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April 4, 2011

Fantasy Focus

Don't Believe the Hype, 4/4

by Marc Normandin

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Now that the regular season is upon us, we can debut one of our new fantasy features: each Monday during the regular season, I will examine the players that have been added the most and dropped the most in standard leagues over the past week. (I will be using CBS's transactions statistics, but you may see me reference ESPN's numbers as well.) The goal is to figure out which players you should follow the wisdom of the crowd on and chase/cut, and which players you are better off holding on to or steering clear of. Where Value Picks identifies under-owned players who can help your team, my goal is to figure out if you need to make a move in the first place.

Any feedback you can give, whether through comments or email, will be appreciated. As with everything else at BP, we want this to be a resource for you, the reader, so we will be looking to improve it wherever we can.

Right now, the top drops involve names like Andy Pettitte and Billy Wagner—sorry everyone, but those guys just aren't coming back in 2011. Because of that, we'll focus entirely on players who were added this week.

Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore Orioles (55 percent owned, +18 percent)

Guthrie looked strong in his first start of the 2011 season, whiffing six and walking just one over eight frames en route to his first victory. It's no wonder he is at the top of the pitcher heap in add rate, as he has always been one of those fringe guys that gets rostered as soon as a team's pre-season plans go awry. The next pitchers on the adds list are Matt Harrison and Ivan Nova, and they don't have nearly Guthrie's track record, hence their being about half as popular at CBS.

Guthrie can occasionally pump out a start like this one, but there will be plenty more where he goes five-to-six innings with a few runs allowed and unimpressive punch out figures: He has struck out just 5.2 per nine over the last three seasons, though he has put together a K/BB of 2.1 over that same stretch. Guthrie isn't someone you go out of your way to roster, unless you have already suffered a pitching injury this early in the season. As an AL East pitcher with a defense behind him that has yet to prove its effectiveness over a full season, Guthrie is a bit of a risk—I would be more inclined to jump on rookie teammate Zach Britton to give him a shot, considering he is a groundballer, whereas Guthrie is a flyball pitcher. Sure, Britton is a temporary fix unless one of the other baby birds gets bumped for him, but if you require a full season of Guthrie in anything other than an AL-only league, your pitching is already in a bind that Guthrie won't be able to fix.

Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals (59 percent owned, +14 percent)

The optimism surrounding Gordon has fallen over the years, but it started at a very lofty place (the next George Brett, anyone?) and therefore had a long way to drop. For many people, their previous infatuation with Gordon can lead them to forget all of the negatives once they see something positive from him—this isn't just the case with Gordon, of course, but with anyone who fits his description of failing to live up to the hype. One weekend into the 2011 season, and we are already seeing people snagging Gordon off of the waiver wire in the hopes that he can provide value. He collected six hits in his first series of the year, producing a line of .316/.350/.421 along the way. That is a solid David DeJesus impression, but it isn't going to win you any leagues.

Gordon is worth grabbing because he could be useful if he captures even a sliver of the potential he had when he arrived in the majors five years ago, but one weekend isn't going to convince me that he deserves to start outside of AL-only leagues (or is worth ditching anything but dead roster weight for). It's hard for me to get excited about a guy having a strong opening weekend when he has a career line of .245/.329/.405—former top prospect or no.

Jose Lopez, Colorado Rockies (30 percent owned, +13 percent)

Lopez had both a homer and a steal over the first weekend, two items sure to gain attention on the free agent leaderboards when either is enough to stand out. As the Rockies starting second baseman, he will get plenty of opportunities to help people forget the Seattle years—in fact, it's kind of shocking that he is owned in just 30 percent of leagues, given the lack of air resistance on his balls in play.

Maybe it's due to the short memories of some fantasy owners. Lopez hit just 10 homers last year, though he did so playing in a park that depresses offense so much that even Morrissey thinks it needs to lighten up. He hit 17 and 25 homers in the two years preceding 2010, and, should be able to approach those figures in the thin air of Denver. Maintaining a productive on-base percentage is his main issue, but in many fantasy leagues, that won't be a problem.

Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres (33 percent owned, +12 percent)

Maybin, like Gordon, has failed to live up to his billing to this stage of his career. The difference is that Maybin, who debuted in 2007, is just 24 years old, whereas Gordon is in his age-27 campaign with just as many major league seasons to his credit.

Unlike Gordon, Maybin lives in the Petco Pit of Despair, the place where flyballs go to die. While many of them will see their lives end within the confines of Maybin's own glove, we're more concerned with the ones coming off of his bat. His first weekend went well, with a homer, a double, and a walk, but he will need to put up more consistent performances before I would use my team's precious plate appearances on him. Maybin has the potential to turn into Mike Cameron—those strikeouts are not going away any time soon, but he has some power potential in his bat, enough patience to offset his low batting average, and the defense to merit the opportunities to prove those offensive points. In deep leagues, he is the kind of guy you stash on your bench in case he turns into what you want him to be, but in standard mixed, the ownership percentage above seems accurate for this time of the year.

Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers (14 percent owned, +12 percent)

Harrison had an excellent start against the Red Sox yesterday, twirling seven innings of one-run ball while striking out eight and walking just a pair. We're talking about a pitcher who, in his career, has a Run Average of 5.79 and a career K/BB of 1.4 (thanks to 5.0 strikeouts per nine against 3.7 walks per nine over 232 1/3 innings). His velocity was a little higher than normal at 91-93 instead of his standard 90-92, but it's just one start, so let's not get too excited about it.

By the same token, it would be tough for me to scoop up Harrison in one of my own leagues given the small body of positive work we're looking at, but if you're desperate for pitching and have a player you don't mind cutting, Harrison is possibly more exciting than Guthrie—you know what you're getting with the Orioles hurler, but Harrison pitches for a team that could end up playing through October, and therefore should benefit from both a wins standpoint and a lower ERA thanks to a quality defense. Of course, Harrison could just as easily revert to form in his next appearance, so I can't stress enough that if you snag him, you want to release a player you know you will absolutely not miss once he is gone.

Related Content:  The Who,  Jeremy Guthrie,  Matt Harrison

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