Fantasy Baseball Steals of 2006

Each fantasy baseball year is chock full of busts, and you’re team probably had to deal with a couple (I know I sure did). However, it’s time to pat yourself on the back. That is if you were able to pick-up or use a key draft pick to acquire one of the studs of the 2006 fantasy baseball season. With just about four weeks remaining, it’s safe to say there were some special players out there lurking beneath the sand.

The biggest steal of the year is New York Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran. For those of you who used a fourth, fifth or even sixth round pick on him, you sure got your money’s worth. Coming off of an injury riddled 2005 season fresh off of a monster contract, Beltran had practically no place to go but up. Comfort with the New York scene and surrounded by close friend, Carlos Delgado, Beltran has relaxed. Relaxed to the tune of a MVP caliber year. His OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) is among the best in the majors, 1.013. He’ll easily surpass the century mark in runs and rbi’s (currently he has 87 runs and 98 RBI). He’s even resumed his skilled running, with double digits in stolen bases with 14. Even his batting average has stayed high throughout the year, currently at .287. Beltran with these numbers should’ve been one of the first players taken but you were able to get him for perfect value.

Another candidate for the National League’s MVP award (not named Pujols) is Philadelphia Phillie’s first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard is in just his first full year in the major leagues and he’s done nothing but produce and has helped keep the Phillies alive for the playoffs. His average is near .300 and his OPS is right there with Beltran’s at 1.01. He leads the NL and is tied with the major league lead in home runs with 41. He seemingly hits one every couple of days. He also leads the NL in RBI with 106. The only possible drawback is the amount of strikeouts (136) but his power is far too large to ignore. Like Beltran, you probably drafted Howard in the fourth round at the earliest. One of the NL’s best hitters, he’s played up to that position and moreso.

Switching to pitching for a moment, the biggest names in fantasy baseball in 2006 were no doubt two of the youngest. Boston Redsox closer Jonathan Papelbon and Minnesota Twins starter Francisco Liriano have lit the baseball world (both in reality and fantasy) on fire. Sadly, Liriano recently was put on the disabled list with shoulder/elbow problems but his work prior is still deserving. With Papelbon, you likely drafted him among the later rounds and he ballooned into one of the best closers in the game this year. His dual position (eligible for both SP and RP spots on your team) only adds to the fun. Papelbon has earned 4 wins with 31 saves while striking out 62 (in 60 innings, that’s a good ratio). His sub-1.00 earned run average (0.90) is amazing for such a young pitcher. His WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) of 0.75 is tops in the league. Liriano meanwhile as a starter earned 12 victories (and even a save) while striking out 142 batters (in 119 innings). He had a 2.19 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP which was best among AL starters. Hopefully he will be able to return next year in equally dominating fashion.

Speaking of the Minnesota Twins, two more players on the squad qualify for fantasy steals in my book. First baseman Justin Morneau and closer Joe Nathan. Morneau had a rocky year in 2005 but bounced back to be among the leaders in several stat categories. Morneau’s batting average of .318 is a testament to his hard work. Along with the hefty average, he sports 30 home runs and 103 RBI. His rather low strikeout number (68 strikeouts) is a good sign of his eye at the plate. You likely drafted Morneau in the late-single digit rounds if not double-digit rounds. With Joe Nathan, he was usually drafted among the second tier closers. That may not be a massive steal in the large picture but he’s been among the games best closers. 25 saves and 6 wins to match his low 0.80 WHIP are impressive. Perhaps even more impressive is his strikeouts-to-walks ratio. He has struck out 71 batters through 50 innings pitched. That’s phenomenal, especially in the American League. Even with Liriano, Morneau, Nathan and a host of others (namely ace starter Johan Santana and stud catcher Joe Mauer), the Twins are finding themselves on the losing end of the fight for a post-season spot.

There you have it. The biggest steals of the 2006 fantasy baseball season. Carlos Beltran, Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan have each had amazing years. And if you predicted them, congratulations. If not, you likely drafted them later then they eventually should have or you just have a great eye for fantasy baseball talent.

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