Why Pitching Is The Hardest Thing To Rely On In Fantasy Baseball

By Sam McPherson

The news this weekend that Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray was going on the disabled list shouldn’t have surprised many baseball observers. Gray came into this season with a 2.88 career ERA, built over 74 starts from 2012 through 2014. He was as a sure bet as any starting pitcher to excel in 2016, and thus, Gray was picked before the fifth round in most standard fantasy baseball leagues.

Well, through nine starts this year, Gray has an unsightly 6.19 ERA, and something was clearly wrong with him. Every stat category in the book was off the charts in the wrong direction with the A’s ace. After an All-Star season last year and a third-place finish in the Cy Young vote, Gray suddenly couldn’t do anything right: Everyone was hitting him hard, his walks were up, and he was giving up home runs unlike he never had before in his career.

The Oakland organization is calling his injury a strained right trapezius, but who knows what’s going on? The point is Gray was expected to perform, and now he isn’t going to be that pitcher we all expected in 2016. So where does a fantasy baseball owner go from there? This is just an example of something that happens every season: An All-Star pitcher suddenly becomes a nightmare on your roster, and you’re stuck with him.

Of course, you always have the option to bench a pitcher like Gray or stash him on your disabled list, if possible. Smart fantasy owners assess the situation, however, and figure out whether it’s worth it to keep a pitcher like Gray right now. How long has the injury been bothering him? Is it going to be a chronic problem? How long will he be out? Answers to those questions can go a long way toward determining your roster decisions.

Players to Get Onto Your Roster Now

1. Cameron Maybin, OF, Detroit Tigers: If you’re looking for speed, Maybin could be your answer. Since coming off the disabled list, he has four steals already in just six games. While that pace won’t last all season, it’s a sign that the Tigers are going to let Maybin run a lot. He has some pop, too, so he’s not a one-dimensional fantasy player. In fact, Maybin hit 10 home runs for the Atlanta Braves last year. In Detroit’s lineup, he could match that this season despite missing the first seven weeks of the season already.

2. Colby Lewis, SP, Texas Rangers: He’s not going to get you a lot of strikeouts, but the 2.75 ERA and the 1.102 WHIP look good on Lewis after 59 innings pitched this season. He has only three wins to show for it, but Lewis doesn’t have any losses. He is susceptible at times to giving up a lot of hits—depending on the quality of the opposition—but overall Lewis is using his experience and wisdom to his advantage right now in 2016.

3. Danny Valencia, 3B/OF, Oakland Athletics: He came back off the disabled list and immediately started hitting. Valencia’s positional flexibility is an added bonus. He’s one of the few good hitters on the A’s roster right now, so he will get plenty of RBI opportunities. Valencia can be a bit streaky, however, so don’t get discouraged when he inevitably cools off. Stick with him the rest of the season, and you probably won’t be disappointed—especially if Oakland ends up trading him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July.

4. Sam Dyson, RP, Texas Rangers: He’s the new closer in Texas (see below), although he may not last long in the position. Dyson gives up too many hits and walks—without dominant strikeout numbers—to last too long in the role. But for the short term, you can get some easy saves from Dyson. Just keep an eye on his performances, because his peripherals aren’t selling good news.

Players to Sit/Drop This Week

1. Shawn Tolleson, RP, Texas Rangers: The A’s blew him up last week, and Tolleson lost his closer job in Texas. He won’t get it back this season, as the Rangers have too many strong arms in their bullpen. Tolleson may have been just lucky last year, because he gives up too many hits—and home runs—to be a reliable closer. Those stats finally caught up with him this year, and the results were ugly. You can find saves elsewhere by being vigilant.

2. Logan Forsythe, 1B/2B, Tampa Bay Rays: He has a hairline fracture in his left shoulder, and that doesn’t sound good. Forsythe was hitting over .300 with some pop, and his position flexibility made him a very appealing player to roster. But with an injury like this, all it takes is diving for one ground ball—and poof, he’s going to be out again. It is probably best to drop him and let someone else risk his health later while you find a productive player on waivers now.

3. Matt Duffy, 3B, San Francisco Giants: Baseball Prospectus called it “Giants devil magic” that enabled Duffy’s rise to the majors in 2015, but that voodoo seems to have abandoned Duffy this spring. Remember, this is a hitter that never hit a HR in his entire college career, and then suddenly, Duffy hit 12 HRs last year for the Giants. That didn’t make sense, but watching Duffy’s OPS take a nosedive back to normal levels in 2016 actually does make sense.

4. Josh Reddick, OF, Oakland Athletics: Oakland had some bad luck this week, losing their best hitter and their best starter to the disabled list. Reddick’s injury is to his left thumb, which is going to impact his ability to hold a bat and swing for awhile. He’s expected to miss four-to-six weeks, but it could take Reddick even longer to get his stroke back. He was hitting well in his contract year (.860 OPS), but chances are he’s going to struggle the rest of the year trying to come back from the injury. Waive him and let someone else suffer through Reddick’s .220 average for whatever games he has left in 2016.

Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.

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