It's time to forgive and forget with A.J. Burnett, gamers. Forgive the New York seasons. Forget the injuries in Florida. Forgive the wild pitches and the hit batters and the Dial 12 nightmare earlier this year. Forget the goofy looks and the weird antics.
Fantasy Baseball is all about numbers, and it doesn't matter where the stats come from. This is a guy who can help you, and he's only owned in 20 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Burnett's latest gem came Wednesday against Cincinnati, a sharp seven-inning effort (2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K) that led to his third straight victory. Burnett has now allowed two earned runs or less in seven of his eight starts. If you rank all of the starting pitchers over the last three weeks (yes, that's a very arbitrary endpoint), Burnett comes out as the No. 5 pitcher.
The bottom line is that he's only pitched poorly once this year, but that one messy turn was enough to send roto owners running for cover. The Cardinals dented Burnett back on May 2, throwing 12 hits and 12 runs at him. I blame part of this line on Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle; at some point you have to accept that your starting pitcher simply doesn't have it. No one should be forced to endure that sort of shellacking.
Burnett's done his best to make it up to us. His ERA is 1.52 in his other seven starts and his WHIP is 1.03. And the environment couldn't be better for him, working in pitcher-friendly PNC Park, up against the soft offenses in the National League. Sure, the Cardinals can hit, but not many other teams can.
Look around the league. The Nationals are 26th in runs scored, the Reds are 22nd and the Dodgers are 13th — and those are your division leaders. The American League is a slow-pitch softball circuit where everyone swings from the heels and plays for the big inning, with a DH along for the ride. The National League features poor-hitting pitchers and twice as much bunting. There are more run-collapsing parks in the NL, too.
I have no problem tossing Burnett's 2011 stats into the shredder. The Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles no longer exist in his world on a regular basis. He no longer has to fear the right-field jet stream in The Bronx, or the jagged edges you deal with in Boston, Toronto or Baltimore (save for the occasional Interleague foray). The set-up is so obvious: he traded the worst pitching environment in the majors for one of the best.
The one downside to Burnett's immediate value is the upcoming schedule. While the Reds haven't been an offensive juggernaut this year, they are more dangerous in Cincinnati — and that's where Burnett pitches next. Two starts in the American League (Baltimore and Cleveland) are probably next up. In some leagues, the play might be to stash-and-stream Burnett, not fully give him Circle of Trust privileges until the NL backdrop returns to full status.
But when someone's pitching as well as Burnett is right now, he shouldn't be unowned in 80 percent of our world. Get on that, amigos. Who's down with AJB? Yeah, you know me.
• I tried to use reason in my anti-Oswalt arguments 24 hours ago, but maybe the video from Wednesday is a better teaching tool, a more effective way to scare some people straight. The Mariners, of all teams, walked into Arlington and dropped a 21-run explosion on the Rangers. Crooked numbers all over the place. Dig in and enjoy if you're a Seattle guy, and don't watch this highlight tape if you're close to Derek Holland (and yes, you have my permission to drop him, mustache and all).
The Rangers offense didn't roll over and die, of course. Texas still scored eight runs. But when you're hacking away in a park that floats runs by 19 percent and power by 26 percent (over last three years), big innings come with the territory. Arlington traditionally plays smallest in the summer months, when the heat really kicks into overdrive, and left-handed hitters enjoy this place more than anyone — a potential problem for any right-handed starter.
I certainly see the pro-Oswalt argument: he should receive excellent support from his offense and bullpen, he'll be favored in most of his starts, and he might be able to rattle off (if all goes well) 8-10 wins. But we also have to keep in mind that he's been a high-maintenance pitcher for a few years, he turns 35 at the end of the summer, no one has seen him pitch since 2011, and his velocity and strikeout rate are a far cry from his best days in Houston. We've also never seen Oswalt try to make it in the AL for an extended period of time; it's no country for old men, trust me.
Oswalt has already made eight career starts in Arlington, by the way. He's 2-5 there, with a 4.78 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Obviously he won't have to worry about the Texas offense beating him, now that he's on the other side of the diamond, but it's not like he's already tamed this yard. He's struggled here, like so many pitchers do. Is this really someone you want to grab now and wait a month for? Isn't a fluid roster spot a lot more valuable than that in a mixed league?
