Astros arms McCullers, Devenski among fantasy's Week 1 standouts

The quality of <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9575/" data-ylk="slk:Lance McCullers">Lance McCullers</a>’ arsenal is among the AL’s elite. (Getty)
The quality of Lance McCullers’ arsenal is among the AL’s elite. (Getty)

The threshold for noteworthy news the first week of the season is high. Assume about 90% of what happens is essentially meaningless. Let’s highlight the exceptions to this rule (we think).

Lance McCullers is elite: McCullers’ stuff is probably the best in the American League, or at least in the conversation. We still have no idea how he will hold up but he can be a league winner. This is exactly the type you should draft in the middle rounds. If you missed out on McCullers you can take a flyer on Sean Manaea and his insanely good swinging-strike rate. Manaea is 79% owned but probably gettable in a trade given that ERA (7.15)

The Chris Devenski experience: I wrote about him @wsjsports in March as an old-school type who could pile up innings in relief but this is out of control. Yes, you should own him. And pray he stays in this role, which is money in innings-capped formats or any format, really. Projection: 115 IP, 115 Ks, 2.00 ERA, 0.95 WHIP. Gold.

The Francisco Liriano implosion: The theory of the case here was always the reunion with Russell Martin, which paid immediate and impressive dividends last year. Just look at Liriano’s career line with Martin as his catcher: 42 starts, 248 IP, 2.94 ERA, 253 Ks, 1.19 WHIP. So of course, Jarod Saltalamacchia, the worst pitch framer in the business, gets the assignment for Liriano’s first start, in which he allowed five runs in 0.1 IP.

BOTTOM LINE: Unchanged. Liriano took a 10-spot in 2.2 innings in 2013 when he had a 3.02 ERA. Let’s see him with Martin, realizing that a pitcher-catcher relationship is built on trust and chemistry beyond quantifiable pitch framing or any other objective data.

Closer chaos: It happens every year it seems. Joaquin Benoit is the latest beneficiary of the change in Philly. He is nearing 40 but still averages about 95 mph on his heater and the job is easy. He’s also making $7.5 million. I liked him as a speculative play in the 24 hours before the announcement but would pay 25% of my budget now if I needed saves.

Alarming K-rate hitters: Maybe it’s just a slump, but Jonathan Villar struck out about half the time in the first week. He could threaten 200 Ks. Why isn’t he projected to hit .250? And Bryon Buxton probably isn’t going to make it as his contact woes seem unchanged. I’m not kicking him to the curb but just recognizing he’s at best, in his dreams, Melvin Upton (when he was B.J.).

Control woes: I loved Yu Darvish and wasn’t a Kevin Gausman at market price but now both are in the “uh-oh” bucket with way too many walks to start the year. The fear with Darvish, of course, is that his arm may not be right as bad control can indicate injury even more than a decline in velocity. Hold them both but consider both problems that require some monitoring.

Zack Greinke’s fine: His velocity is unchanged but a change in ballpark technology could be adding about one mph to average velocity. Or maybe not. It depends on the ballpark and has to do with where the velocity is being measured out of the hand now vs. in prior years. Either way, Greinke’s velocity is not significantly different. So he’s a last year’s bum that’s probably the same pitcher as he was prior to 2016 and thus probably a bargain.

Delino DeShields was a mirage: It’s not our fault. Info out of Rangers camp was he won the leadoff spot and left field job. He then started just two games the opening week. I broomed him in my 15-team league (not Friends and Family) where I already had Julio Urias sucking up a valuable reserve spot. At least I didn’t pay for his speed ($1).

Matt Harvey is Matt Harvey: The velocity came back so it paid to speculate the last week of the draft season. That held up and the feel came back a little on his secondary stuff in his first start. There will be hiccups. But he’s on the road to recovery and that means he’s a top 30 pitcher now and perhaps on the way to top 20. That’s where he’s been whenever healthy.

Steven Souza Jr.’s unexpected plate discipline: Souza’s walking and not striking out nearly as much as in the past. This is probably meaningless. But if it’s sustainable, Souza will definitely play in mixed leagues with his power and ability to reach double-digits in steals. He’s leading off against lefties, too. But what happens when Colby Rasmus returns?

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