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Reality Check: Take it to the limit

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Know your limits.

If Fantasy Baseball had PSAs, that one would be a Saturday morning staple.

Oh, it's relevant to kids, all right -- more to them than anyone, actually. When a young buck comes up and starts lighting up the radar gun inning after inning, before you know it ... limit!

Wait ... before you know it?

That's what I'm trying to prevent here. If you know it before it happens, it won't happen before you know it. And then you can guard against it.

So as your league's trade deadline approaches and teams begin retooling themselves for a playoff run, be forewarned: The limits are coming. They're coming, gosh darn it.

You can ignore them if you want and remain blissfully unaware that your season is about to come crashing down on you. Something like ... Jose Fernandez had 13 strikeouts. Tra-la-la. Tra-la-la. He's mine until the end. Tra-la-la. Tra-la-la.

Of course, those who owned Stephen Strasburg last year would advise against it. They tried to will the limit away through a series of hypotheticals. But what if ...? And then if ...? How could they if ...? But then September came, and that was it. Their ace was gone at the time of year they needed him most.

And that was with the Nationals disclosing from the outset of the season exactly what they planned to do with him: He'll keep pitching until he reaches X number of innings, and then he'll stop, regardless of any postseason ramifications.

I'm paraphrasing, of course, but they couldn't have made it any more black and white. And yet Strasburg owners somehow deluded themselves into thinking the Nationals wouldn't follow through with it, riding that sinking ship until the end. The moral is clear: Teams take the preservation of their young arms seriously. So many jobs, resources and, most importantly, dollars ride on the realization of their investment that if they specify a limit, you can take it to the bank.

And even if they don't, you can usually sniff one out. The rule of thumb for a fledgling arm is about 30-40 innings more than the previous year. The steady buildup from a high school or college workload usually continues into the majors. Pitchers don't come up ready to throw 220 innings. The way starting rotations work these days, it's not even possible outside of a 162-game schedule.

In other words, any pitcher in his rookie or sophomore season is susceptible to an innings limit, whether stated or implied, which means if you own one, you should take a lesson from your Strasburg-hoarding brethren and cash in before it's too late.

The two most obvious pitchers to put on the market right now are Fernandez and Shelby Miller. Both are targeting a specific number of innings -- 170 for Fernandez and 180 for Miller -- and both should fetch an adequate return.

Fernandez especially should open some eyes on the trade market. Not only is he coming off the best start of his young career -- an eight-inning, 13-strikeout effort against the Pirates Sunday -- but since the Marlins ended their annoying habit of pulling him after 85 pitches or so and turned him loose around the beginning of June, he has a 1.87 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 10 starts, going seven innings or more in six of them. He'll reach the limit sooner that way, perhaps even before the end of August, but I'm guessing his Fantasy owners aren't complaining right now.

Miller, on the other hand, is about on pace for his expected 180 innings thanks to a series of early hooks over his last 13 starts, eight of which ended before he completed six innings. Granted, those don't exactly help his trade value, but most Fantasy owners probably assume the early hooks are directly tied to his underwhelming numbers -- specifically, a 3.57 ERA and 1.26 WHIP -- during that stretch. Regardless of how he performs the rest of the way, though, they figure to continue just so he can last the whole season.

Of course, not every team takes the same straightforward approach that the Nationals did with Strasburg last year. With Matt Harvey on pace to exceed his limit of 210 innings by 20 or so, the Mets, who have no desire to shut down their ace early, will implement a six-man rotation rather than pull him after five innings every time out.

But while fewer starts with more innings is preferable to more starts with fewer innings -- what's the point in having an ace-caliber pitcher if he's never allowed to deliver ace-caliber numbers? -- the six-man rotation still limits Harvey's value by dramatically reducing his chances for a two-start week. And the same goes for the rest of the Mets starting rotation, which isn't such a good deal.

Want more? Gerrit Cole is already at 123 2/3 innings, just 8 1/3 away from last year's total, so about mid-August, you'll begin to hear about how the Pirates intend to limit his workload or perhaps even replace him. Jarred Cosart is two-thirds of an inning away from last year, so he may have only four or five starts to go.

