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Early Season: What to watch for, and More Importantly, What to React to

Primarily you’re looking at the guys you picked late in the draft with questions, players injured the previous season, and youngin’s.   Unfortunately, most of what you react to early in the season will be negative, I promise to shoot for more positive in future articles.  

Lets start off with one positive note, closers.  Craig Kimbrel and Joel Hanrahan are flying into the season on a high, and it’s not just due to their pitching, which has been great by the way. 

Craig Kimbrel
Jonny Venters, Kimbrel’s so called 9th inning platoon partner, has been pitching exclusively in the 8th and often against righties (Venters pitches left handed).   The final inning looks like Kimbrels and if there were any doubts, he has not allowed a hit yet and has struck out five of the six batters he has faced.  

Joel Hanrahan – He has pitched great through the first few days and the job’s becoming more secure with every game that passes.  His competition entering spring camp (Evan Meek) has begun the season with a giant face plant.

Beware though, closers can turn on you when you’re not looking so don’t get too comfortable.

Ok, enough of the good, we have to look at the bad, and before I get called out for cherry picking some players and not mentioning others there are several guys on this list that are on my teams.   I’m concerned.

Austin Jackson – There was a lot of love towards him entering the season and for good reason. He’s leading off for a much improved lineup, stole 27 bases last season and based on the makeup of the offense and comments by management this offseason Jackson may be primed for more this season, and when he makes contact he hits the ball hard and finds holes.  

There is one canyon size problem with him though, his strikeout rate, and his start to the 2011 season (nine K’s in 20 AB’s through four games) has been even worse than expected.   Want a silver lining?   There isn’t one yet.   Only three of his eleven balls in play have fallen for hits, one over the fence, he’s taken three walks, and stolen a base.   Regardless, he must make more contact and his owners must be aware.   I’d keep an aggressive eye on waivers for steals because if you can maintain pace in steals without Jackson he is expandable, especially if the K numbers don’t improve.

Mike Stanton – Young guys with multiple leg injuries to different muscles causing them to miss extended time after both occurrences can’t be taken too lightly.   This wasn’t an injury caused by sliding awkwardly, running into another player, or overuse (he’s barely played).  

Like most, I love his power potential and was initially disappointed I missed him in all of my leagues, but after leg injury number two I think it was a blessing in disguise.   Expect to be frustrated all season long because these leg problems may not go away until after the Marlins fall out of contention, which they will if Stanton isn’t raking.   If a selling opportunity presents itself in the near future I would take it.

Jorge De La Rosa – Problems with injuries that caused players to miss a significant portion of 2010 are huge red flags this early in the season, it may just be a blister but the fact that it’s on the same finger that caused him to miss a lot of last season can’t be dismissed.   If he comes back with a couple of strong performances I’d dangle him out there to whatever owner is in early season panic mode with their pitching.

Magglio Ordonez – Like De La Rosa above, Ordonez is having problems with an injury caused last season.   He may have only missed one and a half games and claims he could have played, but he played like someone that was battling through something.   Then his skipper singles it out?   Be ready to abandon ship soon.

Javier Vazquez – Holy decreasing velocity, Batman!   If you bought into the return to the NL it isn’t going to matter as long as he is maxing out at 90 and his stuff isn’t moving.   This one I’d be willing to move on from right now.

Phil Hughes – See Vazquez, Javier, but at least Hughes has age on his side as he works to correct the problem.   Something similar happened to Madison Bumgarner in 2009 and he turned out fine.   Since his home games are in Yankee Stadium until the problem is corrected there are not many places I would feel comfortable starting him.   In fact, looking at the schedule, I wouldn’t plan on starting him until May sometime.

Max Scherzer – He started off poorly in 2010 and needed a demotion in May to get his stuff in order.   This year he was abysmal throughout spring training and it’s carrying over to the season.   I’d be very cautious about starting him in Kansas City and the Tigers would be smart to pitch Phil Coke Friday so he draws hot hitting Texas next week and let Scherzer figure things out vs. Oakland.

Francisco Liriano – Effectively wild works when you have your good stuff, but the arsenal Liriano was working with against Toronto certainly wasn’t.   He is a must bench in New York this week, but he can go a long ways towards proving it was just an off game with a good showing in the Bronx.

Edinson Volquez – There is not a more frustrating starting pitcher to own in this game.  When he is good, he is great, but when he is bad he is really bad and it’s impossible to predict when either will happen.   Tough to take much from opening day, but like his poor games from the past he fell behind batters. Unlike the past, instead of not adjusting once he was behind and pile up the walks he did something different – he just gave up the bomb before anyone got on base.   The difficult part is figuring out if that is good or bad.   His line from last Thursday was not good, but it also wasn’t a ratio killer like he’s been prone to in the past.   If that’s as bad as it gets this year maybe he does turn the corner this year, or perhaps I’m just a nervous owner digging for a silver lining; probably both.   Anyway, the schedule is soft throughout April, even though he was still maddeningly inconsistent vs. a hapless Houston lineup, so keep tossing him out there for now, but if he loses your trust this month cutting your losses may be the right move.

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