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The Sales Pitch

Should I keep him or sell him? Fantasy leagues are not won solely by drafting, but rather through key midseason pickups and trades. Similar to the New York Stock Exchange, one of the keys to victory is the art of selling high and buying low in order to soak up the most value from a particular player. A relatively unknown player’s status can rise to enormous heights like Jose Bautista and Carlos Gonzalez in 2010. In 2011, Bautista’s stock seems to still be slightly rising, while Gonzalez’s is falling quickly. With more attention bestowed upon hitters, sometimes the stock of a pitcher rises a bit slower and under the radar, but it can still result in a season-changing pickup or trade. Let’s take a look at several sizzling pitchers to see if they may be worth holding onto or selling high.

Josh Tomlin

– With an unimpressive 2010 campaign, Tomlin was not a favorite to make Cleveland’s starting rotation. However, his spring training earned run average (ERA) of 1.13 earned him a starting spot, and Tomlin has not looked back. Sitting at 4-to-1, his strikeout rate will not win any awards and he still struggles with the long-ball, but Tomlin has maintained a low ERA and

walks plus hits per inning pitched

( WHIP)

while holding batters to a miniscule .185 average.   I expect Tomlin’s numbers to come back to earth, but he will remain solid if Cleveland continues to find ways to win games.

Justin Masterson

– Masterson may have a slightly longer resume than his teammate Tomlin and is another fantasy wonder. With a stunning 5-1 record, Masterson has pitched at least six innings and not allowed more than three runs in any outing until May 12 against Tampa Bay. With very minimal history performing at this peak level, I would sell if possible. As Masterson battles stronger offenses, we will be able to see whether he is worth keeping or simply on a decent run.    

Josh Beckett

– Beckett has been absolutely filthy this season. Ignore his 3-1 record since Boston’s offense was rather lackluster at the beginning of the season. After being hindered with injuries the last couple seasons and never looking comfortable, Beckett appears to be 100 percent and it is showing as all of his peripherals look significantly improved in 2011. I would not sell Beckett at this point unless you can obtain a Tier 2 pitcher or strong bat. Beckett will fan more than 200 this season and earn 15 wins if he can remain healthy.

Kyle Lohse

– Lohse may be one of baseball’s top sleepers thus far. With his worst season statistically in 2010 compiled with a forearm injury, few expected Lohse to even make St Louis’ rotation. Instead, he silenced critics with five quality starts in seven outings resulting in four wins and much improved ERA and WHIP. With the strength of St Louis’ bats and expertise of pitching coach Dave Duncan, Lohse may put together a 10-plus win season despite going undrafted in most leagues.

Alexi Ogando

– No one expected a pitcher on Texas’ staff to replace ace Cliff Lee, but Ogando is certainly making a case. Serving as a relief pitcher in 2010, Ogando’s numbers were strong, which helped propel him to starter after a few injuries in the rotation. Except for one rough outing against the New York Yankees, Ogando has been “lights out.” If he continues this high level of success, Ron Washington will have no choice but to leave him in the rotation. Ogando shouldn’t be sold unless he loses his starting gig.

Trevor Cahill

– This Oakland right-hander should not have fallen under the radar.  In only his third season, some may have questioned him repeating his 2010 success of 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA. Although his strikeout rate is low, Cahill dominates in every other pitching category. Rather than matching his 2010 campaign, Cahill is on pace to break it. Do not sell Cahill unless you receive maximum value.   Already at 6-0, Cahill should earn at least 15 wins with a superb ERA and WHIP, but keep your expectations around 125 strikeouts.

Jaime Garcia

– As a rookie last year, Garcia put together a very successful season with 13 wins and a 2.70 ERA, but only a satisfactory strikeout-to-walk rate. Also, Garcia struggled in the second half last year and his workload increased. With a full season now in the rear view mirror, Garcia has improved his strikeout-to-walk rate and is pitching like a seasoned veteran. Keep Garcia, but watch him in the midpoint of the season and sell him if you sense him struggling again post-All Star break.

Jair Jurrjens

– After a career season in 2009, Jurrjens struggled with injury and inconsistency in 2010, which left his name forgotten in many fantasy drafts. The Atlanta right-hander is pitching like an ace and seems to be healthy. Jurrjens’ numbers should settle, but he can be very effective when health is not an issue.    

Michael Pineda

– Pineda was Seattle’s top prospect as he cruised through Double-A and Triple-A last season, which reserved him a spot in the rotation for this season. Pineda’s strikeout rate is impressive, and he is already showing consistency at the young age of 22. Playing in Safeco Field and behind Seattle’s offense, wins may be scarce, but Pineda should continue to post solid stats in all other categories. Pineda has been a pleasant surprise so keep him as his ceiling seems to be getting higher.

James Shields

– Although his strikeout rate improved in 2010, all other pitching categories suffered. Being left for dead in the fantasy world, owners taking a chance on Shields have been generously rewarded with a 3-1 record including eight quality starts, two complete games, a 2.08 ERA and a solid strikeout rate. He is pitching better than David Price, who was drafted much earlier. Although Shields seems to have rebounded nicely, he is yet to battle the offenses of Boston and New York. I recommend holding him, but expect a decline as the season continues. However, 12 plus wins and 200 strikeouts with a 3.50 ERA is not out of question.

As any fantasy analyst will admit, it is nearly impossible to determine which early-season arm will turn out to be a fantasy stud or dud. Will these pitchers continue their success all season or simply be a flash in the pan? Certain factors, including health and history, may provide signs of a pitcher’s potential, but it still a gamble worth taking.

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