Both Brian Matusz and Gordon Beckham were selected in the first round of the 2008 draft, Matusz fourth overall and Beckham eighth overall. Both immediately became elite prospects at their respective positions, and both made good first impressions in Fantasy.
But then both crashed and burned in particularly horrific ways, Beckham compiling a .662 OPS over the last two seasons, lower than that of Jason Donald, and Matusz posting a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts last year, the highest ever for a pitcher with that many starts.
Yes, over the last four years, their fates have intertwined like something out of a teenage vampire novel, which makes this latest development all the more, um, poetic.
Both are among the hottest claims off the waiver wire right now.
They did it with big weekend performances, Matusz striking out seven Rays over 7 1/3 innings of two-hit ball and Beckham homering three times in the span of two games.
Hey look, a full moon.
So were their big weekend performances just the requisite high notes in an otherwise dreary melody, or were they something halfway sustainable, the earliest signs of a long-awaited breakthrough?
Say it with me now: I don't know.
Gosh, that's annoying. You come in search of answers, and I give you the runaround before blasting you with the reality that I know as little as you do. Still, it's no more than halfway as annoying as this:
"I feel like I'm back to being the guy I was and the guy I've been," Beckham told MLB.com after his four-RBI game Saturday. "The guy I just kind of pushed under the rug for a long time. I just feel like I'm prepared to hit and ready to hit and that's allowing me to get in a good position and allowing me to do the things I'm capable of doing."
Oh, I feel so enlightened now. Thanks for explaining it in such concrete terms. That's the sort of response so abounding in details and overrun with specifics that I'm left with no room to wonder if the hot hitting is little more than luck of the draw.
OK, so the man himself is clearly no help, but in the end, it's the numbers that sustain us. And according to the numbers, here's what I know about Beckham:
He's 25, as in the age often cited (along with 26, 27 and 28) as the beginning of a player's physical prime, resulting in the kind of power boost that might cause a player like Beckham to have almost as many home runs through June 3 (eight) as he had all of last season (10). So there's that.
He has a .248 BABIP, which is low by his standards -- or any player's, for that matter. Even last year, when he hit only .230, he managed a .276 mark, and the .290 range is more common for him. Bump his .237 batting average up to the .265 range, which is a possibility with the normalization of his BABIP, and suddenly the doubters are few and far between.
His hot streak didn't begin over the weekend, but on May 1, when he went 3 for 4 with the first of his eight home runs. Since then, he's hitting .275 with an .813 OPS, resulting in 109.5 Head-to-Head points, which is good enough to rank him third among second basemen during that stretch, ahead of Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Dan Uggla and Brandon Phillips, among others.
Of course, the kicker for Beckham is the same as it was for Alex Gordon last year or Rickie Weeks the year before or any other highly drafted, highly regarded player who, for whatever reason, has underperformed to begin his career: He should have been doing this all along.
When you're on the fence about a player, that's what should put you over the top.
Matusz, of course, has the pedigree angle going for him as well, and unlike Beckham, he at least tips us off a little on what might have contributed to his turnaround:
"I feel real good with my slider right now," Matusz told the Baltimore Sun after Saturday's start. "I have a great feel. I'm just letting it rip, really. Just letting it go and attacking the zone with it. It's got great bite, so I'll hang with it."
Good plan. Matusz is indeed relying on his slider more, throwing it 20.8 percent of the time compared to a meager 8.3 percent last year, according to FanGraphs.com, and the payoff, like Beckham's, didn't just begin over the weekend. Over his last five starts, Matusz has a 2.87 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
Of course, the more obvious explanation for his resurgence is that his average fastball velocity is up to 91.0 miles per hour, which is about where it was during his rookie season and a full three miles per hour better than it was last year, when he fought through shoulder issues. That was the reason for optimism over Matusz coming into the season, and it's just as plausible of an explanation for his success now.
Of course, it doesn't explain why his season began with him allowing four earned runs or more in four of his first six starts, which is why his overall numbers are still ugly and the skepticism still abounds. It's not like his last five starts were Cy Young-caliber or anything. He's still the same basic specimen.
So here we are back to not knowing, back to basing our roster decisions on speculation and hunches. Blah.
But at this point in the season, with no more obvious breakouts available on the waiver wire, is that really such a terrible thing? If you've been clunking around with Jemile Weeks -- or worse -- at second base, if you've tried every Joe Blanton and Kevin Millwood type out there, hoping to strike gold with the hot hand, if you happen to have a junk roster spot that you've been using on players like Andrelton Simmons and Yasmani Grandal, heck yes, you should pick up Beckham or Matusz.
Just because I'm not ready to give them my seal of approval and live the next four months in anguish when it (predictably) backfires doesn't mean I'm not willing to take a chance on them.
And you should, too. Quick, before the werewolves come.
