To start this column I really wanted to touch upon just how futile Houston’s offense was in terms of striking out in their opening series against Texas. Unfortunately, Mike Oz over at Yahoo beat me to the punch. Rangers pitchers struck out an unfathomable 43 batters, With Matt Harrison (9 strikeouts), Yu Darvish (14) and Alexi Ogando (10) all setting career highs. The Astros move to the AL West has already proven a value booster for the other pitching staffs in the division. Expect to see a more than a few AL West pitchers set career best strikeout numbers.
So with my thunder stolen, we will shift over to the other thing that caught my eye, that being the slow start in terms of swipes. That’s right folks, stolen bases. There have been 45 games played so far this season, and, as of right now, there have been 38 steals. There were a total of 2,430 games played during the regular season last year. Overall, there were 3,229 bases stolen, or 1.33 per game played. It’s early, but we are currently sitting at 0.84 steals per game. This is definitely a trend to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
If you find your squad is a little light on speed and these low totals continue, you best make a move via trade before the rest of your league catches on. If you are a team built with speed you would be best served holding tight and building up your totals. Once you reach a comfortable level you may be able to unload a guy like Michael Bourn or Ben Revere at a premium price.
The first month of Fantasy baseball season is one typically loaded with knee-jerk reactions. Too many owners are apt to cut ties with a batter they shouldn’t after a 2-for-21 start over the first week or a pitcher that has a really bad start or two. I say this every year in my first column, and this year won’t be an exception. Remember, the season is a marathon, not a sprint. Be sure to exhibit patience with guys that have proven track records. Sure, Tim Lincecum walked seven batters Wednesday night. Another rocky outing next week should make you nervous, but he still won’t be worth cutting ties with for a guy like A.J. Griffin or Josh Collmenter just because they get off to hot starts. Take your time with these decisions, as they often become the ones that make or break your season.
Last season, Chris Davis was given a chance at regular playing time for the first time in his career. He responded by posting a .270-75-33-85-2 line over 515 at-bats. This year he came in as the unquestioned starting first baseman, meaning he should be good for close to 600 PA if he stays healthy. He has responded by posting a .636-4-3-11-0 line over his first 13 plate appearances. The Million Dollar Question is now, what should we expect from this guy for the remainder of the season? Well, first off, I will tell you the power is legit. You don’t earn the nickname “Crush” by accident. In terms of average, we are looking at a guy who hit .318 over 1,807 minor league at-bats. That average actually got better as he progressed, so it showed his ability to adjust. He received regular playing time to do so in the minors, and in the majors I am anticipating greater patience and pitch recognition with his increased playing time. So that .270 average from last season leaves him a bit of room for growth in that department as well. I am buying here, and think he posts another strong season while dropping his strikeout rate down into the slightly more acceptable 25 percent range.
There isn’t a hitter off to a worse start this year than B.J. Upton. Over his first three games he is 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts. Upton has struck out in 25.1 percent of his 4,063 career plate appearances. Each and every one of those coming with the Tampa Bay Rays prior to signing his five-year, $75.25 million contract with the Braves this offseason. Albert Pujols, one of the best pure hitters we have ever seen, struggled mightily during his first few turns around the American League last year and I am expecting Upton to suffer some even worse growing pains. Unfamiliar pitchers and a guy who swung and missed 14.9 percent of the pitches he saw (4th highest in MLB) is a deadly combination. Expect a dip in home runs and no chance at any type of batting average improvement from last season. Sell this kid during his first hot streak.
Independence Day had extra significance for Cliff Lee last season, as it ended up being his first victory of 2012. It happened to be his 14th start. Apparently, he didn’t want to suffer the same ill fate again, so he completely dominated an Atlanta offense that scored 16 runs against the Phillies over their first two games. His control was impeccable, as he didn’t yield a walk while giving up just two hits and striking out eight in eight scoreless innings. Aside from the fact that he won just six games last season, he had another masterful campaign. Wins are fickle, and for all we know he ends up with 20 this year. Expect big things going forward with the Phillies offense looking like it will be much improved this year.
Matt Kemp finished 0-for-10 with a pair of walks in the Dodgers opening series against the Giants. During the offseason he underwent surgery to repair a tear in his labrum and some damage to the rotator cuff in his non-throwing shoulder. After a slow spring saw him hit just .250, with five extra base hits in 52 at-bats and 15 strikeouts, that should have been plenty enough clue that his struggles may carry over into the regular season. Two injuries that slow the return of any hitter are wrist and shoulder woes. Kemp underwent surgery in October and wasn’t cleared to hit a baseball until late January. He is still building up strength while also getting into baseball shape. I anticipate this being a long April for him as a result. That should, however, make him a fantastic buy-low candidate in May.
John Axford blew nine saves last year while posting a 4.67 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Yet, somehow this guy ended up being the 15th closer (on average) taken in NFBC drafts this year. That absolutely blows my mind. Well, in case you haven’t heard yet, he has been absolutely brutal to start the season. All told, he has faced 11 batters and given up six hits, three of them homers. If you want to look for a positive, he hasn’t walked anybody yet. Otherwise, this guy is back to being a disaster. Eight of the 11 batters he faced put the ball in play, all of them in the air. He is leaving the ball up in the zone, and reportedly is missing a few ticks off the ole’ heater. That just isn’t going to cut it. I will go on the record right now and say I think Axford will be the first closer relieved of his job this season. Jim Henderson, Burke Badenhop and Mike Gonzalez should consider themselves to be auditioning for the job.
*All statistics include the games of Thursday, April 4.