Reality Check: Time to stockpile starters
I became emotional this weekend.
The emotion was anger. The reason was stupidity.
Or at least short-sightedness. Look, I don't claim to know much about building a baseball team -- I'm just a fan living a Fantasy, after all -- but if, in the process of transitioning a reliever to the starting rotation, I stumbled upon what looked like a frontline starting pitcher, I wouldn't suddenly move him back to the bullpen.
But that's exactly what the White Sox did with Chris Sale . And he wasn't happy about it.
In their defense, they didn't do it as an act of self-sabotage, somehow reasoning that Sale was more valuable to them as a one-inning man than a seven-inning man. They did it to protect his elbow, which was apparently sore after his last start.
"We're doing it because we feel it's best for him, his career and his health," pitching coach Don Cooper told the Chicago Tribune on Friday. "It's the best way to keep him healthy and strong."
Yeah, because Brian Wilson , Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson are practically invincible right now.
Maybe the decision wouldn't bother me so much if I hadn't come to depend on Sale in so many of my Fantasy leagues. Yeah, I'll admit some sour grapes here, and I'll even recognize that in some leagues -- ones deep enough that nobody with even a glimmer of hope for saves is available on the waiver wire -- Sale might actually gain value with this move. He's not just going to the bullpen, after all, but the closer role, where he's had some success for short stints in the past. His owners now get a boost in a category where they may not have had any hope, especially with injuries to Mariano Rivera , Huston Street , Sergio Santos , Drew Storen , Kyle Farnsworth and Andrew Bailey .
Practically invincible, like I said.
But it's still discouraging to think that in a world where we already have to contend with innings limits for Stephen Strasburg and skipped starts for Neftali Feliz and Drew Smyly , teams are actually getting more cautious with their most talented arms. I mean, banning a guy from doing what would make him most valuable for fear of him getting hurt is like ... well, what's the line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off?
"He never drives it, Ferris. He just rubs it with a diaper."
And it only figures to get worse. With Cory Luebke -- another talented left-hander who at times has caused his team to question where he fits best -- likely headed for Tommy John surgery after an MRI revealed damage to his UCL, you can bet some teams will stop to reassess whether they're doing everything they can to protect their young arms, more concerned about breaking eggs than making an omelet.
With that mindset, no one is safe, which only reinforces the age-old adage that you can never have enough starting pitching. Remember what happened to Alexi Ogando in the second half last year? Or Bartolo Colon ? Or Michael Pineda ? Your steady and stable starting rotation may have a shorter shelf life than you think.
So even if you're not a Sale or Luebke owner looking to fill a specific need, you can learn from others' misfortunes and use this opportunity to clear a bench spot for yet another starting pitcher.
Plenty of good ones are available still. Among those owned in less than 60 percent of leagues, these are some of my favorites, provided they actually stay in the rotation:
R.A. Dickey . Though he lacks sizzle as a 37-year-old on the cellar-dwelling Mets, he consistently pitches into the seventh or eighth inning, which not only earns him points in Head-to-Head leagues but also improves his chances of winning each time out. His ERA since the start of 2010 is only 3.18.
Jake Arrieta . He hasn't been especially consistent so far this year, but he throws hard enough that I expect his strikeout rate to remain relatively high and his hit rate relatively low. His early success isn't completely unprecedented either: He went 5-1 with a 4.03 ERA in his first nine starts last year before developing elbow problems.
Jarrod Parker . Most top prospects get hyped to the hills, but Parker has remained under the radar, for whatever reason, even though he's 2 for 2 in quality starts so far. His supporting cast may be lacking, but his stuff clearly isn't. He deserves a flier even if he's relatively unproven.
Henderson Alvarez . His strikeout rate of 2.6 per nine innings is downright depressing, but he has a 2.83 ERA in six starts and just threw a shutout last time out. With a fastball in the mid-90s, he can't be all smoke and mirrors.
Jeff Niemann . Though a Fantasy mainstay for various stretches over the last three years, Niemann has yet to go six innings in a start this season, keeping him buried in the rankings. I'm not sure why the Rays are handling him with kid gloves so far, but given his track record, I have a feeling it won't last.
James McDonald . He was a popular sleeper entering last year, but now that he's actually commanding the strike zone and pitching into the seventh inning, McDonald can't find any takers in Fantasy. His pedigree suggests the stuff is legit, even if it was slow to develop.
Jerome Williams . Four years out of the game helped Williams refine his once highly touted arsenal. He's the biggest Hail Mary of this group, but as impressive as four of his first five starts have been, he deserves to be owned in more than 18 percent of leagues.
I'm not ready to predict a best-case scenario for any of these seven, but of the pitchers available in nearly half of all leagues, they're the ones who intrigue me the most. If I had to rank them in terms of how secure I'd feel with them, I'd go Dickey, Arrieta, Niemann, Parker, Alvarez, McDonald and Williams.
So if you can justify the roster spot, take a flier on one of them. At least then when the baseball world throws you a curveball, you'll have a full arsenal of replacements.
None of them as good as Sale, though.
