Hamilton, Gonzalez proving to be class of fantasy at key benchmark
Josh Hamilton is on pace early to produce a historically-good season
In 10 starts, Gio Gonzalez is 7-1 with a 2.04 ERA and a 0.942 WHIP
Mike Trout has potential to be a future fantasy No. 1 overall draft pick
A baseball season has long been broken down into thirds: The beginning, middle and end. This week marks the one-third point in the season, and for fantasy, you know what your team will be by now.
If you're a league leader, don't change a thing -- save for tweaking here and there, maybe selling on some surprises you picked up late (or off waivers) and selling young pitchers before they hit the wall. If you're a bottom-feeder, it is either wholesale changes or prep for your fantasy football draft. Those of you in the middle of the pack, now is the time to make your move.
GMs say the first third of the season is the time to evaluate what you have; the second third is evaluate what you need; and the end is where you get what you need and make your push.
In fantasy, since the postseason comes during baseball's regular season, we skip the middle part (or combine it with the first) and use this time to get what we need.
Here is a first-third review of what has been a surprising start to the season:
Apparently, contract years might not be overrated after all. Hamilton is on pace for a legendary campaign, a .368-70-186-130-14 season that would put Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire to shame. Hamilton isn't going to challenge the single-season home-run record, but he is the most untradeable player in fantasy right now. No one can offer enough. And if you don't have him, you shouldn't try: Just remember the injuries.
Honorable mention: OF Adam Jones, Orioles -- He turns 27 this summer and is finally making good on that promise of all those years. Just be wary he has had great stretches before and couldn't sustain it for a full season. Because he is 27, we suggest you hold at least, maybe even buy. Don't sell.
There is no such thing as a Cy Young in fantasy. We could call it the Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens, we suppose, but we will just go with MVP II. Gonzalez, baseball's strikeout leader through 10 starts, has loved life in the NL, going 7-1 with a 2.04 ERA and 0.941 WHIP. The fact he is turning 27 this season and finally pitching for a contender makes it possible he stays among the elite. But he is a pitcher -- not to mention one that hasn't had the track record of consistency -- so consider him a sell-high candidate.
Honorable mention: SP Chris Capuano, Dodgers -- Lefties tend to develop late, and Capuano needed a pair of Tommy John surgeries (so it took him even longer), but breaking through at age 33 is unique. Capuano is 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA and 1.000 WHIP, trumping the likes of renaissance-man Jake Peavy for the best late-round/waiver-wire bargain in fantasy to date. The fact Capuano has no track record of this kind of success makes him almost untradeable. He is obviously a candidate to sell high, but who is buying? Selling wouldn't make sense, unless someone in your league doesn't look at a pitcher's age, injury history or historical numbers. Whoever approaches your league like that is already prepping for his fantasy football draft and wouldn't be bothered with a trade discussion anyway.
Trout is not the highest-scoring rookie in fantasy; that is our honorable mention below, but Trout scores high marks in the "wow factor," for his age and his look of a potential future fantasy No. 1 overall pick. If you project his numbers in 27 games since his call-up for a full season, he looks like a .300-20-80-110-40 player. That is coming at the age of just 20! We said in the preseason, this year's rookie class isn't deep, but it could rival 2001's arrivals of Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki. Trout, and Bryce Harper, have not disappointed.
Honorable mention: SP Yu Darvish, Rangers -- Clearly, the Rangers are an elite contender, and clearly, Darvish is an elite fantasy pitcher, maybe even the greatest of the Japanese rookie imports. Darvish is going to slow as the season progresses, because Japanese pitchers just aren't used to this kind of workload and stress on their arms. Give Darvish another month or two before selling high on him.
It was a first third that didn't make complete sense to us in fantasy -- a wacky year, especially for closers -- but it will be interesting to see what the next third of the season brings. Hopefully it brings you closer to a championship.
Now on to the rest of the weekly fantasy baseball trends ...
SP R.A. Dickey, Mets -- Knuckleball pitchers hardly make sense to many of us who love power arms. Dickey looks like he might be making some dollars for himself and his fantasy owners. Now 7-1, Dickey is on the best roll of his roller-coaster career, striking out 21 batters in 14 1/3 innings last week. It was the first back-to-back games with double digit strikeouts of his career. In his past three starts, he has struck out 29 in 20 1/3 innings. Active in just 54 percent of CBSSports.com's fantasy leagues for this fantasy-high scoring week, it is time to consider Dickey more than a novelty. He is a legit starter in mixed leagues.
