From a scouting standpoint, Tuesday lined up very nicely on my clipboard. I've had a lot to say about CC Sabathia (all of it bad) and Alex Wood (all of it good) during the preseason, and they were making their 2014 debuts on the same evening. Settle in with the dish, let's watch lefties at work.
For one night, at least, things fell into place nicely.
Sabathia threw two innings of batting practice at Houston before settling down (6 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 6 K, 2 HR). So much for the tidy spring, so much for the notable weight loss. He had early trouble commanding his fastball (which was consistently in the high-80s) and the Astros hit some rockets against him. He can't blame the schedule – this is as cushy an assignment as one could have for Opening Day. Pitchers don't lie awake at night in a frenzied panic, paranoid of Jesus Guzman and L.J. Hoes.
The spring case against Sabathia wasn't complicated: slipping velocity, arm mileage, a crummy 2013 season (4.78 ERA, 1.37 WHIP), the jagged edge of the AL East. Even one of the plausible selling points for Sabathia – the weight loss – had to be treated carefully; sometimes pitchers struggle to adapt to a different body type. Sabathia's trimmed physique was a smart move for his overall health, but we can't automatically assume it's a bonus for his pitching career.
The industry had plenty of Sabathia optimism during draft season, something that surprised me. He wasn't treated as a $1 lottery ticket; expectant prices were tossed around. Sabathia fetched $13 in AL Tout Wars and $7 in the Tout Mixer, and he was the No. 43 pitcher on the Fantasy Pros aggregator. Plenty of pundits I respect were in Sabathia's corner. Maybe they'll be proven right as the season plays out; obviously we've seen just one start. Or maybe it's a case of name brands dying hard, of some scribes stubbornly holding onto a player they're familiar with.
When it comes to starting pitchers in a mixer, I'm not looking to run uphill or talk myself into players. The red ink on Sabathia was enough for me to stay far away; this is someone I knew I wouldn't draft all along (I'm the biggest Sabathia skeptic on that Fantasy Pros list). Go look at the AL East opponents again (such a deep offensive division) and the shape of the stadiums (only Tampa Bay is favorable for pitchers). Why mess with this type of situation when you don't have to?
Sabathia opened 2013 with a poor start, too, and Closing Time veterans will recall a similar column about a year ago. Sabathia rebounded in April (3.35 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) but fell apart the rest of the season (5.14 ERA, 1.41 WHIP from May-onward). For one year at least, the "slow starter" theme didn't click with Sabathia. He's talked about reinventing his style of pitching and adjusting to less velocity, but it's not like he found answers to these realities in 2013. He's still asking questions.
If you have a pro-Sabathia stance to share (and it's not tied to your life-long love of the Bronx Bombers), I'm all ears. Please share it in the comments.
Wood's start at Milwaukee had an inauspicious beginning – Carlos Gomez deposited the first pitch of the night over the center field wall. Wood struggled to find his best form in the first couple of innings but the Brewers didn't produce anything past the Gomez tater. After that, it was cruise control – 13 ground-ball outs, 93 pitches over seven innings. Wood finished with a tidy line (5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 5 K) and the Braves bullpen closed things out from there (Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth).
I'm no expert on pitching mechanics, but I can't help but think of Chris Sale's delivery when I watch Wood pitch. Wood's career is on a similar path, too: lofty draft pick (second-round pick; Sale went in Round 1 of his class), relief work before a gig in the rotation, lots of ground balls and missed bats.
Even if the Braves keep Wood on an innings plan for 2014, I want him on as many rosters as possible. The NL East is the easiest division to work in, and Wood's relief-pitcher tag is a nifty bonus in some formats. Wood was untouchable in the minors last year and pretty darn impressive during his 77.2 innings with the Braves. I won't be surprised if he turns into appointment television for the summer.
Could a fantasy owner trade Sabathia for Wood right now? The timing is all wrong, but maybe you can sell someone on that swap. Use this industry page in your sales pitch.
• Anyone else getting a little excited about the Mariners lineup? Seattle has been a frozen-rope machine for two days in Anaheim. Hyped sleeper Brad Miller clocked a couple of homers in Tuesday's win, while post-hype cases Justin Smoak (4-0-2-3) and Dustin Ackley (3-2-2-1) filled the summary nicely. Miller and Ackley also bring positional flexibility to the mix, forever a selling point. Leadoff man Abraham Almonte remains surprisingly available in Yahoo pools (two-percent owned); category juice and a good batting slot shouldn't be ignored. This is not a bad baseball club.
Erasmo Ramirez (7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K) picked up Tuesday's victory and passed the eye test. I've been guilty of over-enthusiasm with Ramirez the last couple of years (with horrifying results), so you might not want to hear 2014's pitch. Here's the video – break it down however you like.
• Jim Henderson owners picked up a bit of good news Tuesday. First came an endorsement from manager Ron Roenicke (the skipper conceded "We want [Henderson] as a closer"), and then came a brief-but-successful appearance against the Braves (a strikeout of Justin Upton, high cheese). Monday's Francisco Rodriguez ambush came out of nowhere, but at least Roenicke was proactive with his plans a day later.
• Miami's Nathan Eovaldi has turned into Cashner Lite, one of those high-velocity pitchers who doesn't have the strikeout rate you'd expect. They even line up in a contextual way: big home park, spotty supporting cast. That said, young players can improve and pitchers can figure things out at any time; I drafted a few Eovaldi shares this spring and I'm ready to add him in other places, if possible. His first start against Colorado was solid (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K), and the unthreatening Padres pay a visit on Sunday. Eovaldi awaits your call in 91 percent of Yahoo leagues.