Fantasy baseball Roundtable: Is Cardinals' pitching slowing down?
Is the MLB's top pitching staff starting to fall off a bit? Which closers can fantasy owners trust? Will Jurickson Profar spend a significant amount of time in the majors? Our experts Michael Beller and Eric Mack have some answers for you.
Do you have a fantasy question that you want our experts to answer? Leave it in the comments below, and we'll tackle it next week.
1. Is the Cardinals pitching staff (SI's cover men this week) going to maintain their high pace with both Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook on the DL, coupled with Shelby Miller slowing down a bit?
Beller: I'm not really worried about Miller. He hasn't made it out of the sixth inning in either of his last two starts, but in one of the starts, he didn't allow a run while surrendering just four hits and striking out six. He may have given up three runs in his last start, but it was the first time in nearly a month he allowed more than two runs. He'll probably slow down a bit, but he's fine. Westbrook was slated to get back on a mound Tuesday to test his injured elbow. If reports coming out of that are good, fantasy owners shouldn't be too worried. If he can avoid another setback, he'll be back in early June. For now, his value is in a holding pattern.
Garcia is another story altogether. He's scheduled to meet with Dr. James Andrews to get the grim reaper's opinion on his injured shoulder. A visit to Andrews often precedes season-ending surgery, so his owners should be making preparations to move on without him. Looking at this staff as a whole, so long as they have Adam Wainwright, they have one of the league's best aces. Miller is the real deal, Lance Lynn has proven himself and, for now, owners should be confident that Westbrook will be back soon enough. I'm not worried about the Cardinals.
Mack: Well, the Cardinals' pace was naturally going to be impossible to keep, particularly because this is Miller's first full season in the major leagues. Rookie pitchers just don't dominate the way he has for a full season. Ask those who owned Lance Lynn last year -- his hot stretch turned mediocre in the second half (4.32) last season.
Owners should be all in on Lynn and Wainwright, who's continued to improve after having Tommy John surgery in 2011. Wainwright is easily one of the top 15, if not top 10 aces in fantasy, while Lynn is squarely among the top 25, along with Miller -- for now.
But the injuries to Jaime Garcia (shoulder) and Jake Westbrook (elbow) show the dangers of attaching superlatives and guarantees to pitching in fantasy. With specific regard to the latter, there really is no such thing.
2. Jim Johnson just blew his third straight save and Steve Cishek has also struggled recently. What's their fantasy worth, and which closers can fantasy owners depend on?
Beller: Johnson may have struggled a bit recently, but there isn't too much cause for alarm. First, he has earned a bit of leash from Buck Showalter, and the manager gave him a vote of confidence after Monday's blown save. Second, there isn't really a ready-made replacement for him in Baltimore. Darren O'Day has had a strong season, as have Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter, but none of them are really threatening Johnson's job status for the time being. Remember, before Johnson hit this rough patch, he had allowed earned runs in just two of his 19 outings. He should be fine.
Cishek is in a more precarious position. Unlike Johnson, his recent struggles didn't bubble up out of nowhere. He has been having issues all season, not the least of which being his control. He has 10 walks in 18.1 innings this year. Meanwhile, Mike Dunn has 20 strikeouts against nine walks in 20.2 innings, and has simply been more effective than Cishek. Should the Marlins choose to make a change, Dunn could step right into the ninth inning.
Mack: We already know all too well how closers are wont to give up their job in the early months of the past few seasons. We should give Johnson a pass on his recent struggles and give Cishek a shove in a standard mixed league.
Johnson has built up a cachet that warrants our trust in fantasy -- if you can't trust a closer who threw in 35 consecutive games without a blown save, then who can you trust? Johnson is going to right himself in plenty of time to keep you from having to make a real decision on your fantasy stopper.
Cishek, meanwhile, was shaky going into the season, so owners should be a bit worried. Dunn is a hard-thrower who once was tagged as a closer-of-the-future, while Chad Qualls is a closer of the past. The Marlins are going to go with a committee, one that will be frustrating for fantasy owners until someone asserts himself. Figure that will be Dunn, if not Ryan Webb as a dark-horse candidate.
3. After much anticipation, Jurickson Profar received his call up after Ian Kinsler hit the DL. Will he stay in the majors long?
Beller: It sure doesn't sound like it. It seems like Kinsler will be able to return from the DL immediately when eligible, and the Rangers are likely to send Profar back to Triple-A Round Rock when he does come back. Ron Washington even said Profar would split time at second with Leury Garcia. This is likely prelude to much bigger things in the future.
Mack: It doesn't seem like it, but any time a 20-year-old talent this intriguing arrives you have to give him a chance to set the baseball world ablaze. Profar will stay as long as his bat warrants. Even if Ian Kinsler gets healthy enough to return when first eligible at the end of May, Profar can find his way into the lineup other ways, including DH.
It is likely too late to jump on Profar in your leagues. He was already owned in many before his sudden call-up, so most of you should hope he does go back down and gets cut from his fantasy team. It will give you another chance at him making an impact for you in the second half.
4. Is it time to move past the Royals youngsters, like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez?
Beller: I recommended cutting bait with Moustakas in a waiver wire column late last month, and he hasn't done anything since to change my stance. Now, his partner in crime Hosmer has joined him on the droppable list. He's hitting .266/.340/.345 and has just one home run in 156 plate appearances through Monday. Despite his lackluster slash line, he has a .321 BABIP. I just don't believe the power is coming any time soon, and you can't have a first baseman who hits one homer for two entire months of a season.
As for Perez, I'd give him a bit more time since he's a catcher who, despite his power outage, is hitting .308. His line-drive rate is way up at 25.8 percent, but his home run/fly ball ratio has plummeted to 3.2 percent. I'd be willing to bet that increases as the season goes on. Hold onto Perez.
Mack: Well, save for Perez, these Royals were fringe options in mixed leagues. Owners shouldn't cut them in AL-only formats, because the replacement options are not as intriguing going forward. But mixed leagues owners have probably already moved away from Moustakas and Hosmer for another hot hand.
Perez is already productive enough to keep active in standard mixed leagues, while Moustakas and Hosmer will eventually get hot at some point again this season.
5. Did the Reds make a good decision in demoting Tony Cingrani with Johnny Cueto back in the rotation? And should owners bench Cingrani, with hopes he'll be called back up, or should you drop him?
Beller: It's pretty hard to say whether or not it was a good decision. If the Reds were dead set on Cingrani sticking in the majors, they would have had to move Mike Leake out of the rotation, and he's had a decent season so far. Still, if it were me, I would have kept Cingrani around. He had been making a serious impact, and there's really nothing more for him to do in the minors.
If I were a Cingrani owner, I wouldn't cut him unless I absolutely could not afford to stash a player on my roster. Even if I couldn't, I'd try to trade him before cutting him outright, because my bet is that he'll eventually be back with the Reds before long. They're as safe a bet as any team to make the playoffs and they have a real chance to do damage in October. Chances are they'll need all their best arms involved at some point this season. Cingrani is definitely part of that mix.
Mack: Cingrani has to be considered the most intriguing minor league player in fantasy right now -- and those guys always warrant a roster spot in leagues with reserves. We have already gotten a great taste of what Cingrani can do and he should be owned over Wil Myers, Zack Wheeler and any other prospect you can think of right now.
By the way, if you need a rookie pitcher right now, pick up Kevin Gausman. The Orioles pulled that trigger to have him make his major-league debut less than a year from being the fourth overall pick in the First Year Player Draft. Gausman is a strike-thrower who can perform to the level of any young pitcher. He might even be more intriguing long term than Matt Harvey, and we have seen what that has meant in the short term.