Weekly Pitching Report: Unlikely pair of Dodgers off to a torrid start
Dodgers' Javy Guerra, Chad Billingsley are hottest pitchers in fantasy right now
Tim Lincecum, Josh Johnson are struggling, but stick with them, they'll recover
Closers Brian Wilson, Joe Nathan are struggling -- and might continue to do so
I tried to avoid leading this column with the struggles of Tim Lincecum, but they are the elephant in the room. You have to talk about it.
What you don't do is worry about it.
You drafted Lincecum to be your horse. You went against almost every fantasy analyst's advice and selected stud pitching early. You did it because guys like Lincecum adjust and get past a bad outing, or two, or three. And, as long as he is not hurt, he'll get to his consistent career levels (he's averaged 11.5 wins, 189.5 strikeouts and a 3.05 ERA over six seasons).
You don't bail on him after two starts, and you definitely don't bail on him heading into a two-start week against the offensively weak Phillies and Mets. Lincecum cannot be traded or sat; you start him with no questions asked.
Sorry, you've made your bed with him. Lie in it. You'll both be happy together eventually.
Now, in the less obvious portion of our Friday pitching review, we look at five hot and five cold arms out of the gate and whether we should allow those small sample sizes to guide our early season moves:
1. CL Javy Guerra, Dodgers
2012 Stats: 5.0 IP, 0 ERs, 5 Ks, 5 SVs
Everyone loves the knockout stuff of Kenley Jansen. Heck, it was Jansen who was seventh in the NL Rookie of the Year voting last year, while Guerra received nary a vote. But it was Guerra who secured 21 saves last year and the closer's role this spring. He has also gotten off to a great start this April, going 5-for-5 in save chances.
Jansen might strike out 120 batters this season, but Guerra is legit. You should be able to find someone selling him still, too, because of the fear of Jansen taking the role down the road. It is still a good time to buy.
2. RHP Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
2012 Stats: 14.1 IP, 1 ER, 15 Ks, 2 Ws
The two hottest pitchers in fantasy are both Dodgers and neither of them are Clayton Kershaw. Go figure. Billingsley has been overdue for a monster run up the starting pitcher rankings. Sure, the Padres and Pirates are not scary offensive teams, but use that as fuel to try to trade for Billingsley at value. Billingsley can sustain this, legitimately.
3. RHP Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
2012 Stats: 13.1 IP, 2 ERs, 5 Ks, 2 Ws
Every April everyone asks is <em>this</em> the real Lohse? They easily forget this happens every year out of the gate.
Lohse was 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA through May last season. He was 3-0 with a 1.97 ERA in April 2009. He started 12-2 (3-0 with a 2.36 ERA in April) in 2008. And he had a 1.91 ERA through four starts in 2007. He is clearly a fast starter.
So, hold him through April and then shop him around for a bat. He will level off like he always has.
4. The Cubs
Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Jeff Samardzija have each started well, even if the Cubs haven't (2-5). Garza (14.2 IP, 2 ERs, 14 Ks, 1 W) is obviously a must-own and must-start, Dempster (14.1 IP, 3 ERs, 15 Ks) is capable of rebounding from that off-year last season and Samardzija (8.2 IP, 1 ERs, 8 Ks, 1 W) has the potential to be a pleasant surprise as he enters the rotation at age 27. His doubling ownership is completely justified. This trio is worth starting in all leagues right now. Don't trade for them, though, because they profile better as fantasy serendipity.
5. LHP Barry Zito, Giants
2012 Stats: 9.0 IP, 0 ERs, 4 Ks, 1 W
The obvious response to Zito's season-opening shutout -- his first shutout and only third complete game since 2003! -- is get ready for three innings, six hits and four walks in his next start. But his next opponents are the Pirates and Mets. He started the season owned in just five percent of leagues, and has now moved up to 31 percent, and those matchups are intriguing enough to consider him a streaming option. Buy, but consider him a used car. Ride it until it falls apart.
