Fantasy report: March numbers to utilize
Tigers ace Verlander could still be had for cheap; closer roles already changing
Spring Training and Opening Day have come and gone, and it's time for fantasy owners to settle in for a long run to a title. Here are some key numbers from the month of March that smart owners will use to their advantage.
• Justin Verlander: 0.00 -- The Tigers workhorse labored through the 2013 season, and his 3.46 ERA and 1.31 WHIP were his worst ratios since 2008. But the 31-year-old seems to be on a mission to return to ace status this season, and he was arguably the best pitcher in the Majors during Spring Training, as he tossed 20 scoreless frames. Verlander was decent on Opening Day (six innings, two earned runs), but there may still be time to pick him up in a trade as an elite starter at a discounted price.
• Brad Miller: 1.314 -- It is easy to see why the 24-year-old beat out talented youngster Nick Franklin for the Mariners' shortstop gig. Miller led the Majors with a 1.314 OPS in Spring Training. He also tied for the Major League lead in runs (17) while finishing first in slugging (.836), sixth in batting average (.410) and third in on-base percentage (.478). Now that he is clear of Franklin, Miller has more upside than any shortstop outside of the top tiers. Fantasy owners in search of a middle infielder should downplay the significance of his spring stats and look to acquire this talented hitter before his career takes off.
• Alex Rios: 3 -- Rios collected three hits, three RBIs and scored three runs in his first game of the season. The 33-year-old's contract contains a club option at the end of the season, so he should be motivated to put his best foot forward in 2014. Rios is surrounded by talented hitters, plays half his games in the launching pad that is Globe Life Park, and can help fantasy teams in all five categories. It would not be surprising to see this talented outfielder finish among the top-20 fantasy hitters in 2014.
• Jesse Chavez: 5 -- Spring Training wins should be considered among the most meaningless stats, and fantasy owners should not choose to add Chavez because of his Major League-leading five victories this spring. But the 30-year-old pitched quite well in Arizona, with a 25-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 28 1/3 innings. The right-hander earned a spot in the Opening Day rotation because of an injury to A.J. Griffin, but he could stick in the starting five long past Griffin's return if the team has to deal with additional injuries, or if Chavez can outperform Tommy Milone in April. A's general manager Billy Beane is rarely wrong on starting pitchers. If he believes that this late bloomer has turned the corner in his development, fantasy owners in deep leagues have good reason to follow Beane's lead.
• Casey Janssen: 2 -- Before the first pitch was thrown on Opening Day, Janssen had already dealt with a pair of 2014 injuries. The Blue Jays' closer missed most of the spring with a shoulder issue, and then he landed on the 15-day disabled list with a left abdominal injury and lower back strain that cropped up in late March. The team has not offered a definitive timetable for Janssen's return, and wise fantasy owners will note that Janssen quietly pitched through some minor ailments in the second half of last season. The team has already said that Sergio Santos will get the first shot at the ninth-inning gig while Janssen is on the shelf, which makes sense considering that GM Alex Anthopoulos thought he was trading for a new closer when he acquired Santos prior to the 2012 season. Santos has seemingly gotten past his own injuries, and Janssen may be just beginning to work his way through his ailments, so it would not be surprising to see Santos lead the team in saves this season. He should be owned in all leagues, and Janssen owners may wish to part with something of value on the trade market in order to protect themselves with Santos.
• Jose Valverde: 3 -- Valverde retired all four batters he faced on Opening Day, with three of those batters being retired via the strikeout. Closer Bobby Parnell , who blew a save in the game, was subsequently diagnosed with an incomplete tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right elbow and may miss a good chunk of time. It would not be surprising to see manager Terry Collins give Valverde the team's save chances in the near future. The 35-year-old may not have the skills to hold onto the ninth-inning role at this point in his career, but fantasy owners in deep leagues should take a chance on him now and worry about the results later. The right-hander struggled in 2013, but he saved 84 games in the not-too-distant past of the 2011-12 seasons.
• Billy Hamilton: 4 -- The speedster was one of the most controversial players during the 2014 fantasy draft season. Admirers cited Hamilton's 80-steal potential as a reason to use a high-round pick on him, while detractors questioned the speedster's ability to get on base and hold the leadoff spot all year. On Opening Day, the 23-year-old recorded a golden sombrero, as he went 0-for-4 with four K's. Although it would be easy to jump on the anti-Hamilton bandwagon, this is a great example of a time when short-term statistics should be ignored. The Reds were shut out by one of the best pitchers in baseball, Adam Wainwright, and their entire offense looked overmatched. It is true -- Hamilton is not going to remind anyone of Shin-Soo Choo this season. But Hamilton is going to reach first base at some point, and when he gets there, he will not stand around for long.