Of the more than 7 billion people on the planet, hundreds of millions are baseball fans. And of those hundreds of millions, the majority likely engage in some form of casual prognostication. And of those hundreds of millions of off-the-cuff predictions made in ballparks, living rooms and sports bars every day, a healthy percentage are probably so far-fetched and nonsensical that any impartial observer even halfway rooted in reality would dismiss them as pure lunacy.
And yet with that wide range of possibilities, from the practical to the abstract, on every corner of the planet, I submit that no one -- not a single of those 7 billion people -- predicted what ultimately happened for Philip Humber on Saturday night.
Perfection. Of the 27 Seattle Mariners who went to bat against him, 27 went straight back to the dugout. He became the 21st pitcher in major-league history to achieve such a feat.
Clearly, Fantasy owners were among those predicting less than perfection for Humber, starting him in only 22 percent of leagues even in a week when two-start sleepers were in short supply. Needless to say, he wasn't widely owned either, which of course makes him a prize off the waiver wire now.
Or does it?
No, you haven't missed your opportunity yet. Naturally, he's one of the most added players in Fantasy, but even now, after we've all had some time to reflect on the accomplishment, he remains unowned in nearly half of all leagues. Mr. Perfection is out there for the taking. All you need is for someone to reassure you it's OK.
But I won't be the one to do it. It wouldn't be right. How can I advise you to make a move that I haven't been able to bring myself to make?
That's not meant as a swipe at Humber himself. I'm not saying he's another Armando Galarraga, who got plenty of attention in Fantasy after his "perfect" game two years ago only to deliver nothing the rest of the way. I actually owned Humber in my shallowest league -- a 10-team Head-to-Head -- for much of last year, and you know what? I got some use out of him.
But the season was further along when I added him. My team was in a later stage of its development. Right now, only three weeks into the season, we're still in that critical period when every player's best-case scenario is possible. A guy who isn't performing well might simply be off to a slow start. A guy who is performing well might be in the earliest stages of a breakthrough season. Obviously, not everyone is going to pan out, but enough will on both sides of that equation that you have to keep an open mind to every legitimate possibility.
You know what isn't a legitimate possibility? Philip Humber becoming a Fantasy ace. He'll be useful perhaps, but not an ace.
How can I be so sure? Look, he's 29. He's already reached the limits of his ability. He had his coming out party last year, when he finally got to hold down a regular rotation spot, and it was as impressive as anyone could have expected. He nearly made the All-Star team. He maintained a WHIP below 1.20 by substituting efficiency for ability. It's the same approach that has sustained Bronson Arroyo, Joe Saunders and Carl Pavano for years. They're all solid pitchers. They're all making millions. But they're all probably also on your league's waiver wire.
Nothing sets them apart in Fantasy. They're not bat-missers, and pitchers who aren't bat-missers have limits to their upside. Instead of piling up strikeouts, they're giving up hits, and that's not a good tradeoff in Fantasy.
Eventually, the season will reach a point when those pitchers' ability to consume innings, vanilla as they may be, will make them relevant in Fantasy, but only after the last of the potential bat-missers have flamed out and your waiver claims become more a matter of surviving the week-to-week than stockpiling talent.
Right now, while so many players still have yet to show their true colors, your roster spots are precious. You want to devote them to the players who have a chance to become something special. You want as many of the "freebie" studs that emerge off the waiver wire as you can possibly get, and by devoting a roster spot to assured mediocrity, you're only limiting your opportunities.
That's not to say every potential bat-misser is worth owning over Humber at this point. Ones who have yet to offer even a glimmer of hope up until now, such as Francisco Liriano and Brian Matusz, are safe to leave on the waiver wire simply because nobody would jump at a player with a 12.00 ERA -- not one who was less than a sure thing to begin with. But the ones with legitimate upside who have been raising eyebrows this season are worth protecting. They're worth the roster spots.
You know who's worth owning over Humber? Jake Arrieta. He has a fastball in the mid-90s and demonstrated strikeout-per-inning potential before hurting his elbow last season. You know who else? Jake Peavy, Mike Minor, Jhoulys Chacin, Jonathon Niese and Bartolo Colon. I assume they'd be obvious in comparison.
Their stuff will benefit you more than Humber's over the long haul, which is what baseball is all about. When you reduce a game of 162 down to one, weirdness ensues. That's how pitchers like Humber throw perfect games.
Of course, if you play in a league where pitchers like Peavy, Minor, Chacin, Niese and Colon are already owned, maybe yours is deep enough that Humber is an automatic add. As always, deductive reasoning is crucial. That said, even in those formats, you shouldn't consider Humber the savior of your pitching staff, and you shouldn't feel obligated to stick with him if an intriguing but lesser-known talent like Ross Detwiler continues to deliver.
