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Fantasy baseball Pitching Report: Mejia an asset in mixed leagues

Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images

If Jenrry Mejia can keep his walks under control, he may become a top-40 fantasy starter this year.

In this week's Weekly Planner, we offered Jenrry Mejia not just as a pitcher worthy of streaming for both his starts this week, but as someone worth owning outright. On Monday night against the Cardinals, he showed exactly why he can be an asset in mixed leagues.

Mejia shut down one of the league's best offenses, throwing 6 2/3 shutout innings while allowing just four hits and striking out seven. He had the whole arsenal working, though he did walk three batters. If Mejia keeps those walk numbers down, he can easily be a top-40 fantasy starter this season.

FANTASY BASEBALL WEEK 4: Weekly planner | Hitting report | Closer rankings | April 22 news

The notion is laughable at this point, but four weeks ago Mejia was battling with the immortal Daisuke Matsuzaka for the fifth and final spot in the Mets' rotation. Mejia had just 72 1/3 career major league innings before this season, but the numbers still favored, and certainly the upside argument, clearly favored him. In 27 1/3 innings last year, Mejia racked up a 2.30 ERA, 2.46 FIP and 27 strikeouts against four walks. He was also comfortable and effective with his slider and his changeup, a rarity among pitchers with less than 50 innings of experience and lacking a top-prospect pedigree. Hitters offered at his slider more than 50 percent of the time when it was out of the strike zone. They did a touch better against the changeup, swinging at it 41 percent of the time when it missed the zone. That sort of swing-and-miss stuff in off-speed pitches can make a strikeout artist. The sample size was far from conclusive, but it hinted at the potential hiding in the 24-year-old.

Mejia has proven the right choice in the now ridiculous Mejia vs. Matsuzaka debate. What might be a surprise is that his fastball velocity is down in the early going. His fastball averaged 90.9 mph through his first three starts, down from 92.1 mph last year. He's throwing his cutter more regularly this year, but he's also throwing more four-seamers as a percentage of his total pitches than he did in 2013. He has struggled spotting the cutter, evidenced by a .378 opponents OBP against the pitch, but he has also induced an 11.8-percent swinging strike rate with the offering. Moreover, hitters have managed just a .179 wOBA against his four-seam fastball and .260 wOBA against his slider. If he commands the cutter better the rest of the season, the way he did against the Cardinals, he could be a whole lot more than a top-40 pitcher.

The wildly underrated Mejia remains widely available, regardless of where you play your fantasy baseball. That may not remain the case for much longer after his outing on Monday. Get in on him while you still can.

Photo: Al Behrman/AP

Johnny Cueto celebrates after throwing a complete game shutout against the Pirates on April 16.

Pitchers of the Week

Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds -- Last week: 9 IP, 1 W, 12 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP

Cueto had another great week, tossing a complete game shutout against the Pirates, allowing just three hits and striking out a season-high 12. Cueto only has one win to show for his strong April, but don't hold that against him. He has pitched at least seven innings in all four of his starts, and fanned at least six batters in each outing, as well. After an injury-riddled 2013 season, the Reds ace is back.

Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals -- 12.2 IP, 2 W, 16 K, 0.71 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Lynn dominated the Brewers in his first start of the week, throwing seven scoreless innings, striking out 11 batters and giving up just three hits to earn his third win of the season. He didn't quite make it through six innings against the Nationals over the weekend, but gave up just one run -- a solo homer -- and five hits, striking out five. He's 4-0 with a 3.42 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 23.2 innings this season.

Ervin Santana, Atlanta Braves -- 13 IP, 1 W, 18 K, 1.38 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

Santana has been a savior for the injury-wracked Braves rotation. He allowed just one run on four hits and two walks while striking out 11 against the Phillies last week, then backed that up with a one-run, six-hit, seven-strikeout performance in a win over the Mets. The Braves expect to get reinforcements in the form of Mike Minor this weekend, but Santana's performance this April cannot be overlooked.

Pitchers of the Weak

Matt Garza, Milwaukee Brewers -- 12 IP, 8 K, 6.75 ERA, 1.75 WHIP

Garza had a rough week, giving up nine earned runs across two starts against the Cardinals and Pirates. He allowed 17 hits and walked four batters in 12 innings, going 0-1 against his division rivals. He did manage to strike out six against the Cardinals, but it was a week to forget for Garza.

John Lackey, Boston Red Sox -- 5.1 IP, 6 K, 10.13 ERA, 2.63 WHIP

Lackey made just one start last week, but it was all sorts of bad. He surrendered six runs on 10 hits and four walks against the Orioles, taking his second loss of the season. He faced 29 batters, meaning he allowed nearly as many baserunners as he got outs. Lackey has now allowed six runs and 10 hits in back-to-back starts.

