As they say in a Jewelery District of any major city, Johnny Cueto pitched a gem. Well, any major city except Detroit. There they call a gem, “Slowly remove it from your finger, and no funny business!” Against the Pirates yesterday — 9 IP, 0 ER, 3 baserunners, 12 Ks. Pretty much across the board for Cueto’s career, I haven’t been a fan. His xFIP has always been much worse than his ERA, and his K-rate has never been close to an elite starter. Well, a weird thing happened on the way to his fifth start of the year, he looks like an ace. His xFIP is down to 2.55, his K-rate is 10.50 and his walk rate is 2.40. Those are fantasy ace numbers. Last year through April, he had a 2.80 xFIP, 9.35 K-rate and 3.12 walk rate. Those numbers aren’t that different. Hey, random italicized letters are my shtick. Not right now, Random Italicized Voice. Whoa, snippy! There is one fairly significant difference between Cueto this year and last. About a mile per hour on his fastball. In some instances, his fastball is averaging two extra miles per hour from last April, and he’s cut out his, uh, cutter, and his ground balls have remained. He’s pitching slightly different, slightly better, and, for the first time I can remember, I’m really liking what Cueto is showing. Ain’t that a kick in Jason LaRue’s head? His ERA won’t stay at 1.50, but I also wouldn’t be looking to sell him high. Anyway, here’s what else I saw yesterday in fantasy baseball:

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The Reds manager Bryan Price, who I thought was their catcher, has a long way to go to catch up to ex-manager, Dusty Baker, on the Crazy-Meter, but naming Jonathan Broxton the closer a week before he’s even healthy, is a great start. Now Price needs to throw Latos 147 pitches in his first game back and he’ll be running a dead heat. Apparently, Broxton can’t only fill pants, he can fill shoes too. Dumpster Pants isn’t safe by any means, but when a crazy-as-a-fox manager names someone the closer, and he could be the closer for the next two months, I’d pick him up. Not literally, no one can pick up Broxton literally. Anyway, here’s what else I saw yesterday in fantasy baseball:

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If I am correct on my predictions, the NL pennant race will be a fun one.  I see three teams with playoff potential, and a fourth that is just shy of it.  Sorry San Diego fans, this isn’t your year. [Ed. Note — JERK!]  Good news though, the Chinese calendar says it is going to be the year of the Tony Gwynn soon. [Ed. Note — I take it back. Sorta.] (You can check out the AL West Spring Training Preview here, the AL Central Spring Training Preview here and the NL East Spring Training Preview here.)

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For the start of Spring Training, Rudy, Nick and I are heading to Arizona. Road trip! We leave today and return on Monday. If Nick’s lucky, we won’t make him carry Rudy’s Excel spreadsheets. We plan to take in a game or two, stand shoulder to shoulder and breath in the fresh, homophobic air of Arizona. That cactus smells like hate! Perhaps Rudy and I will walk into a bar hand-in-hand and see if we get kicked out. Baseball, like a flower, blooms in the spring. They also share equally effusive PR people. Just the other day I read about how a petunia’s branches had gained 15 pounds and was in the best shape of its life. Sure, it’s always good to look at spring training numbers to give you an idea what you can expect from guys during the season — can I draft Jedd Gyorko yet?! Players in spring training are facing the top pitchers who are all displaying their best stuff. No one needs time to get warmed up. No one’s trying new pitches or getting a feel for the ball. They are at the height of their game in March. In fact, I think someone should propose to Bud that the World Series could easily be played in March. Yes, The March Classic. I like how that sounds. Since these spring training numbers mean so much, I decided to look at some players’ stats so far:

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As spring training takes off, we, the wonderful people of Razzball, thought it would be a good idea to look into some intra-team rivalries.  What positions are a lock?  What positions are being fought over?  What positions will they hire me to fill-in for (second base Blue Jays, I’m looking at you)? Find out as the start of this series will focus on NL East…

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I’m Asian, so it’s not raycess. Err, I think.

