After six fruitless at bats, Jordany Valdespin launched his first hit of his Big League career and it was one to remember, a three-run homer against Jonathan Papelbon to win the game for the Mets against the rival Phillies.
A 24-year-old five-tool talent, Valdespin could end up as a super sub, similar to Orioles third baseman Wilson Betemit, but with a bit more upside. Last season, Valdespin played at the high levels of the Minor Leagues and responded with 17 home runs and 37 stolen bases. Though he hit .294, Valdespin only drew 25 walks compared to 93 strikeouts, which raises fears about his plate discipline in the Major Leagues.
So far this season for the Mets, Valdespin has played second base, shortstop, and the outfield. He definitely gives the Mets a solid glove at second base, which he displayed on Sunday against the Marlins, but he is not about to displace the steady hitting Daniel Murphy.
It looked as though Valdespin would get a crack at shortstop with Ruben Tejada on the DL, but the Mets recently took veteran utility man Ronnie Cedeno off the disabled list. While Valdespin offers a great deal of promise, it is premature to call on him for any fantasy value.
A former first round pick in 2005, Brandon Snyder is a 25-year-old that only had 14 at bats in the Big Leagues entering last Monday. During his time in the farm system, Snyder proved to have little plate discipline, but he does have some power.
Snyder became a fantasy trend last week as he blasted a home run with six RBI in a big win against the Baltimore Orioles. Truth is, even last week it was clear that the big performance was no more than a career day than anything else. Snyder was playing third base, a position that is handled by Gold Glove winner Adrian Beltre. It’s not as if the designated hitter spot is open for Snyder either as Mike Napoli, Michael Young, and Mitch Moreland take turns in the Rangers lineup.
Since the big performance, Snyder has only had two appearances. He went 0-3 with a strikeout against the Orioles a few days later. He then managed a single in four at bats on Saturday against the Angels. With just 26 at bats this season, Snyder is little more than an insurance policy for the Rangers.
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A 24-year-old southpaw, Felix Doubront is finally getting his shot as a starter in the Big Leagues. Though he has been a strikeout artist so far this season, he has also been a bit too hittable. Fellow southpaws were hitting an all too comfortable .295 against him coming into the week. He had also has struggled at Fenway to the tune of a 6.00 ERA.
Based on his minor league statistics, one can expect Doubront’s control to improve. He was a popular fantasy option this week as he visited the Royals on Monday, then hosted the Indians on Saturday.
In the Kansas City start, Doubront was far from his best. He surrendered seven hits and five runs, but since only three were earned, it qualifies as a quality start. Doubront was much better five days later when he held the Royals to just three hits in six innings, surrendering one earned run. He picked up a second straight win, improving his record to 3-1, while the ERA fell to 4.46.
Doubront’s home ERA is now comparable to his road splits, and left-handed batters are now hitting just .278 against him. The Red Sox hurler will find an increase in strength of schedule, as he next takes on the Rays before a start against Baltimore. It will be more important for Doubront to keep the walks down against two of the best teams in the American League this season.
If you’re lucky your rival fantasy managers may have forgotten about Doug Fister and what he offered last season. The Tigers right-hander returned this week from the disabled list and was offered a dream fantasy week.
Fister took on the hapless Mariners offense and the A’s offense both in big-time pitcher’s parks. Though the Tigers did not offer the run support that we expected, Fister was sensational even if his record is just 0-1.
In his return to the mound, Fister stymied the Mariners for seven innings, allowing just four hits and no walks through seven innings. The Tigers eventually lost that contest 3-2. Next, Fister went six innings against the A’s, allowing nothing more than a first inning run. The right-hander fanned eight batters, but again lacked the run support for a win.
Through 16.2 innings, Fister now boasts a 0.54 ERA and 14:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has dominated in his 14 appearances since joining the Tigers. Fister’s value should only improve throughout the season as the offense should eventually awake and offer the run support that allowed the 6’8” right-hander to go 8-1 down the stretch a season ago.
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Here’s a look at the best fantasy players of April and whether they are sustaining their production or regressing to a less impressive level of play.
Best April Catcher: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
April Stats: 14 runs, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 2 SB, .316 AVG
Update: Since the change of month, Yadier Molina has only one RBI. Molina hurt his left hand in a game on May 8 and hopes to return to the diamond.
Conclusion: One of the most well-rounded catchers in baseball, Molina will remain one of the game’s best at his position, though Orioles masked marvel Matt Wieters may overtake him.
Best April First Baseman: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
April Stats: 15 runs, 7 HR, 20 RBI, .298 AVG
Update: Four hits and 3 RBI against the A’s on Thursday got Cabrera back in rhythm. His statistics have gone down a bit, but he remains amongst the best in baseball.
Conclusion: Cabrera is 100% legitimate and the best corner infielder in baseball right now.
