Join SI.com's James Quintong in a discussion of some of the latest news in football, baseball and other sports and how it relates to fantasy teams and leagues.
4/06/2007 06:41:00 PM
The Diceman cometh
Daisuke Matsuzaka lived up to the hype with 10 strikeouts in his debut.
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images
Given the great first starts from such questionable high-priced starters like Gil Meche, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, chances were that Daisuke Matsuzaka should also shine in his regular-season debut. And Matsuzaka did just that, striking out 10 Royals over seven innings and allowing just six hits and a homer to David DeJesus en route to his first major league win.
Matsuzaka's stock has risen dramatically just in the past month, and that first start could drive up his price in those late drafts that are taking place this weekend. His stuff looked great, and while you can discount it a little that he was facing the Royals, he also seems to be setting himself up for a solid first tour around the league. After that comes the issue of whether he can continue to shut down opposing hitters after they see him a couple of times. But for now, all the hype was worth it.
Couple of other interesting bits from the long-awaited first start: -- DeJesus seemed to have his number, leading off the game with a single and later hitting a homer. -- Alex Gordon took a little longer than expected to get his first major-league hit, but he did get it off Matsuzaka in a battle of highly-touted rookies.
Lost a bit in the Matsuzaka hype was that he was facing Zack Greinke, who was making his long-awaited return from an anxiety disorder that wiped out the last couple of seasons. While Greinke got the loss, he did look pretty sharp as well, striking out seven and allowing just two runs over seven innings. Remember that he's still just 23 and has plenty of time to get his game back in order, including this year.
As for other performances around the league, I guess Al Reyes could be the Devil Rays' closer after shutting down the Yankees in the snow for the save. He looks to be the best bet for now, and while it may be worth taking a risk on him off the waiver wire if you're stuck, those drafting this weekend should be careful not to overpay for the one save. He is pitching for Tampa Bay, after all.
Ted Lilly outdueled Bronson Arroyo in his Cubs debut.
Granted, it's way too early to make a season-long judgment, but it's worth noting that some starting pitchers who probably came into the season with very low price tags are already outproducing notable arms such as Curt Schilling, Jose Contreras and Chris Carpenter (who's already worrying fantasy owners with his elbow issues).
It started with the much-maligned Gil Meche beating Schilling on Opening Day, and similarly overpriced Ted Lilly blew away the Reds with nine strikeouts on Wednesday night. Rodrigo Lopez, who seemingly snuck onto the Rockies rotation this offseason and thus was probably ignored in most circles, opened his Colorado tenure by allowing just two runs and six hits over seven innings to the D-Backs, in Coors no less.
The Mets' staff, which came into the season with plenty of question marks, passed some early tests as Orlando Hernandez gave up one run in seven innings against the Cardinals, and John Maine followed with one hit over seven innings on Wednesday. They, along with Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey, could end up being solid bargains.
The Pirates' young-but-promising staff has gotten off to a decent start as well, with Ian Snell and Zach Duke each allowing just two runs in their outings (plus 11 K's for Snell), and Tom Gorzelanny getting a win on Wednesday. Pittsburgh's ability to rally on the Astros' bullpen has led to a couple of vulture wins for relievers Matt Capps and Jonah Bayliss, plus three saves in three games for Salomon Torres.
But while some under-the-radar starters are making their presence felt (and possibly drawing a higher price tag in drafts this weekend), it hasn't been a great first week for closers in new places. Octavio Dotel hasn't even pitched a regular-season game for the Royals and he's on the DL with an oblique injury. Meanwhile, Jorge Julio was lit up for five hits and three runs in 1/3 of an inning on Wednesday against the Nationals, of all teams, to blow his first save chance for the Marlins.
While David Riske, who has closed games for the Indians in the past, could pick up some saves in Dotel's place, the Marlins' situation is more intriguing since they did have Ricky Nolasco (a potential closer candidate very early in the spring) warming in the bullpen while Julio melted down.
Gil Meche got his Royals tenure off to a good start by shutting down the Red Sox.
