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Painting the Black: Four Pivotal Pitchers

Jensen Lewis

Jensen Lewis

Jensen Lewis is a former Major League Baseball relief pitcher, playing parts of four seasons in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians. Drafted 102nd overall in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft, he played 9 professional seasons altogether with the Tribe, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs. Lewis amassed a career of 7-11 in 161 games, good for a 3.68 career ERA in 198 innings. He helped the Indians win the AL Central in 2007, becoming a key cog in their bullpen, on a postseason run that ended with a Game 7 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Lewis went a perfect 13 for 13 in save opportunities with the Indians in 2008 as their closer and was nominated for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award in 2010. The award recognizes the player who combines a dedication to giving back to the community with outstanding skills on the baseball field as well as representing the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their Clubs. A Vanderbilt University graduate with a BS in Communications, Lewis now works as a broadcast personality with Fox Sports and SportsTime Ohio in Cleveland. He continues to be involved in Cleveland Indians Charities providing support to the Cleveland community, making visits to local hospitals and participating in the annual Tyson Food Distribution event held before Thanksgiving. A diehard Cleveland fan his entire life, he still holds out hope that the Tribe & Browns championship droughts will come to an end during his lifetime.


PAINTING THE BLACK: 4 PIVOTAL STARTING PITCHERS

Blockbuster trades can make or break a fantasy season. The adrenaline rush of both sides thinking their acquisitions will provide the difference in finishing atop their respective leagues is unlike any other. The pride of running out the players you coveted for months is even better!

But when is the right time to pull the trigger? And who is/are the right player(s) to deal or obtain? In my tenure in the big leagues, I've witnessed two blockbuster starting pitcher trades involving former teammates CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. The emotion from a player perspective is indescribable. You know your club is forever changed because the guy(s) you're sending away probably encompassed an immense part of your team. For fantasy GMs, the stakes and emotions become all too familiar to what I've described above. This is why we play the game! Below are 4 pivotal starting pitchers that I believe will greatly impact the fantasy landscape of the 2014 MLB season now and moving forward.

David Price, TAMPA BAY RAYS

It's no secret that Price is going to be on the move either this season or next, depending on the packages other clubs put together in an effort to acquire the former Cy Young Award winner. Left-handed power starting pitching is probably the rarest gem in all of baseball - thus, the exorbitant price tag to get your hands on it. The same holds true in the fantasy baseball world.

Some numbers to chew on while you concoct your "pitch" to get Price: his peripherals are video-game-ridiculous right now. He's amassed 58 K's (T-2nd in AL) & only SIX WALKS in 53.2 IP. The ERA is a bit high at 4.53, but we're only into the middle of May. You can bank on a few things: death, taxes, and David Price being among the league leaders in all critical pitching categories in fantasy land when it's all said and done.

Thinking out loud, you're going to need a corner INF/OF bat with pop and probably a #2 or #3 starting pitcher to land DP14. As his former roommate & college teammate at Vanderbilt, the best thing you get from him is the constant desire to be better than everyone else in baseball. That, coupled with his impending departure from the Rays, translates to a major boost to your fantasy's team's scoring scenery.

Yordano Ventura, KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Covering the Indians so far this season, I've kept an eye on Ventura and his potential impact in the AL Central race. It's fair to say that ALL EYES are squarely centered on him now whenever he pitches. Sitting at early Strasburg-esque velocity numbers between 97-100mph throughout his starts, Ventura is mind-bogglingly advanced at his age. His secondary stuff this early in the season is more polished than I originally thought. And the numbers back up the notion that he'll not only continue on a high strikeout pace, but could push the Royals to make a deep run through the dog days of August & September.

If you drafted Ventura, be happy with your treasure chest. If you didn't, here are some reasons to go get him. The AL Central poses one vaunted lineup Detroit. The White Sox and Twins are #1 & #2 respectively in leading the American League in strikeouts at the moment. With multiple starts remaining against them, Ventura embodies a significant threat to challenge for double-digit strikeout starts as well as a plunging ERA.

So how do you get him? It's going to take a frontline starter, possibly straight up, but you'd need to be a great salesman to pull that off. I'd say you're safer again with 1 top starter & maybe some rotation depth or find a corner outfielder hitting for high average in a weaker division. However you look at it, Yordano Ventura is going to light up the radar gun and fantasy scoreboards everywhere.

JEFF SAMARDZIJA, CHICAGO CUBS

I said in an earlier "Painting The Black" article at the outset of the 2014 season that "the Beast" would take off this year. He's not disappointed in the slightest. Playing for a last place team can sometimes throw your mind off and affect performance. Amid trade rumors and contract talks, Samardzija is pitching like a man possessed. Trailing only Johnny Cueto for the NL ERA lead, his 1.62 earned run average is miles below any prior season. Samardzija is dominating late into games too, reaching the 7th inning or more in 6 of his first 7 starts. Do not be surprised if he's one of the first starting pitchers to be dealt before the July 31 trade deadline.

So why is he pivotal in the fantasy landscape? If you can swing a deal for Samardzija before he's dealt to a likely pennant contender, you've done yourself a service on two fronts: 1) it only embellishes his Win chances going to a significantly better offense than the Cubs; 2) the defense behind him likely increases his chances of continuing to be consistently into the 7th & 8th innings of his starts. If you're in desperate need of a shot of K's to your pitching staff, "the Beast" satisfies your needs and more.

Samardzija's price tag won't be anywhere near a Price or Ventura, so you can be creative in how you go about acquiring him. I'd highly advise sooner than later, knowing the MLB trade deadline is only 2 months and change away. A straight up trade is more than likely enough to get the Cubs ace, a bargain for what he'll be worth a little later on this fantasy season.

Ian Kennedy, SAN DIEGO PADRES

The Ian Kennedy we knew in Arizona? Not the Ian Kennedy we know now in San Diego. The wiry right hander is finding a second wind in spacious Petco Park and thriving on some early scheduling that's thrust him to the top five of the National League in strikeouts (56). When thinking of pivotal starting pitching, many people wouldn't look at Kennedy as anything more than a depth option in case of injury. I'm here to tell you, as a former teammate of his in camp of 2012, to jump on the bandwagon and ride Ian to a top spot in your fantasy league.

In four years with Arizona, Kennedy reached an ERA below 3.00 in only one of those seasons. Already in 2014, his 3.12 earned run average is well on pace to put him in striking distance for his best season yet. And the peripherals back up the luxury of throwing in the most pitcher-friendly yard in The Show. With only 11 walks in 49 IP, I foresee even more improvement in a division he knows well from his days with the Diamondbacks.

Obtaining Kennedy, if you don't already have him, falls probably a click below Samardzija at this moment in time. Go off more of the owner's team needs without giving away any of your top talent.