Best April Second Baseman: Ian Kinsler, Rangers
April Stats: 24 runs, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 2 SB, .298 AVG
Update: Though riding a six-game hit streak, Kinsler’s batting average has declined and he does not have an extra base hit during that stretch.
Conclusion: What makes Kinsler so valuable is the combination of power and speed. If he can keep the batting average closer to .300, he’ll be in the MVP conversation.
Best April 3rd Baseman: Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
April Stats: 15 runs, 8 HR, 21 RBI, 4 SB, .322 AVG
Update: One of the biggest surprises in April, Encarnacion remains a valuable power bat in May, though the batting average has returned to normalcy.
Conclusion: Encarnacion should finally swat 30-home runs, but it may come with a disappointing average.
Best April Shortstop: Mike Aviles, Red Sox- 18 Runs, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 3 SB, .291 AVG
April Stats: 18 Runs, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 3 SB, .291 AVG
Update: Aviles has not been immune to the Red Sox struggles. His power numbers have come back to earth and his average has been in free fall this May.
Conclusion: Aviles is a fine middle infielder, but he is not the best. He over-performed in April.
Best April Outfielder: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
April Stats: 24 runs, 12 HR, 25 RBI, 2 SB, .417 AVG
Update: Kemp has slowed down a bit and has yet to go deep this month. He remains one of the best hitters in baseball and likely MVP contender, but he is no longer running away with the honor.
Conclusion: He was bound to slow down as pitchers were bound to adapt. Josh Hamilton is now challenging him for supremacy in the Big Leagues.
Best April Starting pitcher: Jake Peavy, White Sox
April Stats: 3 Wins, 33 K, 1.67 ERA, 0.69 WHIP
Update: With two quality starts already this month, Peavy continues to dominate the fantasy scene. He has pitched at least seven innings in each of his last five starts and has only quality starts this season. He is 1-0 in May so far.
Conclusion: It’s been several years since we’ve seen this type of dominance from Peavy. Let’s hope he can avoid the injury-bug for the first time since he’s left San Diego.
Best April Reliever: Fernando Rodney, Rays
April Stats: 1 Win, 7 SV, 9 K, 0.87 ERA, 0.77 WHIP
Update: Rodney has added a win and two saves to his record this month without surrendering a single run.
Conclusion: This is looking pretty real and it all has to do with control. Rodney boasts a 14:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s the latest reliever to enjoy a renaissance after joining the Rays bullpen.
If the Pirates are finally going to creep above mediocrity this season it will require James McDonald to evolve into a staff ace. The Pirates hurler who touches the low 90s went 9-9 last season with a 4.21 ERA. He would have been much better if he was able to do better than a walk every other inning.
This season McDonald has been better. The opposition has had a hard time hitting him, to the tune of a .213 average. Plus, his walks are way down this season resulting in a 1.09 WHIP and a 2.70 ERA. He is riding a hot streak, allowing just one hit in seven innings in a tough no decision against the Rockies, then picking up a win with 10 K’s in Atlanta, followed by another win with one crossing the dish against him by a solid Reds offense.
McDonald’s success is entirely dependent on his control. He has the stuff to keep batters off edge at the plate, but he has to keep them off the bases via free passes. With the Pirates looking to develop young talent with the hope of contending in the short-term, McDonald will have to lead a staff that is comprised of retreads such as Erik Bedard and AJ Burnett.
A little over a week ago, the Tigers announced that Duane Below would earn his first crack at starting this season. The southpaw had certainly earned the opportunity in his second season with the Tigers. Below had yet to issue a walk and the opposition was hitting just .167 against him in 12 scoreless innings. Alas, the opportunity never came as rain pushed the game back and Tigers manager Jim Leyland was not about to alter his rotation just to get Below a spot start.
Since then Below has continued throwing darts. He has added an additional two innings of work to his season total and the opposition has offered just a hit and walk against him without cracking the scoreboard in his last three appearances. Through 14 innings, Below now boasts a 0.00 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, and .174 average against. Simply put, he has been one of the best hurlers in baseball this season.
The big question is whether the Tigers have lucked out with this year’s version of Doug Fister? To answer that we look at Below’s stats in the minor leagues. Though he was a tad too hittable early in his professional career, the numbers have drastically improved in recent years. In fact, in 2011, Below was 9-4 in 18 starts with a 3.13 ERA in Triple-A. He does not get many strikeouts, but he has great command of the strike zone.
Despite some big prospects in the Tigers system, Below has earned the next spot start needed in Detroit. It’s about time for his fantasy managers to hope for an opportunity in Detroit.
Mets starting pitcher RA Dickey is more than just a great a story. He is a solid hurler who earned his billing as the number two pitcher in the Mets rotation. April is traditionally not a good month for the knuckleball, and yet Dickey has five brilliant performances and one disastrous outing. On that note, he is 4-1 with a 3.76 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Though he remains susceptible to the home run (seven in six starts), Dickey is also something of a strikeout artist this season with 32 K’s in 38.1 innings of work.