In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value
Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins: You might dismiss Morneau's two-homer game Wednesday as simply another by-product of new Yankee Stadium, where he has hit .458 (22 for 48) with seven home runs over his career, but keep in mind none of those seven came last year. No, that version of Morneau wouldn't have been capable of such a performance. Besieged by injuries and lacking in confidence, his current .947 OPS would have been forever beyond his reach. But already, we're seeing a change in him. While his recovery from his 2010 concussion has been anything but straightforward, I've always contended that, if he was able to flip the switch and regain his MVP form, he wouldn't suddenly lose it again. So considering he ended spring training on a nine-game hitting streak in which he hit .433 (13 for 30) with three home runs and hasn't let up since, I'd feel comfortable using him on an every-week basis.
Jake Peavy, SP, White Sox: Yes, I'm following up Morneau with Peavy, but no, you haven't caught a time warp back to 2007. Of course, that's part of the reason for my optimism now -- knowing how good they were then and that only injuries have prevented them from being that good since. Though Peavy's recovery from shoulder surgery last year was less than complete, his strikeout rate and fastball velocity were at least encouraging enough to suggest he was on his way back to form. And while his claims of improved health this spring were easy to dismiss as unbridled optimism, he has followed them up with a 21-to-2 strikeout rate in three starts, including one at Texas and one against the Tigers. Peavy may have been one of your last draft picks, but he should no longer be one of your last bench options. He's earned the right of a Matt Moore-like leash with this hot start.
Yonder Alonso, 1B/OF, Padres: Look, I wanted to believe in Alonso too. His stint with the Reds late last year was nothing short of impressive, and his keen batting eye and consistently high batting average in the minors would have normally made him an ideal candidate to find instant success in the majors. But as unfair as it may seem for him to suddenly wind up in San Diego after all those years of hype, that's what happened. And the way his first 50 at-bats there have gone, you have to assume he'll be the latest in a long line of left-handed power hitters (Adrian Gonzalez being the lone exception) to fall victim to PETCO Park's spacious dimensions. Maybe one of these years he'll learn to maneuver them, but he's not mixed-league material right now.
Alejandro De Aza, OF, White Sox: In 537 at-bats between the majors and minors last year, De Aza had 40 doubles, eight triples, 13 homers and 34 stolen bases. So what would you need to see from him this year to believe he's genuinely that player? A bunch of doubles, triples, homers and steals, right? Well, so far, he has two, two, three and two in 56 at-bats. Even with increased exposure, his diverse, Shane Victorino-like skill set is as apparent as ever. He's currently the 12th-ranked Head-to-Head outfielder, and yet he remains unowned in 28 percent of leagues. If yours is one, you're running out of time to do something about it.
Mike Minor, SP, Braves: Once Minor secured a rotation spot this spring, the one lingering question with him was whether or not he could keep his pitch counts low enough to pitch beyond the sixth inning. Safe to say he's answered it, going beyond seven in two of his first three starts. Though his strikeout-to-walk ratio always hinted of his potential, only now is he attacking hitters the way he did in the minors, which is basically the same leap Jon Lester made in 2008, when he went from being a five- and six-inning pitcher to everything he is today. It's early, yes, but the pedigree is promising enough that you should already be thinking of Minor as one of your top five starting pitchers.
Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners
Jarrod Parker, SP, Athletics: When Graham Godfrey struggled in three starts, the Athletics decided they didn't want to waste any more time on a pitcher who lacked the upside to become a long-term member of their starting rotation, demoting him to the minors on Saturday. That same day, Triple-A Sacramento removed Parker, whose pedigree and 2.18 ERA in four starts suggest he does have that kind of upside, in the third inning of a start, which has the rumor mill buzzing that he could be on his way to the majors. If that's the case, even mixed-league owners will want to take notice. If your format is deep enough that Drew Pomeranz-type rookie has value, now is the time to make a move for Parker. You may not get another chance once he officially gets the call.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox: In case you haven't noticed, Kevin Youkilis isn't off to the best start for the Red Sox. Not only are his numbers down, but he has already had to contend with back, groin and quadriceps injuries as well as a manager who questions his commitment. Meanwhile, his heir apparent at third base, Middlebrooks, is setting the world on fire at Triple-A Pawtucket, batting .429 (15 for 35) with six home runs in his last eight games. Chances are Middlebrooks won't replace Youkilis outright, but a DL stint or even a trade isn't so far-fetched. One way or another, the Middlebrooks era is looking more and more like it'll begin this year.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B Cubs: Rizzo's hot start at Triple-A Iowa would mean more if Bryan LaHair wasn't also playing well at the major-league level. Or if the Cubs hadn't already said they'd prefer to keep Rizzo in the minors. But at some point the numbers have to count for something, and right now, Rizzo's are off the charts. He's batting .369 with seven homers and a 1.113 OPS in 65 at-bats, somehow managing to exceed his performance at Triple-A Tucson last year. Of course, like Tucson, Iowa isn't exactly PETCO Park, so perhaps Rizzo still has some flaws that don't show up in the box scores. But if he continues to deliver at this pace over the next couple months, the Cubs will have to think long and hard about shifting LaHair to left field to make room for the rookie.
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