Tipping Pitches: Opening lessons

There's nothing like the yearly Opening Day mind games.

A few short weeks ago, Josh Johnson was your new ace, Carlos Zambrano was a good value and Shaun Marcum was a free agent. How quickly things change.

At this point, Johnson is average, Zambrano is terrible and Marcum is a solid guy to have in fantasy leagues (Wait, that last one might be right).

Opening Day carries some emotional weight for fantasy owners, but it boils down to just another start. Don't go overboard with reactions.

Here is a quick rundown of every starter from Monday:

• It's tough to pick which part of Johnson's opening start was most disappointing. One hundred pitches to get through five innings? Four walks to three strikeouts? An ERA of 7.20? Johnson walked a total of six batters in 34.2 April innings last year, so his four walks in five innings Monday has to be the worst part. Better days are ahead.

Johan Santana was moderately effective, but not dominating. He wasn't particularly efficient (103 pitches in six innings) or overpowering (five strikeouts). He did limit hits and runs. Coming off of an injury-shortened 2009, fantasy owners are happy to see him out there pitching solidly.

• National League, meet Roy Halladay. Halladay hit a bump in the first inning then went on to dominate with nine strikeouts to two walks in seven innings. He needed just 88 pitches and the nine strikeouts to have fantasy owners seeing stars. Is this a new, National-League Halladay, or still a career 6.59 strikeouts per nine innings guy that had a good day? Either way he will be great in 2010.

John Lannan struck out zero batters Monday. His WHIP was 2.73 and he allowed five runs in 3.2 innings. He'll be better when he's not facing the Phillies, but this isn't a guy to lean on in shallow or normal-depth leagues (12 team mixed or smaller).

Chris Carpenter got hit hard twice, home runs from Joey Votto and Scott Rolen, but was otherwise good. He struck out just three batters, but didn't walk any. That's somewhat to be expected. Carpenter hasn't had a K/9 above 7.00 since 2006 and his walks per nine innings was 1.78 last year. What's unexpected is the homers. He had a home runs per nine innings of 0.33 last season (seven total in 192.2 innings).

Aaron Harang did nothing to support illusions of a bounce back year. His 1.40 WHIP and 3.60 K/9 were thoroughly disappointing. After down seasons in 2008 and 2009, fantasy owners will not have a long leash with Harang.

• Marcum was even better than his final line indicated. He had a no-hitter into the seventh and his final line of three runs on three base runners is unlucky. When last healthy in 2008 he produced a 7.31 K/9, certainly helpful in fantasy leagues when used in the right way. Pick him up in deeper leagues.

Scott Feldman was decent after his overachieving 2009. Don't expect many more zero walk games from the career 3.39 BB/9 pitcher.

• That was classic Mark Buehrle. Seven innings, three hits, no runs, three strikeouts. Buehrle gets underrated because of his lackluster strikeout numbers (4.43 K/9 last year), but he's a 4.00 Fielding Independent Pitching ("FIP") pitcher with a chance to dominate a game every now and then.

Jake Westbrook's trip back to healthy and effective pitching hit a pot hole. A four-inning, 2.25 WHIP, one strikeout pot hole.

Westbrook was never overwhelming even when healthy so fantasy owners should use the wait-and-see approach to determine if he'll be useful in 2010 before starting him.

Ubaldo Jimenez was excellent. The thing to watch with Jimenez is walks and he walked just one on Opening Day. His breakout 2009 featured a BB/9 more than 1.00 lower than any he'd ever produced.

Yovani Gallardo had an average start. He struggled to throw strikes, with only 56 percent of his pitches finding the zone. Fortunately that resulted in just two walks. Gallardo must bounce back from his poor control (4.56 BB/9 last year) to become a top fantasy option.

• Wins are unpredictable in fantasy baseball, and shouldn't weigh into value for starters much. Still, one can't help wonder if Zack Greinke will have many more days like this. Greinke was solid enough through six innings (1.17 WHIP, four strikeouts, one earned run) only to see his win evaporate into the black hole known as "the rest of the Kansas City Royals bullpen except Joakim Soria."

Justin Verlander wasn't sharp, but did strike out six through five innings. As long as that K/9 stays above 9.00 (like the 10.09 K/9 of 2009) he remains an elite option.

Carlos Zambrano was not good (1.1 innings, eight earned runs). These starts will happen, though ideally not on Opening Day. Now is a good time to pick up Zambrano on the cheap.

Derek Lowe doesn't have a lot to offer fantasy owners at this point, besides the occasional average start. Monday wasn't one of them. Watch for a hot streak if he can get his sinking stuff working. Otherwise stay away.

Dan Haren pitched a clean seven innings and should be on track for his usual, brilliant first half. Four strikeouts in seven innings is fewer than fantasy owners would like, but nothing to worry much about. He has topped an 8.50 K/9 each of the past two seasons.

Jon Garland's final numbers looked better than he actually pitched. That's not inspiring considering his final numbers were: 4.50 ERA, 1.75 WHIP.

Tim Lincecum got off to a great start. He allowed four hits and no walks in seven innings, good for a 0.57 WHIP. Look for more of this in 2010, much more.

Roy Oswalt didn't impress or depress. Steady Roy will likely end with a FIP around 3.70 and a K/9 around 6.70.

• Sometimes fantasy baseball is about perspective. Scott Baker only allowed one home run, that's the glass-half-full side. The other side: 7.71 ERA and 1.71 WHIP. Baker remains a homer-prone pitcher who will usually have good control (2.16 BB/9 last year).

Jered Weaver's 9.0 K/9 was promising for one night, though don't expect it to continue. He was decent at limiting base runners with a 1.17 WHIP.

Zach Duke pitched admirably against a talented Dodgers' lineup. He gave up seven hits and two runs in five innings. He only struck out one, but with a 4.48 K/9 last season that's expected.

Vicente Padilla was victimized by a below average Pirates' lineup. He couldn't make it through five innings and allowed seven runs. Padilla can have good starts sprinkled in, but his game-to-game performance will kill fantasy owners.

Felix Hernandez wasn't sharp, allowing six walks. With a 2.68 BB/9 last year, walks shouldn't be a concern moving forward. The A's had trouble making good contact with his stuff, as he allowed three hits in 6.2 innings.

• After missing 2009 and pitching poorly in the spring, no one has more to prove than Ben Sheets. The result on Monday was a mixed bag. Positives: He didn't get hurt and he allowed four hits in five innings. Negatives: He needed 95 pitches to get through five innings and he walked four batters.

Shawn Marcum: After a strong Opening Day showing, Marcum is worthy of a free agent add. He posted a 7.31 K/9 in 2008 and has a strong cutter that should allow him to have a solid ground ball percentage.

Roy Halladay: This one's going to be tough, as you'd have to knock the socks off a Halladay owner to acquire him now. He's one of the few pitchers that's worth paying top dollar for. If there's any way to pry him loose, do it now.

13.50, 13.50, .615: Those were the HR/9, BB/9 and batting average against for Zambrano after his disastrous start Monday. Zambrano will straighten things out, but crooked numbers are always fun to look at.

UP: Jimenez -- He only walked one batter in six innings, a great start for a pitcher with two 4.00-plus BB/9 seasons in the past three years.

UP: Buehrle -- It's hard to dominate without striking many batters out, but this southpaw has the secret formula on lockdown.

DOWN: Lowe -- Lowe's issues from 2009 have carried over into 2010. He had a ground ball percentage of 56.3 last year, the first time it's been under 60-percent in his career.

DOWN: Westbrook -- Westbrook was showing up on some radars as a sleeper for 2010. His first start did nothing to support that.

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