stuck with Brett Myers and Roy Oswalt (hello!) and continue playing the hand you were dealt.

It's better to be lucky than good.

Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports column runs Fridays. He can be reached at srosenberg@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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