Commentary

Cockcroft: What we've learned so far

Updated: April 16, 2008, 4:24 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Back in my grade-school days, I was never particularly good at history.

People used to say to me, "Those who don't learn history are condemned to repeat it." (Or, at least, I think it goes something like that, but a history teacher probably told me, and I probably wasn't paying attention at the time.)

Somehow, though, knowing that Rand McNally released his first road atlas in 1924 (seriously, it's on the History Channel's Web site!) doesn't seem especially relevant to my future. Isn't that why navigation systems were invented?

No, for me, a math guy, a statistics junkie, it's all about the present and future. That's what's great about fantasy baseball; once something's in the past, it's gone, it's history, irrelevant. We aim to gather good stats in the present and predict the future, but that four-steal game by Rafael Furcal last Sept. 15? Doesn't matter today.

It's with that in mind that I say: Forget about those preseason prognostications! Toss away those draft-day results! They're ancient history now, useless to the cause.

Not that I'm trying to use this as a way of bailing on my Austin Kearns-hits-30 prediction (I'll be patient!), but I'll also be wrong sometimes. Things change every day -- nay, every minute -- in this game, and if you're not prepared to adjust appropriately, you're going to find yourself stuck … well … in the past.

So, with two-and-a-half weeks in the books, and a whole bunch of new little nuggets to digest, it's time to adjust expectations. No total overhauls to your projections, no breaking down the preseason plan, not yet. But slight tweaks, yes, it's time for that.

Here are a few things we can gather from the returns so far:

[+] EnlargeJorge Posada
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesStealing bases against Jorge Posada is easier than ever, and opponents are taking full advantage.
Jorge Posada's arm is shot. He has an excuse, that achy shoulder of his, but in 33 innings behind the plate he has allowed 10 steals. Josh Bard, widely considered the game's weakest-armed catcher, has allowed 12, but in 97 2/3 innings. Posada's 37.3 percent caught stealing rate of 2006 might have you thinking he's not easy to run on, but you'd be wrong. His shoulder doesn't concern me from a long-term DL-stint standpoint, but for this year, I'm calling Posada quite the advantageous matchup for an opposing baserunner.

• The Tigers desperately need a healthy Curtis Granderson. Check the numbers: Their leadoff men, through Tuesday, have a combined .612 OPS, and in the first inning of their games, that number is .555. Last year, those numbers were .873 and .895, the latter better than in any other inning (except extras).

• It takes a lot longer than I thought to recover from a broken finger. I'm sticking with the Granderson point, because the concern here is that his original prognosis was what, two to three weeks, and here we're approaching four? If he's really as displeased with how his hand feels as a Detroit News report indicated on Friday, I'd worry a little that his return to form won't be instantaneous. And if it takes until mid-May before we see the old Granderson, I'd call a month from now, not today, the better time for buy-low opportunities for slumping Tigers (Placido Polanco! Gary Sheffield!).

Evan Longoria is the real deal. He's the complete package; he hits for average, he hits for power and, I'd say most importantly, he's disciplined at the dish. Longoria has drawn a walk in each of his first four games, and drew 10 in 54 plate appearances in the spring, too. There's always the concern the Rays will do something stupid, like demote him to stall his arbitration clock, but if you're asking, my answer is, yes, I'm buying.

• The Rays actually aren't that stupid, because if they were, I doubt they'd have called up both Longoria and Jeff Niemann this early in the year, almost assuring each of them will qualify as a "super-two" arbitration player after 2010.

Kosuke Fukudome is a better player than I expected. My preseason projection had him batting around .270 with 15 homers and 12 steals. But that took into account his Japanese stats, and it's not as if there's a fully accurate translation rate for that. Having watched Fukudome play, I can say this: He's a natural. He's not the natural, but I'd certainly bump those numbers to a .290 average and 20 steals.

Rick Ankiel hits left-handers; he's now a career .286 hitter with a .914 OPS against them. Maybe I'm wrong on him, as that eases one of my concerns, but at 13 strikeouts in 53 at-bats, Ankiel still seems likely to bat closer to .250 than .300.

Alex Gordon, by comparison, still can't hit left-handers, which is probably going to keep him from that massive breakout campaign. He's 2-for-15 with four K's against that side, so I'd expect the huge step forward to come in 2009.

[+] EnlargeDusty Baker
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesIt may be early, but Dusty Baker isn't showing the same tendencies he's shown in previous managerial stints.
• Dusty Baker quite possibly has mellowed as a manager. This could be jumping the gun a bit, but don't think I haven't noticed that he has yet to keep a starting pitcher out there for more than 110 pitches through 14 games. Only three times, in fact, has he let a starter throw 100-plus, and they were workhorses Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, and the rotation as a whole has averaged 92.7 pitches per start. Plus, while the Corey Patterson move might have been questioned quite a bit, at least Baker hasn't started him a single time against a left-hander, and has afforded him only three plate appearances all year against that side. Again, this might all be jumping the gun, but if it keeps up, I'd be more apt to trust Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez for the long haul, because neither is looking particularly likely to be abused.

