Every day, I'm asked the same question: "So, is John Lannan for real?"
When my "Who am I, Kreskin?" answer fails to satisfy, I go for the next most reasonable approach.
He's a hard thrower, I say. He looks good. It's a question of whether he can remain consistent over the course of a long season.
This is the fantasy baseball equivalent of a plate of iceberg lettuce. It has no nutritional value and is no help at all, but therein lies the rotisserie rub:
All major-league pitchers - with the exception of Tim Wakefield - are hard throwers. All have the ability on a given night to show flashes of excellence, and consistency is everything.
The sad truth is no one can predict the future, and any fantasy expert who thinks otherwise is sadly delusional.
That said, here are the criteria I use when trying to evaluate unheralded pitchers who are having early season success:
A) Do they have a secure rotation spot, and are they on a team that wins games?
B) Does past performance indicate any reason to believe they can continue to be successful?
C) Is there a reason for sudden improvement, such as a new pitching coach, a new pitch?
Max Scherzer, RHP, Diamondbacks
The top prospect certainly made a splash in his debut, throwing 41â3 perfect innings with seven strikeouts in relief. A day later, he was put into the starting rotation, and he could stay there a while. His 38 strikeouts to three walks in 23 innings in Triple-A Tucson was exceedingly impressive, and he's on a team that certainly gives him the chance to win games.
On the other hand, his rotation spot is not that secure. If you temper expectations, keeping in mind that Scherzer's young and likely to go through growing pains, he seems like a worthy addition at this point.
Zack Greinke, RHP, Royals
A star is reborn. Greinke finished April with the third best ERA in baseball among starting pitchers. His 3-0 record and 1.25 ERA are a testament to how consistently unhittable he's been; opponents are hitting .226 against Greinke, and just .111 with runners on base. With runners in scoring position, they're hitting .091. The former first-round draft choice and minor-league standout looks like a gem.
Lannan, LHP, Nationals
Ending April with 19 consecutive scoreless innings will get you noticed in fantasy circles. Lannan has been very good, as evidenced by his 2.64 ERA. His 24 strikeouts in 302â3 innings are impressive, but take out his one 11-strikeout effort against the Mets and he's never had more than four strikeouts in any of his 10 other major-league starts. Take out that game, and he has more walks (14) than strikeouts (13). Major warning sign there. He's also on a team that is simply not that good. He's not worth picking up.
Greg Smith, LHP, Athletics
Acquired as part of the deal that sent Dan Haren to Arizona, Smith has been a nice surprise for Oakland. He was called up in early April to take the spot of injured Justin Duchsherer, and has an impressive 2.73 ERA in five starts. While Oakland has been winning early in the season, it probably doesn't have the players to stay competitive. Also, Smith's spot is hardly assured. Hold off on picking him up.