When Andy Pettitte announced his plans for a 2012 comeback, I didn't take it very seriously. I didn't run out and change my ranks, I didn't immediately consider pickups and stashing plans. An aging pitcher returning to action after a year away, just a few months shy of his 40th birthday? None for me, thanks.
I remembered Pettitte's solid 2010 campaign, sure, but that was also a part-time affair, a mere 129-inning season. He wasn't mixed-league worthy in 2007, 2008 or 2009. And everyone knows the jagged terrain of the AL East, where the hitters swing from the heels and four of five parks are friendly for homers and/or offense.
Now we flash forward to today, three starts into the Pettitte comeback, and I'm forced to re-evaluate the position. His first turn against Seattle wasn't anything special, but he's stopped the Reds and Royals cold over his last two appearances (15 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 17 K). Have a look at the highlight tape, see what it means to you.
The schedule has lined up nicely for the lefty, of course. Seattle is 19th in the majors in runs scored, Kansas City is 20th and Cincinnati is 23rd. And while every offense inside the division is currently Top 10 in scoring, Pettitte is going to duck the AL East for a while. With the exception of a three-game series with Tampa Bay next month, New York doesn't see another divisional foe until July. He'll head to Anaheim next week, up against the unthreatening Angels (26th in scoring).
You can take the narrative in just about any direction if you examine Pettitte's under-the-hood stats (Fangraphs, what would we do without you?). He's been regularly bitten by the gopher ball: the Royals hit two homers Thursday and 25 percent of Pettitte's fly balls have hopped the fence. Thus, Pettitte's xFIP (the "it's not your fault" stat with respect to homers) checks in at 2.92. But with a .255 BABIP and a 97.7 percent strand rate (nifty trick there), his FIP grades out at a doubting and head-shaking 4.32. Pettitte does deserve props for keeping the ball on the ground (56 percent GB rate) and inducing weak contact (line-drive rate of 15.8 percent), and obviously his K/BB rate is in a strong area.
When you mash all the information together, I'll give a temporary sign-off on the Pettitte story. In shallow leagues, consider him a preferred streamer. In deeper mixed pools, I suspect he's already taken. Obviously he was snapped up in AL-only leagues months ago; let's not present that angle like it's worth anything. And you have to think long and hard about adding him in a medium-sized mixed league. No 39-year-old pitcher deserves a long leash, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt until he burns us once or twice.
• The Angels bullpen, as a collective unit, hasn't been anything special this year. Los Angeles is 19th in the majors in relief ERA. But the way Mike Scioscia's primary stoppers are working right now, this club is a force to be reckoned with in any tight ballgame.
The Halos and Athletics had a battle of the bullpens in their Wednesday match, bring a 1-1 tie into the 11th inning before the Angels scored twice and took control. Jered Weaver got LA started with eight super innings, and he was backed up by Scott Downs (scoreless ninth, worked around a walk), Jordan Walden (perfect tenth) and Ernesto Frieri (three strikeouts in a four-batter close). Oakland didn't mount a threat against any of these guys.
There's no shame in that, Swinging A's: no one is handling Downs and Frieri these days. Downs, the veteran lefty, has a perfect ERA and 0.85 WHIP over 13 innings (mostly pitching to contact), and Frieri has been ridiculous over 8.2 hitless innings (six walks, 19 strikeouts). Heck, Walden's made a comeback of sorts (2.77 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .170 BAA) and he can't get anywhere near the handshake line.
Frieri wound up with the coveted save Wednesday, his first of what could be many for the Angels. With all due respect to the fine work Downs is doing, teams are generally loathe to use non-power lefties as closers (that's one of Mike Salfino's go-to points when assessing this bullpen). And keep in mind Frieri had a nice run in San Diego before the Angels acquired him. His 2012 line adds up to this: 20.1 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 10 BB, 37 K. Sure, the control is something to keep an eye on, but when you're blowing away hitters at that insane clip, the ninth inning usually finds you.
You've seen plenty of Frieri propaganda on our fantasy pages of late. Salfino took up the case last week, Andy Behrens made a pitch Tuesday, and Closing Time offered Frieri Follies Saturday and Wednesday. Are we not getting home with the point? Why is the strikeout ace still unowned in 75 percent of Yahoo! leagues? Even if Frieri doesn't force his way to the top of the save chain, his production (and zesty K/rate) makes him playable in almost any format. Let's get that ownership tag where it belongs.
• "Always start your studs" is one of those simplistic rules of thumb that's infiltrated fantasy sports over the past decade or so. Obviously it's rooted in a sound idea — you generally want to deploy your top players, sure thing — but that doesn't mean we should take it as such a hard rule that we never consider breaking it. The definition of a stud is a nebulous thing anyway, and a fluid term in many instances. When you consider timing, injuries and matchups, almost anyone is benchable, at least in my world. Forget securing the friendliest loss, I want to play to win.