R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays -- 4.1 IP, 4 K, 10.38 ERA, 2.77 WHIP

The Twins shelled Dickey last week, roughing him up for five runs on seven hits and five walks in 4.1 innings. Dickey's FIP is outpacing his ERA by a run-and-a-half, but it's still way up at 4.73. His strikeout rate last year plunged to 18.8 percent from 24.8 percent, and this year it's down to 17.3 percent. Meanwhile, his walk rate is up to 14.4 percent this season.

Buy, sell or hold

Buy: Scott Kazmir, Oakland A's -- Kazmir was a popular sleeper pick during draft season, and he has rewarded the fantasy community's faith with a strong start to the year. You may not be able to pry him away from an owner who likely targeted him aggressively back in March, but this is not an aberration. He dominated the Astros last week, allowing two earned runs on six hits in eight innings, striking out five and walking none. Believe in Kazmir. He's a legitimate top-30 starter with top-20 upside.

Sell: Kyle Lohse, Milwaukee Brewers -- The Brewers' starting rotation has helped push the team to the top of the NL Central and the best record in the majors, and Lohse has been no small part of the unit's success. He's 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA, 3.23 FIP and 26 strikeouts in 27 innings. It's that last statistic, the nearly one strikeout per inning Lohse is getting, that should make fantasy owners dubious. Lohse has never had a strikeout rate better than 17.1 percent in his career. This year, it's up at 23.2 percent. Now is the time to sell him.

Hold: Jesse Chavez, Oakland A's -- Chavez, the 30-year-old journeyman who made exactly two major league starts before this season, is the 14th-ranked starting pitcher in fantasy baseball through the first three weeks of the season. He has a 1.38 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 0.92 WHIP and 28 strikeouts against five walks in 26 innings. He had two straight starts in which he allowed one run in seven innings while fanning nine and walking none. His success has been legitimate and undeniable, but it's hard to trust a guy without a track record before his 30th birthday. You shouldn't necessarily have him on the block, but understand the very real chance for a regression here.

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Daniel Webb may get a shot at closing if Matt Lindstrom continues to struggle in the role.

Rookie pitcher spotlight

Daniel Webb, Chicago White Sox

The White Sox have been a pleasant surprise offensively so far this season, but the team hasn't had any consistency in the ninth inning with Matt Lindstrom in the closer's role. He has blown three saves (though one was an inherited mess) while saving just one game, surrendering three earned runs and nine hits in eight innings. With Nate Jones, the pitcher everyone expected to be the closer, still on the DL, Robin Ventura could open the door for Webb, who has been effective this season. After allowing runs in each of his first two appearances, Webb has surrendered just one run on two hits in his last 6.1 innings. He has yet to rack up big strikeout numbers, but he fanned 38 batters in 27.1 innings at Triple-A Charlotte in 2013. If Lindstrom continues to struggle, the White Sox could turn to Webb. Those of you speculating for saves in deep leagues should consider adding the 24-year-old.

By the numbers

0.64 -- Mark Buehrle's ERA thus far this season. He has surrendered just two earned runs in 28 innings. Buehrle is a very effective real-life pitcher, but he's not a fantasy star. Try to sell him while he's as hot as he's likely going to be.

2.63 -- The difference between Stephen Strasburg's 5.33 ERA and 2.63 FIP. A lot of that owes to his .394 BABIP and 42 strikeouts in 27 innings. Give Strasburg's owner a call and see if he's getting frustrated with the Washington ace. This might be your only real chance to buy an ace at a discount.

33.7 -- Masahiro Tanaka's strikeout rate in his first three starts. Not only has he fanned 28 batters in 22 innings, he has a 50-percent ground-ball rate and 18-percent line-drive rate. Tanaka has taken to the majors and America quite well.

.444 -- Madison Bumgarner's sky-high BABIP. Not surprisingly, his FIP is more than a run lower than his ERA. Even with that ridiculously unlucky BABIP, he still has a solid 3.48 ERA. Bumgarner's owner is unlikely to be disappointed with the lefty, but it's worth checking in on him.

16.3 -- Francisco Liriano's swinging-strike rate through four starts. He has struggled a bit, allowing 11 runs, 21 hits and 10 walks in 25 innings, but he does have 28 strikeouts thanks to all those empty swings. He may not be able to match the rates he put up last year, but he's still going to be big-time strikeout pitcher.

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