Thursday, April 24, 2008

First Week Impressions: NL Edition

By: Ed Sul

Since the first week reflections given last week were just for AL teams, these are basically two-week reflections for the NL teams. Even still, it is too early in the season to make any reasonable decisions about whether a .500, 4 homer, 15 RBI start will continue that way for the entirety of the season, or if you should drop your No. 3 pitcher after a horrendous 0-2, 8.98 ERA start. But here are some thoughts after two weeks.

Atlanta Braves

The rotation is solid early on in the season. John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, both from the Mesozoic Era, are still putting up solid numbers and are worthy No. 2 starters on fantasy teams. Tim Hudson’s 12 strikeouts to 2 walks with an ERA under 3 is very encouraging, and give rookie Jair Jurrjens a chance. He is 1-2, but his ERA is under 4, and he has a promising future. The bullpen is a mess for now, so don’t look there for any relief help, although when Rafael Soriano comes off the DL, he would be the only one with much fantasy value.

Chipper Jones is having a monster start, batting over .400 with 10 or more runs and RBIs. Yunel Escobar is batting .333 with 2 homers, 9 RBIs, and 11 runs as a full-time starter this year, so he is looking like a potential No. 1 fantasy shortstop on any team. Meanwhile, Brian McCann and Jeff Francoer have displayed their power early on, with three homers each, and their batting averages are not too bad either. Mark Teixeira is struggling, with a batting average under .200, but don’t be too concerned if you have him.

New York Mets

Nobody knew who he was when the season began, but now, you better keep an eye on Angel Pagan. He has no homers, but is batting nearly .400 with 9 runs and 10 RBIs. Don’t pick him up yet, because once Moises Alou returns from the DL, Pagan might become a reserve again. Another outfielder who has no homers is Carlos Beltran, which is baffling. His value has dipped over the years, but he is still a respectable No. 3 outfielder on a fantasy team. Meanwhile, David Wright is off to a huge start, batting .311 with 4 homers and 15 RBIs. (Beltran has actually hit his first homerun very recently but only one in three weeks?)

Johan Santana is 1-2, that does not mean much, as his 18 strikeouts to 4 walks and an ERA a shade over 3 shows. John Maine and Oliver Perez are mediocre, but somewhat valuable, pitching options on a fantasy team. Keep an eye on Mike Pelfrey, however, as the youngster has gone 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA. He doesn’t strike out many, though.

Philadelphia Phillies

Pat Burrell is off to a huge start, batting .349 with five homers and 15 RBIs. We expect those stats to decline though, so if you have plenty of outfielders and have a glaring hole in your team, think trade bait with Burrell. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are both meeting expectations with their starts, but Ryan Howard is struggling. He still has three homers, but his batting average is below .200. He is still a No. 1 fantasy first baseman for teams, but he does not seem to quite be Albert Pujols.

Cole Hamels has an ERA under 1 in three starts and has the stuff to be a No. 1 fantasy starter on most teams. The rest of the rotation is mediocre, and if any of them are on your team, don’t be too excited for any of them. But it is hard to say at this point whether they should be dropped period. Brad Lidge is doing well as a closer, with two saves in five innings and an ERA of 0, while Tom Gordon has completely lost his flash.

Florida Marlins

Scott Olsen is having a good start, and he is probably the only Marlins starting pitcher worth having on your fantasy team. If you have any other Marlins starter, just drop him for better option. And yes, that includes Andrew Miller, as the one-time top prospect is struggling with an ERA above 11, although his 15 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings is encouraging. If you want to keep Miller, fine, because he will be a star one day, but don’t expect him to reach his potential anytime soon.

Who is Mike Jacobs? He has five homers already, while maintaining a great batting average (.320). I don’t know if he is available in many leagues, but if he is, definitely pick him up. He should be a household name soon. Besides Jacobs, nobody has really been too surprising. Hanley Ramirez is putting up MVP-like numbers already again, Dan Uggla is hitting for decent power, but his average stinks, and young outfielders Josh Willingham and Jeremy Hermida are out to respectable starts, making them worthy No. 4 outfielders on your fantasy team. There is a mess at center field right now, but just wait for Cameron Maybin to be called up, and then acquire him.

Washington Nationals

John Rauch has been terrible as temporary closer, but that issue should be solved with Chad Cordero coming back to close. Rauch owners should just get rid of him now. The rotation, like Rauch, is a mess. Tim Redding and Matt Chico are off to encouraging, but not eye-popping, starts, so don’t jump on the bandwagon just yet.

Christian Guzman is off to a .333-2-6 start with 10 runs scored. He probably won’t be as good at the end of the season, but do get him if he is available. He will fill in nicely as a reserve or middle infielder on your team. The only other hitter with any value for now is Ryan Zimmerman, and he is off to a slump to start the year. But do get Lastings Milledge if he is available, because he looks promising as a starting outfielder.

