Too early to tell

The Baltimore Sun

This is fantasy baseball's silly season.

Is Mark Reynolds a Most Valuable Player candidate? Will the Cincinnati Reds shop top prospect Jay Bruce given Corey Patterson's play? Should David Ortiz be dumped while he still has some reputation? These are all questions I've seen asked, without irony, by fantasy players in the past week.

And to these restless souls I say, "Sample size, people, sample size!"

A baseball season lasts six months. We're through slightly more than two weeks. Almost every player has two really good weeks and two really bad ones in any given season. Despite this, some fantasy owners are willing to throw away years of track record based on 15 games.

First of all, don't be one of those guys. Second, be prepared to take advantage of the panicked souls in your leagues.

Miguel Cabrera is hitting .213, Mark Teixeira is stuck at .196, and Ortiz might be the most disappointing of all with a .113 average and three RBIs.

All three went in the first two rounds of most mixed-league drafts. All three have iron-clad track records of producing power, solid to excellent averages and huge production numbers. If you can get a guy like that at even the slightest discount, do it, because they're among the rarest commodities in the game. Conversely, if you have one of those three, ride it out. I repeat - do not trade them, because you won't get good value.

I guess you might be a little more worried about young hitters such as Hunter Pence, Prince Fielder and Troy Tulowitzki.

Pence has a solid minor league record to back up his excellent rookie season. And if you need more perspective, he also struggled in his first 50 at-bats last year before blitzing the league. Don't get crazy and waive him.

In one of the funnier stories this April, people are worried that Fielder's new-found vegetarianism has sapped his power. I've always told my veg-head wife she should give in to hamburgers and steak. But seriously, Fielder was hitting home runs in major league parks as an adolescent. He was the youngest ever to hit 50 in a season. He'll be fine.

Tulowitzki has no RBIs, which is tough to do when you hit in the middle of a decent lineup in Coors Field. His minor league statistics don't suggest that he's a great hitter, so he might fall off a tad from 2007, but he's still bolstered by Coors, so his final average and production numbers should still be good for a shortstop.

I find it easy to remain patient with hitters. But I pay closer attention to pitcher numbers in April, because aberrant strikeout or walk totals can hint at hidden injuries. I also love to take advantage of owners who don't understand that luck can be the primary reason for a stretch of three great starts.

Consider Royals starter Zack Greinke. I liked him a lot going into the season, and now everyone is on board because of his .75 ERA in 24 innings. But I see him as a sell-high candidate, given that he has struck out only nine batters. It's hard to remain dominant at that rate.

I'm also suspicious of Greinke's teammate, Brian Bannister. He's a fine pitcher, don't get me wrong. But he's only allowed 10 hits in 21 innings. Last year, he allowed 156 in 165 innings. That tells me that he has been lucky on balls in play and that his ERA is likely to soar close to the 4.00 mark we expected coming into 2008.

On the other side of hit luck sits Roy Oswalt, whose 9.00 ERA is brutal for those owners who expected him to be a fantasy ace. Relax, people. His 12-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio is excellent, and those 30 hits in 16 innings scream fluke. Oswalt may be on a slight decline overall, but he's an excellent trade target at the moment.

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