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Bedard one step closer to helping us

6/17/2010

As colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft so aptly detailed in the hitter (Hit Parade) and pitcher (Sixty Feet, Six Inches, Relief Efforts) columns this week, mid-June is the time to start targeting pitchers for the second half of the season. CC Sabathia, Scott Baker and Gavin Floyd are just a few names with significant splits the past two seasons that fantasy owners should look to acquire. Of course, it's not all about pitchers an owner must trade to get. Sometimes it's about the injured folks working their way back who are sitting there on free agency.

Back in February, I blogged about 10 players who fantasy owners were tired of, and oft-injured Seattle Mariners left-hander Erik Bedard led the list. At the time, I noted that Bedard, recovering from labrum surgery the previous August, kept disappointing those fantasy owners who expected another 200-strikeout season and lots of wins. It wasn't that Bedard pitched poorly; he just wouldn't pitch enough. That will again hold true this season.

I'm not going to do an about-face here. But it is at least noteworthy that Bedard is throwing again, and according to manager Don Wakamatsu, he looks great. Rather than be skeptical, let's trust the manager, who has dealt with plenty of frustration from the back end of his rotation, and seems excited this potential ace will return soon.

"If everything looks good, he'll throw light on Friday and then go to Arizona and pitch in a game down there for three innings," Wakamatsu told the Seattle Times. While Wakamatsu didn't reveal a date for Bedard's return, I would think a return right after the All-Star break sounds about right. That's less than a month away.

Bedard, who is currently owned in 9.6 percent of ESPN standard leagues, would obviously help fantasy owners. There's a big difference in recommending Bedard in the middle of the season, when he's throwing well and close to helping us, rather than investing a draft pick on him in March and waiting months. Those months are now almost gone. Yes, I'm still tired of the guy in the big picture, and I suspect many fantasy owners are too. But we're not foolish enough to ignore good pitching, especially when it's available in nine of every 10 shallow leagues and we don't have to trade a decent outfielder for it.

Bedard has made 30 starts for the Mariners since the oft-criticized 5-for-1 trade in February 2008, starting just 15 times in both 2008 and '09. However, they have been good starts, as Bedard has a 3.24 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 162 strikeouts in 164 innings. Nobody has questioned Bedard's ability; his career ERA is 3.71 with a strikeout-per-nine rate of 8.8. But when you know he's pitching, fantasy owners should line up. The advantage he has is unlike other full-season pitchers who are nearing or have already crossed the 100-inning plateau, Bedard shouldn't tire anytime soon.

I can't call Bedard a top-20 starting pitcher the rest of the way, even though he absolutely has that kind of ability, but I can call him ownable in standard leagues. There remains the risk that he'll take the ball for a rehab outing next week and pull or tweak something he shouldn't, and land back on the one list we're most used to seeing him on: the disabled list. Just don't forget about the other list Bedard has been on since establishing himself in 2006 with the Baltimore Orioles: the list of valuable fantasy entities. He just misses my top-50 starting pitchers the rest of the way, but if he's in the top 70, that makes him rosterable.

There's upside here, and I would recommend those even in ESPN standard (10-team) mixed leagues to preemptively add Bedard now and stash him away in a DL or bench spot. Among the pitchers owned in more than 40 percent of ESPN standard (10-team) mixed leagues I would drop for him include Jon Garland, Livan Hernandez, Edwin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Mark Buehrle, Clayton Richard, Scott Kazmir and Bronson Arroyo, as well as injured starters Brett Anderson, J.A. Happ, Rich Harden, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brandon Webb and Jorge De La Rosa. Really, are they any safer than Bedard? I'd argue they aren't. We know good innings are coming. We just don't know how many. Go ahead and take the chance.