- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
I've always had a soft spot in my fantasy baseball heart for pitchers who avoid walks, which might explain why rookie John Ely of the Los Angeles Dodgers is quickly becoming one of my favorites. On Monday night at Dodger Stadium, the right-hander shut down the Houston Astros for seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits and no walks. Yeah, I know, it's the Astros, but still ...
Ely is 2-1 with a 3.51 ERA and 0.94 WHIP through four starts, and while I admit his minor league numbers weren't exactly a harbinger of this degree of success, it is another reminder that pitchers can win games when they avoid walks and home runs. Ely hasn't walked a batter since his first start, and overall he has fanned 25 hitters against three walks. His streak of not having allowed a walk to the past 84 hitters he has faced is the longest current stretch in baseball. As for home runs allowed, there haven't been any. He's allowing his fair share of fly balls, but with two starts at home and another at spacious Citi Field, he can do so and not get hurt.
And therein lies the reason I became interested in Ely; he's on the Dodgers, and with that home ballpark, I think anyone not named Russ or Ramon Ortiz can be mildly helpful. A third-round pick in 2007 by the Chicago White Sox, Ely was the player to be named later in the Juan Pierre contract dump in December. I admit to not paying much attention to him despite a 14-2 record and 2.82 ERA at Double-A Birmingham last season because he's not a big strikeout guy and wasn't all that stingy with the walks in the minors. He's a right-hander with seemingly average stuff, relying on poise, smarts and the ability to change speeds, and because he has been so much more successful against right-handed hitters than lefties in the minors, it makes sense to expect some speed bumps. So far there haven't been any.
The Dodgers did so little this winter in terms of adding pitching depth, I should've seen how Ely could quickly play a role for the big club. He made three starts at Triple-A Albuquerque, walking eight in 18 innings, so even when the Dodgers called him up, it looked like it was just for a spot start. Ely allowed five runs in six innings to the New York Mets, then was sent back to the minors. A few days later, when the aura of knuckleballer Charlie Haeger wore off, Ely was back. Now he should be staying awhile.
For the record, the list of starting pitchers with 25 or more strikeouts this season and fewer than 10 walks is a short one: Roy Halladay, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, Dallas Braden, Mat Latos, Carlos Silva and Cliff Lee. It's early, and the only pitcher I'd definitely take Ely over from that group is Silva, but I'd start considering the artful Dodger in 10-team leagues. Currently Ely is owned in 7 percent of ESPN standard formats, while Silva is at 18.3 percent owned.
I expect Andre Ethier to be placed on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday, as it's clear he can't continue to play through his broken pinkie. It's a shame, since he's currently first on ESPN's Player Rater. Fantasy owners should not panic, though. Replacing an outfielder, in a general sense, is far easier than at any other position except starting pitcher and first base, and Ethier wasn't going to hit .392 for long. There are Jonny Gomes types to replace Ethier's power all over most free agent lists.
Assuming Xavier Paul is summoned from Triple-A Albuquerque to replace Ethier, I like him as a fantasy replacement more than Garret Anderson. Paul is a base stealer who hit for average in the minors, and he made a good impression with the Dodgers as a leadoff option replacing Manny Ramirez earlier this month. Russell Martin takes walks, but he's not a leadoff hitter, and reports of Rafael Furcal coming off the DL were clearly premature. Anderson, hitting .136, offers nothing to a fantasy team.