What I Learned This Week, Fantasy Edition (4/12)

A Happy Easter to everyone reading!  Unfortunately for me, this holiday is being spent still under the weather.  The NyQuil and other assorted medicine is doing their part, but I’m notoriously slow to shake off the effects of whatever ails me, so today is being spent at home while my wife and our respective families celebrate Easter without me.

But at least I still have my laptop and the television, on which is a full slate of games.  After watching how my fantasy team’s pitching imploded the last couple of days, however, I’m not sure how much baseball I’ll be able to stand today.  Yeah, I know — it’s a marathon, and not a sprint.  But if you owned some of the guys I’ll be talking about today — like San Francisco starter Jonathan Sanchez — then the week that passed might have felt more like an execution.

Pictured here:  Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez manager and pitching coach

Pictured here: Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez' manager and pitching coach

So what was there to learn this week?  Let’s begin, shall we?

The aforementioned Sanchez is typical of 95% of young pitchers in the majors, it seems.  He’s got all kinds of talent and electric stuff — but he has no clue most of the time as to how to harness it.  I watched his start last night against the hapless Padres, and I found myself torn between the two extremes of being incredibly impressed with his talent and completely befuddled by his inability to throw strikes (and to get out Henry Blanco).  The Giants are expecting Sanchez to step it up this year, and if he does, along with three other solid starters in Tim Linecum (the defending NL Cy Young Winner), the underrated Matt Cain, and the ageless Randy Johnson, San Francisco might surprise in the NL West.  But after starting his game strong, Sanchez completely fell apart in the fifth; there’s nothing worth seeing here until the lefty learns to throw strikes.

Now with the Royals, but still a human rally-starter

— On the other hand, what’s better for a fantasy owner to roster:  a young pitcher with talent who might put it all together at some point — or a washed up veteran who has no chance at being effective?  Well, if you say the latter, then rest assured — there’s plenty of crap out there for you to choose from.  I’m astounded to see such luminaries as Sidney Ponson, Horacio Ramirez, Bartolo Colon, and Kris Benson (just to name a few) actually holding on to rotation spots with real major league clubs right now.  I’d be astounded to see any of the above three names make more than 20 starts this year.  When in doubt, when looking for pitching in fantasy, it’s almost always better to go with the devil you don’t know over the devil you do — and no matter how many problems my staffs might have, guys like these won’t be anywhere near my roster if I can help it.

— An underrated option for teams in deep leagues looking for help in their middle infield is Marco Scutaro of the Blue Jays.  Scutaro is a serviceable, if unspectacular, player — but what he has going for him in 2009 more than anything else is opportunity:  he’s hitting leadoff and playing everyday for a Toronto team that’ll have the ability to score some runs.  Scutaro currently has no real threat to his playing time — the only other middle infielder on the team’s roster is John McDonald, a Gold Glove caliber fielder that the team has no interest in playing regularly due to his weak bat — and the Jays also have nothing resembling a prototypical leadoff man either.  So Scutaro should, by default, hit first for Toronto, setting him up for a season where he’ll score a lot of runs so long as he can reach base.  There’s not a lot of power or speed here for Scutaro owners, but 90+ runs and a decent average out of a guy who’s eligible in the middle (and would might be available in some deep leagues) is nothing to sneeze at.

LaRussa telling you how many antacids youll need to take if you own his players

LaRussa telling you how many antacids you'll need to take if you own his players

— Unless you want a season-long case of heartburn, there are some managers in baseball whose players you want to normally avoid if you’re a fantasy owner — and no better example of that is St. Louis’ Tony LaRussa.  Other than the obvious no-brainer on the team, Albert Pujols, and a couple of the team’s starting pitchers, I wouldn’t want to own most of the players on the Cardinals due to the maddening lineup tinkering that LaRussa is famous for.  There’s nothing that will drive a fantasy owner to bang his head against the wall quicker than trying to figure out LaRussa’s thought process — and nothing that will kill your team’s chances of contending faster than seeing someone you spent a decent amount of money or a high draft pick on finding their way to the Cardinals’ bench.  That’s the main reason I wasn’t high on Ryan Ludwick to start the season, and even though the slugger is off to a good start, with the team’s potentially crowded outfield, I still won’t be surprised if a prolonged slump later in the year forces Ludwick to the bench for some extended period.  For a more immediate example of LaRussa’s effect on fantasy owners, ask your local Jason Motte owner how he feels having invested in the Cardinals new closer — and watching him already relegated to 6th inning duties less than a week into the season.

— If I owned Chris Davis of the Rangers, I might be a little worried about now.  While his Rangers teammates have had their hitting shoes on this opening week, Davis has looked lost at the plate so far, with a  measly 1 hit in his first 21 at-bats in 2009 (with an alarming 10 strikeouts).  Like a number of young hitters, he looks like he’s trying to pull everything at the plate — or at least he has the times I’ve watched him hit so far.  The playing time situation in Texas could put a squeeze on Davis at some point if he doesn’t start to hit at some point;  in theory, the Rangers could shift Hank Blalock to first base to free up the DH slot for at-bats for either Marlon Byrd or David Murphy (whichever one isn’t starting in the outfield) — or even Andruw Jones (gulp).  That doesn’t even take into account the presence in the minors of highly-regarded Rangers prospect Justin Smoak — who also just happens to play first base.  While I wouldn’t recommend panicking on Davis just yet — it is still just a week, after all — his situation warrants monitoring.

— Speaking of situations you should keep tabs on, another is the status of Juan Pierre, a speedster without a job — at the moment.  Pierre is finally getting his first start of the season on Sunday, but his playing time is nearly non-existent at the present.  However, the Dodgers have been trying to move Pierre in trade — and a logical destination for the fleet-footed outfielder would be on the South Side of Chicago.  The White Sox have already talked to Los Angeles about Pierre, but nothing has been worked out — so far.  But with the Pale Hose in search of a solution both in center field and at the leadoff position — DeWayne Wise is an experiment that looks like it’s ended already — I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Pierre in a Sox uniform before too long.  He’s a guy who’ll provide cheap speed, considering that he likely went undrafted in all but the deepest leagues.

And on that note, it’s back to the medicine bottles for me.  If all goes well (including me), then I’ll be back tomorrow with this week’s Ro-Sham-Bo Award.

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