• Low strikeout arms are typically names to avoid in the Yahoo Friends & Family League, but I'm going to make an exception for Arizona's Wade Miley. The low-profile lefty is on a three-game winning streak (along with a 2.41 ERA and 1.24 WHIP) and he's working at Petco Park on Friday, where fly balls go to die. There's no chance of me keeping Miley after this turn, I don't care how well he pitches; I'll probably drop him before he even pitches as I get the roster ready for Saturday's look-ahead. But let's take advantage of the streaming possibilities where we can.
As for other possible Friday temps, maybe Felipe Paulino (24 percent) or Bartolo Colon (24 percent) will interest you as they match up in Kansas City. If you work around Josh Reddick, there's nothing scary in this current Oakland lineup. The rest of the streaming slate looks messy to me; let's wait for better opportunities.
• Rangers Ballpark at Arlington wasn't the only yard to show some teeth Wednesday; the Coors Field carnival was also open for business. Colorado rolled up its third straight win over the Astros, 13-5; the Rockies now have 29 runs in the three-game series. Here's hoping Jim Tracy doesn't mess with a good thing and turn Thursday's series finale into a skip day for the regulars — we want another swing at the piñata.
Some of Wednesday's heroes were the predictable names: Carlos Gonzalez whacked three homers, Michael Cuddyer cranked a grand slam and Coors Field overlord Dexter Fowler went off again (5-2-2-3 line, with a homer). But if you want to get in on the thin-air story (10 of the next 13 games are at home), there are lesser names that might be out there. Marco Scutaro is only owned in 14 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Jordan Pacheco (three percent) is off to a .287 push and carries eligibility at both corners, while top prospect Nolan Arenado has been ordinary in Double-A (there's absolutely no reason to think he'll be up in June). Catcher Wilin Rosario (seven percent) doesn't offer a pretty average, but he has cranked seven homers in 87 at-bats. Look around, you might find a Mile High rental that makes sense.
We might have one additional infielder to consider, depending on what happens with Troy Tulowitzki; the star shortstop tweaked his groin Wednesday and will likely need a DL stint. If Jim Tracy goes with a platoon in the middle infield (as I suspect he will) that's of no real help to us, but perhaps he'll slide Scutaro over to shortstop and give Eric Young a chance to play regularly. Stay close to this story.
• I don't own Matt Kemp anywhere this year, but as a baseball fan he's the last guy I want to see get hurt. Electric talents like Kemp are the reason you follow this rat race for six months, hang out with Yahoo! Full Count nightly, pony up for a league subscription or two. Seeing Kemp (hamstring) probably headed back for the disabled list makes me sad.
That all said, maybe there's a chance to get a deep-league sleeper out of the Kemp news. Tony Gwynn Jr. is probably going to be a regular while Kemp rehabs, and Kid Gwynn has been surprisingly useful in May (.291 average, 11 runs, 12 RBIs, four steals). No, they're not pinball numbers, but he's headed to the arcade this weekend: hello, series at Colorado. In deeper pools, this is a good time to make a point and click. Gwynn is ready for pickup in 98 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• The Cubs bullpen has finally given us reason to smile, with James Russell recording a win and a save over the last two days. Enjoy this run while it lasts; I'll be shocked if Russell finds a way to hold roto value all year. His 1.54 ERA is a miracle considering his 1.37 WHIP, and while he's been better against right-handed batters this year (.246/.338/.378), he's making do despite nine walks against them (against 15 strikeouts). The platoon split hasn't been kind to the lefty over his career (.298/.356/.458), and if you can't get righties out consistently, you really shouldn't be closing. And that 92.5 percent strand rate is obviously unsustainable.
I'd tell you to sell here, but I know the reality: it's hard to find a buyer on this type of unproven player. (And if you're in a mixed league where Russell is an easy sell, you don't need anyone's advice.) So maybe you just stick with the Russell story for as far as it goes; just make sure you keep the leash short. When the stats start to normalize, it won't be pretty.
• I know it's hard to get excited about Daniel Nava (given the lack of category juice), but he's finally landed in the leadoff spot in Boston and that's a superb place to be. Despite the non-stop injury stream this year, the Red Sox are still the third-highest scoring team in the majors.
Nava currently trades at 10 percent in the Yahoo! world, but I think he's good enough to be in the 20-30 range so long as he bats first; he's an OBP machine (.432) who runs the bases well, and he's going to score a bunch of runs in this undertow. He's drawn two walks and produced six runs since landing in this prime position three games ago. If your league uses a full outfield (4-5 slots), see if you can justify a point-and-click.