Sixty Feet, Six Inches: Pitcher injuries
Injury news has to be the headliner for any discussion about starting pitchers this week, as fantasy aces seem to be dropping like flies. It's not all gloom and doom for everyone though.
Curt Schilling, SP, BOS: He has been trying to learn how to finesse, but when it comes right down to it, Schilling needs to be able to dial up a mid-90s fastball to be effective. Since he can't do that lately he is, in essence, placing himself on the. Schilling thinks he has tendinitis and is going to let his arm rest. The team won't need a fifth starter until Wednesday, but that should not stop any manager (deep-mixed or AL-only) from pocketing Jon Lester on a fantasy team that needs pitching help. Lester went 7-2 for the Sox last year before having cancer surgery. He has control issues that seem to have settled down a little this season in the minors. He could be very useful for teams that have been struggling with wins, without helping or hurting much elsewhere.
Jason Schmidt, SP, LAD: Here we have another power pitcher who can't break the mid-80s on his fastball. The difference is that Schmidt is done for the year. He has a torn labrum, frayed biceps tendon and a scarred bursa. Unless you have him for pennies next year, he even borders on expendable in keeper leagues. Chad Billingsley moves into the rotation and is certainly worth adding in medium-mixed or NL-only leagues. He has a 40:13 K-to-BB ratio in more than 35 innings as a reliever this year. Don't start him for another week or two as he will be on a pitch count until his arm is ready to throw 100 pitches a game.
A.J. Burnett, SP, TOR: Now, this injury seems relatively simple to explain if you have one look at Burnett's pitch counts in the games before he was hurt: 131, 118 and 127. Yeah, that will strain a throwing shoulder. At the same time, this is very encouraging as Burnett has been haunted by injury problems that weren't as simple to solve at this one, and you can expect the same strong pitching from Burnett when he returns on June 28.
Dontrelle Willis, SP, FLA: After leaving his last start after just an inning of work with forearm tightness, Willis says he feels a lot better. The D-Train will probably start on Sunday, but owners have to start wondering if something is going on behind the scenes. Willis' inconsistency has been quite astonishing with walk totals of six, four and zero in three consecutive starts this month, striking out zero, five and eight in that same span. We threw up red flags before the season about his workload, and now may be the time to shop Willis to any owner in your league who is looking for some high risk/high reward trades to get back into the running, as Willis appears to be only high risk.
John Lackey, SP, LAA: It's hard to write about injuries like this. I have to stress that there is no reason to jump ship yet, but at the same time I must caution owners that there are a few warning signs. Lackey is basically dealing with a sore right shoulder. Renowned (and feared by fantasy owners) Dr. Lewis Yocum found inflammation in the shoulder and decided to forego an MRI right now. Lackey will rest until Wednesday and then have some strength tests. Lackey swears he just "needs a little extra love" on his shoulder, but a visit to Dr. Yocum is sometimes a harbinger. Furthermore, did you know Lackey has never missed a single regular-season start due to injury? Not one. However, pure conjecture and saying that "he is due for an injury" is not enough to panic with one of the best fantasy pitchers this season. Consider this simply a distant alarm bell to help you react faster if anything does happen.
Scott Elarton, SP, KC: Elarton doesn't exactly fit in with the rest of the names here, does he? A foot strain has landed the struggling veteran on the DL. The relevant and slightly far-fetched news here is that Luke Hochevar has been whispered as a possible fill-in in the Royals rotation. The No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft is by no means ready for a regular job in the majors. He is, however, on the Royals 40-man roster; meaning, that if they need to call someone up for an emergency start, it may just be Hochevar. He shouldn't offer too much fantasy value, if any, for 2007; but a lot of leagues use rules stipulating that a player cannot be picked up until he makes an appearance in the majors. Hochevar has an 83:19 K:BB rate in Double-A and may be required to make the jump to a rotation spot as early as 2008.
Randy Johnson, SP, ARI: The Big Unit won't be coming off the DL when he is eligible and according to manager Bob Melvin, he probably won't pitch next week. He will be back and he will pitch very well when healthy, but Johnson may not top 120 innings this season. This herniated disk is the same one that he had surgery on in the offseason, but Johnson describes this injury as separate from the surgery. Bottom line here is that he cannot be depended on to contribute for the rest of the season, and any owner that is struggling to make up ground in their league is likely better off shopping Johnson for someone who has a better chance of consistently contributing.
Chris Carpenter, SP, STL: There is still no timetable, but Carpenter felt normal after throwing a 50 pitch bullpen session on Wednesday. He'll try for 70 pitches on Saturday and start to use breaking balls. That is about as close to a regular bullpen session as you can get. Carpenter could very well be ready to go in mid-July. Believe it or not, you may be able to get Carpenter for free. He is available in 42 percent of ESPN leagues.
Pedro Martinez, SP, NYM: Pedro is on track to start throwing live batting practice next week. Then it's simulated games, then rehab games and then the Mets. That still projects early-August as his earliest possible return date. I am actually not going to recommend that anyone use Martinez as a fantasy player this year. His shoulder is completely rebuilt and it's going to be 2008 before he can throw even close to way he used to. What I advise is that you hold Pedro until the hype machine peaks about his return and then deal him. Owners looking for an August push need to roster him now (available in 64 percent of ESPN leagues) and then wait until the moment is right to trade. His name will still command a pretty penny.
Yovani Gallardo, SP MIL: Don't be afraid to deal him if the price is right. The aforementioned hype machine is in overdrive for Gallardo and you may be able to command top of the line talent if he has another strong outing.
Tim Lincecum, SP, SF: Lincecum seems to have issues working from the stretch. He sports a .187 opponent batting average with no one on versus a .310 opponent average with base runners on. That is an issue that can be worked on and owners should hold or buy-low on the Giants rookie.
Sean Allen is a fantasy sports analyst for ESPN.com and TalentedMrRoto.com. He can be reached at alla_rino@TalentedMrRoto.com.
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