SP Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays -- The 27-year-old breakout candidate has been mostly dominant for fantasy owners, but two of his past three starts have hurt, particularly the last one. Morrow was coming off his second complete game shutout in May (just the third of his career), but he failed to make it out of the first inning last week before giving up five hits, three walks and six earned runs. The loss hung him with a nasty minus-17 in a standard head-to-head points leagues. Fantasy owners have to keep him active, but these occasional blowups really sting.
1. RP Ernesto Frieri, Angels (29 percent added) -- Mike Scioscia is using Frieri as a co-closer with Scott Downs, which gives him value in all rotisserie leagues. Because Downs is a lefty, Frieri has a chance to earn the role outright eventually.
2. RP Tyler Clippard, Nationals (26 percent added) -- If not for being so successful as a setup man, Clippard would be the Nationals' closer right now with Drew Storen and Brad Lidge on the DL and Henry Rodriguez in the doghouse. As it is, Clippard is the co-closer with Sean Burnett, but like Frieri, the right-handed part of the platoon should get more opportunities.
3. C A.J. Ellis, Dodgers (23 percent added) -- Sometimes things just don't make sense, like a 31-year-old catcher enjoying a career breakthrough. Catchers usually break down at that age, not break out. It makes it pretty obvious we shouldn't be buying this Ellis streak for the long haul.
4. SP Felix Doubront, Red Sox (20 percent added) -- Someone has to pitch well for the Red Sox. Doubront is a candidate to break down in the second half, and/or sell high after June, but enjoy this while it lasts. He happens to be a pretty good young arm. Young arms just don't make it through the first full season unscathed, though.
5. C Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers (20 percent added) -- Unlike Ellis, Lucroy's breakthrough is coming at the ripe age of 25 and there were signs of an emerging mixed-league fantasy backstop a year ago. Right now his numbers make him a must-have, must-start in all leagues.
1. RP Henry Rodriguez, Nationals (40 percent dropped) -- The Nationals removed H-Rod from the closer's role, but the guess here is it won't take long for him to get hot again and pick up saves. Clippard and Burnett are better in setup roles and Storen is still a month and a half away.
2. SP Ross Detwiler, Nationals (24 percent dropped) -- Detwiler gives way to Chien-Ming Wang in the Nats rotation, but this should be merely a temporary demotion to the bullpen. Detwiler wasn't pitching well of late, but his season's numbers were solid relative to his experience. He will be helping fantasy owners, and the Nats, again this season.
3. RP Rafael Dolis, Cubs (16 percent dropped) -- Yet another change at the closer position, but this is one that is merely sense being made of things. Dolis was only a closer because no one else was for the Cubs. Now Dolis is in the minors and should be cut in all leagues.
4. OF Cody Ross, Red Sox (16 percent dropped) -- It was feared Ross would miss months, but now it might just be weeks. You should stash him in deeper mixed formats.
5. RP Brandon League, Mariners (16 percent dropped) -- Just when you thought your closers were safe. League dropped out of the role Friday night, but it might be just a week before he is back saving games again. Don't cut him too hastily.
Most viewed: Buy, sell, hold
1. 1B Albert Pujols, Angels -- Reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. His four-homer week shows he is still the same, old Albert. HOLD
2. SP Roy Oswalt, Free agent -- Everyone needs pitching. Oswalt will be signed, and perhaps pitching, in June. Pick him up now. BUY
3. 1B Ryan Howard, Phillies -- It is getting to the point he should be nearing a rehab assignment. The fact it has taken this long so far is a bad sign, but we still should be anticipating a mid-June return. That was the original timetable anyway. BUY
4. 2B Chase Utley, Phillies -- He is still probably another month away, and his knee issues are chronic. This is the fantasy second baseman formerly known as Utley. See if someone thinks otherwise. SELL
5. 1B Matt Adams, Cardinals -- A week ago, we thought Lance Berkman was going to be out for the year, even though he is not, Adams still looks good going forward. He homered Sunday and hit .345 in his first week, so Berkman might not be returning as a sure-fire, full-time starter even if he does return late this season. BUY
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).
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