My fantasy baseball experience dates back to the late 1980s, a much different time. The Internet wasn't around. No Extra Innings package, no smart phones. Heck, we hadn't bailed on MTV yet. Newspapers still mattered, and a lot of your fantasy commodities were anonymous collections of names and numbers. Sometimes you had no idea what these guys looked like, how they played, what they threw.
Sometimes you didn't even know the first names. Often you'd phone a commissioner (rotary dial) and sheepishly say "pick up Thompson of St. Louis."
I'm feeling nostalgic because of a story that's brewing in the Bay Area. Let's talk a little bit about Chavez of Oakland.
Jesse Chavez is the full name, and he's seen more of the world than Robin Leach. He was drafted by the Rangers in 2006 and he's been traded four times. He's made major-league appearances for five different clubs, covering both leagues. He pitched 57.1 relief innings with the A's last year, and I doubt we talked about any of them. A 3.92 ERA and 1.221 WHIP were enough to stick in The Show, but that didn't equate to mixed-league relevance.
Alas, maybe the journeyman picked up an idea of how to pitch over the years. The 30-year-old turned in a strong spring training with the A's (2.22 ERA, 25 strikeouts against six walks) and landed in the rotation for the start of the season, mostly because of injuries. Chavez had just two career starts before the year, so no one had a right to expect much.
So, of course, he's been terrific in three straight turns, all quality starts. He's allowed one earned run in each appearance, and here's the sum of the work: 20 IP, 15 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 22 K. That's a 1.35 ERA, a 0.85 WHIP, and I hope you caught the 11 strikeouts for every walk. Here's some scouting video to further the story (isn't 2014 great?), a look at his seven terrific innings at the OC Rockpile.
Chavez doesn't have a victory yet (the bullpen let him down twice; Monday night he got bailed out late). A cushy schedule has played into the story: he's faced the Mariners, Twins and Angels, in three friendly ballparks (Oakland, Minnesota, Anaheim). But given the shape of the AL West (only Arlington scares you), why not kick the tires and see where this story goes? Chavez carries both pitching tags (SP/RP) in Yahoo pools – a godsend in some head-to-head leagues – and he's still ready to add in 71 percent of our world. He'll probably face the Astros (yes, please) in his next two starts.
For the music to keep playing, Chavez needs to keep the ball in the yard. He's had gopheritis issues during his career (12.4 HR/FB). He's actually at 13.3 HR/FB this year, but it hasn't been an issue because of a glorious ground-ball trend (56.6 percent). The big park in Oakland comes in handy here, in addition to some of the AL West stadiums we talked about. He's an enjoyable watch, mixing four pitchers effectively.
You know the refrain: we're about numbers, not names. Unheralded pitching comes into the league every year. Who's with me? Chavez of Oakland, everyone.
• While the Chavez story is an out-of-nowhere special, the Devin Mesoraco path is more traditional, easier to digest. The Reds used a first-round pick on Mesoraco in the 2007 draft and the prospect hounds were enamored with the kid – Mesoraco was considered a Top 20 prospect on most clipboards before the 2012 season. Dusty Baker wasn't as interested – you know how he feels about using young players – but the deck cleared before the 2014 season. No more Baker, and no more Ryan Hanigan (the previous starting catcher).
A pesky oblique injury kept Mesoraco off the field for opening day, but he's been a smash since his return a week ago. He's clubbed three homers (and three doubles) over 17 at-bats, marking his territory nicely. He's still stuck with the seventh spot in the batting order, but I can't see that lasting all year. Time to take a stab at pedigree meeting opportunity. Mesoraco is long-gone in the two-catcher formats (Andy Behrens had your back last week), but he's probably worth using in one-backstop formats as well. The Punxsutawney Kid is unowned in 78 percent of the Yahoo world.
Seattle has its own version of the buzzy backstop story: Mike Zunino is making a mark. He hasn't drawn a walk yet this year, but he does have a .282 average and three homers (here's Monday's clip, an absurd blast to center field). The Ms snagged him with the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, so they've got high hopes. My underground scout is a believer, too. Channel Z currently trades at 14 percent in Yahoo.
• This is going to be a review to regular Arcade readers, but I'd like to throw in one more line about LA reliever Chris Withrow. He's still a well-kept secret in some circles; a lot of fantasy sites are completely ignoring him (for reasons I can't fathom). Look what he's done in 41.2 big-league innings with the Dodgers: 2.16 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 55 strikeouts against 15 walks. The league hits .147 against him. He's rolled up 12 strikeouts in seven scoreless innings this year, allowing just three baserunners.
Withrow passes the eye test as well, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound righty with a 95-mph fastball. He's always had the pedigree, as the 20th overall pick in the 2007 draft. The Dodgers don't have an immediate need at closer, but I could see Withrow closing someday. For now, just enjoy the quality innings and the silly K/9 rate. I know non-closing relievers aren't worth a spot in all leagues, but Withrow should be owned in more than seven percent of Yahoo pools. Get in on the ground floor.
There is one caveat with Withrow (pointed out to me by Glenn Whipp of the LA Times): Withrow's spot might not be locked in when the Dodgers have all of their relievers healthy. Withrow still has options remaining, and there are a slew of guaranteed contracts floating around this oddly-constructed bullpen (Brandon League? Jamey Wright?). I'd like to think Withrow's glittering statline and recent role (he's been the seventh-inning man in high-leverage spots) is enough to mark his territory, but the Dodgers aren't always a fan of logic. That all said, it's only a possible issue when everyone is healthy – and pitchers sure get hurt a lot.
Anyway, I'm glad I have Withrow shares in a bunch of places. We'll cross the other bridge if and when we come to it. Bottom line, I think Withrow is staying put.