Fantasy Baseball: Aces Falling on their Faces

As the first week of fantasy baseball came to a close, many owners were counting on their Opening Day aces to cap off a strong two-start week Sunday. Those in head-to-head leagues counting on a dominating performance from your No. 1 however, were likely disappointed as the top tier of fantasy pitchers collectively fell on their faces. Cole Hamels and David Price were awful, allowing eight earned runs a piece. San Francisco’s No.1, Matt Cain, was even worse, yielding nine earned runs over just 3.2 innings while losing to the Cardinals. R.A. Dickey struggled as well, allowing eight runs (seven earned) in a loss to the Red Sox. And the blowups didn’t stop their, Stephen Strasburg was touched for three first inning runs and was handed his first loss of the season, while Justin Verlander was solid but not great while also dropping his first game of the year. To add injury to insult, top-of-the rotation studs Jered Weaver (non-throwing elbow) and Yu Darvish (blister) were both forced from their starts early, though neither injury seems serious.

Sure, Adam Wainwright and Chris Sale were solid, but Sunday represented the most disappointing day of starting pitching in recent memory. The main silver lining? Most of you who suffered through a brutal pitching performance on Sunday were also playing against one as well, negating much of the damgage on a matchup basis.

Of all the aces that failed this weekend, R.A. Dickey sits as a clear concern. Dickey’s knuckler was expected to be money in the climate-controlled Rogers’ Centre but that was not the case on Sunday. Regression from his Cy Young season was expected, with many accepting his solid 2010-2011 numbers as a nice baseline for value, but this pitcher has been nothing like that. Dickey made his name on providing quality outings and a  bump in his strikeout rate vaulted him into the elite tier last season. So far this season, the K’s have still been solid (5 strikeouts in 4.2 innings Sunday) but the consistency is yet to show up. Dickey was beat around early Sunday, allowing a pair of home runs to Will Middlebrooks (who went deep three times on Sunday all-told). Still, it feels just a bit early to panic on any pitcher who you drafted as a top-30 arm. With a sample size of just two games, it may be hard to overlook the putrid performance, but if you drafted any of these starters for their consistent elite production, you really have no choice but to stay the course in the early going.

Can Dickey do it again?

Can Dickey do it again?

Around the League

  • The third base position took another hit over the weekend with Aramis Ramirez (knee) heading to the DL with a knee strain. Reportedly, the issue was something that Ramirez had been dealing with in the spring so there must be concern that this injury is a tad more serious than the “strain” tag would make it appear. The position will get some relief with Cardinals’ David Freese set to make his season debut on Monday, but there is truly slim picking on the waiver wire. Among third baseman owned in <40% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, Placido Polanco (yes, really), Chris Johnson, Juan Francisco and Lonnie Chisenhall top our list of available replacements. In other words, your screwed.
  • The reason that we put a pair of Braves in our above list is because Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco should both see plenty of at-bats now that rising star Freddie Freeman is on the DL with an oblique strain. Typically, these injuries cost a player 4+ weeks of time, fantasy owners should be prepared to be without Freeman for about a month at least. The pool of widely available players is slightly better at first base, but it is still slim pickings. Garret Jones, Brandon Moss, Mitch Moreland and Adam Lind are our top replacement targets that are <40%-owned in standard formats.
  • Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks had himself a day on Sunday, blasting three home runs (two off of starter R.A. Dickey) while on his way to a 4-for-5 performance. Middlebrooks flashed a nice power stroke last season but figues to be a pretty streaky fantasy commodity thanks to his non-existent plate discipline. Middlebrooks profiles similarly to guys like Trevor Plouffe, Mark Reynolds and Pedro Alvarez who boast solid power with poor plate discipline, but Middlebrooks would appear to have significantly more value on the open market. We wouldn’t be at all opposed to flipping Middlebrooks coming off of his monster performance and rolling with a slight less sexy, but similarly talented option at third.
  • We got our first closer change of the season this weekend with Kyuji Fujikawa taking over for the wild Carlos Marmol at the back-end of the Cubbies bullpen. Fujikawa has not pitched great, but Marmol has been a disaster in the early going. In Arizona, J.J. Putz struggle over the weekend and setup man Heath Bell picked up  a save. Still, after how these guys each pitched last year we find it difficult to believe the DBacks would actually consider making that change. Some eyebrows were raised in the KC ‘pen as well after Kelvin Herrera was called on to clean up Greg Holland’s mess on Sunday. Holland remains safe but Herrera is likely to emerge as the handcuff option this season. Marlins’ closer Steve Cishek also blew a save, but there’s really no one else in that bullpen. In Milwaukee, things appear to be getting a lot trickier. John Axford struggled yet again Sunday evening and looks absolutely lost out there. The Brewers don’t have much in the way of a proven second option, but Jim Henderson figures to get the first crack and is worth a speculative pickup right now.
  • Indians’ slugger Mark Reynold his a pair of bombs Sunday, and now has four long balls through his first 22 plate appearance. Reynolds’ .300 batting average is sure to tumble in the coming weeks, but we are still talking about a player who has averaged 35 home runs and 95 RBI per 162 games over his six-year career. With the sad state of third base in fantasy this year, you could do a whole lot worse that the powerful Reynolds at this point in the season.
  • Despite the headline of today’s 11th Inning Stretch, it was all bad for pitchers around the league. Marlins top-prospect Jose Fernandez made his major league debut on Sunday, hurling 5.0 efficient innings. He needed just 80 pitches (53 strikes) to get through the fifth while allowing one runs on three hits. Fernandez walked one and struck out eight and was in line for the win until closer Steve Cishek choked the game away. If Fernandez continues to pitch well, theres little reason to doubt that he will throw all of his 150-170 innings in the majors this season. He’s worth an add in all leagues.

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