Fantasy Pickups of the Week:

Harmon's Head: Panic attacks

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What do we know after three weeks of play? Well, much to the happiness of fans in small markets and opponents of the Evil Empire, spending loads of cash on veteran hurlers can't immediately improve a pitching staff (New York Yankees own a 5.50 team ERA). Conversely, Florida Marlins fans have seen health and talent combine for a remarkable start. Through Wednesday's game, the staff has compiled an amazing 1.87 team ERA (Houston is second at 2.99).

The blistering starts by Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett have Marlins fans and those who stole this trio (15th, 8th and 10th round picks, respectively) positively giddy. Of course, those who selected Guillermo Mota join those with Troy Percival and Danys Baez in starting to seek out deals for closers who actually get save opportunities. Heading into Thursday night's games, none of this trio has recorded a save. Meanwhile, Francisco Cordero has already recorded seven saves while blowing two other opportunities.

To owners of that trio, don't lose faith. The Tigers haven't put together the run everyone expected just yet. Well, come to think of it, if you're running with Baez …

Here's what in my head this week.

In My Leagues

  • It appears that my "sleeper" selection of Dallas McPherson hit the snooze button. In two games since his recall to the Angels, he's gone 0-for-7 with four strikeouts and a costly error. The injury to Bengie Molina prompted the quick end to his rehab stint in the minors, and it's showing. Manager Mike Scioscia has no choice but to stick with the youngster, lest he hand the job back to Robb Quinlan, but I'm looking for other options in my lineup, regardless. He's got the weekend series against Cleveland to show me something.
  • I finally rid myself of Ryan Freel in one of my leagues, despite his .350 batting average. With depth at the middle infield secured, he was warming the pines, due in part to his 0-for-3 start in attempted steals. I shifted my attention to his teammate, Wily Mo Pena. He has the same issue of finding playing time as Freel, but just continues to produce top-tier numbers (.353, 5 HR, 10 RBIs, 9 Runs). He'll get into my outfield mix and I'll keep praying that either he or one of his outfield compatriots gets dealt sooner rather than later.
  • Several managers in my leagues have begrudgingly parted ways with Xavier Nady. One even posted a note cursing Dave Roberts for returning from the DL on time.
  • Perhaps everyone in my public league that got auto-picked read last week's rant against Kerry Wood. A message board proclaiming his availability yielded no response and proposed deals have gone without response.

The View from My Couch

  • Let the talk of the curse on the north side of Chicago begin anew. I'm certain I wasn't alone when I chose to look away from the television as the second, third and fourth replays of Nomar Garciaparra's horrific groin injury were shown. He's on the shelf for at least two months, if not more. Word on whether surgery will be required should come in the next several days. Neifi Perez joins Jerry Hairston Jr. in the lineup to form Chicago's middle infield. Perez is a lifetime .270 hitter with limited value in all standard categories. For fantasy owners that ran with Garciaparra and failed to draft a back-up, all I can say is – I'm sorry.
  • Every time I sit down to watch highlights at night and they get to the Marlins, I say a quick "thank you" to those managers who drafted Guillermo Mota ahead of me in my drafts. All other teams have seen their pens blow up on occasion through the young season, but this poor guy can't even get into a game.
  • So much for my "stone cold lock of the year" pick of Randy Johnson and a massive (23) win total. Big Unit has been pathetic in his last three outings, rolling to a 6.19 ERA and allowing five homers. At least I'm still getting a strikeout an inning out of him.
  • Now another year removed from the attitude and discipline problems that forced him out of the Cleveland clubhouse, Milton Bradley is thriving in his role as a leader on the Dodgers. It was good to see a smile on this guy's face while rounding the bases on what turned out to be the game-winning HR in the 10th inning on Tuesday. He's hit five bombs with 14 RBIs and currently owns a batting average of .370. Right now, he looks like an early candidate for "Steal of the Year," having been drafted in the 17th round on average in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball PLUS leagues.
  • As I write this piece, my heart aches for the hard-luck of John Smoltz. He pitched deep into another game, racking up nine strikeouts with one run allowed against the Nationals in seven innings. Again, the Atlanta offense decided to take the day off. I know he didn't last long in his first outing (1.2 innings with six earned runs allowed), but the Braves have contributed just two runs in his last 21 innings of work.

