Fantasy Baseball: Week 3 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown
“This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”
In honor of Mad Men beginning its seventh and final season, fantasy baseball managers should take Don Draper’s advice early in the MLB season. Don’t go overboard playing into early trends, or else your fallen ace will hurl seven shutout innings on the bench.
Take Hyun Jin Ryu, who has relished a head start due to his appearance in Australia. Following two dominant outings, he unraveled against the San Francisco Giants, relinquishing eight runs (six earned) through two innings.
Anyone who subsequently placed him on the sidelines helplessly watched him paint seven masterful innings of work against the Arizona Diamondbacks, during which he allowed three baserunners and zero runs with eight strikeouts.
Of course, that doesn’t mean gamers are best served by closing their laptops and ignoring the flow of incoming data. Jose Fernandez was expected to stumble upon his hurried MLB debut last season, but his early success foreshadowed a full season of dominance.
This year, teammate Nathan Eovaldi is looking to weave a similar breakout campaign after two sterling starts. In those cases, it makes sense to add now and ask questions later to avoid missing something special.
Knowing when to listen to stats and when to tell them to shut up is a fine line. (Also, if you find yourself talking to baseball numbers on a computer screen, go take a walk outside.) Some slow starts mean nothing, but others could spell doom.
Here's a look at some of baseball's hottest and coldest pitchers causing roster dilemmas in Week 3.
Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
To give readers more bang for their buck, let's experiment with a new section giving quick looks to some deep-league streaming options. Standard, mixed-league owners may not desire their services unless they're dedicated streamers, but they can make for a solid value play in deeper leagues and daily formats.
Robbie Erlin, San Diego Padres (Monday vs. Colorado Rockies, Sunday vs. San Francisco Giants)
Erlin delivered a stellar 2014 debut, striking out six batters through six scoreless innings while allowing no free passes against the Cleveland Indians. The 23-year-old gets two starts in Petco Park to cement a spot in San Diego's rotation.
Aaron Harang, Atlanta Braves (Friday vs. New York Mets)
A desperation signing for the injury-riddled Braves, Harang has yielded just two runs through three terrific starts. He'll again face the Mets, who sport a putrid .279 team on-base percentage through a dozen games.
Alfredo Simon, Cincinnati Reds (Friday at Chicago Cubs)
Simon, a 32-year-old who has spent most of his career in the bullpen, does not have the track record to support his fast start. But he looked sharp going deep into two starts and gets a manageable matchup against the Cubs worth exploring for deep-league owners.
Jesse Chavez, Oakland Athletics
Scheduled Starts: Monday (4/14) at Los Angeles Angels, Sunday (4/20) vs. Houston Astros
Moving Jesse Chavez into the starting rotation has grossed strong results early for the Oakland Athletics, so fantasy owners would be wise to jump on board this week.
Chavez is a 30-year-old who previously made two major league starts, so don't expect a breakout season that makes the journeyman a top-30 starter. For now, just ride the hot hand and see where it takes you.
Against the Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins, hardly the two toughest opponents, he earned 13 strikeouts, two walks and a 1.38 ERA through 13 innings. Although those numbers are obviously unsustainable throughout the entire season, he could deliver another impressive two starts this week.
The new starter will face his toughest challenge yet when traveling to Los Angeles to face Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and the Angels, but there's little to fear in that lineup outside those two sluggers, unless you're Bartolo Colon.
During the weekend, Chavez will take the hill at home to battle the Astros, who are batting an MLB-worst .189 with 112 strikeouts. The 5'5" Jose Altuve leads the team with a .712 OPS.
This probably won't last for long, considering the slender righty's 5.27 career ERA, but Chavez is a two-start pitcher who is dealing early in April. He's worth a speculative add and start.
Ervin Santana, Atlanta Braves
Scheduled Starts: Monday (4/14) at Philadelphia Phillies, Saturday (4/19) at New York Mets
The National League could treat Ervin Santana very well.
After eight seasons with the Angels and a one-year stint on the Kansas City Royals, the inconsistent 31-year-old shifted to the NL for the first time in his career. Another panic move from an Atlanta squad with several pitching injuries to remedy, Santana may have saved his fantasy appeal with the switch.
When his status remained up in the air, there was several reasons to shy away from the veteran. He hasn't offered much in the strikeout terrain since 2008 while twice posting ERAs above 5.00 in the past four seasons.
In his first start of 2014, however, the good Santana showed up, working eight scoreless innings against the Mets. Needing just 88 pitches—the first 20 of which were strikes—to bulldoze through his new NL East foes, he could have easily gone the distance if given the chance.
He'll get served up the struggling Mets again, but not before visiting Citizens Bank Park, which touted MLB's highest homer rate last season, according to ESPN's park factors. It's a dangerous matchup, but not a deadly one.
In a league with daily lineup changes, consider benching him on Monday before utilizing him for his juicier start on Saturday. If that option is not available, take the plunge and activate the new Brave.
Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians
Scheduled Start: Wednesday (4/16) at Detroit Tigers
Well, that was weird.
Last Thursday, popular breakout candidate Danny Salazar posted a bizarre stat line against the Detroit Tigers. Despite recording 10 strikeouts, he surrendered five runs through 3.2 innings.
