2011 MLB Fantasy Fever From WhatIfSports.com image

Fantasy Fever: Feasting on Fast Starts

Fantasy Fever Week 4

By Joel Beall - WhatIfSports.com
April 26, 2011

Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Kemp and Jered Weaver are but a few of the ballplayers who have served as catalysts for fantasy squads in the early going of 2011. Certain starts barely prompt a raise of the eyebrow, as predicting prosperity for reigning NL MVP Joey Votto hardly required one to be Nostradamus. Others necessitated a leap of faith, as forecasting comebacks for Lance Berkman and Aaron Harang would have been grounds for insanity.

Whatever the route an owner takes to build an April lead, the universal question remains: how does a fantasy manager direct his team's fortuity to ensure enduring success? No one expects Kemp to hit .400 or Weaver to go 26-2. But with a month of baseball in the books, managers dwelling in the standings' cellar have begun to become apprehensive, fearing their drafts were not as sound as believed. This irrationality helps induce owners into temporary fixes from the waiver wire without regard to the long-term consequences, or in some instances, heading to the trade market in order to refurbish their roster.

So how can an owner properly parlay a scorching spring to season-long dominance? Here are a few influences to keep in mind when wheeling and dealing in April:

Position. Let's say you have the good fortune of owning Tulowitzki or Kemp. No one has assessed their hot starts as happenstance, as both players have demonstrated their abilities in the past. However, Kemp is an outfielder, a position that produces a plethora of serviceable rotisserie contributors. On the other end of that spectrum lies the shortstop, an occupation with a scarcity of formidable fantasy players. Kemp might have slightly better numbers at this juncture, but Tulowitzki's figures (.317 average, seven home runs, 16 RBI, 16 runs, .412 OBP) far supersede the nearest player at his position (Starlin Castro: .357 average, but just one homer, 11 RBI, .382 OBP) that his overall value is superior to Kemp. Outfielders and first basemen are a dime a dozen, meaning you can afford to deal one of those positions in exchange for a star in a spot known for its inadequacy (catcher, second baseman). This is a fundamental principle of any fantasy forum, but for whatever reason, baseball positions tend to be neglected by owners compared to other sports like football or basketball. If you are going to export one of your early-season stars, make sure that you have a suitable replacement and the players you receive are filling a position need.

Historical Data. Referring to last week's column on slow starts, historical data and splits provide commentary regarding a player's early-season performance. For Kemp, the Dodger is hitting .332 in his career during the month of April. While he still has an admirable average in May (.293), Kemp has a lifetime mark of .279 the rest of the season. Knowing when this drop-off will occur can not only help you sell at a premium, but also in attaining a player who may be slumping yet, historically, is likely to emerge from his hibernation.

Return. Trading a proven star like Josh Johnson or Dan Haren will undoubtedly give you more bang for your buck compared to Justin Masterson or Matt Harrison, and with good reason. However, hang on to the relative no-names. The odds are against them to continue their excellence, but chances are you spent a late-round pick or even a free-agent pickup to obtain them, meaning there is little risk involved on your end. However, if you can acquire a proven veteran who is off to a sluggish start (think Kevin Youkilis) for an inexperienced player like Masterson or Harrison, pull the trigger.

Peripheral circumstances. Or in other words, check to make sure outside factors haven't played a major role in a player's performance. For a pitcher, this could denote a game played in bad weather or having one rough outing. In reference to hitters, someone like Willie Bloomquist made headlines in the first few weeks, but mainly due to injuries throughout the Diamondback infield. Know a team's and player's current state before bartering.

Intuition. While all the above should be used in your evaluation, trust your instinct. If you remain uncomfortable with a trade proposal, shelf it. More times than not, owners have cognitive dissonance when acquiring a new player rather than holding onto a draftee. Remember, you DID draft a player for a reason. The probability that sentiment has changed in four weeks is unlikely.

