The Spin: What to know coming off the first weekend of fantasy baseball action

Jack Flaherty #9 of the Detroit Tigers

Weekend baseball is a classic, beloved tradition. But there can be a lot for a fantasy manager to take in coming off so much action. But don't worry — Scott Pianowski is here to put his Spin on what we need to know moving forward.

The Spin check-in coming off the weekend. (Banner by Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)
The Spin check-in coming off the weekend. (Banner by Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)

So you were heading into your fantasy draft and thinking about what pitching staffs to target. "Okay, the Dodgers are loaded, those Mariners sure look good, maybe I can get a few Braves. Do I want to wait and see on some of the Rangers? Maybe their stars can come back in the second half of the year."

And there were the Red Sox, hiding in plain sight. Maybe Boston's rotation was the steal of the draft.

Did we undermine the Red Sox rotation in fantasy drafts?

The Red Sox had to settle for a four-game split at Seattle for the opening series, but you couldn't fault Boston's starting pitching — it was fantastic. Collectively, the four Boston starters combined for 22 innings, 14 hits allowed, four earned runs. There was one walk. There were 27 strikeouts. That's a 1.64 ERA, a 0.68 WHIP, a .177 batting average against. Wiffle ball stats.

Other staffs hit the ground running, of course. The Kansas City rotation, of all groups, posted an ERA under 1. The Orioles starting staff collected the same 27 strikeouts and one walk that the Red Sox posted. Alas, those teams offered destination fantasy picks in March. Most of the Boston hurlers were seen as back-fill options, afterthoughts.

This is where the hiding-in-plain-sight angle kicks in. Maybe those Boston pitchers had stronger cases than we recognized. Kutter Crawford's breakout looked real last year when he posted a 3.83 FIP and better than a strikeout per inning. Nick Pivetta tinkered with his approach and was very good in the second half (3.30 ERA, 0.96 WHIP). Brayan Bello has worked with Pedro Martínez and has always been seen as an upside arm. Garrett Whitlock had an outstanding spring training (22 strikeouts, three walks, 2.49 ERA, 0.88 WHIP), emphatically stamping his name on a rotation spot.

And maybe pitching coach Andrew Bailey is one of the heroes here. He saw plenty of pupils improve during his three years as the San Francisco pitching coach; he joined the Red Sox this year. Bailey isn't far removed from his own fantasy relevance, collecting 95 saves during an eight-year career. He was an All-Star with Oakland in 2009 and 2010.

The Red Sox also have a much better defense this year. Right fielder Tyler O'Neill has a couple of Gold Gloves on his resume. Trevor Story is healthy again, a marked upgrade over Enrique Hernández and others at shortstop. Ceddanne Rafaela has an impressive defensive reputation; he's taking over in center field.

The fantasy market has come around to the Boston rotation, even if the first week was needed in some instances. Whitlock is the only member of the front four that's carrying a low roster tag in Yahoo; he's at 33%. And an opening series at Seattle was a perfect draw, confidently pitching in a park that suffocates offense. Fenway Park, of course, is a batter's best friend.

Still, we know that K/BB ratio is a stat that stabilizes quickly. It's certainly too soon to say for sure that Boston's rotation is going to be a season-long win, but it won't take that much longer before we can accept these stats with full confidence. In the meantime, let's enjoy this Boston rotation up against some daisy matchups. The Red Sox play six games this week against unthreatening lineups; three games at Oakland, three games in Anaheim. That's good work if you can get it.

Some teams are not interested in running

I found it interesting that through the abbreviated first week, six teams still didn't have a stolen base. The Angels, Royals, Blue Jays, Cubs, Mets and Giants are waiting to break the seal.

Some of those bagels will vanish soon enough. No team with Bobby Witt Jr. is going to lag on the bags. The Cubs were eighth in steals last year, the Mets 13th.

The Giants were dead last in stolen bases last season, so it's safe to say this is an organizational red light. The Angels were 29th last year. Ron Washington says he wants his team to run, but a .238 OBP in the series at Baltimore — and several big deficits — didn't afford many opportunities. Say this for the Angels, at least they won the final game of the series. Thank you, Reid Detmers.

On the plus side, the Guardians were the busiest bag team — eight steals, 11 attempts. The Brewers (8-for-8) and Nationals (7-for-7) ran at will. Cincinnati was only successful on two-thirds of its nine attempts, but we know those guys want to turn things into a track meet. The stolen base flourished under 2023's new rules, and that's not going away this year.

Just don't expect the Giants to run with you.

Jack Flaherty part of Detroit's fast start

Perhaps Detroit's sweep in Chicago didn't impress you much — the White Sox look like one of baseball's worst teams. But the Detroit schedule is going to be lovely for so much of 2024. Detroit faces the Mets, Athletics, Pirates and Twins over the next two weeks. Maybe the Twins offense will be decent, though it's built on an injury-risk foundation. The other three teams don't scare anyone.

Jack Flaherty is the wild card in Detroit's rotation. He earned our attention with an excellent camp (2.95 ERA, 26 K, 4 BB), albeit it came against roughly a Triple-A level of competition. Flaherty's opening start was also impressive — 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K. Again, the White Sox were complicit. But Flaherty is only 28, and his salad days from St. Louis weren't that long ago.

The Tigers think they can steal the AL Central this year — and they're not messing around. Jason Foley has looked terrific with two quick saves, while Alex Lange struggled in his one outing (three walks), a non-save appearance. Lange was the stopper last year, but it appears manager A.J. Hinch has already moved on. Also, keep an eye on Shelby Miller, who's been throwing pellets and was used in high-leverage work so far.

Pitching matchup of the week

The second half of Chris Sale's time in Boston was riddled with injuries and setbacks. Now he's into his age-35 season and starting over in Atlanta. I couldn't click on him this spring, but the fan in me will certainly root for his comeback. Sale was effective in a no-decision at Philadelphia on Sunday, two runs over 5.1 innings. He walked two, struck out seven.

Brandon Pfaadt dominated the Rockies on Sunday, as teams often do. One run, zero walks, six whiffs over five innings. Pfaadt did hit a couple of batters, but at least those don't count against the WHIP. Bless you, founding fathers.

Pfaadt took some time to settle in as a rookie, but he was effective down the stretch and impressive during five postseason starts (3.27 ERA, 1.13 WHIP). He showed up on a lot of breakout lists this spring, mine included.

So we have a comeback story against a breakout one. Sounds good to me. Sale and Pfaadt match up on April 6, Saturday night in Atlanta (7:20 pm ET), and I'll have it on one of my main screens.