Save it for the second half, sonny.
That's probably what Alexi Ogando, Kris Medlen and Andrew Cashner heard when they first learned they'd have to begin the season in the bullpen, like it was some kind of stepping stone toward what they knew would be a greater prize.
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Either way, here we are a third of the way through the season, and three pitchers who have been with their teams from the beginning are just now gearing up to make their first starts.
OK, so Ogando's technically came Sunday, but you get the idea. They're just now getting "stretched out."
Obviously, they'd have more Fantasy value as starters than middle relievers. Ogando was one of the biggest finds off the waiver wire when he won 13 games for the Rangers last year, Medlen had a nice little run before needing Tommy John surgery in 2010, and Cashner, with his high-90s fastball, has plenty of room to grow.
But that's not the point here. The point is that three pitchers who have been with their teams from the beginning are just now gearing up to make their first starts. While everyone else is at 70-75 innings, they're at 25-30, which means when everyone else gets to 175-180, they'll be at 130-135.
And when everyone else falls into a late-August rut, taxed to the limit by an unfamiliar number of innings, Ogando, Medlen and Cashner will (in theory) cruise all the way to the finish line.
It's a refreshing approach to an increasingly frustrating predicament: How do you protect your young arms without losing them at the end of the season? The solution: Hold them back at the beginning instead. It's not like it's never been done before, but with three teams opting to do it at the same time, it seems to be picking up steam. And who knows? The Reds might have done it with Aroldis Chapman if the ninth inning hadn't come a-callin'.
Of course, no one can say for sure if it'll work -- if these pitchers will be able to change mentalities midstream or if they'll even last in their new roles (thanks for nothing, Ogando's groin). But if it goes without a hitch, it could become the norm, and Fantasy owners would be better off for it.
See, as much as a big-league organization may not mind taking a few lumps from a young pitcher at the end of the season or even shutting him down completely, Fantasy owners don't want anything to do with it. When they've been getting a certain level of production from a player, they come to expect it, and when they stop getting it, particularly during the time of year when it matters most, it's a betrayal of sorts.
Don't believe me? Just ask the owners of Michael Pineda, Brandon Beachy and even Ogando last year. The season splits tell the story. In the first half, Pineda had a 3.03 ERA. In the second half, it was 5.12. Beachy's jumped from 3.21 in the first half to 4.12 in the second, and Ogando's from 2.92 to 4.48. Considering the number of innings each of them threw in the years leading up to last season, it was all too predictable, and yet Fantasy championships were lost in the process.
So instead of simply marveling at the thought of Ogando, Medlen and Cashner suddenly being usable off the waiver wire, let's use their sudden role changes -- and the reasoning behind them -- as reminders that not all is as it seems for other pitchers as well ... and that the best way to prevent a betrayal is to betray the betrayer. Or something.
With that in mind, here are the six pitchers whose rising inning totals are the daggers destined for your back if you don't do something about it:
Lance Lynn: Lynn might be performing slightly over his head anyway, and since the innings are also a concern after he spent most of last season in relief, now is the ideal time to shop him.
Stephen Strasburg: Strasburg is so talented that a few extra innings probably wouldn't slow him down, but if the Nationals insist on shutting him down after 160 innings or so, as has been widely reported, we'll never find out.
Jeff Samardzija: Are we already seeing it with his miserable numbers in his last two starts? Hard to say, but you should probably let Samardzija regain some of his value before you try shopping him.
Chris Sale: Sale looks like an emerging ace, so you'd need to get something significant for him. Still, knowing that the converted reliever already has more innings than he did all of last season is a little unnerving.
Brandon Beachy: Again? Between injuries and early hooks, Beachy managed to pitch only 141 2/3 innings last season. His year of experience may give him a leg up over some of these players in September, but a jump to 212 1/3 innings is a lot to ask.
Felix Doubront: At 80 percent ownership, Doubront probably doesn't have enough trade value for you to care one way or another. But considering he pitched only 87 2/3 innings between the majors and minors last year, you wouldn't want to get too attached to him and his strikeouts.
If you own one of these pitchers, the time to shop them is now, when you can still get a full return for their value. Just keep in mind that the goal is a full return. Lance Lynn coupled with a halfway decent position player like J.J. Hardy should get you a true ace like CC Sabathia, let's say.
If you settle for less, then the dagger might as well be in your own hand.
Et tu, Brute?
In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value
Phil Hughes, SP, Yankees: When Hughes began the year with a 7.48 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in five starts, he destroyed whatever sleeper appeal he had coming into the season. But the Yankees, ever the pillars of patience, stuck with him, and he rewarded them with a 3.50 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over his last seven starts, averaging 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings during that stretch. With each quality start, his struggles last year seem more and more the result of the shoulder issue he had at the beginning of the season. And his struggles this year? Try just bad luck. He had a .328 BABIP over those first five starts compared to a .278 BABIP over his last seven. Considering his career mark is .287, you can guess which is the more sustainable of those stretches. If you need a pitcher off the waiver wire, you can trust that the Hughes we're seeing now is the one we'll see going forward.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves: Freeman hasn't exactly been the healthiest player in the world lately, so maybe his .209 batting average over his last 24 games is simply the effect of a scratched cornea and a bruised finger. Or maybe it's more a product of his 54-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio and relative inexperience at age 22. All I know is he's now on pace for as many home runs as he hit last season -- 21 -- but with only a .259 batting average to go along with them. Those numbers don't exactly hold up at the first base position. Freeman will get hot again at some point, and you'll be happy to start him when he does, but his recent slide is reason enough to believe that the .300-hitting, 30-homer season so many were projecting for him in April might have been more than a little unreasonable. Give him a chance to develop first.