Chicago Cubs

Alfonso Soriano is likely headed to a DL, which is just insult to injury (or injury to insult?) after his .175 average in 13 games. On the other hand, Kosuke Fukudome has only one homer, but he is batting a solid .333 with 8 runs, 6 RBIs, and 2 steals, showing his respectable all-roundedness. Rookie Geovany Soto and Mark DeRosa are off to quick starts, but only Soto really has any value, as we expect DeRosa’s numbers to decline. Aramis Ramirez is batting for a low average (.231), but his three homers haven’t made us too disappointed about his start yet. Derrek Lee’s start, meanwhile, is flat out amazing, with fiver homers, 12 RBIs, 11 runs, all with a batting average over .350.

Carlos Zambrano has 18 strikeouts to 2 walks is just nasty, and Ryan Dempster has been a surprise with a 2-0, 2.37 start to the season. Be careful before picking up the inconsistent Dempster, however. Meanwhile, give Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, and Rich Hill a couple more starts before dropping any of them. Also, Carlos Marmol owners should just pray that Kerry Wood struggles, because Marmol, who has 12 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings and a 1.74 ERA, will be one of the top closers in fantasy if Wood loses his job.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals use five outfielders – Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Skip Schumaker, Chris Duncan, and Brian Barton – regularly, which diminishes the value of all of them. If I was to choose one guy that you should pick up, it would be Ankiel, who has four homers and 11 RBIs while batting over .300. Schumaker also plays more than the others, but his lack of power decreases his value. Ludwick has good power, but he needs to get consistent playing time before anyone can take him seriously.

With Clement, Mulder, and Carpenter on the DL, it was hard to like anyone of the Cardinals’ rotation whose name wasn’t Adam Wainwright, but for the most part, the Cardinal pitchers have done very well. Kyle Lohse has a 1.04 ERA, and Braden Looper is 3-0 with an ERA well under 3. Todd Wellemeyer’s ERA is a modest 4.00, but he has 20 strikeouts. A lot to like about the Cardinals starters, and it is tempting to pick them all up, but wait a few more starts to see how they can really do.

Milwaukee Brewers

Prince Fielder is in a huge slump, with a .222 batting average along with 0 homers. Is Fielder a one-year wonder? You can’t help but think that until Fielder can break out of his slump. On the other hand, it is hard to call Ryan Braun’s .226 start a slump on the same level as Fielder’s, as he does have three homers. Braun’s average should rise over the season. The feel-good story right now is Gabe Kapler, who has a .423 average complemented by four homers. Kapler may be a short-term solution in the outfield, but his value will diminish as Mike Cameron returns from suspension.

Other than Ben Sheets, who is posting Cy Young-esque numbers with a 2-0 record, a 1.17 ERA, and twenty strikeouts, no one else in the rotation is worth anything. Wait until Yovani Gallardo returns from injury, and then he will be worth picking up to help your pitching staff. Eric Gagne is settling down, but you can’t help but think he is on a short leash with David Riske, Salomon Torres, and Derrick Turnbow setting up nearby.

Houston Astros

Youngsters Hunter Pence, J.R. Towles, and Michael Bourn are struggling to open the year in terms of average, which are .170, .207, and .216, respectively, but you have to like Pence’s first half of 2007, Towles’ three homers, and Bourn’s seven stolen bases. Meanwhile, stars Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Miguel Tejada have not disappointed to open their seasons.

Roy Oswalt is 0-3 with an ERA of 9.00. This is definitely a concern, but we have to expect him to perform better. Shawn Chacon and Brandon Backe, meanwhile, are off to pretty good starts, each with ERAs of 2.25. Their 10+ walks are a concern, however, as their lack of control might signal a spike in ERA sooner or later. Wandy Rodriguez might be worth a look, however, as he has a 2.33 ERA with 19 strikeouts and just 2 walks to open the year.

Cincinnati Reds

Johnny Cueto has 24 strikeouts and one walk. Amazing, right? Not so fast. Cueto has done worse every start, so his value will continue to decline back to mediocrity. Someone probably has jumped on the Cueto bandwagon already, but if he is somehow available in your league, wait a couple more starts to see who the real Johnny Cueto is. Same goes for Edinson Volquez, who has a 0.87 ERA in just over 10 innings of work.

Brandon Phillips and Ken Griffey Jr. are doing okay to start this season, as those two and Adam Dunn were really the only three Reds’ batters with any fantasy value whatsoever. No one ever has high expectation for Dunn in terms of average, but his one homer thus far is unacceptable. Meanwhile, Jeff Keppinger has exceeded all expectations, as he has two homers, nine RBIs, eight runs, and a .327 batting average. He is worth picking up at the moment, but who will start at shortstop when Alex Gonzalez returns? Keep an eye on that.