News and Notes

  • Other than a rough outing against the Tigers on April 9th, Jake Westbrook has been positively dominant. In his other three starts, he's allowed four earned runs in 24 innings pitched (1.50 ERA). Westbrook's 0-4 record just doesn't tell the tale. Hopefully, his owner in your league is caught up with wins and you can swipe him for a song.
  • Similarly, the normally slow-starting Bartolo Colon has pitched lights out ball for the Angels thus far (beating Westbrook on Wednesday night). Last season, Colon won only four games through the end of May.
  • Fantasy owners who took a stab at Moises Alou upon his acquisition by the Giants will get him back into the lineup this weekend. He was 0-for-6 in two games before his trip to the DL. With the latest negative report on the progress, or lack thereof, of Barry Bonds' knee, Giants fans and owners of other Giants hitters will take what they can get.
  • What happened to Barry Zito? He won a Cy Young and had been tabbed as one of the next great quirky lefties. Now, he's just a quirky lefty. His ERA sits at a ballooned 6.94 with a WHIP of 1.50. Zito will look for his first win of the season early next week when the red-hot Chicago White Sox visit Oakland.
  • Those looking for a boost in the outfield might take a gander to see if Terrmel Sledge of the Nationals is available. The 15-HR producer from 2004 was recently promoted to a starting role to replace Ryan Church, who was hitting an anemic .156.
  • And finally, one from the "what gives?" file. Last week, Detroit outfielder Magglio Ordonez was diagnosed with a hernia and readied himself for surgery and to miss six weeks of action. Ordonez saw a specialist who ruled his results "inconclusive," like the cop-out announcements of NFL officials. Nobody knows what's wrong with him (see early-2004 Jason Giambi illness for a similar case), but he won't be back on the field anytime soon. At this rate, he might make it back at the All-Star break in Detroit.

What "You" are Saying

  • The hottest name in my mailbag this week was Oliver Perez of Pittsburgh. Citing his 9.00 ERA and 2.16 WHIP, many owners are thinking of dropping him outright. Don't touch that button! At the very least, explore trade options. A player that highly regarded will still have trade value after just four outings. He was ranked in the Top 10-15 starters in virtually every preseason publication.
  • After Wily Mo Pena's last home run, I received what appeared to be an open plea to Reds management to dump Ken Griffey Jr. In the course of the evening, over 50 emails calling for Junior's ouster appeared in my box.
  • I received several notes just before Nomar Garciaparra's injury, date-stamped early Wednesday morning, asking whether he'd rebound to have a good year.
  • Notes of disbelief and amazement continue to pour in over the play of Brian Roberts. Many are asking whether they should deal the second baseman and his new-found power. Most of the deals that have been forwarded for my opinion have them exchanging Roberts for lower-tiered or stop-gap closers (Yhency Brazoban, Danys Baez and Mike MacDougal among them). There's no need to rush out and trade Roberts unless you're either absolutely desperate for closer help or pick up an elite player in return. Remember, even if he only doubles his HR output for the rest of the season, that's still three times the number he hit last year, and he's still stealing bases (six already).

Go Hard or Go Home
Earlier this week, I received a few venomous replies to my comments about the performance prospects for Kerry Wood this season (sadly, due to content I can't publish them in part or whole). Others tried to get me to bet on where his final season stats will settle. Nestled in-between those comments were numerous emails from owners panicking over early season struggles of their top performers. Sure, there have been hurlers that have gotten off to rocky starts (Mark Mulder, Randy Johnson and the aforementioned Oliver Perez among them), but the calendar on my desk says April 21st. Albert Pujols was also in the mix, but those questions subsided after his four home run week.

That isn't to say that you don't tinker with your lineup and try to make better use of your bench spots, but your studs were drafted in the first couple rounds for a reason. Yes, there will be busts each season. Inevitably, the careers of top players do have to end.

After reading through these comments asking for new projections, I needed to stand back and really take in the quick snapshot of the 2005 season to date. Key category leaders include players such as Edgardo Alfonzo, Tim Wakefield and Pedro Astacio. Shea Hillenbrand is hitting an even .400 and Brian Roberts is second in the Major Leagues in home runs. Does anybody really believe that any of these players will be standing in the Top 10 of any scoring category at the end of the year? Even Roger Clemens will eventually be battered enough to see that ERA rise.

I don't think anybody sees Hillenbrand chasing Teddy Ballgame's .406 and Tim Wakefield's knuckler will inevitably stop, well, knuckling. At this stage of the season, a 4-for-4 night still raises a batting average 30 points.

Maybe it's just me, but the inundation of highlight films might just be a bad thing. Every pitch thrown is magnified to the degree of Game 7 of the World Series. In the end, they still have to play 162 games. Have your opinions, shout from the rooftops that you're frustrated at another 0-3 night with an innocuous walk. Just don't hit the drop button out of frustration.

I can say this. If Brian Roberts leads the AL in homers, I'm going into development on a conspiracy theory film on Major League Baseball that would put Oliver Stone to shame. I think I'd get Jose Canseco to play my protagonist.