Ryan Cook, RP, Athletics: Brian Fuentes' blown save on Friday, not to mention the seven earned runs he's allowed in his last four outings, finally convinced manager Bob Melvin what Fantasy owners have known all along: At age 36, the lefty just doesn't have the stuff to close anymore. Melvin says he'll use a committee in the ninth inning, which is nice and all, but if he doesn't trust Fuentes and has already turned the page on Grant Balfour as well, the only other logical choice is Cook. With a 0.69 ERA, he certainly has the look of a closer, and with a mid-to-high-90s fastball, he has the stuff as well. At age 24, he's a potential long-term solution for a rebuilding club, so now that the old guys are out of the way, his ascension appears inevitable. Given the amount of turnover at the closer position this season, adding Cook now could pay big dividends later.
Mike Aviles, 2B/3B/SS, Red Sox: The Red Sox appeared to have struck gold with Aviles at the start of the season, when he hit .291 with five homers, three steals and an .865 OPS in 21 games. Why would a team like the Royals trade away an All-Star-caliber shortstop for 50 cents on the dollar? Simple. He's not really an All-Star-caliber shortstop. He'll look like it at times with his above-average pop and occasional hot streak, but when he hits a wall, you realize it was all too good to be true. He has zero on-base ability, so when he endures a 17-for-73 (.233) drought, as he has over his last 19 games, his on-base percentage dips to .283 and his OPS to .708. Those are Alex Gonzalez-type numbers, only with a few more steals. He's still a top-10 shortstop for now, but if Aviles continues down this path, he'll most likely settle in as a fringe mixed-league type.
Trevor Plouffe, 3B/SS/OF, Twins: On the surface, Plouffe's eight home runs in his last 18 games probably seem a bit fluky, but a quick look at his minor-league track record shows his home run totals have gradually increased as he has entered his mid-20s, culminating in a 15-homer performance in only 192 at-bats at Triple-A Rochester last season. The Twins, needing as much offensive firepower as they can get, have found a way to start him in eight straight games, mostly at third base, so playing time isn't an issue. His .217 batting average might be, but his .207 BABIP suggests it's due to rise and, in fact, already has over this recent hot streak. Given his fly-ball rate, he might top out in the .240 range, but a shortstop-eligible player with 25-homer potential deserves far more attention than Plouffe is getting. If you like Zack Cozart in Fantasy, you won't do much worse here.
Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners
Trevor Bauer, SP, Diamondbacks: Getting tired of waiting for Bauer to arrive? Not surprising. It's been a week now since our own Danny Knobler reported that the Diamondbacks would promote the 2011 first-rounder "soon," which instead of quelling the masses only seemed to incite further debate about when exactly soon might be. From the Fantasy owner's perspective, Bauer has nothing more to prove in the minors, following up a dominant Double-A performance by posting a 1.97 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 32 innings in five Triple-A starts, and the good news is general manager Kevin Towers agrees.
"He's pretty much done everything he probably could do at Double-A and Triple-A and he's been very successful at it," Towers told the Arizona Republic on Wednesday. "Sometimes you've just got to wait your turn, wait for that opportunity. How that opportunity presents itself -- be it an injury, a trade, or somebody not performing who ends up going down -- then you take advantage of it.”
So there you have it. How soon is "soon?" As soon as possible. When an opening develops, Bauer will fill it. If you're one of the people who own him in 67 percent of Fantasy leagues, sit tight. If you're in one of the other 33 percent of leagues, you're running out of time to clear a spot for him.
Liam Hendriks, SP, Twins: As many arms as we've seen go through the Twins rotation this season, you'd think the cream would have risen to the top by now. But it hasn't. That's because Hendriks, the one of those arms with any real pedigree, was a disaster in his first go around the big leagues this season, posting a 9.00 ERA in four starts. But preparation was an issue. He showed up to his pregame bullpen sessions later than the Twins would have liked, according to MLB.com. Having refocused his efforts in the minors, the results are back where they belong. With a 10-strikeout performance on Saturday, he now has a 1.94 ERA in five starts. If he keeps it up, the big-league club will notice sooner or later, and the attentive AL-only owner will benefit.
Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds: With six more stolen bases this weekend, Hamilton is up to 70 on the season -- as in two more than active leader Juan Pierre's career high and nine more than MLB leader Michael Bourn had last season. Most players are lucky to have 70 hits by now. Of course, Hamilton isn't one of them, having put together a .314 batting average and .401 on-base percentage in the minors this year. Granted, it's at Class A Bakersfield, but it's still an indication that he'll have a refined enough approach to make the most of that base-stealing ability when he reaches the majors. When will that be? Probably not this year, but if you're looking for a long-term keeper, his skill set is the kind that figures to pay immediate dividends in Fantasy.
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