There have been many a fine years for a many a fine players in this 2013 Baseball season. As summer comes to a close and your mother puts her top back on, we can surmise the season like so — we have seen some good things, some bad things, and some strange things. Mostly because I’m including Tehol in the sample. Why? That matters less than you think. But this is why the game is played. And that point being established, I must say, Hisashi Iwakuma‘s year can be lumped in as a very fine year. A former Japanese starting pitcher, turned reliever by the Mariners, turned back into a starter by the aforementioned Mariners, Iwakuma has solidified the fact that he belongs on your Fantasy Baseball roster, including a 7.0 IP, 0 ER performance against the Cardinals last night. But to what degree does he belong on your roster? And are we doing Celsius or Fahrenheit? All important questions. Well, based on numbers, he looks to be around the James Shields, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels area. There doesn’t appear to be a crazy amount of regression due, the environment is a big plus, and there’s an okay history of health here. I’m willing to buy him in that zone next year. Anyhoo, here’s what else I noticed yesterday:

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Say it’s not so News Report! News Report, “I’m sorry, Grey, your handsomeness and mustache make me want to lie to you, but Edwin Encarnacion is probably being shut down for the year.” Is it because anything I did? “No, you’ve gone above and beyond anything I could’ve hoped for. Thanks for the $10 marathon donation too. A real mensch, you are!” I could’ve done without the second reminder to donate on Facebook. “Can we discuss this privately?” So, players are dropping like flies. Not those African tsetse flies that have been known to live for six months after they burrow into your skull. They’re dropping like fruit flies near your backyard bug zapper. In most leagues, I’d lose Encarnacion immediately. Blue Jays Manager said Edwin’s probably done for the year, and even if he returns, he’s dealing with a sore wrist, which is, ya know, not good for hitting. Comatose Blue Jays Fan, “At least he’ll be ready for the playoffs! Right?” Anyway, here’s what else I saw yesterday in fantasy baseball:

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Charlie Morton‘s start yesterday of 7 IP, 1 ER, 9 baserunners, 6 Ks wasn’t incredible in itself, but other than Lenny from Laverne and Shirley when he was wearing a Lone Wolf jacket and Burgess Meredith when he broke his glasses on The Twilight Zone, nothing in this world is to itself. There’s befores and afters, causes and effects and chewy watermelon Now and Laters. Morton has now strung together six straight starts and nine of his last ten, dropping his ERA to 3.00. His K-rate isn’t particularly inspiring, but his walk rate is more than solid and his xFIP is 3.62, which tells us he’s not that far from a guy you start every time out. With all of that said, I still don’t trust him for his next start vs. the Cardinals, but then he gets the Cubs and Padres, and for those two starts, I’d absolutely gamble that Morton is worth his salt. Anyway, here’s what else I saw yesterday in fantasy baseball:

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Weekly leaguers, you’re here to read weekly league advice, of course. But let’s begin this week by broadening our horizons with a little daily league chatter. If you’ve been paying attention to JB throughout the season, you know that we’ve teamed up with DraftKings to offer exclusive Razzball contests all year long. As JB mentioned on Wednesday, next week’s contest is our last of the year, and it’s a good one. 50 entries, $10-per, six get paid, and the winner pockets a few Benjamins. If you haven’t given it a shot yet this year, I highly recommend you join our game next Friday. It’s quite fun — you have my word on that. More details to follow. Now for the two-starters.

As always, probable pitchers are subject to change. For a look at all fantasy baseball streamers, click that link.

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Taijuan Walker will start vs. the Astros on Friday. The Mariners’ front office decided if they were going to sell him for ten cents on the dollar this offseason, then it was best to give him some major league experience. Here’s what Prospect Scott had to say in the preseason, “Walker is my #3 overall SP prospect, behind only Dylan Bundy and Jose Fernandez. He brings legit ace potential, and he should be ready for big league ball this year. Still, Taijuan’s greatest asset is his ability to hit Grey in the head with a fastball every time I dream about it.” Hey! That snippet was obviously prior to Bundy’s injury problems. Here’s what I said the other day, “It could be roofie burnout, but I’m not interested in shallower mixed leagues. In deeper leagues, I’d stash Walker to see if you catch a firefly in a bottle, or whatever that yokelism is. He definitely has shown great stuff in the minors (10+ K-rate) if a bit wild (4+ BB/9) in Triple-A. He will be a great pitcher, it probably won’t be this year. Think Wheeler when he was called up.” And that’s me quoting me! Well, I also lied. Kinda. I didn’t intend to lie, but he was just sitting there and I had a free roster spot… Ugh, I’m a glutton for punishment. I need serious help. Why can’t I turn down any high-upside rookie pitcher? Am I an adrenaline junkie like Keanu Reeves in Point Break? Hopefully, Walker doesn’t hang ten earned runs on my pitching line, but I’m expecting him to get Ks and have a relatively unremarkable start on Friday for earned runs and WHIP. For 2014, Taijuan is on the top of the list of guys that could be Matt Harvey 2.0, and I’ll have much more to say about him in the offseason. Anyway, here’s what else I saw yesterday in fantasy baseball:

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