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Of course, not every young pitcher is susceptible to the midseason shutdown. Rays rookie Chris Archer, who has become one of the hottest pickups off the waiver wire with his two shutouts in his last three starts, threw 157 1/3 innings between the majors and minors last year. With 117 1/3 so far this season, he has about 70 to go, which makes him a pretty safe bet to close out the season, provided he doesn't throw a shutout every other start. Likewise, Tony Cingrani, thanks in part to his bullpen stint earlier this season, isn't really in jeopardy of exceeding his presumed limit of 180 innings. Dan Straily pitched an impressive 191 1/3 innings between the majors and minors last year, so he should be fine. Zack Wheeler still has about 70 innings before he enters the danger zone. No real worries there.

While innings limits are normally reserved for up-and-comers, they can also come into play for veterans working their way back from injury. For Tommy John surgery especially, teams sometimes opt for the better-safe-than-sorry approach, though more often than not, if the pitcher has thrown 180 innings at some point in his career, he gets his usual workload. Fear not, John Lackey owners. Adam Wainwright threw 198 2/3 innings in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Tim Hudson threw 228 2/3.

What about Kris Medlen? He's an interesting case because he has a different background, having shifted between the starting rotation and bullpen throughout his career. Considering his 151 1/3 innings in his first season back from Tommy John surgery last year were a career high, you have to wonder if that persistent rumor of him moving back to the bullpen to finish out this season has anything to do with an innings limit.

Of course, thanks to that pesky rumor, you're probably stuck with Medlen if you haven't traded him already, so in addition to Fernandez and Miller, about the only other limit-inspired sell-high candidates are Cole and, in deeper leagues, Cosart.

What makes now the right time to sell them? Well, in leagues that model their trade deadline after the real-life one, it's the only time. Trade them now or go down with the ship. But even if your league's deadline is still weeks away, we've reached that perfect point in the season where, even after having enjoyed so much of what your young hurler has to offer, you can still get a full return for him.

And that's the key: You want a full return. If you have to trade him at a discount, you might as well just hold on to him and get whatever more you can out of him. But in most cases, working out a deal shouldn't be too difficult. Not everyone has caught on to the concept of innings limits, particularly the ones that go unstated. The idea isn't to announce, with a wave of the white flag, that you're looking to unload your young hurlers "before it's too late," but to casually, confidently slip them into offers to various opponents with a need at starting pitcher.

"Yo, man, I hate to give up on Fernandez with the way he's coming along, but I could really use some help at second base right now. Ben Zobrist ... what do you say?"

"I say that's a winner of a deal, sonny! Break out the champagne! We're celebrating this one to the max!"

Someone doesn't know his limits.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite .

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Player News
Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ hit hard again in start Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ gave five runs on 11 hits in five innings of work Sunday against the Padres in his second consecutive rough outing.

"I was being way too tentative early on," Happ said to MLB.com. "I just wasn't finishing and as aggressive as I was later in the game. Maybe trying to be a little too fine after the previous outing. I think if I throw like I did the second part of that game, I'll be OK."

Happ, who is expected to be the fourth starter in Seattle's rotation, is now 1-3 this spring with a 7.90 ERA.


Rangers release outfielder Ryan Ludwick from minor league deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) The Rangers have released outfielder Ryan Ludwick from his minor league contract, the team announced Sunday.

Ludwick hit .200 with one home run and three RBI in 30 plate appearances during spring training.


Report: Yankees' Domingo German may need Tommy John surgery
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Yankees pitching prospect Domingo German may be on the shelf for awhile. German may reportedly need Tommy John surgery for his injured elbow, according to MLB.com.

The team is yet to confirm the report. German went 9-3 in 25 starts with a 2.48 ERA in Class-A Greensboro in 2014.


Indians pitcher Austin Adams still in contention for roster spot
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Indians relief pitcher Austin Adams still has a chance to make the final roster, reports MLB.com.

