A month ago, there was significant apprehension in the fantasy world that Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke would miss the beginning of the season with an elbow injury. This led him to fall in many drafts to the point he was barely among the top 20 starting pitchers chosen in ESPN average live drafts, which seemed to make him a nice bargain.
Well, the elbow issue proved to be unfounded, as Greinke pitched and did so at a high level, but another one cropped up while you were sleeping late into Thursday night in San Diego: Greinke's left collarbone was fractured by angry San Diego Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin in a bench-clearing melee and the result is a potential two-month absence. It's always something, right? Good morning!
The incident occurred in the sixth inning of a game the Dodgers eventually won 3-2, when Greinke hit the always-hittable Quentin with a pitch near the left shoulder, on a 3-2 count in a 2-1 game, prompting a nasty brawl and Greinke's unfortunate injury. While the official timetable for the pitcher's absence has yet to be determined, expect we won't see him again until June. The good news is this is not his pitching shoulder, but obviously he will not be doing a whole lot of throwing regardless in the interim. Do not drop Greinke in any format; there's no reason he cannot have a top-20 second half and pile on the wins and strikeouts. Remember that last season Greinke finished as the No. 20 starting pitcher on ESPN's Player Rater, and the move to cozier Dodger Stadium as his home ballpark figured to aid him.
Meanwhile, attention turns to replacing Greinke, and while I regularly praise the depth of starting pitching in standard, 10-team formats, those in deeper leagues will have a tougher time. For example, I own Greinke -- of course I do -- in several leagues, including a 16-teamer, and I fear my best option for replacement might actually be the fellow the Dodgers will turn to, lefty Chris Capuano. Don't laugh. Capuano wasn't bad at all in 2012, posting a 3.72 ERA, which is still better than league average, with a 1.22 WHIP and 162 strikeouts. I honestly don't see why those numbers can't be repeated. Capuano was considerably better in home games (3.19 ERA versus 4.22 ERA), so at worst consider him a matchups play, and yes, he is readily available in most leagues.
Turning to pitchers available in more than half of ESPN's standard formats, I recommend Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley, Atlanta Braves right-hander Julio Teheran, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel, New York Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes, Washington Nationals lefty Ross Detwiler, Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen, Pittsburgh Pirates lefty Wandy Rodriguez and yes, even Kansas City Royals right-hander Ervin Santana, in that order. Miami Marlins 20-year-old right-hander Jose Fernandez just misses the 50 percent cut, but I would take the risk on him over all these pitchers, and if it doesn't work out, move on to the next option. Billingsley has potential elbow issues -- well, doesn't everybody? -- but should pitch well when he's out there. Hammel is underrated as a strikeout option. Detwiler is not, but he rarely gets hit hard. Santana looks really good so far and while I shouldn't be buying, the Royals really do believe he has fixed his home run issues from 2012.
For those in considerably deeper leagues, including NL-only formats, you'll have to dig, um, deeper. Chicago Cubs lefty Travis Wood is off to a fine start, and posted a solid 1.19 WHIP and usable strikeout rate last season. Orioles right-handers Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta each bring strikeout potential and upside, as does Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Patrick Corbin, who won his first start. Royals right-hander Luis Mendoza is a late-blooming ground-baller who fanned seven Phillies in his first start, and should remain in the rotation. And Jake Westbrook of the St. Louis Cardinals is relatively dependable at this point, though I do not like the 10 walks versus four strikeouts so far. Yikes.