In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value
Jed Lowrie, 3B/SS, Astros: What gives already? Here we are a third of the way through the season, and Lowrie has an .877 OPS, good enough for first among shortstop-eligible players. His 172 at-bats are more than he had in 2010, when all the hype started in the first place, so the claims he's due to slow down eventually are wearing kind of thin. He's coming off a 16-game stretch in which he hit .328 with five home runs and a 1.064 OPS, much like he had in late April and early May, so clearly his season numbers aren't just the result of an isolated hot streak. A certain amount of skepticism on Lowrie is warranted, but this deep into the season, you have to recognize the sustainability here. Lowrie is averaging more Head-to-Head points per game than Starlin Castro this season, yet he's owned in fewer leagues than Kyle Lohse.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals: About the worst thing you can do in Fantasy Baseball is give up on a stud too early, and that line of thinking is precisely why Zimmerman was about a fourth-round pick entering this season. He didn't do anything to deserve it last year, his numbers declining across the board from near-MVP performances in 2009 and 2010, but he got a free pass because of his abdominal surgery early in the season. This year, his numbers have only gotten worse, and while injuries (this time to his shoulder) again deserve some of the blame, at some point, the injuries themselves become reason enough to discredit him in Fantasy. One thing's for sure: Since the start of the 2010 season, Zimmerman has a .756 OPS. That's a long time for a stud to go without stud numbers. Maybe "adequate starter" is more accurate now.
Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels: Frieri gave up his first hit as an Angel on Saturday. It came in his 14th appearance. Along the way, he racked up 30 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings, giving him a rate of 18.8 per nine innings. That's Aroldis Chapman-type stuff. Even before Chapman was closing, he was owned in more than 80 percent of leagues, the idea being, "Well, he has to take over closing duties eventually, and in the meantime, those strikeouts are mighty nice." Why doesn't the same logic apply to the 64-percent-owned Frieri? If anything, he's more valuable than Chapman was then because at least he's getting part-time saves, recording four of the team's last six. And considering he's the right-hander in the closer platoon and comes closer to having "closer stuff" than Scott Downs, it's only a matter of time before he wins the job outright.
Drew Smyly, SP, Tigers: Everything seemed to be going so well for Smyly through his first six starts, when he had a 1.59 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. But that was the problem: Everything had to go well for him to factor as a six-inning pitcher -- the low ERA, the stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio, everything. And, as is often a case for 22-year-olds rushed straight from Double-A to the majors, it didn't. Smyly's four-run outing on May 14 was the nudge that sent the house of cards tumbling. A few too many homers here, a couple extra walks there, and suddenly his ERA is 6.53 over his last four starts. It's the same thing that happened to Brandon Beachy in the second half last year. It doesn't mean Smyly isn't still a talented pitcher, but it does mean his growing pains will likely prevent him from making a significant contribution in mixed leagues.
Felipe Paulino, SP/RP, Royals: At 95.1 miles per hour, Paulino's average fastball velocity is second only to Stephen Strasburg's among starting pitchers. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that he's averaging 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. But, of course, that's nothing new for the Royals right-hander. He entered the season averaging 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings for his career. What's new is the consistency. In his six starts since returning from an early-season DL stint for a forearm strain, he has compiled a 1.70 ERA, allowing zero earned runs in four of them. Granted, six is a small sample, and Paulino has fooled Fantasy owners before, but he's still only 28. Isn't it possible all the injuries over the years delayed his breakthrough until now? Given his strikeout potential, wouldn't you want to gamble on that possibility rather than stick it out with a Drew Smyly?
Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners
Yasmani Grandal, C, Padres: Grandal got exactly one at-bat in the majors before the Padres sent him back to Triple-A Tucson on Sunday, and while some may consider the short stay a disappointment, it might actually be the best thing for the elite catcher prospect. Though at first glance, Grandal has mastered the Triple-A level, batting .317 with a .921 OPS, keep in mind Tucson is an especially favorable place to hit. Shoot, Anthony Rizzo hit .331 with a 1.056 OPS there last year, and his transition to PETCO Park was a disaster. At age 23, Grandal isn't far from taking over full-time, especially if Nick Hundley continues to hit under .200, but you don't want him tackling PETCO before he's 100 percent ready.
Mike Olt, 3B, Rangers: If Olt's two-homer game Friday wasn't enough to open eyes around the league, he went and repeated the feat on Saturday. And just for good measure, he did it again on Sunday, too. His 17 home runs now lead the Texas League, and he has a .318 batting average and 1.060 OPS to go along with them. Olt's batting eye has always been the attribute that set him apart from other minor-league sluggers, and seeing it translate to the upper levels only validates his top-prospect standing. A September call-up isn't outside the realm of possibility, but he'd need an Adrian Beltre injury for anything more.
Moises Sierra, OF, Blue Jays: Sierra tends to get overlooked behind Anthony Gose and Jake Marisnick in the Blue Jays system, but he certainly made some noise this weekend, homering three times in Friday's game before adding another in a 4-for-4 performance on Saturday. Sierra isn't a particularly well-rounded hitter, but the power potential, which has led to 10 home runs in 208 at-bats at Triple-A Las Vegas this year, is legitimate. And if it continues to this degree, the 23-year-old will force himself into the team's immediate plans. His free-swinging approach may ultimately doom him, but in a best-case scenario, a second coming of Vernon Wells would be pretty nice.
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