With Opening Day now out of the way for most teams, who's going to be this year's Tuffy Rhodes, the guy who rides a big first-game performance to overinflated prices in drafts this weekend -- in accordance with "traditional" Rotisserie rules -- or a wild rush to the waiver wire? (For those needing a refresher, Rhodes hit three homers off Dwight Gooden at Wrigley Field on Opening Day 1994. He would finish the season with eight.)
If you're looking for power, while Adam Dunn's two homers aren't a surprise, Edgar Renteria's pair was. However, remember that while Renteria is getting older, he's not a slouch and can still put up decent stats, but you may have to spend an extra dollar on him now. On the steals side, Hanley Ramirez had two but do so did Kenny Lofton, who can still flash the speed at age 37.
Another name to watch based on a nice Opening Day is Casey Kotchman, who homered on Monday and is itching to make an impact for the Angels at first base after mono cut into his season last year. Kotchman is part of an impressive first-round class from the 2001 draft that includes Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Mark Teixeira, Jeremy Bonderman, Aaron Heilman, Chris Burke and Bobby Crosby.
However, the biggest names who could see a big spike in value based on Opening Day are a few starting pitchers. To start the day, Ben Sheets was masterful in firing a two-hit complete game against the Dodgers, although he had just three strikeouts (as many as Mariano Rivera in one inning). As long as he's healthy, Sheets could be in for big things.
But after getting a $55 million contract from the Royals this winter, Gil Meche earned his share of detractors and was probably ignored in many fantasy drafts (and he only went for $4 in an AL-only auction draft I did last month). However, he proved many people wrong for at least a day by holding the Red Sox to just one run and six hits and recorded six strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings and his first Kansas City win. Meche has the stuff but hadn't been able to put it together consistently. He still might not over the course of the season, but he made a great first impression, and now he'll get plenty of attention in all leagues.
The glowing reports about Felix Hernandez this spring were right, at least for one day. King Felix, who became the youngest Opening Day starter since Gooden, pitched eight shutout innings, striking out 12 and allowing just three hits to dominate the A's. While he didn't live up to lofty expectations last year, he may be setting the bar high once again this time, and you may have to pay accordingly.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jose Contreras owners can't be happy with a 63.00 ERA to start the season after giving up seven earned runs in one inning-plus. But it doesn't help when Grady Sizemore takes his second pitch of the season deep.
I'd also be scared of banking on a lot of wins from either Scott Kazmir or Roy Oswalt until the bullpen situations clear up. Brad Lidge blew another save on Monday for the Astros, while the cast of unknowns called the Devil Rays bullpen allowed the Yankees to mount a comeback.
Carl Pavano had an up-and-down Opening Day for the Yankees.
Happy Opening Day, everybody. The Mets and the Cardinals got the 2007 season off to a flying start Sunday night and now almost every other team is in the mix today as well. That means plenty of celebrating your team's first hit, stolen base (look, Hanley Ramirez has two steals already), home run, or in the case of Alex Rodriguez, his first error and strikeout (although A-Rod would redeem himself with a two-run homer).
While your fantasy team is off to a fresh start, I can't help but think there's as much uncertainty on Opening Day as there is during the last few weeks of the regular season. Plenty of top players will not be available due to injuries that either require long-term recovery (Randy Johnson) or short-term ailments suffered this spring (Rafael Furcal, Chone Figgins).
For both the start and the finish of a season, teams want to play it safe with injuries. It's best for players to recover fully in April and be in prime form when it really counts later in the season. And in the case of the September shutdowns, it's best not to risk further injuries to stars if their teams aren't in contention. Either way, it can be rather frustrating to know that some of your high draft picks won't be producing when you want them to -- although at least in April, there's plenty of time to make up for their absence, whereas in September, it could cost you a fantasy title.
However, there can be a silver lining to the early-season injuries. It can open up opportunities for promising young players or even some veterans who might've been blocked from a regular job. Give them some at-bats and they could become useful players for their teams and your fantasy squads. Remember that Albert Pujols found his way onto the Cardinals lineup in 2001 because Bobby Bonilla started that season on the DL. Could Tampa Bay's Elijah Dukes, in the Opening Day lineup because Rocco Baldelli is limited to DH duties, take the Pujols track? Well, Dukes did hit a homer in his first major-league game.
I'll check in later with a closer look at the Opening Day box scores and figure out if we have another Tuffy Rhodes in our midst.