Fantasy owners investing in San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner probably do so for myriad reasons, and not only because he’s one of the signature pitchers in the sport. Last season, Bumgarner finished 10th overall -- and fourth among pitchers -- on the ESPN Player Rater. Another reason why Bumgarner is so popular is because of his unique reliability. There are no bad seasons for Bumgarner, who has averaged 16 wins, 214 strikeouts and an even 3.00 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP in six magical seasons, with no visits to the disabled list. Put simply, he’s one of the surest things in baseball.
However, just like Los Angeles Dodgers ace lefty Clayton Kershaw, who missed a third of last season with a back injury, even the surest of things aren’t always so, well, sure. Bumgarner is likely to miss the next two months with shoulder and rib injuries suffered in a dirt bike accident on Thursday, so he’s visiting that disabled list. How he was hurt is irrelevant for fantasy purposes, but the point is he is hurt; and while there should be more clarification in the days ahead about how much time Bumgarner will miss and whether we should expect aftereffects, fantasy owners should be prepared. It’s going to be a while.
As for whether fantasy owners in 10- and 12-team leagues should simply part ways with Bumgarner, to each his/her own, I suppose, but I think the No. 2 pitcher off the board in ESPN average live drafts and second-round pick overall is worth keeping in your DL slot for the next six-plus weeks. After all, this isn’t quite like Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte getting suspended for 80 games. For one, fantasy owners have to use a bench spot on Marte, since he’s not DL-eligible. Secondly, Marte isn’t as impactful for fantasy purposes. Don’t drop Bumgarner. And enterprising owners should trade for him as if these injuries will not be factors come July and a stellar second half is pending.
The Giants, not off to the greatest start to their season, have already announced lefty Ty Blach, an ordinary 26-year-old with little strikeout potential, will move from his bullpen role to the rotation -- and hey, good for Blach. Not good for fantasy owners. Even in a pitcher’s home ballpark, there just isn’t much positive statistical upside here. Blach had two full seasons at Triple-A Sacramento, and while the Pacific Coast League leans to the hitters, this is a slider/changeup guy who throws his fastball at 91 mph. It’s not likely he’s Dallas Keuchel, either. Right-hander Chris Stratton, also 26 and also with little strikeout potential or fantasy upside, was called up from Sacramento to aid in the bullpen or perhaps replace Blach next week, but again, don’t get too excited.
The name to get excited about, however, is right-hander Tyler Beede, a 23-year-old who is arguably the organization’s top prospect and who could be getting a promotion to the majors in the next month. It might have happened anyway. Beede hits 98 mph with his fastball and features a cutter, power sinker and effective curveball, and while he’s not a strikeout-per-inning guy, he’s good. ESPN colleague Keith Law ranked Beede No. 62 among prospects this spring, noting his command still needs work but that there are several ways he could improve to become a No. 2 starter. I figured the Giants would wait for mid-May, when financial reasons dictate promotions, and give Beede the Matt Cain rotation spot. Now the Giants have another need, as well.
While replacing Bumgarner in real life might actually be every bit as difficult as doing so in a 10-team mixed fantasy league, there are a myriad of starting pitchers off to good starts. In most cases, they’re not likely to keep it up, but when we’re talking about free-agent starting pitchers available in more than 50 percent of ESPN standard leagues in late-April, I generally place them in two categories, so here goes.
Triggs still hasn’t permitted an earned run, but he’s not a strikeout guy, so don’t get too excited. Senzatela has to pitch at Coors Field. Miley is striking people out, but he also walked seven in his first outing. We’ve seen enough of Shields, Nelson and Feldman through the years.
Miller used to be good, you know, before the trade to Atlanta. It wouldn’t be so shocking if he was good again. Chen has the Phillies and Pirates next week, but we also just found out he’s pitching through a partial UCL tear. With Sabathia and Hellickson, they were actually pretty good last season, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if they are again.
Ross made his season debut on Wednesday and struck out seven Braves in seven innings. Some might not be impressed, but he’s going to face a lot of Braves and Phillies this season with Washington. I see him emerging as a top-60 pitcher. Chatwood is more of a matchups guy, perhaps the most extreme example of a home/road option. Severino, if consistent, could also be a top-60 guy. I’d go with Ross and Severino first.