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Mother Lode or Fool's Gold: Hot Out of the Gate

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Mother Lode or Fool's Gold: Hot Out of the Gate
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared at RotoExperts.com.

This week Brad and Tom embrace the true meaning and spirit of Mother Lode or Fool’s Gold by dissecting some early performances.  

Tom:  The whole reason Brad and I write this column each week is to stamp our seal of approval, or disapproval, on players based on their more recent showings.  That and we love to hear ourselves type. 

What we also love to do is answer the bevy of questions that come flooding into our email accounts each week.  Much like this one: tell me more about this young pitcher for the Yankees, Nick Swisher (1B/OF/RP, NYY).  Is he for real? 

Well, after a ninth inning in which he allowed zero runs on one hit, one walk, and one strikeout, I can tell you that Swisher looked like a heavier Andy Garcia out on the mound.  Yes, the actor. 

As for his pitching, Micah Owings (SP, CIN) called and he’s none too happy about being the second-best hitter to take the mound this season.  He wants his glory back.  Brad, what are your early impressions on the first 10-plus days of the 2009 season?    

 
 

Brad: You do know that I love to hear myself type, that is when I don't have Fiona Apple, Alanis Morrisette or Jewel playing on repeat. Isn't it ironic? Don't you think? It's like free advice, when you've already paid. All right, I'll stop now, before all my masculinity seeps away.

I think it's tough to gauge performance based on the first few games of the season. Obviously the slow starts by studs such as Ryan Braun (OF, MIL) and Brandon Webb (SP, ARI) are frustrating, but it's not like you are going to drop them.

Webb is a bit more unclear because of his health, but Braun's numbers will be there in the end. I guess you'd rather have him slump early on rather than during your playoff push, right?

Rather than focus on the disappointments, Tom and I are going to debate four players who find themselves in the Top 50 rankings after slightly less than two weeks into the season. Tom, you're up.

Tell us about this young Pirate that has been on your mind. Not the Somalian, the one who went to Walla Walla Community College and mans left field in Pittsburgh.

 

NYJER MORGAN, OF, PITTSBURGH
31 AB, 5 R, 12 H, 1 2B, 7 RBI, 3 SB, .387 AVG
At 28-years old, it’s now or never for Pittsburgh outfielder Nyjer Morgan.  At least that’s the approach he seems to be taking.  With super prospect Andrew McCutchen (OF, PIT) waiting in the wings, Morgan took this early opportunity and ran with it - both figuratively and literally.  His .424 OBP, .387 AVG, three stolen bases and five runs all look promising for the Pirates leadoff hitter.  But, is he just another stop-gap until McCutchen is ready, or can he provide some sustainable value.           

Tom:  Morgan is one of those guys who is widely available (only owned in 23 percent of Yahoo! leagues), ranked in the Top 50 (No. 28, to be exact), and who strangely infiltrates your dreams in sequences where he’s running circles around your car while you’re trying to have a conversation with Justin Upton(OF, ARI) about the importance of plate discipline.  Don’t ask.  I know that many of you have flagged Morgan as a player to watch, but I urge to you to not only watch, but to take the plunge.  There is no need to worry about whether or not Morgan will get his ABs once McCutchen is ready.  Take the hot-streak that he’s riding now and run with it.  Many have mentioned Morgan in the same breath as Juan Pierre(OF, LA), and for that you should consider him worthy of taking a flier.  In 326 career at-bats Morgan has posted a .305 AVG and a .358 OBP.  Both good, but not great.  He’s also never hit into a double-play in his short major league career.  That’s a testament to the speed he has.  If he only could learn to run the base paths better, he would be able to improve on getting caught stealing 32.1 percent of the time.  This season he’s been snagged only 25 percent of the time.  We know that what you can expect from Morgan is some line-drive hits, around 80 runs, and likely 30-plus stolen bases.  Take Morgan for what he is, a Mother Lode who is the answer to one of the most common post-draft questions: where can I get some cheap steals?          