1. CL Brian Wilson, Giants
2012 Stats: 2.0 IP, 2 ERs, 2 Ks, 2 BBs, 1 SV
A lot of people are worried about Wilson right now. They are worried about his velocity, his injuries and his plummeting strikeout rate. That said, it might be a good time to buy low. No, Wilson won't be the best closer in baseball again this year, maybe not ever again, but he can still rack up saves in bunches, Guerra-style, once the Giants rotation gets right and starts winning games. This is a pure hunch, backed by little actual analysis, but a better Wilson is to come.
2. CL Joe Nathan, Rangers
2012 Stats: 4.0 IP, 4 ERs, 5 Ks, 2 Ls, 2 SVs
Be afraid here. Nathan might not be as bad this season as he was coming out of the gate last year, but the Rangers are an elite contender with a loaded bullpen and might consider turning to another closing option if Nathan's struggles last. We should have already been skeptical of the Rangers handing the closer's role to Nathan this winter, sight unseen. This bad start is a bad sign. Consider Alexi Ogando or, to a lesser extent, Mike Adams potential replacements.
3. CL Sergio Santos, Blue Jays
2012 Stats: 3.0 IP, 4 ERs, 4 BBs, 2 Ks, 1 SV
This was another curious situation of handing out the closer's job without considering the alternative. In this case, the alternative -- Francisco Cordero -- has saved 34-plus games each of the past five seasons. He has saved 40 games or more three times in the past eight years. Santos has a great arm, but he is not quite a polished pitcher. Cordero is a pretty good bet to spend time in the closer's role for the Blue Jays. This love affair with Santos in fantasy is a bit overblown.
4. LHP Francisco Liriano, Twins
2012 Stats: 9.0 IP, 10 ERs, 5 BBs, 6 Ks, 1 L
If you missed out on Liriano late in drafts, this awful start is a bit of good news. Fantasy owners are jumping ship. This is a good time to pick up and stash a talent that is in a contract year and capable of turning his career around. No, he is not going to look like the pre-injury version of himself, but he can still be a factor in fantasy. He gets two starts next week. He is dangerous to start right now, but he is still a wise stashee.
5. RHP Josh Johnson, Marlins
2012 Stats: 9.2 IP, 9 ERs, 5 Ks, 2 Ls
It's been health, not production, that's been the issue with Johnson in years past. Well, that is the good news. Johnson is healthy -- at least we should assume. He just hasn't gotten off to a good start, but you are about to be rewarded for your confidence in him. Johnson is going to knock out the Cubs and Nationals in his two starts next week.
1. Kyle Lohse, Cardinals -- Duh! Even if this won't last, his Aprils are too outstanding to pass on.
2. Jeff Niemann, Rays -- He wasn't great in his first start, but he tends to be underrated in fantasy, and Toronto and Minnesota aren't all that scary offensively.
3. Phil Humber, White Sox -- He hasn't started a game this season as result of weather, but he debuts with the Orioles at home and Seattle on the road. Both are great matchups he can win.
4. Randall Delgado, Braves -- He is young and pitching for his rotation spot with Tim Hudson coming back in May. The bet is he comes through as a two-start pitcher.
5. Joe Blanton, Phillies -- His offense might be without Ryan Howard or Chase Utley, but the Phils still have enough to keep up with the Giants and Padres.
1. Francisco Liriano, Twins -- Yes, we like him as a buy low, but we should avoid him against the Yankees and Rays.
2. Cory Luebke, Padres -- Here is another pitcher who was vastly overrated in drafts this March. You might want to sit him at Colorado then against Roy Halladay.
3. Daniel Bard, Red Sox -- His first start was bad, and he is facing the Rays and Yankees in his next two starts. He also might be headed back to the bullpen. Avoid for now.
4. Erik Bedard, Pirates -- He hasn't been bad in two starts (12.0 IP, 3 ERs, 7 Ks), but he pitches for the Pirates and faces two elite contenders in the D-Backs and Cardinals. Bad week to jump on the Bedard train.
5. Danny Duffy, Royals -- He is a talent with plenty of upside, and he is coming off a great season debut (6.0 IP, 0 ERs, 8 Ks), but he faces Justin Verlander and Ricky Romero. Odds of him winning a start, much less both, are real slim.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. If you miss his Monday baseball trends, Wednesday prospect report or Friday pitching review, you can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).