Early calls on surprising players
At least, that's what I was thinking. I think I merely said something innocuous, like "Cool. Good luck." But in my mind, I'm sure I was very dismissive. "Sure, buddy, whatever you say." I just hoped he hadn't caught my eye roll. I was judgmental, sure, but I didn't want to be outwardly rude.
I was 22 years old. I had just graduated from Syracuse and had moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in show business, specifically sitcom writing. And like many who move to L.A. to pursue showbiz dreams, my first job had nothing to do with it.
There I was, day one of my first after-college job, making minimum wage working as a ... wait for it ... toy salesman. Specifically, I was a sales associate for FAO Schwarz, which had a (now-closed) store in the famed Beverly Center. I was introduced to the assistant manager, who was busy stocking stuffed animals.
As he was piling a Gund bear next to a Gund penguin on top of Gund elephants, I told him a bit about myself. I moved here with my college buddy; we were doing this to pay the bills, but we were working on a script, and soon we'd be big-time sitcom writers, I was sure.
I can only imagine what was going through his mind. "That's what they all say," would have been my guess. Instead, he said, "Great. Good luck with it." He then offered a little about himself.
He was an actor, he told me. (Of course he was.) And he was taking classes. (Of course he was.) And they were going well. (Of course they were.) In fact, he also had been doing some writing. (Of course he had.) Sketches, actually. He was taking improv classes at The Groundlings, a famous L.A. institution that has been the launching pad of many stars like Will Ferrell, Pee-wee Herman, Kristen Wiig, Phil Hartman, Kathy Griffin, Lisa Kudrow and hundreds more whom you have seen in every funny TV show and movie for the past 30 years. It's an amazing place, but anyone can take classes there. Anyone.
Hell, I took two years of classes. Highly recommended, by the way, regardless of what you do for a living. Helps with communication, confidence, attitude and creativity, attributes that are admirable in any line of work. So the fact that he was taking classes at The Groundlings wasn't impressive to me. He was very nice but didn't strike me as particularly funny. Seemed more straitlaced than anything, frankly. But he continued.
"Been taking classes for a little while," he said. "Hopefully, I'll make the Sunday show soon. And then the main company."
"Yeah, right." Like I said, I thought it. Really glad I didn't say it.
That's because my assistant manager at FAO Schwarz was Chris Parnell, who ended up spending eight years as a cast member of "Saturday Night Live," is Dr. Leo Spaceman on "30 Rock," has been in tons of movies (such as "Anchorman" and "21 Jump Street") and TV shows, and was a big part of one of my favorite viral videos of all time.
The straitlaced thing I picked up on when I met him? Just his amazing, deadpan delivery. As I got to know him, I found out he was hilarious, very quick on his feet and, actually, a pretty good boss. He's also a terrifically nice guy, and I wasn't the least bit surprised by his success. I've really enjoyed watching him throughout the years.
And it taught me a valuable lesson that I've carried on in life and, more importantly, fantasy baseball.
You never know.
My first meeting with Chris? A small sample size. It wasn't nearly enough for me to make a smart judgment as to whether he had any shot at stardom. Luckily, I wasn't forced to make any such decision on Chris. In fantasy baseball, of course, we are not so lucky.
Tim Lincecum. Michael Bourn. Nolan Reimold. What's real? What isn't? Frankly, we don't yet have nearly enough information on anybody this season to truly answer, but we don't have the luxury of waiting. If we wait, others will beat us to it, and we might lose out on a breakout star, on buying low on someone who's struggling or on selling high while name value is still bigger than the performance. So, small sample size be damned, we're gonna give it the old college try. Which for me means I'm going to stay up all night with my buddies, and then I'm going to glance at some stats 10 minutes before I wander into class in the same sweatshirt I've worn for two days straight. You're welcome, America.
I'll toss a shoutout to the great Zach Jones of ESPN Stats and Information as we look at 10 players whose performances so far this season might not be indicative of stardom (or lack thereof) to come.
Tim Lincecum, Giants.