Okay, time to meander to the point. Is Weaver, the LA ace, someone you never consider benching? Does the "always start your studs" logic apply to him?
I might have said "yes" immediately a few weeks ago, but I've been picking through Weaver's career splits and I'm starting to reopen the argument. Weaver's numbers in Anaheim are tidy for his career: 45-18 record over 88 starts, 2.59 ERA, 1.07 WHIP. But he hasn't been quite the same guy on the road, through 99 starts: 43-30 record, 3.92 ERA, 1.23 WHIP. The first batch of numbers is elite, the second group is merely good, not great. And in a mixed league, we want ratios that are lower than that.
You might be saying "big deal, Weaver's career dates back to 2006. What's happened lately?" Fair question. While a true pitcher's measure is rooted in a large collection of stats for consideration, let's do a drive-by look, for time and space. Here are Weaver's home and road ratios over the last few seasons:
-- 2012: 0.83/0.49 at home; 4.21/1.27 on the road
-- 2011: 1.84/1.00 at home, 2.93/1.02 on the road
-- 2010: 1.86/1.00 at home, 4.14/1.15 on the road
-- 2009: 2.90/1.06 at home, 4.78/1.46 on the road
Weaver's three most common road destinations, of course, are the three divisional parks in the AL West rotation. Let's quickly note how Weaver has done in those assignments during his career:
-- Arlington: 2-7 record over 14 starts, 5.21/1.39
-- Seattle: 5-4 record over 11 starts, 4.48/1.36
-- Oakland: 4-4 record over 13 starts, 3.51/1.17
If your league doesn't have any start or innings caps, I suppose you can put Weaver (or a pitcher like him) on automatic pilot. But in a league with a low ceiling — the Friends & Family League stops you after you pass 1250 innings — you can make the case for steering Weaver away from his toughest assignments. We're looking for the center cut of all center cuts here, the prime real estate. Maybe the Seattle numbers don't mean much — the Mariners current offense isn't a major threat. But did anyone have the guts to bench Weaver in Arlington on May 13, just 11 days removed from his no-hitter? If you made that call, you ducked an ugly eight-run beatdown.
Proper fantasy management is about making sound decisions. Don't be afraid to consider unconventional ideas, even if you don't ultimately sign up for them. Stay open minded, amigos.
• When is Aroldis Chapman finally going to allow his first earned run of 2012? Talk about unhittable. He cruised past Atlanta in the ninth inning of Wednesday's tie game (routine work for a closer at home, with the save situation gone) and Todd Frazier's homer ended the contest in the bottom of the inning. Chappy's Wiffle Ball stats are almost too good to be true: 24.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 7 BB, 43 K. The league is hitting .085 against him.
I understand all the uproar about Chapman not starting, and for the long haul I agree he should take a stab in the rotation. You always want more innings from your most talented arms, assuming they can handle the workload. But with Chapman absolutely locked into short relief at the moment, mowing down batters at a historic pace, I understand the mindset of leaving him be and not rocking the boat. He has the rest of his career to chase big inning totals as a starter; for now, I'd leave him alone and let the domination continue. You can re-evaluate when the year is through.
Speed Round: Rookie Matt Adams better be ready for prime time, because his new St. Louis teammates keep dropping like flies. Matt Carpenter (oblique) is the latest casualty; he went on the disabled list Wednesday. Adams is off to a 4-for-14 start in the show, with one double, two walks and two strikeouts. He hasn't looked out of place, small sample and all. … David Freese spent a few days on the bench, ironing out some swing mechanics. All looked fine Wednesday, as he went 2-for-4 with a homer against the Padres. … At what point do we accept that the Indians are here to stay in the AL Central race? Cleveland held off Detroit on Wednesday, 4-2, in front of a loud and electric home crowd. The Tribe is now 3.5 games clear of Chicago and five in front of the Tigers. I know Cleveland did the flash-and-fade in 2011, but this looks like a much deeper and formidable team to me — a group that will be a factor all season. Vinnie Pestano worked out of his own jam in the eighth (getting a pair of clutch strikeouts when he needed them), and Chris Perez was money in the ninth (1-2-3, two strikeouts). Perez hasn't messed up a save since his much-dissected meltdown on opening day. … Chris Sale looked every bit a rotation star in his Wednesday turn, dominating Minnesota (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K) on 97 pitches. Robin Ventura earlier in the day officially anointed Addison Reed as the South Side closer, but no ninth-inning magic was needed in this 6-0 victory.