Are novice pitchers becoming more popular as spring training gets shorter?

Are novice pitchers becoming more popular as spring training gets shorter?

We spend a lot of time here discussing fantasy baseball pickups. We acquire and hold our fair share of stocks. But every now and again, the story is about a drop. And, Mark Melancon, it’s nothing personal, but it’s time for me to move on. I’ve had enough of the endless sadness. It’s not about me; it’s about you. Goodnight and goodbye. Melancon has had a successful career. He has 250 career saves and has twice led the majors in saves. Last season, he led baseball with 39 handshakes for San Diego.

I only had one Melancon share, in a deliciously-fun 8×8 head-to-head league I compete in. We should have a talk about fantasy baseball formats before the 2023 season; I’d like to encourage people to give head-to-head a try. It’s fun to have a weekly carrot placed in front of you, and a specific rival to root against. We have five weekly moves to consider, and there’s some fun strategy involved. There’s a playability in this format that I really enjoy.

But Melancon is currently in his age-37 season, and his strikeout rate has been under league average for most of his career. This year, the line is flat-out ugly: 10.1 IP, 18 H, 11 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 4 K. Even if we cut him a break for the usual batted-ball bad luck mumbo jumbo, this looks like a pitcher who could be near the end of his usefulness; his fastball is barely over 90 mph these days. Soft rock gets scary at the end of a career arc. We have to be fair when we appraise Melancon’s recent slump (he was torched for four runs Wednesday against Miami, and also for four runs last week against Colorado) — he did miss about a week with Covid-19. Perhaps he’s simply dealing with fatigue. The Diamondbacks call Melancon’s slump a mechanics issue — teams always say that, and sometimes it’s even true — and Melancon hasn’t lost his closer job yet. He’ll get more time to fix things.

The league has 12 managers. Some teams went after saves aggressively, and some are punting. I did a semi-punt but came away with Corey Knebel, Tanner Rainey and Melancon. I’ll have to decide how much I want to turn into the skid. It’s a lot easier to junk closers when it’s a head-to-head format and the save is just one category out of 16.

This felt like a low-upside, low-floor situation. And sometimes I just need some fresh blood anyway, the fantasy manager’s version of retail therapy.

It’s plausible that Melancon will right the ship and start closing smoothly, but I can live with that. He’s on a team not expected to contend, or even finish above .500. If he’s closing games regularly come July, he’ll probably be traded. If he continues to scuffle, he’s likely to get replaced.

For what it’s worth, Dane Dunning was my corresponding add. In this format, any quasi-reliable starting pitcher has value. The eight pitching categories reward steady volume — innings, wins, saves, walks, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP and quality starts. Dunning might never be a true ace, but he’s shown positive signs in his last three starts. He’s also averaging about a strikeout per inning.

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