After much anticipation and post-draft build-up, the fantasy baseball season started with a bang. That bang, of course, was the sound caused by every pitcher I own dousing themselves in gasoline and proceeding to light a match. I shouldn't have to tell you that the season is a marathon and not a sprint, although quite frankly one look at me would tell you I'm not exactly a running enthusiast. However, it is important not to make rash decisions because your sleepers are still snoozing or because some of your players appear to have a better chance of riding to the ballpark on a unicorn than getting a hit.
Chris Davis (1B/3B, TEX): The Rangers hung 29 runs on Cleveland during a three-game sweep, so you'd think that Davis would have actually contributed to that hit parade. Instead, he was more like the drunk guy at the parade eating cotton candy and lifting his shirt to get beads which weren't actually being handed out. Anyway, Davis ended the week with just one hit and nine strikeouts in 18 at-bats. Entering 2009, the biggest area of doubt was his plate discipline after drawing just 20 free passes in 317 plate appearances last season, and swinging at 37.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone (the league average is around 25 percent). The power numbers will come, but a repeat of last year's .280 average will be tough without an improved eye at the plate.
Jed Lowrie (3B/SS, BOS): How poorly do you have to play for Red Sox fans to starting asking when Julio Lugo (SS, BOS) will be back? Just look at Lowrie's numbers and you'll find the answer. He has struck out in nearly half of his plate appearances and was hitting .056 through Boston's first five games. The strikeouts are uncharacteristic given his track record, and he's hitting too many fly balls based on his lack of pop. Lowrie did have a hot spring (.343), but once Lugo returns he's sure to steal some at-bats and will likely make Lowrie expendable for fantasy owners.
Lastings Milledge (OF, WAS): Milledge was a popular sleeper pick entering the 2009 season, but he's started out slower than Joba Chamberlain (SP, NYY) on a field sobriety test. Milledge has no extra-base hits in 20 plate appearances and has struck out nine times. His strikeout percentage has not been an area of his concern over his career, and he's not chasing a ton of pitches outside the strike zone. Overall, he's just taking more pitches than normal, which may be related to his transition to the leadoff spot. If someone in your league has a quick trigger and releases Milledge, feel free to pick him up and be confident that his average will get back in the .270 range.
Alexei Ramirez (2B/SS/OF, CHW): Even after picking up his first two hits of the season on Saturday, the "Cuban Missile" is definitely having a crisis at the plate. Get it, Cuban Missile Crisis? Come on, you can't get that mix of fantasy baseball and U.S. foreign policy just anywhere. Ramirez's struggles are rooted in his complete lack of plate discipline. In his rookie season of 2008, he swung at 42.7 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone although he managed to make contact on two-thirds of those. However, it's hard to sustain peak performance while doing that and the fact that through the first week of this season Alexei is swinging at an astounding 56.8 percent of pitches outside the zone doesn't instill confidence in the fantasy community. A hot start could have moved him toward the top of the order, but for now, his owners have no choice but to wait out the slump.
Delmon Young (OF, MIN): Are we at the point yet where we just admit that Young is a bust and move on? Through his first two full seasons he has looked like a guy whose ceiling is of a 12-12 player as opposed to 20-20. The biggest thing holding him back is a failure to improve his plate discipline, most notably his ability to take a walk. His walk percentage is under five percent for his career and his BB/K rate is a woeful 0.24. In a crowded Minnesota outfield, Young is quickly finding himself the odd man out after riding the pine for three of the first six games. I am simply amazed that he is owned in more leagues than guys like Daniel Murphy (OF, NYM), Ryan Spilborghs (OF, COL) or even Nyjer Morgan (OF, PIT).
Cliff Lee (SP, CLE): Hey, remember when Lee won the Cy Young? OK, maybe it's a little too early to forget, but at this rate it won't be long. Like every Tribe starter, Lee has been woeful and ended the opening week with two losses, a 9.90 ERA, and an equally vomit-inducing 2.20 WHIP. Don't forget that this is a guy whose K/BB rate last season was twice his career mark, and he posted a 1.31 ground ball/fly ball ratio as opposed to a career mark of 0.84. Obviously it won't be this bad all season, but if Lee strings together a few solid outings you may want to think about dealing him while you can.
Jason Motte (RP, STL): I typically wait on closers, and every year I end up with a guy who gets flat-out embarrassed during the first week. To Motte's credit, he managed to avoid posting the infamous ERA of infinity, which occurs when conventional mathematics are unable to calculate the degree to which a pitcher sucked. Still, Motte yielded four runs in his first inning of work to blow a save against Pittsburgh on Opening Day. Since then, he was passed over for a save chance by Dennys freaking Reyes (RP, STL), got yanked from another save opportunity after recording just one out, and was called upon in the sixth inning of Saturday's game. I think the whole week can be chalked up to a learning experience, and it's not like there's another established candidate in the Cardinal pen. So while the saves could be sporadic now, I still like Motte for the long haul.
Carl Pavano (SP, CLE): Sometimes, no matter how bad you expect something to be, it ends up being twice as bad. This phenomenon, previously known as the Billy Ray Cyrus Effect, has now been re-classified as Carl Pavano Syndrome. He earned this honor by allowing nine earned runs in one-plus inning of work, including a pair of home runs. Well done, Carl.
B.J. Ryan (RP, TOR): Despite a loss of velocity on his fastball, Ryan remained effective in spring training, but that has not translated into the regular season. In his first outing he blew a save but eventually lucked into a win. Then, in a non-save situation on Saturday, Ryan allowed three runs and five baserunners in just 2/3 of an inning before getting the hook. It's clear that he just isn't the same guy that he was before arm surgery, and if you own Ryan, pick up Scott Downs (RP, TOR) as insurance.
Chien-Ming Wang (SP, NYY): To say that Wang's first start was disappointing is like saying that Saved by the Bell: The New Class was only a little worse than the original. The fact that he didn't strike anyone out wasn't terribly surprising given his career K/9 (4.00) and K/BB rate (1.55), but getting lit up by the Orioles isn't exactly reassuring. However, Wang hadn't made a regular season start in 10 months, so fantasy owners should hope he got all the rust off in one outing. Given his track record and what should typically be above-average run support, Wang is still worth owning. Also, for those who have questioned my maturity, I just talked about guys named B.J. and Wang and didn't crack a joke. Just saying.
Brandon Webb (SP, ARI): If there are five scarier words for a guy to hear than "He saw Dr. James Andrews," I haven't heard them. OK, maybe "It burns when I pee" is up there but you get my point. After struggling in his first outing, we found out that Webb would skip his next start and subsequently learned that he paid a visit to Dr. Andrews to examine his ailing shoulder. The good news is that no abnormal damage was found, but you can't help but be worried about arm issues this early on. Webb has thrown at least 208 innings for five straight years, so on the one hand he has shown tremendous durability. On the other hand, that kind of workload could be catching up with him. Webb's owners need to hope for the former.
Finally, I wanted to close with a quick comment on the tragic death of Nick Adenhart and extend my condolences to his family, friends, and teammates. The loss of a public figure due to someone driving under the influence brings additional focus on something that happens far too often. I'd be lying if I said there hadn't been times when I was younger and dumber where I drove home when I shouldn't have. However, now that I have a family I cannot fathom the thought of having that taken from me or taking it from someone else. I would urge you to keep that in mind the next time you're out at the bar when it's time to head home.