Fantasy baseball preview for 4/25-5/1

Kyle Lohse's hot start has made him a must-own starter. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

It’s been an exciting week in the world of fantasy baseball, with a lot of closer jobs continuing to change hands, some starting pitchers returning to form and some more big injuries on both side of the ball. I feel like there has been more big news in the first few weeks of the 2011 season than in any other season in the last few years. It definitely adds more of a challenge to keeping your team competitive. Let’s take a look at this week:

Starting pitchers

In terms of pickups, the biggest story of the week has to be Daisuke Matsuzaka, doesn’t it? Look at his two starts last week:

  • Vs. Toronto:  7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 K, 0.28 WHIP
  • At Anaheim: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 9 K, 0.50 WHIP

These numbers aren’t typical Matsuzaka in the least. In the past, when he’s given up few runs, he’s still had a very high WHIP because of walks, which has limited his value. These kinds of numbers against two decent lineups can’t be ignored, but you also have to keep in mind that he gave up eight hits and seven runs over two innings against a Tampa Bay lineup that had been hitting below .200 before they ran into him. He’s the ultimate rollercoaster, with highs and lows all over the place. He has one start this week — against Seattle at home. Going by the odds, that’s a smart matchup, but I’d still worry about him long-term. I’ll have more on Matsuzaka and the rest of the Red Sox staff later this week.

Another guy to keep an eye on is Kyle Lohse. After pitching a shutout against the Nationals, Lohse now has three wins on the season, with a very nice strikeout rate (about 7 K/9) and an ERA of just over 2.00. Lohse has shown flashes of good stuff in the past, but being in St. Louis with Dave Duncan seems like it has really helped his game. If he’s out there, grab him.

Other hot pickups for the week are James Shields from Tampa Bay, and Aaron Harang from the Padres. Harang’s stuff is usually pretty reliable and in spacious Petco Park; I love him for the short-term if nothing else.

Someone to worry about this week: Kyle Drabek. He’s being dropped in a ton of leagues and with good reason. His innings pitched have dropped in each starts, as have his strikeouts. On top of that, he’s got two brutal road starts this week, at Texas and at the Yankees. The numbers definitely don’t bode well. I still like him a lot long-term, but feel free to drop him or stash on the bench for the week.

Boggs: I'm the Cards' #1 closer! (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


Ah, the ever-volatile closer situation. By my count, 10 of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball (Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Chicago, Minnesota, the Angels, Texas, Philadelphia, Washington and St. Louis) have had closer changes in the first few weeks of the season, either due to injury, ineffectiveness or an unexpected time-share. I’m planning on doing a column on this soon, but that is a lot of turnover. The main lesson here, of course, is not to overspend on closers on draft day. Although I’m sure owners of Matt Thornton, Joe Nathan and Ryan Franklin could already have told you that. Anyway, here’s what’s going on this week.

Mitchell Boggs has taken over for Ryan Franklin in St. Louis. He already has three saves, and due to the Cardinals being a good team, he’ll have plenty of opportunities. The main knock on Boggs has historically been that he can’t get out lefties. It was encouraging, then, to see him strike out Jay Bruce last night. It’s just one at-bat, but it’s a good harbinger. Pick him up in all available formats and don’t look back.

Ryan Madson’s now the man in Philly after Jose Contreras (who was having a great start) went on the DL. Many people thought that he would be the closer while Brad Lidge was out to start the season, and now he’s getting his chance. He’s a good pickup but not without risk. Will he maintain the job once Contreras comes back or, barring that, once Lidge does? On top of that, you might have heard that the Phillies’ rotation is pretty good and that they finish a lot of games. For a talented team, there’s surprisingly few save chances out there. Contreras had four in the first three weeks of the season. So, if you can temper your expectations and need a quick fill-in, Madson might be your guy.

Also of note: Neftali Feliz went on the 15-day disabled list with a shoulder issue. Unlike in some of the other situations, though, Feliz has no ready-made backup. Alexi Ogando might have fit the bill, but he’s doing pretty well in the starting rotation and won’t be moved to be a short-term solution. Arthur Rhodes got the save in Sunday’s win, but it might be a committee approach with he and Darren Oliver (among others) until Feliz returns. I personally will be avoiding picking up whoever fills in, even with the Rangers getting a lot of save chances. Obviously, though, if someone in your league dumps Feliz for some reason, pick him up and stash him in your DL spot, as he’ll be a top-5 closer once he’s back in a few weeks.

It's too early to celebrate Jeff Francoeur's hot start. (Getty Images)


There’s a few hot pickups this week. First is Jeff Francoeur. I’ll say this: I really dislike Francoeur. No, not as a person, just as a fantasy entity. Year after year, he ends up on my team, has a great April, then stinks. I’ve used top waiver status to get him in the past and been burned, and chances are you have too. This spring, though, he’s been tearing up Kansas City. He’s on pace for a .325 average, with 30-35 HRs, and 150 RBI. Those numbers would be first-round-worthy.  Is this year any different from the heartbreaks of the past? In a word, no.

The biggest knock on Francoeur throughout his career has been plate discipline (i.e., he swings at too many bad pitches and doesn’t walk enough). For his career, the difference between his batting average and OBP is .045, so he’s walking in about 4.5% of appearances. Through 21 games of 2011, the difference is also .045, so no change there. Couple that with a very high BABIP of .345 (his career is .300) and he’s set for a fall. If you want to ride his hot start, feel free, but I won’t be. There’s just too much history of 0-for-4, 0 R, 0 SB days in his career for me to be interested.

Another player getting picked up in a lot of leagues is Detroit catcher Alex Avila. He already has three home runs and 14 RBI from the catcher spot and, with offense being such a premium there, he’s a smart pickup. On top of that, with Victor Martinez on the DL, he’s likely to see even more playing time. Pick him up unless you have a Brian McCann, Buster Posey, etc.

That’ll bring us to a close this week. If you want an opinion on a particular player this week or moving ahead, leave a comment and I’m happy to discuss. Until next week, here’s to hoping all your closers remain healthy and employed.

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