Brandon Webb. CC Sabathia. Jake Peavy. Cole Hamels.
What do these four names have in common? All are "ace" pitchers, probably taken within the first five rounds of your fantasy baseball draft. All are absolutely killing those teams.
Add Francisco Liriano, Cliff Lee and even Tim Lincecum to the list and you have a new Murderers Row. ERA and WHIP Murderers that is.
Of the top ten fantasy producers (according to Yahoo) so far this young season, seven are hitters (Ian Kinsler, Albert Pujols, Nick Markakis, Grady Sizemore, Aaron Hill, Matt Kemp and Kevin Youkilis), three are pitchers (Zack Greinke, Johan Santana and Chad Billingsley).
A number of fantasy pundits eschew pitching in the earliest rounds of their drafts, preferring to stock up on the big hitters with steady and reliable production. They mine the later rounds for pitching diamonds-in-the-rough where the risk isn't as great but the rewards potentially substantial.
So far that strategy has proven a sound one, as Webb, Sabathia, Hamels etc have struggled while later-round gems like Greinke (12th), John Danks (14th) and Erik Bedard (14th) have sparkled. And don't forget waiver-wire finds Kevin Millwood, Wandy Rodriguez, Ricky Romero and Jarrod Washburn, all of whom have out performed the so-called aces thus far.
Meanwhile Hill is the only top ten hitter you could consider a genuine surprise.
Of course when the dust settles, Millwood is highly unlikely to have more value than Sabathia or even Liriano and Lee, though his ultimate value relative to his draft position should be much higher. That's the key to fantasy success: getting the most production for the price paid. Remember this when you're debating between Webb and Markakis, Peavy and Curtis Granderson next spring.
For those owners currently suffering through the ownership of any of these struggling aces, resist the temptation to take thirty cents on the dollar for them. You won't get enough value in return given where you drafted them and most should supply better production going forward. Besides, it's future production that matters when making trades, not past.
For those looking to buy low, know that all of these pitchers come with warning labels fully attached. Webb and Hamels are already battling injuries to their shoulders, while Sabathia and Lincecum bear the weight of expectations and massive inning totals.
If I had to recommend any one to target it would be Peavy as he's coming off a sub-200 IP season, plays half his games in the pitching haven of Petco Park and his Padres are looking like they might have more wins in them than expected.
As always when it comes to the rare creature called "ace," buyer beware.