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Reality Check: Pitchers on our minds

Senior Fantasy Writer
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David Price. Cole Hamels. Stephen Strasburg. Matt Cain. R.A. Dickey. Yu Darvish. James Shields.

Chances are if you own one of that illustrious group, you hate him right now. All seven of them bombed to some degree Sunday, testing the limits of the term "ace."

But even in your blinding rage, you can still muster enough rational thought to ask yourself the ever-important question: What are you going to do about it? Oh, you may begin to question the likelihood of Dickey repeating his Cy Young season or rethink the impact of Hamels' offseason shoulder soreness, but practically speaking, what are you going to do? Bench him? Trade him? Dump him? Of course not.

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Last week in the 2013 debut of Reality Check, I looked at the role perception plays in value, particularly in this early stage of the season when everything every player does is scrutinized beyond what's actually useful. What just happened tends to carry more weight than it normally does, so you have to take it into consideration when you weigh who to add and who to drop.

After all, stashing a player nobody else wants is just a waste of a bench spot.

But as we just covered, even with his poor start Sunday, you're not cutting Hamels no matter how many batters Jeremy Guthrie strikes out or how few hits Travis Wood allows. You're not even entertaining the possibility. So where's the cutoff? Which players are worth adding, when and at whose expense?

Context. It distinguishes a lead pipe from a lead role, and in Fantasy Baseball, it makes the world go round. I could provide it only in general terms last week because the season had just started, but we have data now. Scant as it may be, it's there, and it's influencing perception as we speak.

So to piggyback on last week's piece, let's look at the dozen or so pitchers who caught my attention in the first week and are still somewhat available on the waiver wire (owned in less than 80 percent of leagues).

Why pitchers? Frankly, I care about them more this time of year. Pitchers are less predictable from year to year, so I find that more of them catch the league by surprise each year. In other words, you're more likely to strike gold with a pitcher than a hitter. Plus, particularly in Head-to-Head leagues, you can only make so much room for hitters. Between playing matchups and maximizing two-start weeks, you can never have too many pitchers.

Most added starting pitchers (as of 4/9)
Player Own %
1. Travis Wood, SP, Cubs 38
2. Jose Fernandez, SP, Marlins 80
3. Jeremy Guthrie, SP, Royals 38
4. Barry Zito, SP, Giants 49
5. Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Rockies 21
6. Justin Masterson, SP, Indians 18
7. J.A. Happ, SP, Blue Jays 31
8. Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Indians 58
9. Eric Stults, SP, Dodgers 13
10. Wandy Rodriguez, SP, Pirates 76

For each pitcher, I've listed pros and cons, as well as whether I'm ready give him the benefit of the doubt over the two pitchers I consider to be the most over-owned pitchers in Fantasy, Jeremy Hellickson (85 percent) and Tommy Milone (82 percent).

Those I'd take over Hellickson are already about on equal footing with the pitchers owned in 85 to 90 percent of leagues, such as Josh Beckett, Jarrod Parker and Julio Teheran. I feel good enough about their ability that I'll likely stick with them even if they have a bad start next time out.

Those I'd take over Milone I'd consider adding over any pitcher owned in less than 80 percent of leagues, but they're all on short leashes. One bad start would be enough to send me back to the waiver wire in search of the next hot hand catching everybody's attention.

Those I'd take over neither still need to show me something. I have my eye on them, but because they were so under-the-radar to begin with, I don't feel like I have much competition for them right now. Either that or I just don't like them. One more good start could spring me to action, though.

Keep in mind this is a purely objective exercise. I don't have anything invested in these pitchers, and neither should you. If they work out, great. If they don't, I'm cutting them and moving on. While projections are fun and useful to an extent, they don't come with a money-back guarantee. To account for the many things I don't know, I've found that casting a wide net this time of year will often snag me a breakout or two that I never saw coming.

Jose Fernandez, Marlins

Ownership: 79 percent
Pros: Buckets and buckets of talent, poise beyond his years
Cons: Limited minor-league experience, pitch counts, innings limit
Over Jeremy Hellickson? Yes
Over Tommy Milone? Yes

Yes, Fernandez will have a pitch count, but because the Marlins haven't suggested what it will be, I'm still optimistic he'll be able to eke out six innings more often than not. Even if he lasts only three-fourths of the season, more outings like his debut Sunday will make him well worth the investment.

A.J. Griffin, Athletics

Ownership: 76 percent
Pros: Low walk rate, solid debut last year
Cons: Too many home runs, relatively low ceiling
Over Jeremy Hellickson? Yes
Over Tommy Milone? Yes

Griffin strikes me as underowned at 76 percent. He doesn't have ace potential, but his 15 starts last year suggest you won't find much better on the waiver wire, provided Fernandez is no longer available.

