Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
For those of you currently sitting at the top of your fantasy baseball league, how's the view from up there?
I wouldn't know. My pitching has dug quite a hole for me so far (thanks Clay Buchholz, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Garza and Ricky Romero).
But help is on the way. Jhoulys Chacin, Justin Masterson, Colby Lewis and Wandy Rodriguez are all on the waiver wire waiting for someone to take a chance on them.
I'm ready to roll the dice but I only have one open roster spot, so who should I take?
Masterson is always an intriguing option. He has a good sinker, makes it deep into games (15 starts of at least seven innings last year) and his slider is good enough to fool hitters when he gets into a two-strike count. And how can you not like a guy who wears his socks all the way up to his knees?
Masterson pitched a gem Thursday against the Blue Jays (8 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 10 Ks) but it was all for not. Chris Perez blew the save and the Indians ended up losing in extra innings.
And here lies the problem with Masterson: his team just isn't very good. Despite a 3.21 ERA, Masterson was only able to muster 12 wins in 2011.
Cleveland's 4.3 runs per game (compare that to the 5.4 runs per game scored by Masterson's old team, the Red Sox) was ninth in the 14-team American League last season. Combine the Indians' lack of hitting with Perez's recent inability to hold onto a three-run lead, and Masterson might have difficulty matching his win total from a year ago.
If you're looking for help in the wins column (which I am), Colby Lewis seems like the safer bet. Lewis went just 14-10 a year ago but he plays for the Rangers, who most are expecting to contend for the World Series.
Together, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli create the most formidable batting order in baseball so Lewis should benefit from plenty of run support. Lewis' fine Opening Day performance (6 IP, 2 ER, 9 Ks) makes the newly minted No. 1 starter all the more tempting for fantasy owners.
While Lewis anchors the Rangers' starting staff, about 250 miles away Wandy Rodriguez will be trying to do the same thing for the Astros this season.
What's nice about Rodriguez is his consistency. Over the past four seasons Rodriguez has never finished with an ERA worse than 3.60. The downside is that the ceiling isn't extraordinarily high for Rodriguez. In that same four- year span, his ERA has never dipped lower than 3.02, so Clayton Kershaw 2.28 territory seems out of the question for Wandy. Also troubling is that Rodriguez has never surpassed 14 wins and while he remains in an Astros uniform, it's doubtful he ever will.
Despite a solid outing in start No. 1 (6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 ER), Rodriguez turned 33 this offseason, an age where pitchers often begin to decline. That makes him easily the oldest pitcher under consideration here (Lewis will celebrate his 33rd birthday on August 2nd).
But then again, the cause of decline is usually a reduction in velocity and throwing hard has never been a huge part of Rodriguez's game. Wandy is more reliant on his curveball than perhaps any other pitcher in the sport. The fact that old age could knock a mile an hour or two off his already pedestrian fastball (88-89) probably won't affect Rodriguez's stats too drastically.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Rodriguez is a strong candidate to be dealt at the trade deadline as the struggling Astros continue their rebuilding process. By the middle of July, after injuries begin to take their toll, there should be plenty of suitors for Rodriguez. Some of them will undoubtedly be contenders, giving Rodriguez a chance to add to his low win total.
On to our final candidate, Jhoulys Chacin (pronounced yo-lease, for those wondering). Chacin may have the highest upside out of any of these four starting pitching possibilities. He's by far the youngest (just turned 24), his ERA has been below 3.65 two years in a row and for his career, hitters are batting just .228 against Chacin.
Chacin's performance has raised a few red flags however. Despite being a sinker-ball pitcher, opponents still belted 20 home runs off of Chacin last season. We'll blame that on the thin Colorado air.
Chacin's strikeout-to-walk ratio was also pretty shaky last season (1.72) and much worse than Lewis (3.01), Masterson (2.43) and Rodriguez (2.41).
Chacin got knocked around in spring training as well (5.81 ERA) but that's not always the best barometer for regular season success. Josh Beckett led qualified MLB starters in ERA this spring (0.95). Saturday, Beckett gave up five homers in 4 2/3 innings. Chacin's outing later today against San Francisco should give us a better indication of what he is capable of.
All four pitchers, though flawed, have some compelling qualities. In terms of WHIP, opponents' batting average and strikeouts, the difference between Chacin (1.31 WHIP, .231 opponents average, 150 Ks), Masterson (1.28, .257, 158 Ks), Lewis (1.21, .244, 169 Ks) and Rodriguez (1.31, .231, 166 Ks) is negligible.
I like Lewis' win potential and his flashy strikeout-to-walk ratio, but I have to go with Masterson, who won't be a liability in ERA (3.21 to Lewis' 4.40 last season) and because he'll be playing in a more pitcher-friendly environment at Cleveland's Progressive Field.
Welcome aboard Justin. Wait, someone else just added him? You've got to be kidding me.