Brad: What I like most about Morgan is that he seems to be consistent. He has a hit in all but one of the Pirates eight games. For a leadoff man, he also has seven RBIs. He’s going to strikeout more than you’d like (6:1 K/BB ratio), but that is something that improves with experience. Surprisingly though, Morgan is 28 and will turn 29 this summer. He’s likely hit the peak of his baseball skills and is a placeholder until McCutchen finally gets the call. For this season, and this season alone, I think Morgan can be a quality source of steals. God knows the Pirates won’t be filling the base paths, so Morgan should have plenty of opportunities to run. The RBI are a fluke, and his power is more limited than Tom’s athletic skills. I also don’t believe he can sustain a .300 average, so basically you have a two-category player as he will steal and score an above-average amount of runs. If you understand this, Morgan can prove to be the Mother Lode this year.

 

KOSUKE FUKUDOME, OF, CHICAGO CUBS
27 AB, 10 H, 5 R, 3 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB, .370 AVG

After an Opening Day, game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth in his first game as a Cub, Fukudome became everybody's homey in Wrigleyville. It was the sort of debut that legends were made of, the type of performance that would lead the Cubbies to that vaunted World Series title. Fukudome continued his stellar play, hitting .305 in April, .293 in May and starting in the outfield for the National League All-Star team. After that, well...let's just say Fukudome hit a wall, becoming one of the biggest disappointments in the league. A year older, and a year wiser, can Fukudome adjust to American baseball and reclaim his status as a Northside hero?

Brad:As a devout Cubs fan, I can't help but hope for the Fukudome that dominated National league opponents last April. As a fantasy baseball realist, I understand that he was completely clueless the second half of the season. Chalk it up to the more intense schedule, the adjustment to America, improved scouting reports, etc. Fukudome was flat out horrendous from June to October last year. His penchant for swinging and missing, resulting in a corkscrew-esque spin into the ground was embarrassing to watch. If it wasn't for a massive contract and above-average defense, Fukudome would have been in Triple-A. This year, he has opened the season strong again, hitting .370 with two homers and five RBIs. With Milton Bradley(OF, CHC) nursing a strained groin, Fukudome will bat in the three-hole and have plenty of opportunities to knock in runs. I think an offseason of practice resulted in a more patient hitter, the type that walked 34 times to only 33 strikeouts in April thru May of last year. So far, he has six walks to only four Ks. For someone that is widely available in league's free agent lists, Fukudome definitely has the opportunity to become the Mother Lode this year.

Tom:  I generally agree with your assessment, Brad.  However, there are a few yellow lights as far as I'm concerned.  We've still yet to see any power out of Fukudome against left-handed pitching.  Last season he had zero homers and drove in only 16 runs against lefties.  This season he's yet to face a southpaw, so I won't discount him completely.  He will, though, have to concede at-bats to Reed Johnson (OF, CHC) if his power struggle against lefties carries over to this season.  The other point you made about Fukudome batting in the three-hole doesn’t thrill me much with Bradley's groin not necessarily a major issue.  He’s listed as day-to-day and should return sooner than later.  But, all speculation aside, I have been pretty impressed with what Fukudome has done early on.  I probably don't like him as much as Brad does, but I can see the appeal and would condone owners riding out K-Fu, as I cautiously tag him as the Mother Lode.   

KYLE LOHSE, SP, ST. LOUIS
16.0 IP, 2 W, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 1.13 ERA, 0.56 WHIP
As a pitcher who nearly found himself out of baseball altogether, Kyle Lohse really knew when to turn it on – in 2008, his contract year.  Even after Lohse won 15 games, pitched 200.0 innings, and posted a 3.78 ERA many fantasy owners still left him off their 2009 radar.  Now after his near perfect start to the season, things have changed quite a bit.  But the jury still seems to be out on Lohse.  What can we expect to see from him this season?  Tom and Brad are on the case. 