Start 'em:

C: Matt Wieters, Orioles. After a disappointing 2010 and early struggles to start 2011, the Baltimore backstop has two homers, seven RBI and a .409 OBP in the last six games. Although a heralded prospect, Wieters' sluggish start coupled with backup Jake Fox's phenomenal spring training led some of the Oriole faithful to question if the right man was behind the plate. Owners of Wieters can rest assured that their catcher will remain in the starting role, and still has the potential to transform into an elite fantasy contributor at his position.

Casey Blake Blake has been a line-drive machine.

1B: Ike Davis, Mets. Davis has been raking the past week, hitting .417 with three jacks and seven RBI in the last seven games. While the power has been absent, Davis has consistently hit for average this season, currently sporting a .316 batting mark.

2B: Ryan Raburn, Tigers. Detroit manager Jim Leyland has begun to feature Raburn at second on a more consistent basis, giving the converted outfielder more opportunities at the plate. Raburn has delivered, registering eight hits in his last 25 at-bats with two home runs and eight RBI. A decent value at the OF position, Raburn's truth worth lies at second, making the Tiger a fantasy commodity. Alternating between the two spots will give Raburn enough cuts to justify the Tiger as a fantasy starter.

SS: Jed Lowrie, Red Sox. The "Free Jed Lowrie!" campaign has apparently sunk in to Boston manager Terry Francona, as the oppressed shortstop has been promoted to a starting role. Lowrie has responded with vigor; after starting the season one-for-seven at the plate, Lowrie is batting .477 with 12 RBI and 13 runs. With powerless pitching staffs in Baltimore (team ERA: 4.74) and Seattle (ERA: 4.43) on the slate, the Lowrie hitting exhibition should continue.

3B: Casey Blake, Dodgers. In his last five games, Blake has nine hits, including two bleacher bombs and nine runs. Just a lifetime .265 hitter, Blake is hitting .321 on the season with a .446 OBP and 15 runs. If Blake continues to man the two-spot in the LA lineup in front of hot-hitting Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, the Dodger third baseman will be a good source for fantasy runs.

OF: Curtis Granderson, Yankees. Heading into an April 14 meeting with Baltimore, Granderson was well below the Mendoza Line with a .156 batting average. Yet since that stage, the Yankee center fielder has raised his season mark to .292 thanks to an eight-game hitting streak. Granderson has belted five jacks with nine ribbies during that time span, vaulting him into a tie for the league-lead in homers. A four-game set with the woeful White Sox will give Granderson a chance to extend the bombardment.

SP: Brandon Beachy, Braves. The rookie right-hander has 31 strikeouts in 29.1 innings with a 3.68 ERA and 1.09 WHIP for Atlanta. Beachy had a combined 1.73 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 148 strikeouts at Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last season, transforming from a reliever to a starter in late June. Expect the occasional bump or two in the road (like his April 14 performance against Florida: 5.1 innings, seven hits, four walks, five earned runs), but Beachy will be a consistent contributor for strikeouts while keeping your team's WHIP reasonable.

RP: Ryan Madson, Phillies. An elbow injury to Jose Contreras has opened the door for Madson to earn Philadelphia's save opportunities. Madson is 2-0 with two saves on the season, as well as an ERA of 1.00 and WHIP of 0.89. With Brad Lidge out until the All-Star break and no timetable on Contreras, Madson is the man for those looking for help in the save department.

Sit 'em:

C: Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks. Montero still ranks as a top player at his position with a .308 average and 11 runs, but has just one hit in his last five games. Worse, the Diamondback catcher has a scant eight knocks in 41 at-bats since April 9. Montero will still see RBI opportunities batting sixth, but don't depend on the backstop for average or run production.

1B: Adam Dunn, White Sox. Dunn is mirrored in a two-for-30 slump, dropping his average to .145 on the year. With merely two dingers on the season, Dunn appears to still be feeling the effects of an emergency appendectomy. Don't give up on Dunn, as he will be a steady stream of homers if he gets healthy. However, let him marinate on your bench until he awakens from his slumber.

