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Archive for Monday, April 23, 2007

Early-season struggles no reason to panic

April 23, 2007

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Never take fantasy baseball guidance from someone in last place.

This seems like simple, obvious advice. Yet here you are, reading beyond the first paragraph.

There are a million excuses for being in last a few weeks into the season, and I'm liable to use them all:

¢ Alfonso Soriano moved to Chicago and forgot how to steal bases and hit home runs, then got hurt.

¢ Jorge Julio of the Marlins gave up more walks (11) and hits (15) in 52â3 innings than I had in my entire high school baseball career, such as it was. And then he got hurt.

¢ The Rockies' Kaz Matsui stole five bases in his first eight games, enough for me to jettison a sleeper stolen base candidate (Chris Duffy) for a more proven pitching commodity (Jason Jennings). And then, not surprisingly, Matsui and Jennings both got hurt.

Can we please have a mulligan for the 2007 baseball season?

Can't we just pretend the season was an East Coast game and call it a rainout?

There are plenty of reasons a reasonably smart fantasy owner could find himself in the cellar:

¢ The three best fantasy producers last year - Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Soriano - have combined to hit six home runs. Ian Kinsler, who hit 14 last year, already has seven.

¢ Among the three qualifying pitchers with the highest ERA through Tuesday were two aces: Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs (7.77) and Brett Myers of the Phillies (8.82). And thanks to manager Charlie Manuel, Myers now apparently is a relief pitcher.

¢ Aaron Hill is in the top 10 in the American League in batting average and RBIs. Who?

It's been a screwy year, and the only way to win after a terrible start is shrewd trading. Here's a primer on how to use this oddball April to your advantage:

Trade for:

Jake Westbrook, RHP, Indians

Jake, one of only four AL pitchers with at least 14 wins in each season since 2004, is Mr. Reliable, right? Not so much this year, as Westbrook has compiled a 12.08 ERA in his first three starts. This might be a great time to get him cheap via trade, because his owners have to be seriously unhappy.

He is one of just eight starters to pitch at least 210 innings in each of the last three years, and should do so again. He'll straighten out.

Wilson Betemit, 3B, Dodgers

Things only can get better for Betemit, who celebrated finally earning a starting job with two hits in his first 28 at-bats. Most owners have no faith he ever will rebound. It's a perfect time to get him as an afterthought in an otherwise-even trade. He has good power, and so long as the Dodgers stay with him, he'll hit 25 home runs this year.

Kinsler, 2B, Rangers

Much more exciting is the hot start of Kinsler, long considered a great hitting prospect for a team that seems to churn them out. Kinsler has a sweet swing and enough pop to hit 25 homers, rare in a middle infielder. He's a future star in the mold of Chase Utley, and he won't come cheap anymore, but he will give you power you won't get from other 2Bs.

Rich Hill, LHP, Cubs

Not only is Hill 2-0 with an 0.64 ERA in his first two starts, but Hill has allowed only four hits in 14 innings. Take a look at how the southpaw finished 2006: In his final nine starts, he went 4-2 with a 1.89 ERA, striking out 61 batters in 57 innings. That's the work of a future fantasy ace, and he might still come cheaper in a trade than others of the same caliber, such as Scott Kazmir, Erik Bedard and John Lackey.

Trade away:

Josh Hamilton, OF, Reds

I'll be unpopular for writing this, but Hamilton's value will never be higher than it is now. He hit his fourth homer in his 24th at-bat Wednesday, and the world is in love with Hamilton, who missed three years while battling drug and alcohol addiction. Major-league pitchers are too good not to figure him out. See what kind of value owners will trade you for him, and jump on a good offer.

Hill, 2B, Blue Jays

The 25-year-old is making a name for himself early this season. He had 11 RBIs in his first seven games, and suddenly was a hot pick on the waiver wire. Be careful here; Hill hit .291 with six homers and five steals in his first full season last year. At best, he could be this year's Freddy Sanchez, which means high average and not much in terms of power or speed.

¢Quick hits: Is there a harder pitcher to hit right now than the Giants' Matt Cain? In his first 20 innings, he's allowed eight hits and struck out 17, and opponents are batting .125. Despite three quality starts, Cain has yet to win because of a lack of offense (1-0 loss) and bullpen issues in the other two games. ... Notable members of the no-home-run club, through April 18: Mark Teixeira, David Wright, Soriano, Ken Griffey Jr., Raul Ibanez and Manny Ramirez. ... Two-start pitcher of the week: John Maine of the Mets, scheduled to face the Rockies at home and the Nationals on the road.

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