With just about a week in the books, this season has started out as the year of the cheap pitcher. Pitchers such as Jeff Samardzija, Tommy Milone, Kyle Drabek and Danny Duffy provided outstanding point totals with a small salary, which allowed owners to spend more salary on hitting. Scoring has seemingly been down to start the season, which could mean the trend of using cheap pitchers is the way to go. Keep in mind that it’s preferable to use these pitchers against weaker lineups and in pitcher-friendly parks. Using cheap pitchers can enable you to have an All-Star lineup, but don’t forget that bargain bin options carry the risk of minimal points or worse yet, negative points.
As the season moves along, players will see an increase (or decrease) in price based on their performance. Zack Cozart has already been bumped from his initial salary to $3500, meaning he’s no longer as good of a value as he was to start the season. However, there are still hitters providing solid production on a minimal salary. Here are a few players producing with a low salary:
Adam LaRoche, 1B, WAS, $3100 – Normally a second-half player, LaRoche is off to a hot start for the Nationals. Hitting in the middle of the lineup, he’s averaged 4.6 fantasy points per contest. That’s more than positional studs Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto and David Ortiz. One of the few lefties in the lineup, LaRoche makes for a sneaky play at this price while other owners waste bigger dollars on players that produce less.
Tyler Pastornicky, SS, ATL, $2700 – The Braves starting shortstop hasn’t been a fantasy monster, but his small price tag and an average of 2.2 fantasy points per game make him an intriguing option. Pastornicky’s value lies in that he’s playing almost every day and has some speed on the basepaths. Marwin Gonzalez ($2200) is another cheap shortstop option with an even 2.0 points per game, but he will likely be relegated to the bench when Jed Lowrie returns later in the week.
Omar Infante, 2B, MIA, $2700 – Infante is off to a torrid start, averaging 5.0 fantasy points per game. He’s shown some uncharacteristic power so far with three home runs, a double and a triple. It doesn’t hurt that he’s hitting in a Marlins lineup that has a ton of upside. Eventually he’s going to come back to earth as he only had seven home runs last season. However, he’s one of the hotter players right now and it’s hard to argue with such a cheap price. If you’re looking for another option at second base, check out Darwin Barney for $2500. He spent the offseason bulking up and concentrating on taking the ball to the opposite field in an attempt to become a better hitter. He’s been a fixture so far for the Cubs while hitting in the second spot. Barney’s worth a look, especially on days when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley.
David Freese, 3B, STL, $3800 – While this isn’t a great value from a monetary standpoint, it’s hard to argue considering the success Freese has had so far. Freese has carried over his World Series success and enjoyed hitting in the heart of the Cardinals order. His 5.5 fantasy points per game are double that of Hanley Ramirez, Brett Lawrie, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rodriguez – all more expensive options. There’s no reason to think Freese can’t this type of pace for the rest of the season. If you’re looking for a cheap alternative at the position, Chone Figgins ($2600) has been hitting leadoff for Seattle and has the green light on the basepaths.
Austin Jackson, OF, DET, $3100 – Jackson is off to a blistering pace, averaging 7.1 fantasy points per game for a potent Tigers lineup. While much of the offensive story coming out of Detroit is usually about Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, Jackson has held his own at the plate. He developed a new leg kick in the offseason, which has cutback on his high strikeout totals while also appearing much more patient at the plate. As a result, he has a 4:4 K:BB ratio and is hitting a robust .563 at the dish. The high point total is especially impressive considering he hasn’t stolen a base yet, which was his primary contribution in fantasy last year. Don’t be surprised if he has a career year setting the table for Cabrera and Fielder.
Jordan Schafer, OF, HOU, $2800 – Despite the youth and limited upside of the Astros offense, there are a few diamonds in the rough on their team in fantasy terms. Schafer has been one of them so far as the leadoff hitter. He was once considered a top prospect in the Braves farm system and finally appears to be living up to some of that hype with his hot start. Entering Wednesday night’s game against Atlanta, he had reached safely in each game while also swiping three bags. With Houston in rebuilding mode, he’ll be a mainstay at the top of the lineup while also being a consistent threat on the basepaths with his speed.
Ryan Sweeney, OF, BOS, $2700 – The Red Sox have been reeling from a woeful start, but Sweeney has been one of the bright spots in the lineup. Now out of the gigantic confines of Oakland, Sweeney has averaged 2.7 fantasy points per game thus far. Entering Wednesday, he has hit safely in every game including multi-hit games in three of his first five. The Boston offense should pick up eventually and Sweeney stands to maintain a spot in the lineup given his early success.
Tip of the Week
When setting your lineup, it makes zero sense to take any position player who’s going up against your starting pitcher. While I’ve already made a Golden Rule to never knowingly take a zero at any position, this should be considered Golden Rule 1B - Never take an offensive player who’s stepping into the batter’s box against your starting pitcher. If a hitter of yours does well against your starting pitcher, the positive points will only cancel out the negative impact dealt to your pitcher. In the end, you’re limiting the upside of your team by doing so.
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