Friday, April 11, 2008

The Buzz Around the Bullpen: The Ceremonial First Pitch

Welcome to the first edition of the “Buzz Around the Bullpen”. Before I begin, I’d like to formally introduce myself. My name is Scott Simon and I have been playing fantasy baseball for about the past 10 years. I am also a huge football and hockey fan but for the entirety of my life, I have had a real passion for the game of baseball. After finishing my college baseball career several years ago, I have become even more enamored with fantasy baseball. As a Pittsburgh native, I have been left with the unfortunate responsibility of being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. I am beginning to think that fantasy baseball also serves as an outlet to have a “rooting” interest in a player that is not on a team that has lost for 15 consecutive seasons. Regardless, as a Pirate fan, each year I continue to believe that this is “the year” that we will win 81 games. That should tell you everything you need to know about my “fanhood”.

Let’s get to what actually matters. Each article I hope to provide you with a couple of players to keep an eye on and a couple of guys you might want to steer clear from. I’d also like to focus on guys that might be struggling at the moment, but have something promising about them making them worthy of an acquisition. However, lets first focus on a couple of important things to consider when playing fantasy baseball.

Do not spend too much on relief pitching. This is absolutely one of my biggest “pet peeves” in fantasy baseball. Although this advice would probably have been a little more valuable before your draft day, relief pitching and especially closers are not entities that you need to splurge for. I’m not saying that closers are not valuable but last year David Weathers and Kevin Gregg each recorded over 30 saves. Weathers was slated as the opening day closer so he was most likely drafted; however, the Florida Marlins opened the season with Lee Gardner as their closer. If you are asking yourself who Lee Gardner is right now, you are in the vast majority. This happens every year and look for these guys instead of trading for a big name guy like Nathan or Putz.

Bad teams don’t always mean bad fantasy players. Until the 2007 debacle, this could simply have been known as the “Jason Bay Rule”. Before last year, Bay was a .300, 35 HR, 100 R.B.I., 10-20 SB guy for three years. Yet he was constantly overlooked and would fall on draft day. The average fantasy owner does not want a Pirate or a Royal on their team and those who are willing to take on these players will definitely reap the benefits. Remember, just because a team does not win a lot of games does not mean their players do not have any fantasy value. We’ll talk a little bit more about a couple of these guys later on.

Taking a gamble on potential can pay off. This is something that I am known for throughout my fantasy leagues. I would much rather take a young guy with star potential than to take a guy with his best years behind him. I remember in 2006, the Boston Red Sox were going to start their season out with Keith Foulke as their closer. It was late in the draft and I was confronted with taking either Jack Wilson from the Pirates or a young stud named Jonathan Papelbon. Needless to say, I was able to go away from my “homer” instincts and I scored huge. You don’t play fantasy baseball to come in 3rd place. You should take a gamble every once in a while. These are the types of guys that could help put you over the top and get you battling for the league championship.

There are so many other tips or strategies out there but I wanted to share a few of the principles I build my teams around. Now let’s get you started on building your team.

Big Hits

I am guessing these guys are gone from just about all of your leagues, but if they are not, jump on them immediately and you will be surprised they were there waiting for you.

Johnny Cueto (SP, Cincinnati Reds): I’m not sure if there is a greater buzz around baseball than that of Cueto. This guy has absolutely electric stuff and he does not know how to throw anything without movement. He is reminding people around baseball of a young Pedro Martinez. In 13.1 innings pitched this year, he has 18 K’s while carrying an E.R.A of just 2.02. Most impressive however is the fact that a guy with such a power arm has not walked a batter yet. If he is available grab him immediately.

Edinson Volquez (SP, Cincinnati Reds): While Volquez started the year with all the hype, Cueto has stolen most of the thunder. However Volquez has shown great stuff early as well. In his first start, he pitched 5.1 IP and struck out 8 batters. Similar to Cueto, he has a power arm and should give you great strikeout numbers. Neither of these guys should be ignored because of having to play in the launching pad in Cincinnati. Also, both of these guys possess a repertoire of pitches that have kept hitters off balance which has allowed them to get away with mistakes that are typical of a young pitcher.

Nate McLouth (CF, Pittsburgh Pirates): McLouth is finally getting his first crack at a starting job in Pittsburgh. Last year in just 329 AB’s, McLouth hit 13 HRs and stole 22 bases. Now translate that into a full season and you are looking at about 20 HRs with over 30 stolen bases. Not too bad for a guy that was not even drafted in a lot of leagues. The one knock on McLouth has been his batting average. But McLouth just like any hitter will benefit from getting consistent at bats everyday. McLouth is one of those guys that is on a bad team who will fall under the radar. Look to pick him up and replace one of your old slow OF’s.

Under the Radar

These are guys that are probably available in your league and you might want to watch them and snag them up if you are in need at that particular position.

Brian Bannister and Zach Greinke (SPs, Kansas City Royals): These guys have combined to go 4-0 and have virtually taken the bats out of their opponents hands. Although neither of these guys will threaten to lead the league in strikeouts, they know how to do one thing. Pitch. Bannister struck out A-Rod three times in his last start. It was how he struck him out that was most impressive. Bannister spots his fastball and even without overpowering stuff, is able to keep hitters guessing. Either of these guys would be a nice acquisition to fill out the back end of your rotation.