Jose Vidro, and to an extent, Richie Sexson, are really serving only to stand in the way of top prospect Jeff Clement, whose bat is probably big league ready. Vidro and Sexson are batting a combined .210 with a .362 slugging percentage, rates that are far too low for an American League first baseman or DH.

Nick Swisher is every bit as good a leadoff man as I thought he'd be a No. 2 hitter. Check the stats: His on-base percentage is .444 and he has scored 11 runs, and even if he hurts for RBIs, a 30-homer, 125-run season is going to be every bit as valuable for fantasy as a 30-homer, 100-RBI season would be.

• The Diamondbacks are not only one of the game's most potent offenses, but they're particularly lethal against left-handed pitching, with a burgeoning group of right-handers like Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton and Chris Young, not to mention "old man" Eric Byrnes. Something tells me it's going to be a terrible idea all year to think about spot-starting a Franklin Morales, Randy Wolf or Barry Zito against this team, and it might be a risky proposition to use Jeff Francis in shallow mixed leagues, too.

A.J. Burnett is the classic annual buy-low candidate, yet despite the compliment, at this stage he might not be even the second-best starter on his own team. In fact, he might not be even the third-best starter on the Blue Jays. Yes, this means I'm a big believer in both Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum.

• You can save a lot of games on a 100-loss team … you just have to start hot! Sorry, Orioles, it's nice to see that George Sherrill is a reliable closer, and underrated for fantasy, but I still see no way you avoid 100 losses in that division.

• The Royals were fools to yank Zack Greinke from their rotation at around this time last season. He has a 3.01 ERA in 17 starts between this and last year, and having watched him pitch, I don't think it's a fluke.

• Even at 44 years old, Randy Johnson has enough juice in the tank to offer you a healthy strikeout total and decent ratios. I'd set the over/under at around 18 starts, but if you can squeeze that many out of him, I'll bet you won't be complaining.

Tom Gordon might as well be considered done as a contributor. Not that I see much else to like in the Phillies' bullpen, but should Brad Lidge get hurt again or suffer from ineffectiveness, how about Rudy Seanez as an option in the ninth?

[+] EnlargeFrancisco Liriano
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelFrancisco Liriano struggled with his control in his first outing back following Tommy John surgery.
• Aces simply aren't aces immediately upon their return from Tommy John surgery. OK, so some of us might have already learned this lesson -- thank you, aforementioned Burnett -- but judging by the Francisco Liriano buzz, apparently some of you still don't get it. You're the ones I'll be waiting out for your impatience, so I can scoop him up cheap right around, say, mid-June, on the hopes that he'll be a lot closer to 100 percent then, right in time for a decent second half.

• "Lineup protection" isn't always necessary. Case in point: Nick Markakis. He has the venerable Kevin Millar batting behind him in the order, yet is hitting .326 with a .975 OPS through his first 14 games. On a side note, it's sure nice to see Markakis starting hot instead of finishing hot, right? Expect this to continue.

Cristian Guzman's unreal .328 batting average in his injury-shortened, 46-game 2007 wasn't a fluke. I find this pretty inexplicable, but he's hitting higher than that through 14 games this season. Come to think of it, I won't call this a lesson, I'll call it an out-and-out fluke, and sell him while (read: if) I can.

Juan Pierre is going to play in L.A. just enough to drive Matt Kemp owners crazy. Sure, it's something Kemp owners should've seen coming, but it seems as though he keeps getting right on the verge of earning everyday at-bats, only to inexplicably be benched out of the blue for Pierre. There's no better way to describe it: It's never going to be easy to own Kemp, not until the Dodgers unload an outfielder.

• I wasn't nuts to spend $12 on Nate McLouth in LABR, apparently. OK, OK, being realistic, I'm fully expecting a decrease in batting average -- think .270 at best -- and RBIs -- think 65 -- but the power and speed are absolutely legitimate.

Finally, for fun, here's a lesson we -- OK, big league teams -- apparently will never learn: Jeff Weaver is not a reliable starting pitcher. He has pitched for seven different teams, is 21 games under .500 for his career, and has had an ERA of greater than 4.00 eight times and greater than 5.00 four times in nine seasons. Yet, incredibly, the Brewers took a chance on him on Tuesday … for potentially as much as $4-5 million.

You, the fantasy owner, however, should not follow suit. Hmmm … maybe some big league GMs weren't paying attention in history class, either!

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.