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Johnny Cueto exploded out of the gates this season for fantasy owners, while Mat Latos and Jeff Samardzija weren't as successful.

By Michael Beller
April 13, 2015

One week of the season is now in the books, and while that isn’t anywhere near enough time to make any judgments, it is enough to appreciate some of the best performances we saw in the first seven days. This week’s Pitching Report looks beyond the Opening Day starts we focused on last week, moving on to the pitchers who starred, or flopped, once the spotlight of the first game of the season had been packed away for another year.

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It’s true that it’s too early to really change what we believed about most players in the league when we were drafting and auctioning just a few weeks ago, but it’s never too early to make moves to improve your team. In fact, with most fantasy owners preaching patience this time of year, it’s possible to make a profit by zigging and being aggressive in the trade market over the first few weeks. Just two weeks from now, 20% of the fantasy regular season will be in our rear-view mirror. That’s not to say your season would be finished with a poor April, but just a reminder that the fantasy year isn’t quite as long as it seems. Don’t be afraid to make a move just because the calendar hasn’t reached May.

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Pitchers of the Week

Johnny Cueto, Reds: 14 IP, 14 K, 0.64 ERA, 0.71 WHIP

Cueto tossed seven shutout innings in his first start of the season, and that was only good enough for a no-decision. Five days later, he allowed one run in seven innings, and, as he should have expected, got a loss. Cueto is now 0-1 despite allowing a total of one run in his first 14 innings of the season. His fantasy owners would have been happier if the Reds offense gave him more run support this week, but they can’t complain too much. Cueto always seems to get overlooked the best starting pitcher discussion, but that could change this year. He has finished in the top four in Cy Young voting in each of his last two healthy seasons, and would have been a shoo-in for the award last year if Clayton Kershaw hadn’t put together one of the best pitching seasons in MLB history. Cueto’s six-pitch arsenal is already giving hitters nightmares this year, and he looks well on his way to another huge fantasy year.

Scott Kazmir, A’s: 7 IP, 1 W, 10 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP

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​Kazmir was electric in his first start of the season, fanning 10 Rangers while allowing just one hit and two walks in seven frames. Through the first five innings of the game, he had nine strikeouts while throwing just 66 pitches, but he eventually slowed down and gave way to the bullpen with the game well in hand. One thing to keep an eye on is Kazmir’s usage of his cutter versus his slider. The pitch has similar action, and can sometimes be used interchangeably, depending on the pitcher (Jake Arrieta does this well). Kazmir has always been a heavy slider pitcher, but he threw 30 cutters in the win over the Rangers—18% of his total pitches—while tossing just six sliders. Of course, we cannot make any pronouncements after just one start, but this is something worth monitoring. Kazmir never threw a cutter until his return to the majors in 2013, and he didn’t really have a handle on it until last year. If that pitch is getting better and can become something he can go to in any count this season, he could have one of the best years of his career.

Bartolo Colon, Mets: 13 IP, 2 W, 13 K, 2.77 ERA, 0.77 WHIP

In a rotation filled with young guns who could eventually push the Mets back into the playoffs, it was the 41-year-old Colon who got the nod on Opening Day. He shut down the powerful Nationals, throwing six innings of one-run ball while striking out eight and allowing just four baserunners. He gave up three runs to the Braves over the weekend, but tossed seven mostly effective innings, surrendering six hits and whiffing five. Colon’s not going to strike out anywhere near a batter per inning for the entire season, but it’s remarkable that he has been able to retain significant fantasy value into his 40s. There are no tricks from him at this point, as pretty much everyone knows they’re going to see a heavy sinker with a four-seam fastball, slider and occasional changeup with Colon on the mound. He has been throwing the four-seamer a lot in the early going, but he’s never going to stray from the sinker for too long. His next start comes on Friday against the Marlins.

Pitchers of the Weak

Mat Latos, Marlins: 0.2 IP, 0 K, 94.50 ERA, 12.00 WHIP

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Last Tuesday, Latos was all set to make his debut for a Marlins team that garnered some World Series buzz at the end of spring training. But the day ended as anything but exciting, and a whole lot sooner than Latos expected. He didn’t make it out of the first inning, allowing seven runs on six hits and two walks in a 12-2 loss to the Braves. Latos allowed three straight doubles to Freddie Freeman, Christian Bethancourt and Chris Johnson, sandwiched in between singles by run-scoring Nick Markakis and Andrelton Simmons. One of the two outs he got was on a sacrifice bunt by Alex Wood. When Eric Young reached base against Latos for the second time in the inning, Mike Redmond mercifully went to the bullpen. Latos’ numbers in 16 starts last year were actually quite strong, but injuries derailed his season. His velocity was fine, and he was throwing all his pitches, as well. Chalk it up to nothing more than bad command and Atlanta taking advantage. He gets another shot at the Braves on Monday.

Taijuan Walker, Mariners: 3 1/3 IP, 3 K, 24.30 ERA, 3.30 WHIP

Walker has been a darling of the prospect and fantasy communities for a few seasons now, so when he had a strong spring, it placed him on the precipice of stardom in the minds of a lot of people. Stardom will have to wait at least another start, as Walker struggled mightily in his first outing of the season. The A’s tagged him for nine runs on nine hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings, and cruised to a 12-0 win. Walker gave up more runs in his first inning in the regular season (three) than he did in 27 innings in spring training (two). As was the case with Latos, Walker dealt with poor command more than anything else. That has been an issue for him in the past, even while he was having a ton of success in the minors. Still, he improved on that during the spring, and the bet here is that his talent ultimately wins out and makes him, at worst, a top-40 fantasy starter this season. He’ll take the ball again on Wednesday against the Dodgers.

