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AL Mutant Ninja Turtles: Max Scherzer and Ben Zobrist

The American League “Fantasy Turtle” has provided a good deal of fodder over the past couple of weeks.  Recall that the “fantasy turtle” is considered the best buy-low player in the AL for fantasy purposes. For more background on the fantasy awards, please see this post.

There was hardly consensus when the staff voted for this award. Alex Rios, Doug Fister, Brandon Moss (see Cwik’s Turtle argument), Torii Hunter (whom David Weirs made a case for), Carlos Santana, Derek Jeter, and Yoenis Cespedes all received at least one vote. Ben Zobrist and Max Scherzer each received three votes, so I’m going to key in on them.

Back in June, I actually made the case that you should go out and get you some Zobrist. At the time, I posited the following:

Zobrist is currently carrying a .229/.361/.427 line and it’s possible that a nervous owner in a typical 5×5 league might be willing to jettison him with concerns that he’s not going to turn things around on the batted ball front. Should that be the case, I encourage you to be very interested, whether you have needs at 2B, OF, IF, CI, or UT. Again, if you liked Ben Zobrist coming out of 2011, I’m convinced he’s about to turn into that guy, and perhaps even better.

Beyond the obvious wacky batting average that barely broke the Mendoza line to go with 20% walk rates, I pointed out that his hit trajectory had virtually no change versus 2011 and his contact rates had actually improved. It certainly didn’t look like a player that should be hitting .229. And it turns out, April and May was just mostly rotten dumb luck.

From June 1 to the end of the season, Zobrist hit .299/.393/.505 with 14 home runs, nine stolen bases, 55 RBI, and 63 runs scored.  If you managed to talk an owner out of Ben Zobrist after his hideous start, you likely acquired yourself a fine bargain. And, while this isn’t necessarily part of the equation, when I voted for Ben Zobrist, I considered the fact that he was eligible all over the field, which really adds to his value.

Max Scherzer

In Scherzer’s first start of the 2011 season, he gave up six earned runs over five innings pitched, giving up four home runs to the New York Yankees. Not to be outdone, in his first start of the 2012 season, Scherzer gave up seven earned runs over just 2.2 innings pitched against the Boston Red Sox. A collective here we go again was heard across the fantasy landscape.

He wouldn’t give up seven earned runs again, but his first 13 starts weren’t very memorable. Scherzer had a 5.76 ERA, he was struggling with his command, he was immensely hittable, giving up 83 hits over 70 IP and he had already given up 13 home runs. Opponents were hitting .293/.364/.484 against him. The one thing he was doing was striking people out, however, and that’s likely why opposing vultures might have been circling above.

Over his last 19 starts, Scherzer was pretty much a fantasy ace. 11-3 record, a 2.53 ERA and 143 punch-outs in 117.1 IP. Opponents were hitting just .222/.277/.360 during that stretch, and much of that was attributed to his new-found ability to limit the bases on balls and keep the ball in the yard (at least a more normal rate).

And down the stretch when you needed him the most in fantasy leagues, Scherzer went nuts — August produced four wins, a 2.25 ERA, and a 12.38 K/9 rate. September brought two wins, a 1.91 ERA and 9.82 K/9. Over those two months, there wasn’t a better fantasy pitcher in the American League to be had.

These two examples might make the case for breaking out starting pitching from position players when we’re attempting to dole out the awards, but I think I’m still sticking with Ben Zobrist to take home the hardware. You?