I'm not what you'd call a fantasy baseball veteran by any means, but I've played enough -- and followed friends playing in other leagues enough -- to know that what happens in the first few weeks, while significant, isn't necessarily the final story. The standings at the end of Week Two are almost never the same as the standings at the end of the season, and it's the latter standings that are more important by far.
In which some surprisingly good and disappointingly bad starts are pointed out.
If fantsay baseball is supposed to be like real baseball, then this is a feature, not a bug. After all, look at last season: as late as May 7 of last year, the Kansas City Royals were leading the division, and the Twins were three games below .500. Anybody who follows baseball can tell you that teams doing better than they should be is based on players having hot starts that they don't maintain (such as nearly every Royal except Greinkie and Soria last year) or, conversely, having players missing or slumping at the start where they come around by the end of the season (the Twins, of course, had just welcomed Joe Mauer back to the lineup, and both Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer had struggled in April compared to the numbers they'd put up the rest of the year).
So in a fantasy baseball league, if you're looking at a team that's doing poorly (say, thirteenth out of fourteen teams), you can probably find a number of poor performers.
Start with injuries. As noted in the initial draft post, I was looking at four players to serve as my offensive anchors for the season. Of those four players, three started the year injured:
- Ian Kinsler is still on the disabled list, but is at least running, if not yet at full speed. It's expected that Kinsler would spend four or five games on a minor league rehab assignment, but he could be back by the end of the first week in May -- meaning he'll have contributed nothing in April at all.
- Jose Reyes was a surprise to start the season on the Mets DL, but returned at the end of week one. As a leadoff man, Reyes has been able to make up a lot of the missing time in extra ABs, but unforunately his production (.153/414) leaves an awful lot to be desired.
That leaves the man referred to in Moneyball as 'the Greek god of walks', Kevin Youkilis. As you'd expect, Youkilis has more walks than hits thus far in the season. Unfortunately, it's not because he's got a ridiculous number of walks. I'd targetted Youkilis largely because he's one of the few players capable of challenging Joe Mauer for the lead in OBP when both are on, yet Youkilis at .184/701 is, if anything, starting just as slowly as Mauer himself. (Though that split is, if anything, reason for hope -- anybody capable of posting a 700 OPS while hitting below the Mendoza line is clearly someone to be reckoned with.)
On the pitching staff, I hadn't identified any linchpins, but was hoping more for a balanced if unspectacular staff performance that would at least keep me competitive until I could identify my more deliberate needs. With a five-man rotation of Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Kyle Lohse, I figured I wouldn't have to worry about falling too far behind.
No, in pitching I've been my own worst enemy, in true Tony LaRussa style. I've had a chance in the early going to flip guys in and out of the rotation as needed, so I've done so. I've benched Pat Neshek in frustration over him not getting innings, just in time to see him throw two shutout frames for the Twins from my reserve list. I've started Nick Blackburn against the Royals over A.J. Burnett against the Rays and was burned for that, too. I have three pitchers with two wins apiece on the year thus far, and they're not the only guys on the staff with wins, yet I have just five wins in my team's W column, which sets me near the bottom of the list in that category.
On the other hand, I can't take full blame for the pitching -- in the bullpen, Luke Gregerson imploded in his first appearance for the Padres, and Chad Qualls, whom I traded for, has since blown two saves and probably is only holding onto the closer role because the guy the Diamondbacks tried to get in there to replace him blew his first save opportunity as well.
Even on a bottomfeeding club, though, there is the occasional pleasant surprise. Probably the biggest surprise has been the play of Boston catcher Jason Varitek. Demoted to the second string with the acquisition of Victor Martinez, Varitek blasted two homers in his first game of the season and is 7-for-20 with two doubles and three homers now on the year: he's second on the Red Sox in home runs despite having only started three games.
Another super-sub who's been overachieving is San Francisco outfielder Eugenio Velez, whom I picked up in the late rounds of the draft because of his steals potential -- Velez is 7-for-20, and has two homers to his credit thus far.
If anybody can be said to be anchoring the Golden Thieves' pathetic offense, it would be Michael Cuddyer, whose .340/863 line may not look inpressive to you, but leads my team in hits and RBI, while staying close to the team lead in homers, runs, and slugging percentage (at least among guys with more than 20 PAs). He won't keep the batting average up, but if he can keep his OPS north of 850, which seems possible, then he might well be a solid contributor all year.
On the pitching side, if Nate Robertson, Cole Hamels, and AJ Burnett keep up what they've been doing, and if I can bring myself to leave them alone, my staff numbers will improve in no time. Even Matt Cain and Kyle Lohse, neither of whom have earned a win yet, are hovering just over a 1.0 WHIP and are thus contributing in a key category. In the bullpen, picking up Toronto reliever Kevin Gregg off the free agent wire may be my steal of the year, and though he and Matt Guerrier can't carry the bullpen alone, they've both labored like heroes thus far.
So we might not be hanging out in the celler quite forever -- if the hurt players get healthy and the solid players stay solid, we've got a chance to compete, I think. Especially once Jorge Posada, Billy Butler, and Brad Hawpe come crashing back down to earth.