Friday, April 4, 2014

Your 2014 Lucky Numbers: The Pitchers

Baseball is here! It's really here! I know it's been going on for a few days but I got to see real, live baseball in person today at the Coors Field home opener!

After coming off a disastrous 1-3 trip to Miami, the Rockies won big today, beating the Diamondbacks 12-2, a score we like to see at the launching pad that is Coors Field. Leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon went 6-for-6, a triple short of the cycle, and Carlos Gonzalez launched a 2-run home run off the facade of the upper deck, just below the new Rooftop patio area that was added to Coors Field this off season. I visited it before the first pitch, and it remained standing-room-only the entire game.

Our seats were even in the Purple Row, actual purple seats (the rest are dark green) that signify an elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level. These seats are in the 20th row of the upper deck if you ever want to make plans to watch some mile-high baseball.

In light of all this baseball-ness in Denver, let's take a look at the pitchers of my 2014 fantasy team, the Lucky Numbers.

2013 Topps #50 Adam Wainright
Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainright, St. Louis Cardinals (1st round)

The ace of the staff and my first overall pick is Adam Wainwright, who has already pitched an opening day gem, winning a 1-0 ballgame against the Cincinnati Reds. More on that later.

Sharp eyes will notice that Topps gave Wainright card #50 in their 2013 set to match his uniform number. Nice touch, Topps.

2014 Topps Opening Day #91 Matt Cain
Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants (8th round)

Cain has been one of the unluckiest pitchers in recent memory, often turning in solid pitching performances but failing to get much run support. We'll see if he and his team can turn that around this year.

If you flip this card over, you'll see that Topps is clearly going all-in with Sabermetrics. The backs now provide us with nerd-friendly columns like WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for 2014, to join WHIP (or OPS, on batters' cards) which have been present for years.

2012 Topps #517 Francisco Liriano
Starting Pitcher: Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates (11th round)

Liriano got the honor of pitching Opening Day for the Pittsburgh Pirates (new team alert!), striking out 10 Cubbies but ending up with a no-decision. Liriano looked sharp that day, and the NL Central again looks to be a tight division if this week is any indication.

2013 Topps #366 Ervin Santana
Starting Pitcher: Ervin Santana, Atlanta Braves (15th round)

Ervin Santana, no longer a Royal, gets the last active slot before we start getting into the bench guys. He signed with the Braves so recently that he didn't really get to partake in spring training, so he's not expected to join the rotation for another week or two. Right now he's sharpening his stuff in the minors.

Topps really did a nice job color-coding these 2013 cards. Santana's blue uniform really is accented well by the prominent Royals logo and the "sea turtle" design in the lower left.

2014 Topps Opening Day #14 Trevor Rosenthal
Relief Pitcher: Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals (3rd round)

"Adam, why did you pick a closer in the third round?" you may ask. Well, it just happens to be a little quirk of my league that good closers are highly, highly valuable. Saves are worth 15 points, yes, and those definitely add up. Craig Kimbrel, who was selected 8th overall this year, just ahead of Justin Verlander, was the single most valuable pitcher to own in 2013. Three closers were selected before my third pick.

He only has four career saves. One of them came in Wainright's gem on opening day, preserving that tenuous 1-0 lead.

2013 Topps #547 Glen Perkins
Relief Pitcher: Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins (7th round)

But the real reason good closers are so valuable is that there are so few reliable ones. There are thirty, of course, but very few of them can score almost a thousand points in a fantasy season. Couple that 15 point save statistic along with a dagger-like -5 for a blown save and -10 for a loss, and you start to see why we pick our closers so early. You never know when a guy like Brian Fuentes will blow four saves in a week, subtract 60 points from your weekly total, and get "demoted" from this unofficial yet crucial position, leaving you scrambling to pick up a decent reliever. Mariano Rivera's retirement does not make this task any easier.

Glen Perkins has already blown a save this year, so let's hope he settles down and earns that 7th round selection.

2014 Topps Opening Day #143 Taijuan Walker (RC)
Bench Guys:
SP Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners (19th round)
SP Marco Estrada, Milwaukee Brewers (16th round)
SP Tim Hudson, San Francisco Giants (20th round)
RP J.J. Hoover, Cincinnati Reds (22nd round)
SP Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks (23rd round)

If there's any reason people tell me they don't have patience for fantasy baseball, it's because of pitchers. Most fantasy leagues use some format of weekly scoring, but standard pitching rotations have five starters. That means at least one guy in that rotation will pitch twice in a calendar week. Figuring out when to activate a mediocre two-starter and bench a stronger one-starter is one of the most delicate aspects of Fantasy baseball. And don't forget to reverse that roster change next week. Risk and reward, all in one fun-yet-aggravating activity.

Taijuan Walker is on the DL currently, but is one of the better pitching prospects to keep your eye on. Hudson is the aging yet capable veteran, and there are a couple other guys that could be used in two-start emergencies.

I always try to hedge my closer bets in some fashion, and J.J. Hoover is that hedge. He's expected to close for the Reds while Aroldis Chapman recovers from that very scary head injury he suffered in spring training.

That rounds out the fantasy lineup for 2014. It's a long season, but it's looking promising so far.

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