In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value
Jason Hammel , SP, Orioles: Hammel's hot start seems a little too good to be true, given his career track record, and understandably, Fantasy owners have been hesitant to buy into him. He's a top-10 pitcher, for crying out loud. It won't last. It can't. Maybe not, but one thing his track record doesn't show is the change he's made to his repertoire this year, adding a sinker that has become his bread-and-butter pitch. As we've seen with Brandon Webb in the past, a good sinker can take a pitcher a long way. I'm not necessarily predicting Cy Young votes for Hammel, but I expect him to remain a mixed-league force all season long.
Daniel Murphy , 1B/2B/3B, Mets: Murphy had four hits on Saturday, bringing his batting average up over .300. Now, maybe that's why you drafted him -- he did hit .320 during an injury-shortened 2011 -- but me? I expected a little pop along with it. With the fences coming in at Citi Field, double-digit homers didn't seem like too much to ask. He hit a dozen back in 2009. Needless to say, I'm feeling a little shortchanged by his zero so far. His versatility no doubt helps his cause in deeper leagues, but given his injury history, if you drafted him as your starting second baseman in a standard mixed league, perhaps you're better off making a move than waiting around for something that might never happen.
Jed Lowrie , 3B/SS, Astros: It's finally happening. With a .429 batting average, four homers and 1.286 OPS over his last 11 games, Lowrie is finally making good on all that potential he showed in the second half of 2010. Or at least it looks like it's happening. Of course, it did last April, too, which is no doubt some cause for skepticism among Fantasy owners, but Lowrie's shortcoming then was that he couldn't hit righties, batting .210 with a .582 OPS against them. This spring, the Astros adjusted his stance from the left side of the plate to correct that problem, and so far, so good: He's batting .396 with a 1.046 OPS against righties. Now, the only thing stopping him from becoming one of the top OPS guys at the shortstop position is health, which admittedly has been an issue throughout his career. But while he is healthy, you might as well be starting him.
Clay Buchholz , SP, Red Sox: We're six starts into the season, and Buchholz has allowed five earned runs or more in all of them. What makes him so worth the wait? He couldn't stay healthy last year, and even his breakthrough 2010 wasn't all it appeared to be. His strikeout rate remained below the seven-per-nine-inning threshold, and his 2.33 ERA was completely out whack with his 1.20 WHIP. Most statheads considered him a regression candidate even if he had managed to stay healthy. So what else does he have to hang his hat on? His steady 180 innings? Nope, hasn't gotten there yet. The Red Sox's supporting cast? Yeah, we'll see about that. At this point, you're better off gambling on a Jake Arrieta or R.A. Dickey than sticking with Buchholz.
David Robertson , RP, Yankees: I don't know what's more surprising: that Robertson's ownership percentage has risen 57 percentage points without him even recording a save or that he's still unowned in 21 percent of leagues. I'll go with the latter. When the dust settles, he might actually end up being the better Fantasy option than the man he's replacing, which sounds like blasphemy, sure, but when you compare the numbers side-by-side, Robertson's strikeouts -- he had an even 100 last year -- set him apart. Mariano Rivera strength is his consistency, which is unmatched in baseball history, but Craig Kimbrel ranked ahead of him coming into the season for a reason. Perhaps the presence of Rafael Soriano prevents Fantasy owners from going all-in on Robertson, but his stuff should make this call an easy one. As long as he doesn't wilt under the pressure, he'll be one of the best three or four closers in Fantasy.
Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners
Johnny Giavotella , 2B, Royals: Giavotella may not technically be a prospect after losing rookie eligibility during his stint in the majors last year, but at age 24, he's the team's future at second base regardless. Why that future hasn't begun yet, with Yuniesky Betancourt on the DL with a sprained ankle, is anybody's guess, but it certainly isn't Giavotella's fault. He's batting .315 with five homers and more walks (15) than strikeouts (10) at Triple-A Omaha. If you play in an AL-only league, you'll want him rostered for when the Royals finally decide Chris Getz isn't the answer.
Christian Friedrich , SP, Rockies: Though Alex White is the favorite to fill the recently demoted Jhoulys Chacin rotation spot on Tuesday, Friedrich's candidacy is arguably the bigger storyline in Fantasy. Once considered a top prospect because of his performance in the lower levels of the minors, the 24-year-old became a lost cause at Double-A, posting a 5.02 ERA in two seasons. But with his promotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs this year came a return to form. Through five starts, he has a 3.00 ERA to go along with a 27-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Granted, five starts aren't enough to declare him over the hump, but his hot start combined with his pedigree should renew interest in long-term keeper leagues.
Jake Odorizzi , SP, Royals: After exceeding expectations in the lower levels of the minors, Odorizzi continues to turn heads in his first full year of Double-A Northwest Arkansas, recording 11 strikeouts for the second time this season Saturday to give him 40 strikeouts (compared to only nine walks) in 31 innings. Mike Montgomery was considered the better prospect coming into the season, but his continued command issues at Triple-A might allow the 22-year-old Odorizzi to leapfrog him if a need develops in the majors. Now that Odorizzi is proving he can succeed in the upper levels of the minors, his stock is on the rise.
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