One of the hardest judgments for a fantasy owner to make, at least in my opinion, is determining if a once-electric pitcher who has since struggled or dealt with injury has truly returned. There are so many variables to consider, and your decision-making process will undoubtedly be influenced by your memories of his past greatness. I also know that those memories and the nearly guaranteed low price almost always lead me to kick the tires. And that brings us to Francisco Liriano.
Liriano (available in 83 percent of Yahoo leagues, 54 percent of CBS leagues and 93 percent of ESPN leagues) made his season debut Saturday, allowing one run on six hits and two walks in 5.1 innings, striking out nine in a win over the Mets. His average fastball clocked in at 93 mph and his off-speed pitches were lights out, as well. According to Fangraphs, he had a swinging-strike rate of 25.8 percent on his slider and 38.9 percent on his changeup. Yes, it's a small sample -- that goes without saying -- but it illustrates how good his offerings were in his first start. Even when he was posting ERAs north of 5.00 the last two seasons, he was always a strikeout artist, whiffing 279 batters in 281 innings in 2011 and 2012 combined. That ability alone makes him a great add in a league of any size, and the ceiling is about as high as you'll get in any pitcher you grab from the waiver wire this season.
Let's get to the rest of this week's wire.
? 2B Kelly Johnson, Tampa Bay Rays (Yahoo: 62 percent, CBS; 40 percent, ESPN: 29 percent) -- Johnson went 0-for-1 but had three walks Sunday, running his OBP to .361 on the year. He has five homers and four steals, and offers eligibility at second base and outfield. However, his peripheral stats don't support this continuing all season, as he has a 16.4 percent line-drive rate and is hitting the ball in the air 46.6 percent of the time. But if those fly balls keep leaving the park at a 14.7 percent rate -- not out of the question given his career numbers -- all those fly balls will be a good thing. Even if he can't keep this up all season, he's worth adding while he's hot. He may fall off a bit, but odds are he's still a starter at second base in mixed leagues that go 12 teams or deeper.
? 1B James Loney, Tampa Bay Rays (Yahoo: 78 percent, CBS; 61 percent, ESPN: 74 percent) -- Loney belted his third homer of the year Sunday, and now sports a .376/.433/.600 slash line. There are a few caveats to consider before diving in on Loney. First, he doesn't play against lefties. While that's undoubtedly helping his rate stats (Loney's a career .255/.309/.362 hitter against southpaws), being part of a platoon isn't an attractive quality in a player for fantasy purposes. Secondly, most owners depend on getting power production out of their first baseman, and Loney isn't really going to provide that. If you can live with both of those conditions, though, Loney makes a worthy addition. He's making contact more consistently than he has at any point in his career, with his contact rate above 90 percent and his strikeout rate in the single digits, both career firsts. When he does make contact, he's squaring the ball up, evidenced by a 33 percent line-drive rate. Go ahead and add him if it makes sense for your roster.
? SP Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians (Yahoo: 90 percent, CBS: 56 percent, ESPN: 96 percent) -- Four starts into the season, it looked as though the same old, post-breakout Ubaldo was here for good, walking guys and giving up homers. He allowed 19 runs in that timeframe, and all hope appeared lost. In his last three starts, everything has turned around. He has allowed just three runs in 18.2 innings and has 18 strikeouts to six walks. His velocity is down, but a splitfinger that he started throwing again last year has become a pretty strong pitch for him this season. You won't be able to trust him in every matchup, but he has worked his way into the discussion for mixed leaguers.
? OF Will Venable, San Diego Padres (Yahoo: 92 percent, CBS: 84 percent, ESPN: 94 percent) -- The rates aren't pretty, and they probably never will be. But if you can live with that, Venable brings some intriguing value to the table. He has five homers and seven steals this year, to go along with 14 RBI and 15 runs. A power/speed combo like that isn't exactly easy to find on the waiver wire at any time of the season, let alone during the third week of May. There's a little downside to him not starting against lefties, but he's still worth a look in deeper mixed leagues.
? OF Drew Stubbs, Cleveland Indians -- You probably need to be in a deep league to even consider Stubbs, which may necessitate that you hold on to him, as well. If you can rid yourself of him, though, do so now. His value is predicated on stealing bases, but you can't do that if you don't get on base. His OBP dipped below .300 after going 0-for-3 Sunday, and that's with a .351 BABIP. His strikeout rate is above 30 percent, an ignominious achievement he has realized in each of the past two seasons. It's time to let go.
? CJesus Montero, Seattle Mariners -- Those of you in keeper leagues probably won't want to do this, but if you're in a redraft league, you can probably afford to lose Montero, as well as his unsightly rate stats. He has a line-drive rate that is less than 17 percent, and is swinging at nearly one-third of pitches that are outside the strike zone. Catcher may not be the easiest position for which to find a replacement, but players like Russell Martin and A.J. Pierzynski (if you can stomach having him on the DL for a bit) are widely available.