Considering the knuckleball is an all-or-nothing pitch, ERA and WHIP may not be the best indicators for his performance. After all, when a knuckleballer doesn’t have his pitch, he is left with a very hittable fastball. That explains why after six starts, half of Dickey’s earned runs came in one ugly implosion.
A statistic that is better in tune with Dickey’s performance is quality start percentage. It requires six or more innings while allowing three or fewer runs to score. In his breakout 2010 season, Dickey offered a quality start in 18 of his 26 starts (69%). Last season he finished on a tear and offered a solid 68% quality start percentage. Finally, this season Dickey has taken it to a whole new level at 83%.
Dickey’s next two starts won’t be slam dunks. He faces the Marlins in Miami, then heads north for the Blue Jays in Toronto. What’s interesting is that both games could be played indoors. This could have an impact for a knuckleballer who relies on the wind to keep the ball moving. Regardless, Dickey has proven to be an every week start in fantasy baseball leagues, and now that he is also getting strikeouts there are very few holes in his game.
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After a rough opening start against the Mets, Mike Minor responded with three consecutive quality starts. Minor was suddenly a fantasy star on the rise, which was much-needed for a Braves team that had already demoted hurler Jair Jurrjens to the minor leagues.
Through four starts, Minor boasted respectable numbers including a 2-1 record with a respectable 3.42 ERA. Most impressive was the 0.99 WHIP as a result of his fine control and .233 opposing batting average. Minor had not walked a batter in the previous two games and allowed just one home run all season. Then he hit a rocky road.
The Pirates were supposed to be an easy win for Minor. Instead, the contest marked his second loss of the season, as after hurling two shutout innings he surrendered two runs in three of the next four innings and then another run in the seventh before he was removed. The good news for fantasy managers were the nine strikeouts, but he also walked three batters and allowed two home runs.
Minor’s next start might as well have been at death row. He visited the Rockies in Coors Field and while the good news was that the Braves eventually won, the bad news including 10 hits, four walks, and eight earned runs in just five innings of work. His ERA has skyrocketed to 5.97 and the once impressive WHIP has lost its luster at 1.35.
Things may get worse before they get better as Minor next takes on a very good Cardinals offense. This is a pitcher that may have a bright future, but for now should make his home on the waiver wire.
The Dodgers are thriving this season, sitting alone in first place in the National League West. A great deal of credit is certainly owed to Andre Ethier and NL MVP favorite Matt Kemp. The two outfielders have been prolific run producers and Kemp is fresh off one of the most dominant months in recent history.
While offense is certainly important, it has been the team’s pitching that has let the leads stand. While Chad Billingsley has returned to form this season and Chris Capuano has been a pleasant surprise, the key arms in the rotation have been southpaws Clayton Kershaw and Ted Lilly.
Kershaw and Lilly could not be more different. Kershaw is a phenom, who at not even 25 years old is already a Cy Young winner and on the fast track to Cooperstown. Lilly is a 36-year-old veteran hurling on his sixth Major League team. While both left-handers have very different pasts, they are both a part of an important present for the Dodgers.
Kershaw was as good as it gets last season with 21 wins, 248 K’s, and a 2.23 ERA. What’s even more promising is that he is on a better track this season. Though six starts, Kershaw was just 2-3 with a 3.52 ERA and 15 walks a season ago. This season, Kershaw remains a perfect 2-0, while his walks have been nearly cut in half and his ERA is just 2.63.
Aside from comparing Kershaw to his own personal milestones there are few other peers who have enjoyed his level of excellence. Of course, his dominant stuff coming from a left-handed arm slot may remind some of Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Truth is, Kershaw is very different than Koufax. Kershaw could end up having a far greater impact than Koufax.
Koufax was a late bloomer who did not hone his control until he was 25 years old. He then went on to have six of the most impressive seasons in baseball history before an arm injury prematurely ended his career. Kershaw has been pitching at a high level since he broke into the league in 2008. Here’s a comparison of both Dodgers aces through 24 years old.
To put Kershaw’s early performance in even greater perspective, consider that while the 24-year old southpaw’s next win will be his 50th of his career, Ted Lilly, a two-time All-Star, had just five wins at the age of 25. In many ways, Lilly is more similar to Koufax based on his late bloomer status. Of course, Lilly never quite had the glory days of Koufax, but when you look at his career trends he does resemble a fine wine that gets better over time.
The Dodgers have a nice blend of young talent and proven veterans. While the hope is that Kershaw will remain effective far longer than Koufax did and perhaps remain as relevant in his mid-30s as Lilly, what matters most for Dodgers fans is the present. Right now, the two southpaws are as good as any tandem in baseball.