Tuesday morning started like any other morning. I let the dog out, got some caffeine in my system, checked the standings in my (too many) leagues.
And then I strolled over to the Yahoo Friends & Family page, picked up a streamer for Wednesday. Ivan Nova, come on down.
There's a lot of conventional roto wisdom out there that I'd put in the "bad advice" file. Don't ever make a trade before June? A silly maxim: you should never close yourself off to addressing needs or taking advantage of flawed market perception. Don't touch a player off a career year? Depends on how the player is viewed in your league. Jose Bautista was an easy profit just about everywhere in 2011, driven by a lack of market confidence.
Don't chase wins? I'm tossing that one into the trash, too. Sure, wins are random, but there's a right way and a wrong way to address the statistic. I'd never use win potential as the driving way to evaluate a pitcher (and let's be honest, no one smart is doing that), but it's a modest consideration at the end of the argument.
Nova, as you might have heard, has won his last 15 decisions. He hasn't been tagged with a regular-season loss since the first week of June, 2011. His career mark is 20-6, and he's already 3-0 this year.
Why does Nova keep winning? It's not difficult to break it down.
-- He's a solid pitcher; nothing great, but not bad. Last year he averaged six innings per start and logged a 3.70 ERA. His ratio stats are messy this season, but he's also got 25 strikeouts against five walks (and he also had an outstanding K/BB rate in spring training).
-- The Yankees offense scores a ton of runs for him. This is no great shock, considering New York has been first or second in runs scored over the last three seasons. Nova was second in run support last year and he's third through the opening month of 2012.
-- The opposing matchups have been favorable for the most part. Nova isn't taking down superstar after superstar during his win parade. Here are the last 15 pitchers he's opposed in a game he went on to win: Clay Buchholz, Brian Matusz, Jerome Williams, Wade Davis, Matusz again, Nick Blackburn, Danny Duffy, Garrett Richards, Phil Humber, Zach Britton, Jonathon Niese (before the nose job), Juan Nicasio, Travis Wood, Derek Holland, and the former Fausto Carmona. That's good work if you can get it. He draws Jake Arrieta and the Orioles on Wednesday.
-- I was also prepared to add "bullpen support" to the Nova file, but he hasn't needed a lot of it through this winning stretch. Most of these games have turned into Yankee romps, blowhard practice for Michael Kay and John Sterling. Only four of Nova's last 15 wins have come with a save attached.
If I were starting a real baseball club, I wouldn't take Nova over Bud Norris, Cory Luebke, or Brandon McCarthy, say. But the womb of New York has treated Nova well. He's a good frontrunner. Heck, he's been favored in 14 of his last 15 wins (the decision over Wood last summer came as a slight underdog) and I'm sure he'll be heavy chalk in his Wednesday turn. Let's take advantage of the low-hanging fruit when it's available to us.
Art Martone, an old friend and former boss of mine, once offered these sage words to me: "Life is unfair, but it's not as unfair as everyone thinks." When it comes to chasing wins, the same logic applies. Keep making good choices, the rest will take care of itself.
• Everyone knows all about the Three True Outcomes, but there are only two seats in the Pedro Alvarez sports car. Strikeouts do the driving, home runs ride shotgun, and walks have to wait for another day.
Alvarez has been on a nifty binge over the last five days, piling up three homers and four doubles over an 8-for-22 stretch. And he hit the ball right on the button in two of his outs (Carlos Gonzalez ran one down in the gap, and an infield liner was right at Dan Uggla). Of course the strikeouts never really go away here — Alvarez has seven in this segment, and 23 for the year. But considering the pedigree at play (Alvarez was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft) and the returns we saw from him in 2010 (16 homers in 347 at-bats), we have to stay open minded. Alvarez is currently owned in just eight percent of Yahoo! leagues.
If you'd like some video to push you into a move, here's Alvarez's homer from Monday, a connection against Atlanta lefty Mike Minor. It was a Lionel Richie moment all the way, Commodore against Commodore. Alvarez won't have to sweat southpaws for the rest of the week, as the Bucs face right-handed starters exclusively against St. Louis and Cincinnati.
