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Fantasy Fix: The Strasburg Factor

By Dan O'Shea

The NFL and NBA rookie drafts are always worth watching for ardent participants of football and basketball fantasy leagues. In both cases, there are any number of first-year players poised to make an impact in the following season. That isn't usually the case with the MLB draft, for mostly obvious reasons: The baseball draft contains a broad mix of high school and college players of various eligibility levels; baseball teams have vast farm systems and rely more on experienced starters to get the majority of playing time; college players with eligibility remaining who don't like their draft position or their signing bonus often return to school to wait until next year's draft; and it can take at least a year of seasoning for even the most experienced four-year college star to develop some of the further skills that will allow them to tread water in the majors, let alone excel. It's not out of the ordinary for pitchers who have dominated college and summer league hitters to be ordered to develop a new pitch or re-learn their mechanics - though in recent times, more pitchers like Rick Porcello and Tommy Hanson have earned a fast-track to The Show, if not an immediate call.

All that could change with Stephen Strasburg.

The San Diego State pitcher, drafted first in Tuesday's draft, has been said to throw above 100 mph on a regular basis and as of last week had 195 strikeouts in 109 innings with only 19 walks, a 13-1 record and a 1.32 ERA. The 2008 Summer Olympian was taken by the woeful Washington Nationals, and has been predicted by some to be the rare player who jumps directly from college competition to MLB competition within weeks.

Should you be watching your waiver wire closely for the moment when Strasburg's name goes live? Definitely. Will he save your fantasy season or anyone else's? That's hard to say, but I'm betting not. First of all, his agent is likely to be Scott Boras, who some observers presume will demand for Strasburg the largest signing bonus in MLB history. If Strasburg signs with the Nats, it could take every minute right up until the Aug. 15 signing deadline to get the deal done. With that timing, even if Strasburg skips minor league warm-up starts, he would still likely pitch no more than six or seven games for the Nats - and for your fantasy team - this season. If you're a few points out of first place, maybe that could make a difference, but if you're doing that well, who will you bench to take a risk with Strasburg?

And, despite all the praise, Strasburg is a still a risk and an unknown quantity against MLB hitters. How many of them will lay off his curves and sliders because they are better than Strasburg's college victims at telling the difference between his pitches? Strasburg still may be a superstar, and triple-digit heat will score you some fantasy points even if he does walk too many batters, but it could take at least half of those few late-season starts to figure out what he can contribute.

There also remains the concern that he won't sign, and having just completed his junior year, will head back to school. The Nats failed to sign their first-round pick just last year over a money dispute, so it could happen again.

Of course, there's still a possibility that Strasburg signs by June 20, gets his first MLB start by June 30 and is fanning 12 batters per 9 IP by the All-Star Game, with half a season left to keep impressing us and keep reminding us that we didn't scoop him up the minute he became available.

So, what else is going on besides the tick-tick-tick of the Strasburg contract clock?

* carries a post from Mastersball dispelling of certain fantasy baseball myths, including the one that you should always demand the best player in a multiple-player trade to come out on top. Not true, says Mastersball. I agree with that, and the philosophy that you try to get as many points as you can out of specific position while trying to achieve a balance, and that might mean giving up the best player if it means getting two who address your two weakest positions.

* ESPN's Eric Karabell looks at some Rookie of the Year candidates, and likes Matt Wieters even though Wieters has barely laid bat on ball thus far. He lists several other top rookies, though no Gordon Beckham, the multi-talented infielder the White Sox rushed to the big leagues (though check out the Ozzie Guillen quote about Beckham far down in Karabell's column). Also, no Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates outfielder who I will make my dark-horse pick to win the RoY. McCutchen came up last week, and with Nate McLouth trade to the Braves, he has been handed a starting outfielder job. I wonder where Strasburg will finish.

* Yahoo!'s Weekly Rundown highlights the case of Laynce Nix, who might be this year's Ryan Ludwick if he keeps up a pace that has him with 21 extra base hits of 30 total hits this year. Nix, like Ludwick, was something of an unknown quantity mostly playing a role as a spring training seat-filler until this year. Like Baltimore's Luke Scott and Nolan Reimold, a couple other hitters who showed power bursts in May, Nix could make a nice addition if you're lacking power stats in the outfield or want to do in a daily head-to-head like platoon him with a low-power speedster to get a balance of homers and stolen bases.

* looks at supposedly star players that it might be time to give up on, including David Ortiz. Big Papi has suffered through the Big Daddy of all slumps this year, but he does have a couple of homers in his last three games, and seems to be finally picking himself up. Still, hitting .198 through Tuesday, he has a long way to go. He's also hurt by his UTIL-only classification. I wouldn't be surprised if he does well enough to become a chic late-season waiver wire pick-up, but for now, wave bye-bye.

* Fantasy Windup suggests picking up RP Ryan Madson for closer duties with his bullpen mate Brad Lidge officially headed to the DL. Lidge was having so much trouble he was probably benched on many teams anyway, but Madson would be a good call if Lidge was your primary active closer.

* And finally, the home run binge this year at New Yankee Stadium may have sent fantasy leaguers scrambling for pinstriped position players. Speculation about the cause has reached a fever pitch usually reserved for government conspiracy theories, and the Associated Press this week has a closer look at the issue, potentially debunking the suggestion that weather has played a role and blaming the homer increase instead on subtle changes between the new stadium dimensions and the old. The advice: Hold onto Melky Cabrera for now, and if your worst pitcher is due for a date in Yankee Stadium, bench him.


Dan O'Shea's Fantasy Fix appears in this space every Wednesday. Tips, comments, and suggestions are welcome. You can also read his about his split sports fan personality at SwingsBothWays, which isn't about what it sounds like it's about.

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Posted on Feb 21, 2020