Pittsburgh Pirates

I said before the season to avoid Zach Duke at all costs. Now, try to get him at all costs. Well, not all costs, but he does seem to offer quality value with his 2.89 ERA in nearly 19 innings of work. Other than Duke and ace Ian Snell, don’t bother with the Pirates’ rotation.

Nate McLouth has a .391 average, 2 homers, 12 runs, 14 RBIs, and two stolen bases. It is only two weeks in, but I am sold on McLouth and will convince you to definitely get him if he is not yet already gone. Xavier Nady is also off to a huge start, with four homers, 14 RBIs, and 10 runs, with a .345 batting average. Unfortunately, those are the only to Bucs with any value, unless you still think Jason Bay can turn it around.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Chad Billingsley went from sleeper of the year to most dropped player in leagues within a couple weeks. Billingsley started the year in the bullpen, and his ERA is around 5.50 after a couple weeks. This news may be good for you, especially if someone in your league has dropped Billingsley, because then you should get him. Billingsley has recently reentered the rotation and seems to be getting back on track.

Blake DeWitt had gone 5-for-9 to open the year, and there was a lot of hype as a result. But the reality is that once Nomar Garciaparra and Andy LaRoche return, DeWitt will probably head back to the minors. DeWitt has cooled off, with a batting average of .261 and no homers. On the brighter side, Rafael Furcal is looking like a huge steal, batting .403 with 15 runs scored. Furcal usually starts out slow and then improves over the course of the season, but this year with Furcal hitting well from the start of the season, look out.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are just ridiculously good. The duo is a combined 7-0 with an ERA just around 1.80. The rest of the rotation is off to a fairly good start as well, including Micah Owings and 90-year old Randy Johnson. Doug Davis is out for a while with thyroid cancer, but even he was pitching well before his DL trip.

There is also a lot to like among the young Diamondbacks hitters. Mark Reynolds has 16 RBIs on 5 homers and 14 runs with a respectable .291 batting average and is looking like a star in the making. Chris Young is at it again with five homers and 14 runs, but that .234 average must improve. Justin Upton is also off to a tremendous start, with a .377/5/13 stat line. Hard to believe from a guy drafted in the late rounds in most leagues. Conor Jackson is batting .364 with 15 runs scored, 3 homers, and 17 RBIs, and Eric Byrnes and Stephen Drew are also enjoying good starts. This young group of hitters could be having a lot of fun this summer, which is good news to D’Backs hitters’ fantasy owners.

Colorado Rockies

Pitching is the Rockies’ weak point, and we can see why. There is no one who is worth starting on a fantasy team in the entire rotation. Young Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales are promising, but are too inconsistent right now. Aaron Cook and Mark Redman are known for inconsistency, and this year has been no different. Ace Jeff Francis is 0-2 with a 5.89 ERA. Francis is a second-half kind of guy, and he has been for the most part consistent in the past two or three seasons, so besides Francis, don’t bother playing any of the Rockies’ pitchers.

As for the offense, it is off to a pretty slow start. Other than Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday, who are having good, but not wowing, starts to the season, no one has met expectations. Brad Hawpe, one of the greater sleepers last season, and Troy Tulowitzki, the young shortstop phenom, are struggling to bat .200. One year wonders? It is too early to make any conclusions, but it is in the back of our minds right now.

San Diego Padres

Jake Peavy is ridiculous. 30 innings, 27 strikeouts, 3-0 start. He will be a No. 1 fantasy pitcher for the next 10 years. Chris Young, meanwhile, has been the Chris Young of the 2007’s 2nd half rather than the All-Star Cy Young Candidate of the first half. Young is 1-1 with a 5.17 ERA with 13 strikeouts, but 12 walks. Keep an eye on young Justin Germano. He is 0-1, but with a 1.35 ERA. The concern is his six strikeouts in 20 innings.

The Padres’ offense is mediocre, if not subpar, and other than young soon-to-be-star Kevin Kouzmanoff and powerful Adrian Gonzalez, no one is worth owning. But even these two are good at best and are not superstars, at least not now. There is a possibility that Brian Giles is available in your league, and if you want a consistent veteran, do go for him, but don’t expect him to make or break your season.

San Francisco Giants

This team is a mess, even without Barry Bonds. The offense, in fact, is so bad that you would wish Bonds would be around to give the team some kind of juiced boost. New acquisition Aaron Rowand is homerless with just four runs and RBIs. Half of the rest of the lineup is batting under .200. The rotation has a bright spot. Tim Lincecum has 22 strikeouts with a 2.25 ERA in 16 innings. The next Jake Peavy? Possibly. But with the Giants' offense a debacle, don't expect Lincecum to pile up wins. Unfortunately for Lincecum, he is probably the only guy who could win for the Giants, as Matt Cain has an ERA over 6.50, and Barry Zito is... well, Barry, Zito, the most overpaid human being ever. Jonathan Sanchez and Kevin Correia are not consistent major league starters either. So basically, besides Lincecum, stay away from these Giants.

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