• We're not an injury blog but some news is too big to ignore: it looks like Evan Longoria could be on the shelf for a while. Rays beat writer Marc Topkin says Longoria might be out 6-8 weeks after injuring his hamstring in Monday's game against Seattle. The Rays have a number of versatile infielders on their roster (Jeff Keppinger, Elliott Johnson, Sean Rodriguez), so at least Joe Maddon will have plenty of options if Longoria's injury turns out to be serious.
If those names aren't moving you, here are some other widely-available commodities to consider if a Longoria stand-in is needed (all have the third-base eligibility tag): Chris Davis (35-percent owned in Yahoo), Chipper Jones (37%), Waiver-Wire patron saint Ty Wigginton (15%), Jed Lowrie (12%), or maybe that Alvarez fellow (8%) we discussed above.
• The Angels needed a win like plasma and they got one against the hapless Twins, grabbing a 4-3 victory. Scott Downs picked up the handshake in support of C.J. Wilson, retiring four of five batters and throwing 11-of-15 pitches for strikes. No reason for the Angels to rush back to Jordan Walden. If you had April 30 in the "Justin Morneau gets hurt" pool, procede to the cashier's window. He's heading back to Minnesota to have his sore wrist examined.
• There's a long-running Internet meme dealing with spring training and players who show up in improved physical condition. Someone mentions "best shape of his life" on a player and the jokes tell themselves. It's an easy punchline, a recurring hashtag.
But here's what the wiseacres don't want to acknowledge: sometimes a player really is in the best shape of his life, and sometimes it means a big season. Consider the case of David Ortiz in Boston.
Big Papi decided to dial it down to Medium Sized Papi last winter, dropping 25 pounds. He hears his biological clock ticking, at age 36, and he'd like to make a Hall of Fame run. And through a month of the new season, this certainly looks like a healthy superstar. Ortiz is off to a .405/.457/.726 barrage, with 17 runs, six homers and 20 RBIs. He's been particularly lethal against left-handed pitching (1.346 OPS), albeit he also rocked them last year, too.
The latest two Ortiz homers came Monday at Fenway, as the Red Sox crushed the soft rock of Tommy Milone (4.2 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 7 R, 1 BB, 5 K, 3 HR). Mayday, indeed. A fly-ball pitcher without bat-missing stuff has no right being streamed in a run-friendly park like this, obviously. Wait until Milone gets back to Oakland.
The Athletics at least fought back and made it a game after falling behind 11-1; they threw a five-spot at Clay Buchholz in the seventh inning and had a couple of rallies after that. Right fielder Josh Reddick continues to make things happen from the 3-spot (homer single, walk); he's still owned in just seven percent of Yahoo! leagues. Seth Smith fanned in all four of his at-bats and is down to .197, not great timing as we get closer to Manny Ramirez's drop in Oakland. Even if Planet Manny is a complete bust, it's not like the Athletics lack for DH candidates.
• Here's another roto myth for the circular file: don't bother with closers from bad teams. Brett Myers had a painless ninth against the Mets on Monday (1-2-3, 13 pitches) and rolled up handshake number five for the 9-14 Astros. The only major concern I have with Myers is the possibility of a trade later in the year; the Astros obviously aren't expected to contend and a closer is an unneeded luxury on this type of club. But considering you landed him around pick 230 last month, you're making an easy profit here. Jordan Schafer sparked Houston with two more hits and another stolen base, but the .276 average won't last if his contact rate doesn't improve (he's already stuck out 30 times).
• Stuff You Already Knew Department: Ryan Braun (three homers in San Diego), still an overlord. … Kevin Youkilis (back), still high maintenance. … Delmon Young (suspended a week by MLB), still hasn't grown up. … Juan Pierre, still reckless on the bases. … Heath Bell, still floundering (I'd go sidewinding Steve Cishek over Edward Mujica for a hedge, but that's just guess from a million miles away. I do expect the Marlins will give Bell plenty of chances to get right.). … Edwin Encarnacion, still unstoppable (eight homers, four bags, .322 average, endless Twitter love). … Allen Craig, still a hot sleeper (two homers Monday, set to be activated). … The Texas Rangers, still a juggernaut (Yu Darvish was dominant in the YYZ, outdueling Kyle Drabek, a talented kid in the wrong division.)