Big Time Timmy Jim, as he's known to Karl Ravech, had velocity issues in his first three starts this year. No question there.
Tim Lincecum fastball, past two seasons
2011 (33 starts) 2012 (3 starts) Average Velocity 92.2 90.2 Maximum Velocity 96.6 93.1
But, as Dave Cameron wrote in an excellent article on FanGraphs.com, there have been lots of instances in which a star pitcher has started the year with velocity issues only to have them correct themselves and finish with a strong year.
Remember, we've seen stretches from Lincecum like this before: In four starts from Aug. 10-27, 2010, he allowed six, five, four and four earned runs. He followed up that by going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA in September, then helped pitch the Giants to a World Series title by winning four of his five starts with a WHIP of 0.92 while striking out 43 batters in 37 playoff innings.
Again, this is all based on just three starts season, but Lincecum's xFIP (expected fielding-independent pitching) is actually 2.67 through three starts. He's struck out 16 batters while walking only four in 13 2/3 innings. He's played at Arizona (in his past 10 games versus the Diamondbacks, he has a 4.57 ERA, and it seems they always play him tough), at Colorado (not ideal), and Philly (not amazing but not the Astros, either).
Lincecum's 43.1 LOB (left on base) percentage will rise significantly (in his career, it's 75.4 percent) and suggests he's had at least some bad luck. I have an eyebrow raised at his velocity, but for now, I'm staying the course. He'll be just fine.
"Yo, Berry," the cries from people who learned to tweet in 1985 started. "Why isn't Cory Luebke above The Wandy Line? Should he be?" One bad start, two good ones, he plays for the Padres ... we know he's solid, but is he an ace?
And the answer is ... yes. I was hesitant last week, but in the light of a new day, I'm committing. I said he'll probably finish the season above the line, but he should have started above it.
Check this out: Since the start of last season, Luebke's strikeout rate is fourth-highest in the majors among pitchers with 20-plus starts.
More about Luebke: He started his first game for the Padres on June 26, 2011. Since then, Luebke has 126 strikeouts, tied for 11th-most in baseball. More than Felix Hernandez and Tim Lincecum, among others.
Luebke's ERA is 3.37 during that time frame, which, among pitchers with at least 20 starts, is 13th-best in baseball, better than the ERAs of David Price, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren, among others. His 1.15 WHIP since then is 12th in MLB, better than those of Price, Greinke and Lincecum.
It's your last chance to buy Luebke at less-than-stud prices.
So, uh, we knew we were getting a bad average with Stubbs, but not below-the-Mendoza-line bad. The trade-off was that we'd get some power and speed, neither of which we've gotten. So, what do we do with Stubbs?
Frankly, I'm worried. I haven't seen enough to know whether he has changed his batting stance or where he is holding the bat or anything, but this much I know: He's leading the world in ground-ball rate.
Stubbs' balls-in-play percentages, 2011-12
2011 2012 Ground Ball 48.0 75.0 Fly Ball 31.5 16.7 Line Drive 20.4 8.3
I'm nervous. Even for someone with Stubbs' wheels, it's really hard to circle all the bases on a grounder.
So, Zach Jones of ESPN Stats & Info sent me this note: "Would you throw lots of fastballs to Cabrera? I wouldn't, either. It's not like we need more reasons to like Cabrera, but I found this kind of interesting. With Prince Fielder now batting behind him, Cabrera is seeing fastballs 68.2 percent of the time, fourth-most in the majors this season. He saw fastballs only 53.8 percent of the time last year."
I agree with Zach. It is kind of interesting. I don't have a ton of advice on this, except maybe if you own Miggy, it would take a lot to pry him away, and maybe not even then.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals, and Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins
Both guys have different but very real injury concerns. Neither has been who you drafted him to be so far.
