We've Only Just Begun…

Your team is in last place. You lost week one 9-1, and week two 8-2. Your mother’s team is thriving off of Garrett Jones, while your twelve year old cousin is using Barry Zito’s fast start and Vernon Wells’s resurgence to take an early lead. Do not fret. There are tons of time tested techniques (added accolades for alliteration?) that will help you recover and eventually win your league. Past fantasy seasons are littered with examples of these. They had to have worked sometime, right?

Four main strategies will help you rebound from a poor start (perhaps thanks to Backwards K All-Stars Ichiro Suzuki, Victor Martinez, and Brandon Phillips). You need to stick to your guns and not overreact to rough Aprils (see above). The reverse of that is necessary too, don’t overvalue great starts. Make sure you examine the deeper stats when figuring out how to value these amazing Springs. Streamline, streamline, streamline. You may hit fantasy gold. Hawk the waiver wire and interchange your lower level starting pitchers. Finally, you should look to trade for injured players whose value may have dropped. It’s a long season, guys who are injured for the first 3 weeks of April lose just as much time as Alfonso Soriano when he inevitably gets hurt in June. Let’s discuss.

Stick to your guns, DO NOT overreact to a poor start. Aside from some guys sucking early on, there can be a ton of other reasons that someone doesn’t perform in April or May. A big one is a tough schedule. Ryan Zimmerman’s poor start may be due to the fact that 31 of the Nationals’ first 40 games come against teams who finished over .500 last year. Justin Upton has a similarly hard spot, playing 24 out of 40 against teams who were above that same mark last year. This has shown in his start, and considering Upton was a 2nd round pick in most leagues (sometimes a 1st) this can be alarming. These two guys will rebound, they’re good players. We all know that.

Troy Tulowitzki’s tough start last year may have been due to a rough schedule in April. He still finished as a top-20 guy in most formats and may have helped you dominate your league if you drafted him later (where he was going, due to his poor 2008). Ryan Howard’s power was at its worst in April last year, but he also had a tough run of opponents. April showers brought May flowers (but no pilgrims, sadly) to Howard, who proceeded to dominate baseball for the remainder of 2009, finishing as a top 20 player.

Which one is Ryan Howard?

Do not, under any circumstances, overvalue great starts. Scott Podsednick and Alex Gonzalez are two of the top 20 players so far this season. Hell, Gonzalez has more home runs than Ryan Howard and Miguel Cabrera, while Podsednick is hitting .444. Does that mean I’d rather have Podsedwho (Podsedwhat? Podsaidwhere?) than Ryan Braun? Or even Andrew McCutchen? Clearly, not the case. Scotty’s being chased like he’s a shot of Burnett’s. He has 5 steals through 7 games, that won’t keep up. Alex Gonzalez, despite having 4 homers through 7 games, still sucks. AT BEST he will hit .260 with 15 home runs, and even that’s a stretch. I have a hunch that his Isolated Power (ISO) isn’t going to stay at .533 when his career mark is .151. When Barry Bonds injected 73 homers into bleachers nationwide, his ISO was .536. I’m not buying either of these guys.

Exhibit C is Vernon “Orson” Wells. At first glance, it seems like he’s releasing a War of the Worlds on opposing pitchers. His 5 homers come partially due to an ISO of .600. That’s a full Luis Castillo better than Bonds’s ’01 campaign. His HR/FB (home run to fly ball) ratio is an amazing 41.7%. His career mark is 11.9%. Sure, Wells conned his way into a massive deal from the Blue Jays a few years back, but he doesn’t have that kind of talent anymore. These stats prove this point. This is what I mean by examining the deeper numbers.

Streamline, streamline, streamline, then streamline some more. The year was 2009. Jazz was all the rage and a penny cost a nickel. I was starting another year of fantasy baseball and decided to grab Edwin Jackson off of waivers for a quick spot start. He went 7 innings, striking out 6 and allowing 5 hits (while throwing a shutout). Needless to say, I was pumped. Playing with house money at this point, I held onto him for another start. Then another. Soon enough he had a permanent spot on my roster, finishing the year with 13 wins, 161 K’s and a 3.62 ERA. That’s a perfect example of the ultimate success story. Edwin Jackson, ladies (or aliens pretending to be ladies who like baseball) and gentleman, is the reason you spot start. There are more than a few prime spot start candidates this year, here are some:

Ricky Romero – Toronto Blue Jays
Romero has always been a great pitcher when he can locate, which he’s been doing early on. Hang onto him for a little bit until you see signs of trouble, then bail. There’s always the chance that you won’t see any problems at all. (Side note – Expect trouble soon, he has a .160 BABIP and a super high strand rate, with 83.3% of runners getting left on base. He’s lucky, but ride this out.)

Kris Medlen – Atlanta Braves
This is the guy the Braves brought up before Tommy Hanson. I ain’t no big city lawyer, but that’s a pretty ringing endorsement. He’s got no wins this year, but he struck out 6 in 5.0 so far this year from the bullpen. He’ll be the first one to start if anyone drops the ball, so keep an eye out. They’ve got a good team down in Georgia. Just saying, he’s got the Pedigree.

Justin Masterson – Cleveland Indians
He’s currently 0-1 in two starts with the Tribe, but he’s looked fairly good. He struck out 14 in 11 innings and has a 2.45 ERA despite a BABIP of cryogenically frozen head proportions (.414). His strand rate isn’t incredibly high and he’s kept the ball on the ground more then 50% of the time that it’s hit. He was a top prospect in the Red Sox organization before their logjam at pitching allowed them to deal him and a Dr. Pepper for Victor Martinez. He’s another guy with great talent who’s worth taking a shot on.

Even he'd be jealous of that BABIP.

As you’ve seen, 2 of the 3 guys I picked to streamline I did based on not only their performances but their potential. This isn’t by accident. This early in the year, that should be the biggest factor. Remember, Edwin Jackson was a former top pick who had the skillset then finally put it all together.

Look for an injured player, then trade for him. Injured guys lose their value this early in the season because owners panic and want immediate production, especially if their teams aren’t doing well. Obviously Cliff Lee is a guy people drafted knowing he wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day. Same for Ian Kinsler. Look out for guys who become injured whose value may drop because of it.

Brian Roberts is not a player I was high on coming into this year, he’s aging and he was hurt. Fantasy players may have drafted him not knowing this, and now that guy may be freaking out. As little as a liked him coming into the year, the fact is he’ll probably hit around .280 when he comes back, and that Orioles lineup is more stacked than you might think. Expect 80 or so runs as well from Roberts.

Miguel Montero’s value is also at an all-time low, considering he tore his knee meniscus and is out for a while with surgery. The Arizona catcher doesn’t really have any worth right now, but if his owner is trading him for trash (or, say, Carlos Ruiz) I’d deal for him in a heartbeat. Remember, this guy was a top-7 catcher coming into the year. As long as you have a DL spot and a replacement, go for it. He should hit for a solid average in the second half of the season.

This time of year in the fantasy season can be scary. If a player you were counting on is hurt early, you may be thinking it’s all over. It isn’t, don’t worry. All this means is that you get to play the game a little more. Pay close attention to waivers and certain players’ starts. Also, make sure you gauge the value of injured and struggling players by their owners. It may let you steal a guy who will help you win your league later.

‘Til next time, keep the bat on your shoulders.
-Backwards K

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