Finally the season is underway. If you got a chance to snag Jose Contreras or drafted Craig Kimbrel and left Jonny Venters alone, congrats. There have not been enough games to analyze a true change a player's value and too often fantasy owners overvalue the first week of the season despite it being such a small sample size. As the weeks go by I'll look more and more at what the players are doing as we can gauge if a slump or hot streak is for real. Until then, take note of only the news items that have a significant fantasy impact; Albert Pujols grounding into three double plays on Opening Day is meaningless.
Jose Contreras, P, PHI - With the news that Brad Lidge will be out at least the next 4-6 weeks with a posterior rotator cuff strain, Charlie Manuel wasted no time in naming Contreras the closer. There's a lot to like about Contreras' potential now that he's been given the role. Used only as a reliever last year, he struck out just over a batter per inning and has consistently had a 45% ground ball rate throughout his career. Last year he averaged over two miles an hour more on his fastball than his average fastball over the previous three seasons. Ryan Madson is waiting in the wings should Contreras falter, but Charlie Manuel was extremely loyal to Lidge when he was healthy so Contreras may have a longer leash than you might think. The Phillies have a rotation and lineup that should provide Contreras plenty of opportunities so don't be afraid to go a couple of extra FAAB dollars this week.
Jose Lopez, 2B, COL - I didn't write it in this column but I'm going to steal something I wrote in the blog about Lopez. Here's what I wrote about Lopez:
"No, he didn't have a great year last season playing for a historically bad offensive team in Seattle. The previous two seasons though he averaged 21 home runs, 93 RBI and a .285 batting average. His other metrics - the K, BB rates have stayed the same the last three years and the only outlier I could find from last season is the six-year low .254 BABIP."
Lopez will be the anti-Miguel Olivo moving from Safeco to Coors Field this offseason, which will greatly help the right-handed hitter's power numbers. He started off with a bang in his first game in a Rockies uniform, hitting a home run and stealing a base. In the near future he'll qualify at second base and projecting 20 home runs from him is more than reasonable.
Craig Kimbrel, P, ATL - New manager Fredi Gonzalez has anointed Kimbrel the main closer in the Atlanta bullpen, reducing Jonny Venters to a setup role. Kimbrel struck out two in a perfect inning Thursday for his first save of the season. I noted that in the Opening Day Live Blog, stating, "Semi-interesting note - both Venters and Clippard used in non-save situations." Venters came on to face three righties and while that was surprising considering he's a southpaw, he arguably had more success against righties last year (1.64 ERA) than lefties (2.57 ERA). While it was only just over 20 innings, Kimbrel's 17.42 K/9 rate from a season ago was greater than Carlos Marmol's, which may have been the difference. If you own Kimbrel and this plays out the way Gonzalez says it will, float an offer to Venters' owner over the next few weeks to give yourself an insurance policy.
Allen Craig, John Jay, OF, STL - Both should see an uptick in playing time with Matt Holliday out after undergoing an appendectomy. For me, Craig is the more interesting pick here, as he has more pop than Jay. Neither is considered an elite prospect as they both are 26-years-old. Craig got the starting nod on Saturday in left field and batted sixth, a nice spot in the heart of the Cardinals lineup.
Zach Britton, P, BAL - Britton will replace Brian Matusz in the Orioles rotation while Matusz recovers from a back/rib injury. I upgraded Britton a few weeks ago as I thought the Orioles would put him in the rotation to start the season instead of sending him to Triple-A. While I completely understand delaying the arbitration clock on your top pitching prospect, Baltimore has a few players on one-year deals in their lineup, which makes for a "win-now" mentality. Either way, the extreme groundball pitcher Britton is worth stashing away in most formats.
Luke Hochevar, P, KC - Here's my darkhorse pick of the week, a player good to stash on your bench in AL-only or deep mixed league formats. Saying Hochevar wasn't terrible on Opening Day is like telling a woman she isn't ugly; it's not really a complement. On the positive side, Hochevar didn't walk a batter and struck out five. He fell victim to the long ball, giving up two homers in only 5.2 innings. Hochevar has a career ground ball rate of 48.9% and his 4.81 ERA from a season ago might have been unlucky as his 3.93 FIP suggests. To take the next step he'll have to learn to buckle down with runners on base as his career 62.9% LOB rate indicates. While he's not going to be a top-30 pitcher, he could be worth streaming into your lineup when the matchup is right.
J.P. Arencibia, C, TOR - I'm still waiting for confirmation that my downgrade of Arencibia a few weeks ago served as bulletin board material which motivated him to launch two home runs in the Jays' first game Friday. Everyone immediately went out and grabbed him wherever he was available but I'm still not sold on him. He didn't have a good spring, hitting only .161 with 19 strikeouts in only 62 at-bats. Arencibia isn't going to play every day, as the Jays will use Jose Molina as Kyle Drabek and Brandon Morrow's personal catcher. I can buy 14-17 homers as his ceiling this year but the low batting average is going to hurt fantasy teams. Think Emilio Bonafacio circa de 2009.
Kurt Suzuki, C, OAK - Suzuki sprained his ankle in Friday's game but returned to the lineup on Saturday. One of the more "ironmen" catchers in baseball, Suzuki has played in at least 131 games in each of the last three seasons. He's a solid #2 catcher who has hit 28 home runs and driven in 159 RBI total over the last two years. Don't be surprised if the A's give him a night off over the next few days so this doesn't become a reoccurring problem.
Mat Latos, P, SD - While the injury to Latos disappointed his owners to start the season, it looks like the Padres' ace is on track to return within a couple of weeks. He reported no further setbacks and will pitch in a minor league game on Monday. This is beginning to sound like just some early season soreness but keep your fingers crossed until you see him toeing the rubber in San Diego.
Brandon Morrow, P, TOR - Should I really be that surprised that I recently drafted Mat Latos, Brandon Morrow and Homer Bailey back in the middle of March in a league commissioned by Dalton Del Don? Morrow, like Latos, appears to be on schedule to return to the Jays' rotation after landing on the DL with elbow discomfort. His strikeout potential is off the charts this year if he can put the injury behind him.
Fausto Carmona, P, CLE - I'm not downgrading him based on his 10-earned run, three inning performance Friday but the fact that he was allowed to stay in there and take a beating. It's a mystery to me why Manny Acta didn't pull Carmona sooner, unless he was trying to drain him of any confidence he has left. The truth is Carmona will be ok, I'm just wondering if you have to downgrade the rotation as a whole (not that there's much to be excited about there) if they're going to be used in this manner.
Matt Holliday, OF, STL - As mentioned already, Holliday is out indefinitely after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. For now the Cardinals are hoping for the best and holding off on placing him on the DL, in hopes that he can return within the next two weeks. Personally, I find that highly unlikely and I'd think we're looking at somewhere around 3-4 weeks.
Brad Lidge, P, PHI - It's never good to hear a pitcher who has any type of rotator cuff injury, even if it's being labeled a "strain." Lidge himself has made statements about being good for the second half, so we may not see him for quite some time. I'd inquire what a Jose Contreras owner would be willing to give to handcuff himself in redraft leagues as I'm not optimistic about Lidge at all this year.