Adams, who was a non-roster invitee to camp, has posted a 5.87 ERA in eight appearances this spring with nine strikeouts and 11 hits allowed.

"We wanted to tell him he'd done a really good job," manager Terry Francona said of his morning conversation with Adams, "but we still don't know."


Rangers remain undecided on pitcher Keone Kela
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Rangers pitcher Keone Kela tossed one scoreless inning Sunday with no hits and two strikeouts against the Dodgers. Kela has now gone 8 1/3 innings without giving up a run this spring, but the team is undecided still on his role this season, reports MLB.com.

"I haven't said if he was or wasn't on the team," Banister said. "That decision will be made at the appropriate time. You see what he has done. He has been impressive this spring."


Indians pitcher T.J. House gives up four runs in six innings
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Indians pitcher T.J. House, who was given a spot in the starting rotation Sunday, struggled in his appearance Sunday. House gave up four runs on six hits with two walks in six innings of work against the White Sox.

"This spring it looks a little glaring, that one inning is kind of getting to me in the box scores," said House to MLB.com. "It's nice to get them out of the way now and maybe during the season we won't see them.

"My ball kind of flattened out a little bit [in the fourth]. Besides that, I felt good. I pounded the zone and got to see some guys I'm going to see during the season, so I'll make a mental note of that."


White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson has edge in position battle
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson appears to be in the lead for the position when the season begins, reports MLB.com. Manager Robin Ventura likes what he's seen from Johnson enough to give him a vote of confidence at the position, even though nothing has been officially set.

"He's done well enough to kind of be the leading guy," said Ventura of Johnson, who had two hits in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Indians.

Third base coach Joe McEwing likes the progress Johnson has sowed on defense this spring.

"Initially what we wanted to do was try to slow things down because everything Micah does, he does fast," McEwing said. "Everything in his game is fast. Just, defensively, try to slow him down and allow him to focus on his feet and his hands and everything working together."


Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman posts another stellar performance
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman continues to impress this spring. Sunday, he went 6 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits with three strikeouts and no walks. Manager Bob Melvin loves how the young pitcher has performed this spring, reports MLB.com.

"He doesn't blow you away, although you look at the radar gun and at times we've seen 93, 94 this spring," Melvin said. "But he's a pitcher; he's pretty cerebral in the way he does it.

"He reads swings very well. You know, it's late movement off the barrel of the bat, whether it's sink, whether it's cut, offspeed just enough. But he knows what he's doing and he's aware of what the hitters are trying to do against him."

Graveman has a minuscule 0.74 ERA in five starts this spring.

"There's a reason that he went from [Class] A-ball to the big leagues [in 2014 with Toronto], and then continued to pitch this well for us. It means he's real confident in what he's doing," Melvin said.


Nationals pitcher Doug Fister struggles again in outing Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Nationals pitcher Doug Fister surrendered six runs in four innings of work Sunday against the Marlins, pushing his spring training ERA to 7.02 in five starts. Fister gave up three more home runs in the outing.

"I can't let any of that affect me. I know I have to get the ball down regardless," Fister said to MLB.com. "I felt good today. I felt I was almost back in the swing of things. There are obviously some things I have to fine tune at the end of spring.

"I left the ball up, and it allowed the Marlins to get good contact on the ball. I don't let outside influences affect the game. It's a game I have to control and make adjustments."


Tigers targeting 200 pitches for pitcher Anibal Sanchez
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez tossed 10 strikeouts in Sunday's game against the Phillies, going 6 1/3 innings and surrendering four runs on five hits. 

"That means he's hitting his spots. It means he's locating," manager Brad Ausmus said to MLB.com. "When a guy takes a pitch, he thinks it's a ball or just off the corner and they end up getting the call. ... So he must have been locating. It looked like he was locating his fastball."

Ausmus also indicated he hopes to see Sanchez reach 200 innings this season.

"If we get 200 innings out of Sanchy, I'll be extremely happy. I think we'll be in a very good spot," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Sunday morning. "We talk about a lot of things, but if Sanchy can stay healthy, that would be an enormous plus for us."


 
 
 
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