April 24, 2012

Each week of the baseball, a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.

1. What rookie most intrigues you so far and whose impending arrival will have the biggest impact on this season?

Will Carroll: Yu Darvish is still the most intriguing guy. His struggles are the kind of thing you can chalk up to nerves and a new league. His first pitch strike percentage seems to be the key, according to a nice analysis by Fangraphs' Dave Cameron. That's correctable quickly, especially considering Mike Maddux is there. Darvish's WHIP isn't good, but I think it will start coming down quickly. He's got a tough matchup against the Yankees this week, so there's still time to buy low. As for the future, Bryce Harper isn't going to sneak up on people and he's probably stashed in most leagues, but the Nats' hot start makes it more and more likely that we'll see him sooner rather than later. With everyone besides Matt Kemp looking for power, if he's not stashed in your league, do it.

Eric Mack: Let's go with co-rookies of the month in April, one in the AL and one in the NL: Yoenis Cespedes and Lance Lynn. Both of these young talents have been pleasant surprises in the early weeks, sure, but they also look like they have a strong full season and promising careers ahead of them. Cespedes is roughly on pace for a 30-30 season even with an average around .250, while Lynn has won each of his three starts. As for the impending arrival that will have the biggest impact, we still should look toward the June call-ups of Harper or Mike Trout. Either one of these guys can produce at greater than a Cespedes level for the final four months of the season.

Sabino: So far Cespedes has been every bit of the player he was billed and even more. His prodigious power and speed combination makes him a fantasy find and more than offsets a less-than-stellar batting average. I go out of my way to try to watch his at bats. As for those yet to come, I'd love to see what Trout can do in the big leagues. Off to a tremendous start at Salt Lake City (who doesn't hit at Salt Lake, however?), it's only a matter of time before the speedy five tools guy gets a chance in Anaheim, where the Angels have begun the season losing nearly twice as many games as they've won.

2. Javy Guerra and Jim Johnson have surprised as the top closers in each league. Hot starts destined to fade or All-Stars in the making?

Carroll: Closers come and go and fantasy is partly to blame. Why save? Isn't there something better we could fit in that category? I'm not buying in yet on the "shutdown" stat but think we really, really have to think about taking save out. If managers won't do it for us, we need to just begin ignoring it. When we're talking about Jim Johnson as an All-Star, this thing has gone way, way too far.

Mack: Both are solid starts in all leagues right now. It doesn't mean they will stay this way, but there isn't a good reason to expect them to slow down either. Guerra was relliable as the Dodgers' closer a season ago, holding off the lightning-armed Kenley Jansen for the role again this spring, while Johnson just needed to prove healthy and effective post Tommy John elbow surgery to rise to be the Orioles closer. Guerra is the better bet to stay consistently productive in the save category because of his supporting cast, but Johnson is a strong arm finally rising to the top in his own right.

Sabino: Closers are a strange breed because you don't necessarily have to be the best pitcher to do it. Both of these guys are very confident right now when they go to the mound and expect to get the outs to close out games. So, yes, I believe they can stay on a roll. In Johnson's case there are a few alternatives available (Pedro Strop, Matt Lindstrom, Darren O'Day and (for the time being) former closer Kevin Gregg, but it's Johnson's job to lose, and he's done nothing to jeopardize it. It wouldn't be out of the question to see him in an All-Star Game this season, but without overpowering stuff, he'd be hard-pressed to make a career out of closing, especially in the AL East. In Guerra's case, his former minor league battery mate, Kenley Jansen, is in waiting and both likely deserve to be big league closers. For now Guerra appears that he can have a long and prosperous career finishing games. It's a luxury that Don Mattingly is thoroughly enjoying.

3. Andy Pettitte is closing in on his return to the Yankees. Is he a worthwhile pickup?

Carroll: The SP5 on the Yankees is more likely to pick up wins that the SP1 on the Astros. So, yes, if you're searching for wins and wins alone, he's worth looking at. I'm not sure he'll be very useful aside from that. He wasn't a great fantasy pitcher his last couple seasons and taking one year off might give him a slight bounce, but not a lasting one.

Mack: Absolutely. Pettitte isn't going to be more than a six-inning pitcher when he returns, but he will be getting starts for the Yankees and getting the benefit of run support from one of the most stacked lineups in baseball. It won't take much for Pettitte to be a consistent winner for fantasy owners in all formats. Stash him immediately.

Sabino: No question. It wasn't an injury that had Pettitte sitting out for a year, it was his desire to be home with his family. In 21 starts in 2010, a number he could certainly match this season, Pettitte was 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Any reliable starter for a very strong Yankees team looking to fill of both fourth and fifth spots in the rotation is a worthwhile pickup in all leagues.

4. Carlos Beltran appears to have turned back the clock early in the season. Is it time to sell high or buckle up for a season-long ride joy ride?

Carroll: Those knees are still very risky but the maintenance program appears to be working well as we move toward two full years since his return to everyday play. He moves to a real offense, a neutral park and seems to fit well with that lineup. He's not Albert Pujols, but he's pretty good. Team context is everything here, so I'm not suddenly high on him, I just think it's a better situation than what we've seen from him since ... wow, been a long time, hasn't it?

Mack: Beltran's issue with the Mets was a matter of chronic knee woes. The knees are not those of a 20-something outfielder, but for as long as Beltan stays healthy hitting in front of Matt Holliday and company, he is going to get pitches to hit and will be a very productive fantasy outfielder. He is a must-start in all leagues right now and will remain that way until he needs a DL stint, which can't be ruled out for an outfield at his age and with his injury history.

Sabino: Talent has never been the question with Beltran; it's always been durability. Monday was his 35th birthday, and chances are, just like in three of the last four seasons, he's going to miss significant time with an injury, so with him riding a high, it's time to cash in your chips and move onto a safer play.

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