Patience a virtue when deciphering the value of starting pitchers
R.A. Dickey and Lance Lynn are off to great starts, but still aren't elite
Matt Cain is only 8-2, but the best pitcher to throw a no-hitter this season
Clay Buchholz and Matt Harrison are both pitching well after poor starts
After last week's relisting of the top 50 starting pitchers for the rest of the fantasy season, we received some feedback (read: hatemail):
1. How in the world can the highest scoring pitcher R.A. Dickey slot just 37th?
2. How can 2012 breakout sophomore Lance Lynn slot just 38th?
The readers buried the lead. They should have asked how can 2012 breakout 27-year-old Matt Cain slot just eighth?
After Wednesday night's perfect game, they might be willing to ask that question now. That is a reasonable debate, and it could have been argued Tuesday before the outing. Cain just might be the best pitcher in baseball now, and that is just not a knee-jerk reaction to a perfect game.
Remember, after Phil Humber's perfect game this space declared of the 150 regular starting pitchers in baseball, "Humber might be closer to the bottom third."
Ubaldo Jimenez used to look like the best pitcher in fantasy.
Francisco Liriano used to look like he could be the best pitcher in fantasy. Remember that?
And Tim Lincecum, Cain's teammate, used to look like he belonged in a major-league rotation, much less in an active fantasy lineup.
We remind again, particularly in the case of Dickey and Lynn: "Numbers in small sample sizes tend to distort things early on in fantasy."
It isn't technically early anymore, but Dickey and Lynn's emergence into the fantasy elite isn't complete yet. They need a full season of dominance before they should be valued as such in fantasy.
Cain has had it. He belongs in the elite conversation. Somewhere Eli Manning of the football Giants wants to go on radio to say he should be in the debate, too.
Coming into the year, Cain had the lowest run support of any pitcher with as many innings. He just didn't get the victories to warrant elite talk in the preseason, but they are coming now and he looks as good as anyone.
While we tend to overrate wins, we equally can overlook the pitchers unfortunate enough to get them, despite pitching like an ace. That has been Cain.
So, no, Cain does not have the case to start the All-Star Game like Dickey (10-1, 2.20 ERA, 0.944 WHIP and 90 strikeouts to 19 walks) or perhaps even Lynn (10-2, 2.43, 1.090, 86, 27), because of victories, but Cain is the better pitcher -- arguably the best -- to have the next time out and the 20-odd starts thereafter.
Cain is pitching to his level, while Dickey and Lynn are merely stacking their nuts for what will be a regression to around the 37th and 38th best pitchers in fantasy.
Look at it this way: No one on this planet would deal a Justin Verlander, or a Cain, for a Dickey or Lynn. The masses know what the dossier for an elite starter is. Dickey and Lynn have some work to do and their resumes suggest they won't get there.
While Dickey and Lynn owners pound their chest at being disrespected here and by everyone else that doesn't own those two, a few things might be getting overlooked among other pitchers streaking in your league:
1. Clay Buchholz is back. Only Dickey and Cain have been better in the past two (three starts) and three weeks (four starts). We will use this as another example of how a pitcher's fortunes can change. You remember how bad Buchholz looked out of the gate? He has a 8.89 ERA in April. Now, he is a must-start in all leagues.
2. Matt Harrison is right with the group of Dickey, Cain and Buchholz over the past month, perhaps quietly. After giving up seven runs April 27 and eight runs May 2, Harrison has emerged as a must-start fantasy ace as well.
3. Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes have turned their seasons around after poor starts, both looking like top 50 options in all fantasy leagues right now. Unlike most of the names above, they are inactive in around 60 percent of leagues on CBSSports.com. They are somehow still buy low candidates amid their stretches.
4. On the bad side of streaky: Chris Capuano, Yu Darvish, Jeremy Hellickson and Bud Norris. Remember when Capuano looked like an elite fantasy option earlier this year?
5. Among pitchers with a full 13 starts to date, Lincecum is dead last in fantasy points under a standard scoring system that rewards three points per inning pitched. Dead last. That is worse than the likes of Luke Hochevar, Randy Wolf and even Gavin Floyd, who has been terrible.
The moral of the story here: You should sell on Lincecum.
But, if you can deal the "new money" in Dickey or Lynn for Lincecum, you probably should do it. Lincecum, as much as he looks like toast, still can be better than both of the major's 10-game winners here on out.
Ones to use
1. Matt Harrison, Rangers -- Like we said above, Harrison has emerged as a must-start. He is still on the bench in almost 30 percent of leagues for some inexplicable reason. Maybe those are the third of your leagues already planning for fantasy football. Deal for Harrison, if a dead-beat team has him.
2. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox -- Another scorcher the masses haven't caught on to. Buchholz is inactive in over 35 percent of leagues for his two-start week. Buchholz still has plenty of correcting to do to reach his true level. Buy.
3. Mat Latos, Reds -- One of the season's bigger disappointments, Latos might be turning it around. He has posted back-to-back quality starts and draws two favorable matchups. He should be active in more than 60 percent of leagues.
Ones to refuse
1. Mike Minor, Braves -- He has been very good in this past two starts, but he draws the surging Yankees and Red Sox in his next two starts.
2. Rick Porcello, Tigers -- He snapped a losing streak last time out, but the results haven't been impressive enough to trust him against Lynn and the Cardinals in his first start next week, much less the surprising Pirates in his second one.
3. J.A. Happ, Astros -- Not only was he is victim of Cain's perfect game, but he is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in his past three starts. Don't be sucked into starting him because he has home starts against the Royals and Indians.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. If you miss his Monday baseball trends, Wednesday prospect report or Friday pitching review, you can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).