Kicking Rocks: Last Call for LaHair by Howard Bender April 12, 2012 When you write a fantasy baseball column that recommends players, your number one priority is accuracy. You can make all the suggestions you want, but if you’re making bad calls, no one is going to listen to your advice. And even if you do happen to get one right eventually, there’s always someone out there to tell you that even a blind squirrel eventually finds a nut. You need to know what you’re talking about. The second thing you want to do is be bold while maintaining your accuracy. You want to find the guy that no one else is talking about. You want to uncover that hidden gem so that when people ask, “Where the heck did this guy come from?,” people turn and say, “This guy knew.” So when you have a player who is standing at the crossroads — fantasy greatness to the left, fantasy obscurity to the right — you have to think long and hard about whether or not this guy is worth putting your reputation on the line. Will he be great enough for me to be lauded by those that read and listen or will he bomb and cause my email box to be flooded with messages telling me that I ruined people’s fantasy teams? Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair is that player for me this year. I knew what people were saying about LaHair — six years at the Triple-A level, Quad-A ballplayer, can’t hit major league pitching, etc. But I decided to look a little deeper into the numbers, the growth over the years and the opportunities he was never really afforded and truly believed that we had a late-bloomer on our hands and potential top-notch fantasy sleeper. Early on in his career with the Mariners, there never seemed to be anything special about him. His power was barely average for a first baseman, his strikeouts were a little too high and when he finally got the call in 2008, he flopped. But then things started to change after that. He began to mature and suddenly his power jumped to another level. Unfortunately, that also happened to be Russell Branyan’s career year, so no one was pushing him for his job and LaHair was stuck in Triple-A still. When he landed with the Cubs, his growth continued. He increased his walk rate, lowered his strikeouts and the power grew even stronger. His ISO, OBP and wOBA all climbed steadily. But now there was Derrek Lee blocking his way and after him, Carlos Pena. The talent was blossoming, the opportunities were not. This year was supposed to be a different story. LaHair, after batting .331 and crushing 38 home runs with 109 RBI in Triple-A last year, was being handed the starting first baseman’s job. Even when the Cubs traded for uber-prospect Anthony Rizzo, LaHair was told not to worry and that the job was still his. Rizzo was to spend the season down on the farm and LaHair’s opportunity had finally arrived. But then spring came and while Rizzo was beasting up and knocking the ball around like he was playing with a bunch of kids in a sandlot, LaHair failed to find his power stroke and struck out 17 times in 63 plate appearances. Still, the club was going to stick to its plans. LaHair was their first baseman and Rizzo was headed down. Then a week before the season began, LaHair’s back went out. Guess all that whiffing must’ve damaged more than just my belief in him. When he wasn’t in the lineup Opening Day, all I kept seeing in my mind was LaHair dressed like a maitre’ d saying, “Right this way, Mr. Rizzo. Your table is right over here.” Was I nervous? Nah. Ok, maybe a little bit. But now here we are, six games into the season and LaHair has started three of the last five as the Cubs ease him back in. He’s got hits in all three, including two multi-hit performances, one home run and is starting to look like the player I was expecting. Small sample size? Of course, but you gotta start somewhere. So now when I say “last call,” I mean for you. LaHair is owned in only 18% of Yahoo leagues and in a paltry 1.8% of ESPN leagues. This will likely be your last chance to grab him before he blows up and everybody in your league starts trying to claim him. If you don’t act now, then the only person kicking rocks later on will be you as my “I told you so” article is going to be a doozy!