The Big Rotowski: Why you should worry about Jacoby Ellsbury
Go ahead. Panic.
Every baseball writer will tell you that five games into the regular season is too early to worry about your fantasy team. And yeah, technically, they're right. Most of your players are 1 or 2 percent of the way through their schedules. Let's just say there's time to overcome that 1-for-10 start.
But what the heck. It's fantasy sports. It's fun to fly off the handle. Be a 1970s-era George Steinbrenner. Pick up the phone and tell the local media that you are not happy. (Think how bemused the folks at the Dubuque Daily Mail will be.) Tear up your Alexei Ramirez baseball card. Swear an oath of allegiance to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and ecstasy. I mean, don't trade guys away or anything yet. But you could, y'know, change your team logo.
Indeed, five days isn't quite enough time for me to sagely weigh in on how the Twins' outfield situation will resolve itself, whether David Price and/or Matt Wieters will make significant impacts, or whether the Washington Nationals will ever win a game. But I can tell you a few things I've seen in these feverish first days of April, things that make me ... well, let's not say panic. Let's call it apprehension combined with a need for mild sedatives.
Jacoby Ellsbury still thinks he's Rickey Henderson. Ellsbury stole a base against Matt Garza on Thursday, which is all well and good. But watching him at the plate is something akin to standing at a carnival and hoping the chicken will peck your favorite number. Despite a final four months of 2008 that saw him strike out 60 times to only 14 walks, Ellsbury still is swinging from his heels. Everyone in Boston wants this guy to slap the ball to the left side and use his incredible speed to create base hits. Instead, Ellsbury continues to have this weird toe-tapping thing he does in the middle of his swing, like obsessive-compulsive Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets," only minus one cute dog. Dude needs to cut that out.
Jason Motte isn't secure, unless you mean financially. The guy who won the Cardinals' closer job with such a nice spring (18 strikeouts and one walk in 12 1/3 innings) got his doors blown off Opening Day, allowing four hits and four runs in his first save situation. The converted catcher threw just about as hard as a human arm will allow Monday afternoon, but he was wild early in the count and fell behind, whereupon he was tattooed. Then, when St. Louis needed a closer in Thursday's game (a masterpiece by Chris Carpenter, by the way), it used the left-handed Dennys Reyes, who hadn't picked up a save in 10 years. Now, this was situational; the Pirates had lefty Nate McLouth, switch-hitter Ryan Doumit and lefty Eric Hinske due up. Motte certainly will get more chances. But Tony LaRussa won't be afraid to ride hot hands and mix up things at the back end.
Mark Teahen's defense hasn't caused any major atomic cataclysms. Playing most of three games as a second baseman, Teahen has six assists and no errors, and turned a rather routine double play. As a fantasy outfielder, Teahen is the dictionary definition of "nothing special" -- the past two seasons, he's posted OPS of .763 and .715; he stole only four bases last season; and he's never driven in 70 runs in a season. But as a second baseman? Well, he's better. His crummy .255 average/.313 on-base percentage/.402 slugging percentage last season would have been subpar even for an American League second-sacker, but his career numbers (.269/.333/.422) would at least put him in the conversation for fantasy relevance. Plus, in spring training this season, Teahen went .433/.477/.883 with seven homers. Depending on your league's rules, Teahen either already has second-base eligibility or will gain it before April is out. At that point, he'll at least be worth thinking about in mixed leagues.
Dewayne Wise probably shouldn't have been a $22 free agent in AL LABR. Hey, I'm not lighting up the team that did get him, because I bid $16. But considering it now appears Wise's stint atop the White Sox's lineup lasted all of two days, the guy doesn't look like quite the runs or steals producer he did at the beginning of the week. Chris Getz is Ozzie Guillen's new Leadoff Hitter For Life award winner, whereas Wise has gone 0-for-10 with four whiffs to start 2009. Now, I'm not the one who's saying Wise's bad start bodes poorly for his entire season. Guillen is. Then again, Wise does have a career .210 batting average with a .250 OBP.
If someone could hypnotize Daisuke Matsuzaka into believing he's always pitching in the World Baseball Classic, the Red Sox would be golden. In the history of the WBC, only one man has won its MVP: Dice-K. OK, he's done it twice. But still. How can a dude look so decisive and deceptive against all-star international competition, then show up in a Boston uniform and look like Pauly Shore? My stance on Dice-K this season is well chronicled: He's going to disappoint his fantasy owners. The Red Sox's brass spent the winter trying to convince the guy he'll be all right if he just goes after hitters. So what did he do Thursday? He nibbled and noshed his way through 100 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, allowed 13 baserunners and didn't get away with it against a good Rays offense. No, his ERA won't stay at 6.75. But 4.50 won't shock me.
Christopher Harris is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can e-mail him here.