Ryan Dempster (SP, Chicago Cubs): Most owners wouldn’t have known Dempster was starting again if it wasn’t Kerry Wood that was taking his job. Dempster has served as the Cubs closer the past three years and has recorded years of 33, 24 and 28 saves. His move back to the rotation gives the Cubbies some much needed depth in really a pretty weak rotation behind Zambrano. He has been outstanding his first two starts. Although it was in 2001 (his last year healthy as a starter) he recorded a 15-win season. He added over 170 Ks as well that year. I know it seems like forever ago but between injuries and his move to the bullpen, this is really his first opportunity to prove himself as a starter again.

Wandy Rodriquez (SP, Houston Astros):
Wandy struggled a little bit in his first start but he came back this week with a strong start. This is probably a guy you could definitely find on your waiver wire. This year he has 12Ks in 12.1 and his WHIP is an impressive .97. His numbers last year were very average, however they were much better at home. This is surprising considering the short porch in left in Houston. However, Wandy is a young guy with middle of the rotation potential and often times, young pitchers will pitch much better at home. I would look for him to put out numbers this year that are comparable to his home stats of last season. Keep your eye on him.

Zach Duke (SP, Pittsburgh Pirates): It might be entirely too early to say but by his first two starts, it certainly looks like Zach Duke is back…at least a little bit. After the Jim Tracy regime destroyed this once rising star, pitching coach Jeff Andrews is in Pittsburgh and it seems like Duke is getting back to his ways of throwing strikes and staying within himself. Andrews served as Duke’s pitching coach in the minor leagues and Duke flourished into a young pitching prospect. Before going down to injury, Duke’s rookie campaign had him in the running for Rookie of the Year honors. In 2005 he was 8-2 with a 1.81. ERA and 58 Ks in 84 innings pitched. He was supposed to anchor the staff in 2006 but pitching coach Jim Colburn had other ideas. For the next two years, Colburn toyed with Duke’s delivery and Duke struggled mightily. Last year he gave up 161 hits in 107 innings pitched and had an ERA of over 5.50. He could be a diamond in the rough and could potentially return to his old ways.

Honorable Mention

Here is a list of a couple of players that could possibly fill some needs for you.

Micah Owings (SP, Arizona Diamondbacks) (2-0, 2.63 ERA, 13Ks, WHIP .88)
Jeff Keppinger (SS/3B, Cincinnati Reds) (.382, 2 HR, 7 RBIs, 7 runs, 1 SB)
Dana Eveland (SP, Oakland Athletics) (1-0, 1.29 ERA, 7Ks, WHIP 1.00)
Mike Pelfrey (SP, New York Mets) (1-0, 3.60 ERA, 3Ks, WHIP 1.40)
Luke Scott (OF, Baltimore Orioles) (.500, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 2 runs)
Corey Patterson (OF, Cincinnati Reds) (.323, 4 HR, 8 RBIs, 8 runs, 1 SB)
Joe Saunders (SP, L.A. Angels of Anaheim) (1-0, 0.56 ERA, 9Ks, WHIP .69)
Edwin Jackson (SP, Tampa Bay Rays) (2-0, 0.64 ERA, 10Ks, WHIP .93)

Sell’em if you Got’em

David Ortiz (DH, Boston Red Sox): I know this sounds ridiculous but the casual fantasy owner is willing to pay top dollar for a guy like David Ortiz. He is a big name guy and this prediction could come back to bite me, but I feel this year will prove that David Ortiz no longer is a big time player. I’m not saying that Ortiz is not still a valuable fantasy commodity but look for a serious decrease in his numbers this year. I noticed it first in the first two games of the season against Oakland. Big Papi just does not have the impressive plate coverage that he once had. It seemed like yesterday that Papi was turning on 90+mph cutters from Mariano Rivera. Whether it’s still his knee or just a decrease in bat speed, Papi can no longer drive the pitch on the inner half. His lower half is doing nothing for him and as a result, he is collapsing on his front side and just using all hands. I look for a serious decrease in his power numbers this year. Those homeruns to the short porch in right are now going to be warning track outs. I hope he proves me wrong but I’m selling now before the secret is out.

Andruw Jones (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers): Just a couple years removed from an unbelievable season, Andruw just does not look like he has it any more. He came into spring training looking like Eddie Guardado and he just doesn’t seem to have the passion to play anymore. He signed a 36 million dollar deal in the offseason and Jones might be ready to just put it on cruise control and collect his money. Jones will be 31 in a couple of weeks but you have to remember he is an old 31. This is the same guy that was playing in the World Series when he was 19 years old. It’s a shame to see so much talent go to waste but it looks like Andruw’s best days are clearly behind him. I just hope he doesn’t eat his way out of baseball before his contract is up. I fear the next time we might see Andruw Jones putting on a show will be in Coney Island at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Jason Bay (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): Last year was blamed on his bad knee, but Bay has picked up right where he left off last year. Unlike Jones, I believe Bay still has a ton left in the tank. However, he has fallen victim, just like many others, to the black hole they call Pittsburgh Pirates baseball. He voiced his displeasure with management this off-season when they remained status quo from a team that was horrible last season. Losing can wear you down and there really are no signs of things improving in Pittsburgh. I think J-Bay needs a change of scenery and that may come this year at the deadline. But for right now, he continues to struggle and I don’t know if he’ll ever recapture his numbers he had in Pittsburgh just a couple of years ago. If you have him, try and find someone who thinks it was just his knee last year and give him up for a young OF and another piece that might help you.

As with all SportsJudge articles, please feel free to post some comments. Until next time, make sure you listen for the Buzz Around the Bullpen.

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