Tom:  Brad, did you know that there are two main groups in the Nomlaki nation?  They are the River Nomlaki and the Hill Nomlaki.  Did you also know that Kyle Lohse is the most famous Nomlaki tribal member?  Need I say more?  What we know about Lohse is that he’s never been a strikeout pitcher.  Last season, in 200 innings, Lohse posted 119 strikeouts and carries a 5.6 K/9 ratio over his career.  So his eight strikeouts in 16 innings this season are right on par with his career numbers.  Where he has improved is in his walks allowed.  Lohse is posting 0.6 BB/9, which is a huge factor in his miniscule 0.56 WHIP.  Now I don’t expect Lohse to show such great command all season long, though I do think he has the ability to post a WHIP well below his 1.40 career average.  I don’t see much harm in taking a shot on Kyle Lohse.  The worst he can do is post the same 15 wins, 119 Ks, 3.78 ERA, and 1.30 WHIP that he put up last season.  My overall feeling is that he’ll exceed those numbers this year, which is why I’m going to mark him down as a Mother Lode.  

Brad: You call last year’s solid season the result of his status as a contract year pitcher. I’ll agree. It’s also called a Career Year, meaning he will never equal or surpass those numbers ever again. I give a ton of credit to the Cardinals for developing cast-off pitchers that no other teams want and turning them into contributing major leaguers. Chris Carpenter (SP, STL),Braden Looper (SP, MIL),Kyle Lohse (SP, STL),Todd Wellemeyer (SP, STL)...I could go on for days. The problem with Lohse is his career ERA of 4.63 and 1.40 WHIP. Even in his “career year”, Lohse had a batting average against of .272. That means he had a pretty stellar defense around him. I strikeout more at the local bar on a Saturday night than NL hitters do in a typical Lohse outing. Outside of a decent chance of getting 15 wins, Lohse, provides almost no other value. Go ahead, take Tom’s advice, but you will be left with Fool’s Gold.

 

KEVIN MILLWOOD, SP, TEXAS
14.0 IP, 1 W, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 0.64 ERA, 0.71 WHIP
A Texas Rangers starting pitcher worthy of fantasy ownership? Get out of here! Blasphemy! Well, after two gems, Kevin Millwood is making it pretty hard for the fantasy faithful to ignore him. The 34-year-old has four 15-plus win seasons and has six seasons with over 150 strikeouts. But, will pitching in Rangers Ballpark eventually take its toll on Millwood? Odds are Brad and Tom have different opinions.

Brad: When it comes to pitching in fantasy baseball I have three main rules:
1.  Love, unconditionally, any starter in the Twins rotation
2.  Avoid Orioles relievers at all costs
3.  See No. 2. Insert “Rangers starters” for “Orioles relievers”
So, I guess I’d be a liar if I advocated believing in Millwood’s hot start. Let me make it clear, I like Kevin Millwood as a pitcher. He has a career 4.04 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, and strikes out his share of batters. He’s a workhorse on the mound and typically approaches 200 innings per season. So what’s the problem? Since joining the Rangers three years ago, his ERA is closer to 5.00 than 4.00. His WHIP is closer to 1.50 than 1.30. He’s never struck out more than 157 batters and his BAA has been OVER .300 the past two seasons. Simply put, Johan Santana(SP, NYM) would likely struggle pitching in this park. Millwood is a talented pitcher, but at this point in his career he’s nothing more than Fool’s Gold.

Tom: When I think of Millwood the first thought that pops into my head is: I suppose you could do worse.  I admit that I’m no Kevin Millwood fan and I especially don’t like the fact that he is without a goatee, though maybe that’s what’s fueling these Cy Young-like performances.  My issue with Millwood starts with the 34-year-old’s performances over the past two seasons.  He’s managed only 19 wins in 60 starts with an ERA of 5.12 over the past two seasons and hasn’t looked any better than a No. four starter since joining the Rangers in 2006.  But there’s no reason to think that he can’t turn it around this season, right?  I mean, historically, Millwood pitches better in the second half of the season (3.61 ERA) as opposed to the first half (4.43 ERA), which makes this fast start pretty impressive.  However, it frightens me that while pitching in the Rangers Ballpark at Arlington, Millwood has a career 4.96 ERA and has allowed 318 hits and 25 home runs in just 275.2 innings.  Can you afford to roster a guy who pitches so poorly in his own ballpark?  For me he’s a spot, must-need starter, which makes him Fool’s Gold.    

 

Are you concerned about any guys who are off to hot starts?  Feel free to let the fellas know by sending any emails to Brad at brysz@rotoexperts.com This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it and Tom at Lorenzo@rotoexperts.com This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it . 

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