AL Quick Pitch: Jered Weaver and Josh Beckett put together two of the best starts of the young season. Weaver struck out 15 and saved the Angels pen that had thrown nearly 10 IP the night before, while Beckett man-handled the Yankees with 10 K's and 1 BB over 8 IP. Fernando Rodney closed out the save for the Angels, but only because Jordan Walden was unavailable after throwing 25 pitches the night before. Walden remains entrenched as the Angels closer. Speaking of the Angels bullpen, they activated Scott Downs after the game, he'll be a factor in Holds leagues and provide good ratios in AL Only. Just days after committing to Matt Thornton as their closer, Ozzie Guillen has changed gears and decided to go with a committee. Everyone loses here from a fantasy perspective, but the expectation is Thornton continues to see the majority of opportunities. Erick Aybar was placed on the DL, Macier Izturis will continue to benefit in Los Angeles. The Indians lineup stayed hot and made Erik Bedard look bad. Texas continued to make their case that pitching isn't a problem early on as Derek Holland turned in another strong performance, shutting out the O's over 6 IP. The Rays offense is off to historically bad starts and its at the point we should consider starting anyone against them. Yunel Escobar returned to action on Sunday and was one of the few Blue Jays hitters that looked like they had a chance against Weaver. He's good to go next week and along with Asdrubal Cabrera look like early season bargains at the SS position.
Brandon McCarthy (SP - OAK): McCarthy limited the Twins to just 2 ER over 7 1/3 innings on Sunday, picking up his first win on the season. He allowed 9 hits (including 3 XBH), but was able to limit the damage to 2 ER’s by uncharacteristically keeping the ball on the ground. A career 36.7% GB Rate, McCarthy induced 12 ground outs. Through his first two outings he’s kept the ball primarily on the ground while relying more heavily on a new cut-fastball. In addition to keeping the ball down, McCarthy hasn’t hurt himself with his control; having walked just 1 in 15 innings. He’s only struck out 7, but he’s seen his velocity tick up 3 mph early on. McCarthy is a former top prospect whose skill-set was never suited to the home parks he pitched in. A fly ball pitcher trying to survive in the Cell or at Arlington face significant headwinds. Now he’s moved to a park that fits his old skills and is getting by with a completely different approach. Whether his new found ability to get ground balls stays only time will tell, but the tremendous command paired with a good home park makes McCarthy a possible matchups play for mixed leaguers. He’ll get the Tigers at home in a favorable matchup next week followed by @SEA in Week 4. With two favorable matchups on the horizon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCarthy continue his early season success. Long-term his ceiling is that of a back-end starter in mixed leagues and a mid-rotation starter in AL Only, as the lack of K’s limit the upside. But feel free to ride the wave with good matchups on the horizon.
Erik Bedard (SP - SEA): After touting Bedard all pre-season, I came away optimistic with Bedard’s first effort in Texas. His command and velocity weren’t great but he showed good offspeed stuff and Texas hitters didn’t look particularly comfortable. This wasn’t the case on Sunday as the Indians teed off on Bedard, racking up 6 extra base hits, including 2 HR’s. Pitching in spacious SAFECO against an underwhelming Indians offense, this was a poor outing for Bedard. His velocity was still down a tick (89-90 instead of 91-93) and he was leaving balls out over the plate. He still showed he can get swings and misses with 6 strikeouts and 1 walk in the 4 innings, but allowing 6 XBH’s in SAFECO is enough of a warning sign that he should probably be benched the next time out. He’ll get KC (in KC), which is a pretty favorable matchup, but so was the matchup at home against CLE. I’m still holding onto Bedard as I believe in the upside, but yesterday’s outing was very discouraging.
Jeff Niemann (SP - TB): The “Niemanniacs” (yes, I’ve named the ravenous group of Niemann owners who demand accountability from us) were out in full force on twitter on Sunday afternoon after Niemann was shelled to the tune of 5 hits, 2 BB’s, and 3 ER’s in just 2 2/3 innings of work. The HR ball was a problem again for Niemann as he surrendered two more and now has allowed 3 HR’s in just 8 2/3 IP this season. Our preseason projections for Niemann were more aggressive than my personal projections and as a result I didn’t end up with him on many teams. The preseason projections expected Niemann to build on an extended streak of quality starts he put together last season before battling some shoulder issues. It hasn’t happened early on as Niemann has looked more like the 2nd half version last year (7.69 ERA) than the 1st half version (2.77 ERA). For me, Niemann’s just a back-end matchups play in mixed formats so if you want to rotate him out, go right ahead. Over the last two years, he’s been a 4.16 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.5 K/9 SP and I’d imagine he settles back in towards that as the year goes on.
Josh Beckett (SP - BOS): Scouts were pretty optimistic on Beckett’s first outing against the Indians even through the results weren’t great and the National television audience got to see why on Sunday night against the Yankees. Beckett turned in one of the more dominating performances of his career shutting out the Yankees over 8 innings while allowing just 3 base-runners. He struck out 10 and walked just 1, while working through the Yankees lineup with efficiency. He needed just 103 pitches to get through 8 innings, while throwing 68 for strikes. His curveball was phenomenal and his changeup (though used sparingly) also showed the great movement scouts raved about in the Indians outing. Beckett’s in better shape this year and the stuff is noticably different. He looks in line for a big come-back performance.
Aaron Hill (2B - TOR): The early returns on Aaron Hill’s ability to rebound after a disastrous 2010 don’t look so hot. Hill’s slumped out of the gates hitting .184/.195/.211 with just 1 BB and 7 K’s in his first 38 AB’s. While those numbers aren’t encouraging and certainly the poor EYE is extremely discouraging, a deeper look at Hill’s peripherals do reveal some room for optimism. The big issue with Hill last year was his inability to hit line drives, his 10% LD rate was amongst the worst in the league and the real reason his .196 BABIP wasn’t quite as unlucky as it seemed. Early on this season Hill has posted a 23% LD Rate. The BABIP hasn’t followed just yet (.226) but it will if Hill can keep generating Line Drives at that rate. I know the results aren’t there yet, and the EYE certianly looks poor, but hang in there with Hill as he’s showing improvements in his biggest weakness last year.
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