Josh Johnson and Adam Wainwright, 2012 versus 2010
Statistic Johnson Wainwright Average Fastball Velocity (2010) 92.5 (93.7) 89.3 (90.9) K per 9 IP (2010) 4.3 (9.1) 9.4 (8.3) Swing & Miss Percentage (2010) 16.4 (26.7) 23.1 (23.3) Strikeouts-Walks (2010 K/BB) 8-6 (3.9) 9-3 (3.8) BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) .418 (.308) .341 (.281)
It's early, but I'm sticking with Wainwright, who might be a bit rusty. Wainwright's xFIP is 3.15, and he's actually inducing ground balls at a rate better than he ever has. Buy low.
Johnson, meanwhile, is obviously better than he has pitched (xFIP of 3.86), but the low strikeout rate, the increased walk rate and the always-present possibility of injury make me really nervous. I'm waiting until his next good start, then selling for as much as I can.
Youkilis' home run Wednesday night hopefully should quiet some of the boo-birds, but one of the poster boys for my PPOBY (proven player of a bad year) has struggled out of the gate. (Meanwhile, Josh Hamilton!) But I am sticking by Youk and predicting that the bounce-back will start in earnest in May.
Highest May OPS in MLB (since 2007)
Next week is your last chance to buy low.
Yeah, yeah, you say, he looked good against the Pirates. But it was the Pirates. And his ERA is still 6.00. What happened to the stud Daniel Hudson I drafted? Do I sell high before he coughs up another six-pack?
I say no, and in fact, you should try to trade for him if you can get him at a discount. He looks the same. His fastball velocity has remained steady, his swing-and-miss percentage is almost identical, but his homer rate is just absurd right now. He's allowed home runs on 27.8 percent of his fly balls this season compared to 7.7 percent for his career. Some of those flies will start to stay in the park, and he'll stop giving up homers every three minutes (although he did give one up to Pedro Alvarez on Wednesday night). He needs to limit the walks, but I like that he's continuing his trend of inducing more ground balls: 45.8 percent this season, 41.7 percent in 2011, 39.7 percent for his career.
Michele Steele and I talked about Ubaldo on the Wednesday edition of the Fantasy Focus video show, which is the answer to the trivia question, "Wait, there's a Wednesday edition of the Fantasy Focus video show?"
Yes, there is. And in case you missed it, here's what I said about Ubaldo:
I'm nervous. His ERA is 4.50, and his xFIP of 4.58 says it's well-deserved, while his BABIP suggests it could have actually been worse. Gulp.
Statistic 2012 Career K per 9 IP 6.0 8.2 BB per 9 IP 4.5 3.9 Ground-ball Rate 42.1 50.2 BABIP .279 .314
It's only two starts, but per FanGraphs.com, his fastball velocity this year is just 92.4. Last year, it was 93.9. In 2009 and 2010, when you wanted to own him, it was 96 and 95.8, respectively.
If I could get 80 cents on the dollar, I would do it in a heartbeat.
Nolan Reimold, Baltimore Orioles
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It's a fairly basic rule here at TMR HQ: If you hit four home runs in five days, we talk about you. We discussed him on the podcast a few days ago, but clearly, at least 84 percent of you just downloaded and didn't listen, because that's how many leagues he's available in.
Reimold has been making more contact this year, and the power is legit. He hit 13 home runs last year in 267 at-bats and 15 home runs in 2009 in 358 at-bats, so he's produced when he's gotten playing time. Since his big competition for playing time this year is Endy Chavez or maybe some combo of Wilson Betemit and Nick Johnson at DH, he'll set a career high in at-bats this season, barring injury.
Keep in mind that Reimold also had seven steals last season in slightly more than 250 at bats. Double-digit steals and 20-plus home runs with a .265-or-so average is very doable here.
I leave you with this thought: There were no actors of note in my original Groundlings classes, but two of my classmates were great, funny guys who ended up becoming very famous writers. One was Ed Solomon, who co-wrote the "Bill & Ted" movies, "Men in Black," "Charlie's Angels" and a ton of others. Chris D'Arienzo wrote the Broadway play (and upcoming summer movie) "Rock of Ages" among a bunch of other projects. Which just goes to show you that, well, you never know ...
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- decided not to tell the story of the other guy he worked with who also wanted to be an actor and is now a telemarketer. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.
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