One week of the fantasy baseball season is in the books, and if you have Vernon Wells on your team, chances are you are in first place in your league.
You cannot put too much stock in the first week of the baseball season. If you think Dallas Braden is striking out 300 batters, Garrett Jones is hitting 70 home runs, and Dana Eveland is breaking Orel Hershiser’s scoreless innings streak, then you are taking the opening week far too seriously.
So which players who have jumped out of the starting gate like Kentucky Derby winners have a chance at being fantasy forces this season, and which will come crashing down to Earth quicker than a space shuttle low on fuel? Here is a look...
Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays
The 2002-06 Wells was one of the best outfielders in fantasy baseball. The 2007-09 Wells has been one of the biggest blunders in fantasy baseball. A combination of injuries, Father Time, and poor pitch selection have made Wells’ numbers very pedestrian in recent years and made him a middle-round player at best in fantasy drafts before the season.
But Wells has either found his swing again or has raided Albert Belle’s illegal bat collection, because he is slugging like nobody’s business. He has already knocked out five home runs and driven in nine runs. This is what fantasy owners were thinking would happen during the past three years.
Fantasy future: Maybe Wells was embarrassed with how his star (and stats) have fallen and dedicated himself in the offseason to being an All-Star again. It’s not like he should be over the hill. He is only 31.
I think Wells can end up with 27 homers and 95 runs batted in. I do not think he will rip the cover off the ball to the tune of 33 homers and 110 RBI like he could in his prime, but as long as he avoids injury there is no reason to think he cannot put up his best numbers since 2006.
C.J. Wilson, Texas Rangers
Wilson had his moments when he was in Texas’s bullpen. Some were good (19 saves, 2.81 ERA in 2009). Some not so good (6.02 ERA, 1.64 WHIP in 2008). But now Wilson has transformed himself into a starting pitcher, and the former reliever pitched like Sandy Koufax in his first outing of the season.
Wilson pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out nine batters in a no-decision against Toronto during the opening week. He was throwing in the low 90s, had his breaking ball working, and was hitting his spots consistently. If a southpaw can do that every time he takes the mound, especially with Texas’s offense providing above-average run support, expect superb fantasy stats.
Fantasy future: It's harder to predict than Tony LaRussa’s pitching change patterns. For every Ryan Dempster that converted successfully from reliever to starter, there is a Joba Chamberlain.
Wilson has stuff and throws lefthanded, two things going in his favor. But he pitches in Texas, and those hot summers will probably inflate his ERA and WHIP. Wilson is a guy I would definitely take a flyer on because he has the upside to win 14 games and strike out 150 batters, but do not be shocked if a few weeks from now this experiment fails and he is back as a setup man in the bullpen.
Jon Rauch, Minnesota Twins
Remember right around fantasy draft and auction time when Minnesota announced that it was going with the dreaded bullpen-by-committee approach after Joe Nathan was ruled out for the season? Well, that plan lasted about as long as Gil Meche’s stay on the disabled list.
Rauch, who could easily double as the starting center for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA playoffs, has stepped right into the closer’s role and is pitching just like Nathan would have if Tommy John surgery didn’t stop his season before it could start. Rauch has already converted five save opportunities and is becoming almost as popular as Amy Mickelson these days.
Fantasy future: Minnesota is going to win a lot of games this season. The AL Central is lousy, and playing in a brand-new ballpark and having Joe Mauer locked up for several seasons will juice up the Twins even more. Just the save opportunities against Kansas City and Cleveland alone could turn Matt Lindstrom into Rollie Fingers.
Rauch is going to keep the closer’s job as long as he keeps saving games, and considering his size, arm, and his past closing experience, all signs point towards him being able to hold onto the spot. Can Rauch turn out to be the Heath Bell of 2010? It wouldn’t surprise me.
Rich Harden’s pitching lines leave more people scratching their heads than the endings of M. Night Shyamalan films. Look at Harden’s opening masterpiece of the season—3 2/3 innings, one earned run, one hit, five walks, eight strikeouts. Harden is a walking comedy-drama because you don’t know whether to laugh or cry when you look at his numbers.
One of my rules: If Mark Kotsay is hitting fifth for a team on Opening Day, chances are that team is not making the postseason. That goes for both the Chicago White Sox and fantasy squads.
Maybe it’s just me, but Duke winning the NCAA men’s basketball tourney feels kind of like Taylor Swift winning MTV and Grammy awards. It just seems like there was somebody better out there.
It took less than one week for Atlanta’s Chipper Jones, Boston’s J.D. Drew, and San Diego’s Chris Young to get injured. Surprisingly, Milton Bradley remains as healthy as Richard Simmons.
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