The San Francisco Giants selected Kurt Ainsworth in the first round back in 1999. In 2002 he posted solid ratios (3.41/1.24) and struck out 119 in just 116 innings in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. It was enough to put the former LSU Tiger on my fantasy radar and make him an end game sleeper pick in deep leagues. However the ERA and WHIP scars from his short stint as a Baltimore Orioles’ starter back in 2004 (9.69/1.69) still remain. I survived the carnage and lived to tell about it, but my fantasy team did not. Being placed on life-support in April and pronounced dead in mid May, my roto squad faced an insurmountable uphill climb on it’s way to the fantasy graveyard.
Since that ill-fated year I’ve come to call this phenomena ‘The Ainsworth Effect.’ No, it wasn’t just Kurt that sank my squad, but he and others like him sealed my fate. If you’ve played 5x5 leagues long enough you’ve experienced this. Ask Edinson Volquez and Edwin Jackson owners last year. Or ask Bronson Arroyo owners who got sucked in in years past by a shutout or two straight quality starts. Showing just enough to fool you into thinking that the water is fine. So you plug him back into your starting lineup to watch him give up 10 earned runs in 1 Inning and then get pulled from the game. Unless you have Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, AND Cliff Lee all on your squad there’s just no way to recover from too many of these ERA/WHIP bombs. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this notion that you can wait on drafting pitchers was a myth.
When Luke Hochevar took the mound for the Royals home opener Friday afternoon, a nauseating feeling of déjà vu came over me as I watched the first inning unfold. Michael Brantley started off with a single. Followed by Asdrubal Cabrera who doubled to right field. Then, even though Eric Hosmer was playing so far off of first that he was almost positioned as a second basemen, and Yuniesky Betancourt was just a few feet to the left, Shin-Soo Choo found a way to hit between them. I had to push rewind to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me as I watched Yuni display the range of a Sumu-wrestler; inexplicably unable to coral the grounder. Two runs came in to score. Luke retired the next two batters before the real fun began. Shelley Duncan, fooled on an 0-1 fastball up and out of the zone, tried to check his swing and poked an ‘excuse-me’ floater just over the head of Hosmer, driving in Choo to make it 3-0. Next, legendary slugger Casey Kotchman fell behind 0-2 before tapping a soft liner into right. Then young keystoner Jason Kipnis drove a deep drive to center that fell near the warning track. It was a very catchable, but center fielder Jarrod Dyson looked either stoned or hungover trying to track it down as it fell in for a triple -- 5-0 Tribe. Offensive stalwart Jack Hannahan joined in the soiree with a single to center, driving home Kipnis. The Indians had batted around and they weren’t done yet. Brantley approached the dish for the second time in the inning. This time he crushed a drive deep off the top of the right field fence, just missing a HR by inches. By now Hochevar looked so frustrated that he seemed to be throwing batting practice. This Indians team that couldn’t hit their way out of a wet paper sack the first week of the season suddenly looked like Harvey’s Wallbangers. 2/3 IP and 7 ER -- wonderful. If Luke gets the hook at this point it would take 18 Innings of scoreless baseball just to get a roto squad back to par. He essentially just vaporized two complete game shutouts.
The moral of the story is, the longer you wait on pitching the more ERA bombs you’ll have bombarding your squad. It doesn’t take too many of these before the damage is irreparable. At that point it won’t matter how many Cy Youngs you pick up off of the waiver wire unless you’ve got the aces at the top end of your rotation to sustain such debacles. I know that there are many ways to skin a cat, but it’s rare that I’ve had success in the NFBC format without at least two elite WHIP anchors on my squad. Armed thusly, I’m able to survive whatever Brian Matusz, Charlie Morton, and Rocky Biddle throw my way. As we watch the cream rise to the top of the NFBC overall standings in the coming months, it will be interesting to see which types of roster construction strategies had the most success.