There's only one important axiom for fantasy owners to keep in mind on Opening Day, and that's to never overreact to anything that happens on Opening Day. And with that, I'd like to kick off the 2014 Pitching Report by talking about Cliff Lee.
The Phillies' ace struggled on Opening Day, allowing a career-high eight runs on 11 hits in five innings, striking out just one batter. In just the latest installment that there is a ton of context in a pitcher's win-loss record, Lee got the win, but that's not what we're interested in here. We're looking for an explanation for Lee's struggles. Luckily, it's not too hard to find.
First, and most obvious, this is just one start. The Cy Young winners in both leagues will have a handful of bad starts this season. One of Lee's just happened to occur on Opening Day. Second, Lee was facing one of the best offenses in the league. The Rangers feature potentially the best No. 1 through No. 5 hitters in the majors, and the final two guys in that group, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios, got to Lee on Monday. The pair went 4-for-6 with a homer (Rios), three RBI and four runs scored against Lee, who lasted only five innings.
If you're really looking for something to be worried about with Lee's outing Monday, it would be the way righties touched him up. No one really hit Lee all that well last year, but righties did manage a .236/.261/.399 line, compared to .208/.270/.267 for lefties. Beltre and Rios of course did their damage from the right side of the plate, and right-handed hitting Josh Wilson had a three-RBI double off Lee, as well.
Still, that's looking for a problem where there quite frankly isn't one. Lee continued his domination of lefties, holding Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder to a 1-for-6. His velocity was fine. His secondary pitches weren't quite as sharp as they normally are, and he didn't locate with the effectiveness he usually does. There's really nothing more to it than that. Since this is Opening Day, however, it stings a bit more than usual. Everything that happened Monday represents 100 percent of a player's season to this point, but it isn't even one percent of his entire season. Relax and remember that Opening Day is just the first tenth of a mile in the marathon to September.
Starting pitcher barometer
• Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs -- For the second straight Opening Day, Samardzija dominated the Pirates. This year, he shut them out for seven innings, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out three. The reason he gets a bump this week has to do with the way he took care of business on Monday. Despite the results, Samardzija was not throwing his best stuff. Notably, his splitter, which is his best pitch, did not have the bite that it normally does. That helps to explain his low strikeout total, but it's also indicative of Samardzija figuring out other ways to dominate a game. There has always been a chance that Samardzija would develop later than expected, given that he was a two-sport superstar into his early 20s and didn't focus solely on baseball until the Cubs drafted him. A performance like this lends credence to that theory.
• Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates -- Liriano was one of the biggest reasons the Pirates finally got back to the playoffs last year, but there was still some lingering doubt as to whether he could do it a second year in a row. If Opening Day is any indication, fantasy owners who invested in him will be just as happy as those who did last year. Liriano struck out 10 Cubs and held them to no runs and four hits through six innings. His fastball sat in the low-to-mid-90s, and his changeup and slider were equally as filthy.
• Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers -- The much-maligned righty had a great Opening Day, shutting out the Braves for six innings while allowing four hits and striking out four. He was certainly worth a gamble this season since he came with such a cheap price tag, and he rewarded his owners in his first start of the year. He'll face a much tougher challenge over the weekend when he takes on the Red Sox.
• Tanner Scheppers, Texas Rangers -- You never want to see a sleeper get off to a rough start, and that's exactly what happened with Scheppers on Monday. He was on the other end from Cliff Lee in that Phillies-Rangers slugfest, allowing seven runs and eight hits in four innings. He threw first-pitch strikes to just 11 of the 23 batters he faced, and recall that he facing an offense many expect to be among the best in the league. He's not going to lose his spot in the rotation because of one bad outing, but he's not going to have an everlasting leash from Ron Washington, either.
• R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays -- Dickey is going to struggle whenever his knuckler isn't dancing, as was the case on Opening Day. He allowed six runs on five hits and six walks in five innings against the Rays. It's those six walks that are troubling. His success is built on him being the only one who knows where his knuckle ball is going. When that isn't the case, as was too often true last year, he's going to run into problems. It's tempting to believe that he can reclaim his Cy Young form of 2012, but it's possible that guy will never be all the way back.