Derek Holland, Rangers

Ownership: 75 percent
Pros: Decent stuff, strong supporting cast
Cons: Hitter's park, past inconsistencies
Over Jeremy Hellickson? No
Over Tommy Milone? Yes

I want to buy into Holland based on his strong first showing, especially since it came at home, but he's fooled me enough in the past to know better. Maybe now that the Rangers have instructed him to focus more on pitching and less on bad impressions, he'll show better consistency.

Phil Hughes, Yankees

Ownership: 67 percent
Pros: Excellent pedigree, pitches for the Yankees
Cons: Inconsistent results, pitches for the Yankees
Over Jeremy Hellickson? Yes
Over Tommy Milone? Yes

In previous years, even if Hughes struggled, you could count on him getting plenty of run support with the Yankees. Not this year. If he doesn't take another step toward meeting his frontline potential this year, he's waiver fodder in mixed leagues. Based on the work he did last June through August, I'm willing to gamble on him.

Justin Masterson, Indians

Ownership: 66 percent
Pros: Better stuff than track record suggests
Cons: Track record suggests bad stuff
Over Jeremy Hellickson? No
Over Tommy Milone? Yes

Did you know Masterson two-hit the Blue Jays over eight innings in his first start last year, striking out 10? He's worth a flier, sure, but keep your expectations in check.

James McDonald, Pirates

Ownership: 61 percent
Pros: Last year's first half
Cons: Last year's second half
Over Jeremy Hellickson? Yes
Over Tommy Milone? Yes

McDonald was practically an All-Star in the first half last year, so as long as he keeps his walk rate down, as he did in his first start, I'm excited about owning him.

Dillon Gee, Mets

Ownership: 48 percent
Pros: Improved strikeout-to-walk ratio before injury last year
Cons: Best season cut short
Over Jeremy Hellickson? No
Over Tommy Milone? No

When he needed surgery to repair a blocked artery in his shoulder last July, Gee was looking usable in Fantasy, but nothing more. I have a feeling he'll be highly affordable later.

Ervin Santana, Royals

Ownership: 46 percent
Pros: Just about everything you'd want in a pitcher except for ...
Cons: Too many home runs
Over Jeremy Hellickson? Yes
Over Tommy Milone? Yes

Santana has always been susceptible to the home run, but last year's rate was historically bad and about double his career norm. Monday, he gave us a taste of what he can do when he keeps the ball in the yard. He had a 1.60 ERA in the seven starts he didn't allow a homer last year.

Travis Wood, Cubs

Ownership: 37 percent
Pros: Low WHIP
Cons: Poor home run rate, limited innings
Over Jeremy Hellickson? No
Over Tommy Milone? No

Though he can be a surprisingly good source of strikeouts at times, Wood lacks the upside or consistency to move the needle for me at this early stage of the season.

Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies

Ownership: 36 percent
Pros: Good stuff, glimpses of potential
Cons: Coors Field, shaky control
Over Jeremy Hellickson? No
Over Tommy Milone? No

After the way the ball flew out of Coors Field last year, I'm not sure you can trust the humidor effect anymore. Too risky for me.

Jeremy Guthrie, Royals

Ownership: 35 percent
Pros: Coming off strong finish, eats innings
Cons: Minimal strikeout potential, up-and-down track record
Over Jeremy Hellickson? No
Over Tommy Milone? Yes

If Guthrie goes seven and eight innings every time out, like he did after coming over from the Rockies late last season, he'll be useful in all formats, even more so than Milone. Because he doesn't have any strikeout potential to fall back on, though, I'm remaining skeptical.

J.A. Happ, Blue Jays

Ownership: 30 percent
Pros: Used to be a decent option
Cons: Standard for decent has changed
Over Jeremy Hellickson? No
Over Tommy Milone? No

The league was a little more geared toward hitters when Happ impressed with a 1.24 WHIP and 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 2009, and he hasn't been as good since then. I need to see more.

Miguel Gonzalez, Orioles

Ownership: 29 percent
Pros: Good so far
Cons: Poor pedigree, no real track record
Over Jeremy Hellickson? No
Over Tommy Milone? Yes

Gonzalez hasn't given me reason to doubt him yet. I'd prefer my pitchers to get a few more strikeouts, but I think he has better potential for them than Milone does.

John Lackey, Red Sox

Ownership: 16 percent
Pros: Impressive track record, eye-opening debut
Cons: Injury history, impending DL stint
Over Jeremy Hellickson? No
Over Tommy Milone? No

The guy used to be a Cy Young contender and was throwing in the mid-90s before straining his biceps in his season debut. He'll actually be a more justifiable stash if he goes on the DL.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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(11:43 am ET) For the second game in a row, Adam Lind was out of the Blue Jays' starting lineup with a back injury. Dan Johnson got the start at first base for Sunday's game at the Yankees.

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(11:36 am ET) For their Sunday matchup at the Marlins, the Nationals left Ian Desmond, Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos out of their starting lineup. Ryan Zimmerman, who made his return from a two-month hiatus due to a hamstring injury on Saturday, was also not in Sunday's lineup.

 
 
 
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