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MLB Barometer: Push Through the Wall

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at

Believe it or not, the tail-end of April can be a make-it-or-break-it time for a number of fantasy owners. We all talk about how it's still so early in the year and that the fantasy baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint, but ownership frustration is usually at its highest point right now and you're going to start to see who's really in it to win it and who is likely to fade into the background. For some, early season struggles present a challenge that inspires them to work harder and study the nuances of their league to seek out an edge, but for many, it's far too easy to use early-season struggles and injuries as an excuse to give up and not put in the necessary work it takes to be a champion.

They say that when running a marathon, you come to a certain point where you hit a wall and those who push through it are the ones who find the most success. You have to look at this part of your fantasy season as that wall and there are a number of bricks in place that make it incredibly difficult for you to push through. You've got the cold starts from so many of your star players, the hot starts from the nobodies on your competition's roster, the massive pile-up of injuries to contend with, and worst of all, you've got Mother Nature laughing at you as she repeatedly kicks your pitching staff in the fantasy groin with all of these weather postponements. You may have thought you drafted one of the most formidable rosters in your league, yet you sit there helplessly watching your team languish near the bottom of the standings.

Well, this is where you show the league what you're made of. The weather will eventually turn and your starters who keep getting shellacked after their outings get pushed back a few days will level off. With that turn of the weather, you'll also start to see fewer conditioning injuries such as hamstring and groin problems that keep putting your guys on the bench every other game. The hot starts will soon wear off and those who are cold (Jason Heyward, I'm looking in your direction right now) will eventually have that one big game that eventually kick-starts their season. You may be hitting that wall right now, but your knowledge and experience in fantasy allows you to see what is beyond, and a last-place finish with a talented roster is not what's on the other side.

Stay the course. Don't panic. Take a look at your waiver wire and use the help that's out there appropriately. For example, you may be dying in the power categories with Giancarlo Stanton's vanishing act, but rather than try to patch that up with lesser power guys who are sitting on your waiver wire for obvious reasons, build up elsewhere. Grab some speed guys if they're available and dominate in runs and steals for a short while until Stanton comes back.  Once he does, you can dish off that extra speed and really go crazy building up your power. It's just a matter of using what you've got. Be a MacGuyver and see the possibilities. Don't be a Magoo and remain blinded by your obstacles.

Now here's a look at some potential and some pitfalls that may require your attention…

On the Rise

Devin Mesoraco, C CIN - There are many out there who were probably drooling when they heard the news that Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan was heading for the disabled list. He was dealing with a thumb injury at first, but now has an oblique strain which could increase the amount of time lost and Mesoraco fans everywhere are now champing at the bit. They have been waiting in earnest for their prized, young backstop to get the opportunity to play every day and gain Dusty Baker's trust and that day has finally come. With light-hitting veteran Corky Miller getting the call as the back-up, the Reds are pushing all-in with Mesoraco right now. Let's just hope he can show some improvement against right-handed pitching.

Anthony Rendon, 3B WAS - Sigh. Another year, another trip to the DL for Nationals' third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. This time, it's a hamstring problem and while results of the MRI haven't been released, the team obviously saw something that they didn't like as the decision to place him on the DL was fairly quick. Given the woes at the hot corner this year, Rendon, though unproven, becomes an immediate add. He's had troubles with injuries in his past as well and there's not a whole lot of data to go on because of that, but the scouts like to talk about his advanced hitting instincts and above-average power potential. He's obviously talented enough that the Nationals are throwing him into the deep end of the pool with no floaties on, so he's obviously worth the risk.

Jarrod Parker, SP OAK - If there was ever a time to buy low on a good, young starting pitcher, that time is now with respect to Parker. He was completely ineffective in his first two starts and was absolutely annihilated in his third outing when he coughed up eight runs in just 3.1 innings. But sometimes a struggling offense is just what the doctor ordered and his last outing against Tampa proved to be a success. Not only did he bump up his strikeout rate, but he seemed to be much more comfortable with his changeup which is usually his best pitch. With stronger command and his go-to pitch back in the arsenal, Parker can regain that rookie-season magic we fell in love with last year and bring back that delicious 3.43 FIP and 9.9-percent swinging strike rate. He's a grab-and-stash right now with a start against hard-hitting Baltimore up next, but should he continue this path, he's going to be a very highly-sought after commodity. Best to be pro-active now than get left out in the cold later.