Not a single batted ball found a glove during his unusual performance. Adam Eaton was caught trying to stretch a single into a double, representing the only out not obtained via strikeout. Although he mowed down batters during his brief outing, the 24-year-old made some costly mistakes, including two pitches Jose Abreu crushed for home runs.
"It's an interesting line score," manager Terry Francona told The Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes after the game. "He obviously had really good stuff to have that many strikeouts, but. . .he also had a lot of deep counts and they saw a lot of pitches."
That now gives Salazar a 6.75 ERA and 1.93 WHIP through two starts. His next go-around comes at Detroit against the Tigers, one of baseball’s toughest draws. It adds up to a hearty recipe for sitting the promising power pitcher.
Yet I wouldn’t take that path.
Remember why everyone adored Salazar heading into season. He collected a 3.12 ERA and 65 strikeouts through 52 major league innings last season, earning top billing among B/R baseball writers—I was one of them who voted for him—as 2014’s breakout-pitcher prediction.
He has already walked five batters through 9.1 innings, but command was never a glaring concern in the minors. His electric stuff will eventually conquer some early jitters, and a .476 BABIP is sure to drastically dwindle.
Travis Wood, Chicago Cubs
Scheduled Start: Wednesday (4/16) at New York Yankees
This is becoming way too positive for my liking. Let's dampen the mood with some good old cynicism.
Even though Travis Wood posted a 3.11 ERA and 1.15 WHIP last year, I was among many fantasy analysts who remained skeptical of him heading into 2014. His 144 strikeouts through 200 innings weren't enough for my liking, and his low .248 BABIP and 6.9 HR/FB ratios forebode future trouble.
If anything, he's been unlucky through two starts, with a .300 BABIP below his .265 career mark. Yet even though his batted-ball rates have varied, they haven't belied any issues. That's because he has compiled an uncharacteristic 17 strikeouts through 12.1 innings.
Low strikeout numbers have always been the knock on Wood—see what I did there?—so sustained success in that area would certainly force me to reconsider my perception. A two-start sample size, however, is not enough to override 564.2 innings of data that say otherwise.
Despite sporting a 44.5 fly-ball percentage, he rarely was hurt by home runs last season. Let's see how he fares in Yankee Stadium.
As a lefty with a career .210/.289/.330 slash line allowed to fellow southpaws, Wood could avoid the wrath of the Bronx's short porch in right field. Had he brandished better long-term strikeout tendencies with less reliance on fly balls, he might make a sneaky matchup play against the New York Yankees' lefty-loaded lineup.
But I trust him enough to roll with him in this daunting interleague matchup. Monitor his punchout progress, but don't insert Wood into the lineup this week.
Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians
Scheduled Start: Thursday (4/17) at Detroit Tigers
While Salazar gets a mulligan for his confusing starts, there are legitimate concerns regarding Justin Masterson.
Following a season in which he morphed into a fantasy stud with a 9.09 K/9 ratio to complement a 3.45 ERA and MLB-best 58.0 percent ground-ball rate, Masterson looked the part with seven superb innings to slay the Oakland Athletics on March 31.
Since then, he has engineered back-to-back terrifying outings, during which he has surrendered 14 hits, eight walks and 10 earned runs through 8.1 innings.
What makes his struggles worth our attention while others get chalked up to a small sample size? The eight walks especially induce panic, and faltering against the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins adds fire to the flame.
After witnessing such extreme results from pitchers, it's natural to fear the worst. One bad start, you can say he just didn't have it that day. Two horrendous performances, it's time to be sure he's 100 percent, and there's reason to question Masterson's status.
While he has tossed his fastball at an average velocity of 92.6 miles per hour over his career, he's averaging 90.1 miles per hour this season. That's a huge dip that helps explain his skyrocketed line-drive rate.
Maybe he's just enduring a temporary dead arm period that will pass, but Masterson's owners should exude caution and bench him on the road against the Tigers.
Nathan Eovaldi, Miami Marlins
Scheduled Start: Friday (4/18) vs. Seattle Mariners
Through two weeks, Nathan Eovaldi has my vote to become this year's undrafted fantasy starter that turns into a stud.
Although he registered a 3.39 ERA last season with blazing velocity, Eovaldi did not generate enough whiffs with his 6.60 K/9 ratio. The low strikeout rate limited his 2014 draft stock, but the potential for more was eminent.
So far, so good. The 24-year-old has fanned 19 batters through 19.1 innings while issuing just one walk. His 4.19 ERA won't garner him much attention, but his 2.23 FIP should.
According to PITCHf/x data, obtained via FanGraphs, Eovaldi has registered the MLB's second-highest fastball velocity (95.8 miles per hour) behind Garrett Richards, another young hurler worth adding if available. It was only a matter of time until the strikeouts caught up.
He surrendered four runs last week, but that came against a lefty-heavy lineup in a hitters' ballpark. Seattle presents another batch of lefites for the pitcher who has allowed a .366 on-base percentage against them.
Then again, none of them besides Robinson Cano should have the young pitcher shaking in his boots. He's not Jose Fernandez, but Eovaldi must be owned in all leagues.
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