Jeff Samardzija, White Sox: 13 IP, 7 K, 6.23 ERA, 1.31 WHIP

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Many people believed the balance of power in the AL Central shifted south to Chicago and Cleveland from Detroit this offseason. Part of the reason the White Sox became a semi-popular World Series pick was the acquisition of Samardzija, giving Chris Sale a running mate in the rotation that could push the group to be one of the best in the league. Samardzija has looked anything but that part this year, allowing a total of nine runs in his first 13 innings over two starts. He took the loss against the Royals on Opening Day, surrendering five runs on six hits and three walks in six innings, while striking out just one batter. Five days later against the lowly Twins, he allowed four runs on eight hits. If there was a silver lining in that game, it was that he whiffed six, but it was still a disappointing start against a team that is likely to be one of the worst in the majors this year. His next outing comes at the opposite end of the spectrum, as he’ll take the mound against the Tigers in Detroit on Saturday.


Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire

Buy, sell or hold

Buy: Dallas Keuchel, Astros

Keuchel was a pleasant surprise for the Astros last year, posting a 2.93 ERA, 3.21 FIP and 1.18 WHIP in 200 innings. His low strikeout rate kept a ceiling on his draft stock this year, with his name routinely called outside the first 40 starting pitchers. Keuchel’s first two starts this year suggest he can keep on having success even if he doesn’t miss many bats. In 14 innings, he has allowed two runs on six hits while fanning seven batters. That his FIP and xFIP (3.20) were strong despite an 18.1-percent strikeout rate last year should give fantasy owners confidence that he can follow a similar path this year. He does already have six walks on the year, but he has been able to pitch around that by getting nearly 80 percent of his balls in play this year on the ground. His low strikeout totals make a trade feasible, and he can return top-30 starting pitcher value.

Sell: Sonny Gray, A’s

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​Gray has had some of the best results of any pitcher this season, going 1-0 and allowing just one run and seven hits in his first 15 1/3 innings. At the same time, he has just seven strikeouts in his two starts, continuing a disturbing trend that began last year. In his 64-inning stint in 2013, Gray struck out more than one-quarter of the batters he faced. Last season, that fell all the way to 20.4 percent. Gray had big whiff rates on his curveball and slider in 2013 (though he used the slider sparingly). Those both fell off last year and that has carried into this season. Gray has thrown a total of 54 sliders and curves, getting whiffs on just seven of them. Unlike Keuchel, Gray needs to be getting high strikeout totals to be a really effective fantasy starter, and there’s not much reason to believe those are in the offing. Given his name brand and early-season success, you should be able to fetch a nice return if you dangle him now.

Hold: Carlos Carrasco, Indians

After Carrasco dominated the Astros last week, striking out 10 batters in 6 1/3 shutout innings, you may be tempted to see what you can get for him on the open market. That impulse is understandable, especially when you factor in that the Astros could very well approach or surpass the major league record for strikeouts in a season. It would also be a mistake. We profiled Carrasco over the winter, highlighting why his shutdown seven-week stretch to end the 2014 season was not a mirage. In short, he made a few mechanical adjustments when the Indians sent him to the bullpen, and those unlocked a completely new pitcher. Carrasco features a fastball-slider-change triumvirate that could end up being among the very best in the league this year. If you don’t believe me, ask George Springer.

You should always be open to making moves to improve your team. Just make sure Carrasco has an appropriately high price tag.

Prospect Watch

Carlos Rodon, White Sox

When the White Sox sent Rodon to Triple-A Charlotte at the end of spring training, chances are they also slipped him a one-way ticket to Chicago for a date in the not-too-distant future. There’s no doubt the 22-year-old is one of the five best starting pitchers in the White Sox’ organization, but he’s in the minors so the team can keep him in the organization for as long as possible without having to pay too much for the honor. So he’ll spend some time in Charlotte, making life miserable for Triple-A hitters. He got that effort underway last week with a five-inning, one-run, nine-strikeout performance against Norfolk. Rodon’s fastball sits in the 93-to-95 mph range, and he’s known to have a potentially dominant slider. It’s the changeup, which remains a work in progress, that the White Sox really want him to work on while he bides his time in the minors. He threw nearly as many changes as sliders in the start, and it was anywhere between average and very good. If Rodon harnesses the changeup, a team with serious postseason aspirations may not be able to keep him down beyond the Super Two deadline. Regardless of your league parameters, he needs to be owned across the board.

GIF of the Week

Corey Kluber is off to a strong start, striking out 17 batters across 13 2/3 innings in his first two starts. One of those 17 was Nick Castellanos, who will probably have this slider in his mind for the next year or two.

Two-start pitchers

1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Matt Harvey
3. Jordan Zimmermann
4. Carlos Carrasco
5. Jon Lester
6. Gerrit Cole
7. Adam Wainwright
8. Jacob deGrom
9. Anibal Sanchez
10. Brandon McCarthy
11. Matt Shoemaker
12. Scott Kazmir
13. Andrew Cashner
14. Jose Quintana
15. Michael Pineda
16. Tim Hudson
17. Mat Latos
18. R.A. Dickey
19. Rick Porcello
20. Jake Odorizzi
21. Danny Duffy
22. Jeremy Hellickson
23. Wei-yin Chen
24. Aaron Harang
25. James Paxton
26. Matt Garza
27. Shelby Miller
28. Daniel Norris
29. Mike Leake
30. Ross Detwiler
31. Scott Feldman
32. Tom Koehler
33. David Buchanan
34. Trevor May
35. Rubby De La Rosa
36. Eddie Butler
37. Chris Heston
38. Matt Andriese

Eagle (-2)
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