Carlos Ruiz, C PHI - Mark it down on your calendar, folks - April 28 is the day for all those in Choochville to celebrate the return of their fallen hero. The 25-game suspension, Ruiz received for a positive test for amphetamines is just about to end and help fantasy help behind the dish is on its way. Obviously there's going to be a lot of skepticism as a breakout season in 2012 was marred by a drug suspension, but we're not talking PEDs use which would easily cast a much darker cloud (right, Melky?). If you're looking for a quick boost behind the plate and Chooch is available on your waiver wire, he should be considered an immediate add. He'll start right out of the gate and be inserted into the middle of the lineup. The RBI chances should be abundant, and if he can simply replace what he was using with a much more socially-acceptable case of Red Bull, then you've got your number one backstop for the season.

Daniel Nava, OF BOS - As expected, when David Ortiz came off the disabled list Friday, the Sox sent struggling rookie Jackie Bradley, Jr. back to the minors to hone his skills and Nava is the primary beneficiary of the whole move. Sure, Big Papi's return to the DH spot pushes Jonny Gomes back out to left field, but between his inability to consistently hit right-handed pitching and Nava's continued success this season, it's not too difficult to see who will get the bulk of the playing time. We may be looking at a small sample size of plate appearances, but Nava has looked outstanding thus far, posting an impressive 14-percent walk rate and a .342 average that is based on strong contact rates and fantastic pitch selection as opposed to excessive luck from an over-inflated BABIP. He's a sneaky one to own right now and could pan out to be one of the better value pick-ups this season.

Fading Fast

Gio Gonzalez, SP WAS - Though it wasn't very highly publicized during the spring, there were a number of pundits who expressed concern with Gonzalez' decline in the second half of last year and noted that changes in his arm angles could indicate trouble ahead. That speculation had its flames fanned when a connection to Biogenesis was made and suddenly Gio was losing a bit of his luster. Now we've seen a drop in velocity this season and he's allowed 12 runs over his last two starts, neither of which did he make it past the fifth inning. There seem to be a lot of forces in play right now that don't bode well for Gonzalez' immediate future, so it might be time to see what you can get for him before it's too late. It's still early enough where some owner will overpay based on last year's totals, so if you can land yourself a nice deal, you may want to explore the possibilities.

Chad Billingsley, SP LAD - It looks like more elbow troubles for Billingsley as he lands on the DL this week, and while the move is retroactive to the 16th of April, owners shouldn't expect to see him for some time. Billingsley has had issues with his elbow in the past and at one point, it was recommended that he undergo Tommy John surgery. He opted for rest and rehab and now it might all be catching up with him. He is out indefinitely and the Dodgers made some corresponding roster moves to try and bolster their already hurting pitching staff, but you'll likely want to look elsewhere to get some help.

Evan Gattis, C ATL - The handwriting is on the wall and while it may be easy to be blinded by a rich and delicious stat line that includes five home runs and 12 RBI, you're going to have to be sensible about this one. Incumbent catcher Brian McCann is due back very shortly, as is first baseman Freddie Freeman. That leaves Gattis as a man without a starting job and someone whose fantasy value is heading into a steep decline. Given his early-season success and the fact that McCann is a free agent after this season, keeper league owners may want to stash him away, if possible, and hold him for next year. But those in re-draft leagues should be attempting to trade him or get ready to cut bait completely as it will take another long-term injury to McCann for him to see any extra time.

Derek Jeter, SS NYY - News for those stashing Jeter goes from bad to worse as it was revealed this week that The Captain has a crack in his ankle that still hasn't healed and that he won't be back until the second half of the season. While that's probably not an issue for owners with an array of DL spots, those who have a limited number might be in trouble given the rash of injuries we've seen around MLB lately. Without added DL spots, your bench is going to look like a fantasy graveyard soon and the flexibility you once had with your roster will be gone. If you don't have a deep bench, you just might have to cut Jeter loose and hope to grab him later in the year after the rest of your team heals. You run a serious risk losing him, but you have to do what's right for your team both now and in the long run.

Scott Kazmir, SP CLE - Well how's this for everybody's feel good story of the season and early prediction for AL Comeback Player of the Year? Let this be a lesson to those suckered in by a strong spring and the re-emergence of scouting reports from 10 years ago. It only took the 29-year old three weeks to make it back from a rib injury and the results were a brutal six earned runs in 3.1 innings against the woeful Astros. There wasn't a single positive thing you could take away from his first outing and you'd really have to be some sort of delusional Kazmir fan to think that there is much in the way of hope on the horizon. Save your ratios from an unnecessary beating and part ways before it's too late.