2B: Sean Rodriguez, Rays. Following an impressive 2010 (53 runs, 40 RBI and 13 stolen bases in part-time), many expected Rodriguez to thrive in the absence of Evan Longoria. Unfortunately, Rodriguez is batting just .190 in 42 at-bats on the year. With Longoria likely to return within the week, any value Rodriguez maintained goes out the window.

SS: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians. The Cleveland shortstop is hitting .172 with zero RBI in his past seven games. The slumps of Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana haven't helped Cabrera's run production, as the Indians' three and four hitters are hovering around .200. The comeback of Grady Sizemore will give Cabrera more opportunities to augment his RBI total, but until Choo and Santana start delivering, Cabrera's value is minimal.

3B: Alberto Callaspo, Angels. Maicer Izturis is dealing with some hamstring issues, but the return of Erick Aybar has diminished Callaspo's fantasy value. Callaspo hasn't done himself any favors, posting two hits in his last 16 at-bats. Unless Izturis injury lingers, Callaspo, despite hitting .301 on the season, should be dropped in all formats.

Bummed Out

Madison Bumgarner 2011 has been rough for Bumgarner.

OF: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies. The Colorado outfielder is hitless in his last 21 at-bats and is batting just .217 on the season. CarGo is attributing his woes to battling flu-like symptoms. If Gonzalez is still recovering, take him out of your everyday lineup until the 2010 batting champ returns to full health.

SP: Madison Bumgarner, Giants. Bumgarner came to prominence during the Giants' run to the World Series, posting a 2.18 ERA in 20.2 innings during the 2010 postseason. Regrettably, Bumgarner has failed to carry last year's momentum to the 2011 campaign. Through four starts, Bumgarner is 0-3 with a 7.79 ERA, 2.02 WHIP and just nine strikeouts. San Francisco still projects Bumgarner in the rotation despite his struggles, but don't start the left-hander until he proves he is back on track.

RP: Ryan Franklin, Cardinals. Four blown saves and a 7.87 ERA equated to Franklin losing his job as the Cardinals' closer. Mitchell Boggs appears to have taken the reins as the new fireman for St. Louis and has flourished, converting three straight saves without surrendering a run. Those in NL-only formats may want to hold on to Franklin in the rare chance he gets a second opportunity, but those in mixed leagues should drop the former All-Star.

Waiver Wire Watch: Tim Stauffer, Padres. Spending most of 2010 in a relief role, Stauffer has performed admirably in the starting rotation, with a 3.21 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 28 innings. Stauffer's numbers aren't inflated because of the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park; actually, it's quite the contrary. In 13 innings on the road, Stauffer maintains a 1.15 WHIP and 1.38 ERA, compared to a 4.80 ERA and 1.53 WHIP at home. Owned in just 36 percent of leagues, Stauffer may not provide a great deal of wins but will help lower your team's overall earned run average.

Rookie Review: Michael Pineda, Mariners. The fireballer Pineda has relinquished a mere two earned runs in his last three starts (19.1 innings) with 17 strikeouts. On the season, Pineda is 3-1 with a 1.07 WHIP and 1.78 ERA and has emerged as a leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year. Although he hasn't mastered the art of efficiency (Pineda's starts are often ended due to high pitch counts rather than getting knocked around), Pineda projects to be one of the top pitchers in the AL West division.

Big League Chew Player of the Week: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox. In wake of getting shellacked against Tampa on April 11 (two innings, eight hits, two walks, seven earned runs), Red Sox Nation wanted Dice-K's head on a platter. Matsuzaka has responded with two marvelous starts, conceding just two hits in 15 innings of shutout baseball, both correlating to Boston victories.

Spit Your Tobacco At: Chris Young, Diamondbacks. In his last six games, Young is two-for-25 with one home run and three RBI.

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Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at jbeall@whatifsports.com.

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