The Midnight Special   (05/11/01)

With all the sour luck I've had so far (missing Nomo's no-hitter but catching his awful games, Morris' Colorado start and last week's two-headed debacle), I'm beginning to feel like a character in a Creedence Clearwater Revival song.  But as with all CCR, there's redemption at the end and I get the feeling it's close at hand.

(I ain't no) Fortunate Son

Kerry Wood has been victimized by poor defense, no run support and a normally good Cubs' bullpen.  Had he gotten at least a reasonable amount of support from his teammates, he could very easily be 4-0, rather than 1-3.

In the 6 starts in which he hasn't gotten a win, the Cubs have scored a total of 10 runs while he's been in the game.  Even with such awful run support, he handed over a lead going into the 8th inning in Pittsburgh, but the bullpen blew it.

Defensively, his primary catcher Todd Hundley is, um... not good.  He's throwing out a National League low 19% of opposing baserunners, which is about half of what the major league average is.  Not only doesn't he throw them out, he gives them extra bases.  In Wood's last start he managed to airmail a throw to second far enough into center field to score a guy stealing from first.

He's also been simply dreadful at blocking pitches in the dirt.  In two of the 6 games Hundley has caught for him, Wood has been charged with wild pitches that should have been blocked and controlled, but instead bounced off Hundley far enough to allow runners to advance and eventually score.

Even more frustrating is Hundley's insistence on calling a game like he's catching for Jamie Moyer.  For a finesse pitcher like Moyer, it's important for a catcher to set up on the corners so that he can get the borderline calls.  A pitcher like that can't make any mistakes over the center of the plate; otherwise it'll get creamed.  For an extreme power pitcher like Wood, that's not as important.  If he makes a mistake with a 98 mph fastball, the batter more than likely will miss it or foul it off.  For a guy like him who has control problems from time to time, it's important to set the target over the middle of the plate and allow his stuff, rather than the location, get the batter out.  Put another way, a finesse pitcher must have precise location to get hitters out.  His strikes are usually called by the umpire   A power pitcher's stuff moves so much and is hard enough to hit anyway, that just getting ball over the plate will be good enough to get most hitters out.  His strikes are usually due to a batter either swinging and missing or fouling the pitch off.

But Hundley keeps moving around behind the plate, setting up on the edges and giving Wood very little margin for error.  Why should a batter swing at a pitch he knows he can't hit?  He might as well take a chance that it'll be called a ball.  The net effect is that Wood has to throw more pitches per batter, thus preventing him from going deeper into games.  Because he comes out earlier due to the pitch count (Yay! Don Baylor is finally counting the pitches!), his chances of winning the game are reduced.

A guy who allows five hits or less in 6 of 7 starts should have more than 1 win.  The Cubs offense will almost certainly start scoring runs for him more frequently so that hopefully, Hundley's defensive inadequacies won't be as decisive.

And I wonder who'll stop the rain?

Javier Vazquez has been whacked around pretty soundly so far this season.  To date, he had been hit for at least 4 runs a start by every opponent he's faced other than the Mets.  And let's be honest, the Mets aren't exactly hitting the cover off the ball.  They are currently 13th in run scoring in the NL, and 26th overall.  So I released him in order to pick up Ismael Valdes, who has been pitching very much like he did from 1994-1998, when he was one of the better starters in the NL.

Last season Vazquez finished with a flourish, striking out at least 9 batters in 5 of his last 6 games.  He also averaged 123 pitches in those last 6 games.  One of the things that appealed to me when I selected him in the draft was his remarkable strikeout to walk ratio last season: 196 to 61 is a fantastic ratio for a guy who won't be 25 for another month.  This year, he's continued to maintain a terrific ratio, whiffing 48 while walking 15.  However, the fact that he was getting smacked around regularly and his high pitch counts to end the season made me consider the possibility that he might be hiding an injury.

Well, that fear was at least partially allayed when he shutout a good hitting Giants team for 7 innings in his last start.  So I picked him back up off the waiver wire and will reserve judgment on him as a regular starter for a few more starts.

I see a bad moon risin'

In order to re-acquire Vazquez, I dropped Jose Cruz Jr.  Cruz had been hitting well until a bout of back spasms flared up.  In terms of fantasy baseball, a player with back spasms is one of the worst things that can happen to an owner.  With any other injury, it's pretty much immediately known how severe the problem is and how long the player will be out.  So at least you can evaluate your options and decide a course of action.  With back spasms, you never know how severe they are nor how long they'll persist.

Last year, Ed Taubensee started having trouble with back spasms June.  He played through them and was completely ineffective at the plate.  Each week, the Reds hinted that he was feeling better and was almost back to normal, but each week, he either sat out or hit so poorly that he should have sat out.  Finally in August, they DL'ed him.  Even then, they kept hinting that he would return.  He didn't get another at bat last season.

On the flip side, numerous players have a bout of spasms, sit out a game and are right back in the line-up with no ill effects the following day.  But as a roto-owner, there is no way to adjust for that.  You don't know until game time if the guy is gonna go or not.  Even in a daily league, that's too late to do anything about it.  And there's no guarantee that it the spasms won't recur, plaguing both the player and you for the rest of the season.

I will take a risk on players with just about any other injury.  But back spasms are too unpredictable and too frustrating to risk a roster spot, especially in a league where the rosters are so small and the free agent pool is so large.  While Cruz is a very good outfielder, there are currently 9 other outfielders in the free agent pool who have produced as much or more per game than Cruz.  So giving him up is a fairly safe play, at least until he shows he's completely healthy.  When/if that happens, he'll be a coin flip - is the possibility of recurrence low enough to risk a roster spot or not? - for anyone who wants him.

Big wheels keep on toinin'

My roster is pretty well set for the rest of the season.  I'll pick up another reliever later on to assure that I meet the games requirement in relief.  But other than that, this looks like my roster for 2001.  And I'm pretty much finished with experimenting with my rotation.  I've got a pretty good idea who I can count on every start and where exactly I can use the guys I can't.  Vlad Guerrero is showing signs of playing to his ability, so the offense is getting close to hitting on all cylinders.  ARod still looks tense and frustrated, but I figure he'll probably relax some once he realizes he can't carry a Ranger's team that has no pitching.  At the rate they're going they'll be mathematically eliminated by the All-Star break.  Hopefully by then, ...Jumanji! will be rollin'... rollin'... rollin' down the rivah.

The Standings

                                     Starting P Relief P Hitters FP
Rank  Team                           FP   G    FP/G   FP    G   FP/G    FP   G    FP/G   Total
1     Jersey Juggernauts            594   33   18.0   266   34   7.8  1045   329   3.2    1905
2     ...Jumanji!                   560   35   16.0   240   29   8.3  1077   336   3.2    1877
3     Dr. Stats Juggernauts         740   36   20.6   181   29   6.2   836   330   2.5    1757
4     Fantasy Baseball Headquarters 546   36   15.2   332   33  10.1   863   318   2.7    1741
5     Press Room Pundits            612   39   15.7   194   31   6.3   912   333   2.7    1718
6     Desert Dwelling Scalawags     650   50   13.0    77   33   2.3   981   328   3.0    1708
7     The Write Stuff               564   28   20.1   173   28   6.2   884   324   2.7    1621
8     WSS Hurlers                   551   39   14.1   145   26   5.6   848   314   2.7    1544
9     SF Mock Woodmen               299   35   8.5    174   28   6.2  1045   320   3.3    1518
10    Sandbox Sports                442   35   12.6   201   27   7.4   836   320   2.6    1479