I'm not quite sure how San Francisco Giants left-hander Barry Zito does it, since his stuff seems pretty average -- OK, perhaps below average -- but there he was on center stage Wednesday afternoon mowing down the Philadelphia Phillies at AT&T Park for seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball. Zito is owned in roughly half of ESPN's standard mixed leagues, which makes sense because he's worth owning about half the time. That's right, Zito is currently one of the best examples of a hurler fantasy owners should stream for home games, but avoid when he's on the road.
When one watches Matt Harvey and Yu Darvish, one marvels at their ability, and it's not only velocity. Their stuff is tremendous. Watching Zito on Wednesday, I was trying to figure out why Phillies hitters were falling for the off-speed junk and couldn't hit it hard. Nevertheless, Zito has twirled 33 innings at San Francisco's beautiful yet pitcher-friendly stadium in 2013, and permitted two runs. That's all. It's a 0.55 ERA, best in baseball for any pitcher with a minimum 20 home innings. In Zito's case, he's not a strikeout guy, and with a larger stadium, more fly balls are catchable. Perhaps it brings extra confidence that even if foes hit the ball hard, it's not leaving the yard. From 2010-12, Zito's home ERA was 3.63, his road mark 5.12. Zito is worth owning even in shallow 10-team leagues if you're the spot-starting type of owner that plans ahead in daily formats.
Who else has been money so far at home? Some of the top home pitchers are just awesome pitchers one would use in any stadium at any time, such as Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw or Washington Nationals right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg. Seattle Mariners lefty Joe Saunders is third in home ERA with a 0.81 mark, which is not surprising. Lovely Safeco Field also is large, helpful for pitchers. A year ago, Jason Vargas, a similar softer-tossing lefty, posted a 2.74 home ERA, and that mark was more than two runs higher on the road. Now Vargas is in Anaheim, but still boasts a considerable edge in home ERA. I'd use Saunders and most of the time Vargas at home, but rarely away from home.
Another lefty with interesting splits is the Texas Rangers' Derek Holland. His home ERA is 1.57, which is odd because Rangers Ballpark is a hitter's park and Holland's 2012 campaign saw him predictably post better stats away from home (3.65 road ERA, 5.55 home). Perhaps this is a sign that Holland's excellent start this year should be taken a bit more seriously. Or perhaps it's three outings and hardly enough to imply anything. It doesn't matter too much, since Holland will be active much of the time anyway.
In fairness to Zito, he has pitched only twice on the road this season, and one of them was a nightmare outing in Milwaukee when the Brewers tagged him for nine runs in 2 2/3 innings. Zito has made seven starts this season and permitted zero or one run in all but that outing. Does that mean Zito is safe for road games? Not really. Overall his xFIP is 4.41, and he's not missing bats. A patient offense could hit him, even at home. Other pitchers I'd consider for home games include Saunders, Vargas, Tommy Milone, Dillon Gee, Edinson Volquez and Kevin Correia, and I've downgraded New York Mets lefty Jonathon Niese from all-the-time status to simply home games as well.
On Thursday, the Mets are at home and Gee is on the mound against the Pittsburgh Pirates ... sounds like a plan to me!
Box score bits (NL): Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla smacked a pair of solo home runs Wednesday, scoring three times and raising his paltry batting average to .209. Uggla has proven 30-homer potential, and must be owned. ... The Miami Marlins started yet another second baseman in Derek Dietrich, who singled in three at-bats in his major league debut Wednesday. Dietrich, 23, was hitting for power and taking walks at Double-A Jacksonville, and he brings more upside than Donovan Solano and Chris Valaika, both injured. I'd take a shot on him in NL-only formats. ... Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce has angered his fantasy owners by having just one home run and an NL-leading strikeout total through five weeks. He homered again Wednesday. I'd buy low. I have no concerns with Bruce. ... St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Jake Westbrook entered Wednesday's start with a league-leading 1.07 ERA - and a 4.48 xFIP. So which figure do you trust? On Wednesday, Westbrook was tagged for four runs (three earned) and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings. Run away. ... Former Cardinals overachiever Kyle Lohse allowed his own nine hits and four runs in 6 1/3 innings. Now 1-4 with a 3.53 ERA, Lohse remains safer than Westbrook, but 20 hits over his past two outings is a bit worrisome.
Box score bits (AL): Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy homered Wednesday for the third time in four games, giving him six on the season. Hardy is owned in a vast majority (87 percent) of ESPN leagues, and he should be. He has averaged 26 home runs his first two seasons with the Orioles. ... Fantasy owners would surely take 26 home runs from Mariners catcher Jesus Montero. He hit his third on Wednesday, but he's showing no signs of being close to a top-10 catcher. He enters Thursday ranked 37th among catchers on the Player Rater. Move on. ... Those of you who trusted Boston Red Sox rookie Allen Webster for his spot start Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins got burned; Webster didn't escape the second inning and was charged with eight runs. Spot-starting is a dangerous practice with unreliable arms, even against offenses like the Twins'. ... The Twins' Pedro Florimon homered, doubled and knocked in three, but he's not someone who is "emerging" as a hitter. He's a No. 9 hitter for a reason. ... With the Oakland Athletics fielding an entire outfield on the disabled list (Chris Young, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp), first baseman Brandon Moss moved to right field to make room for Daric Barton. Remember him? Barton draws many walks, but he hit one home run in more than 400 plate appearances for Oakland over the past two seasons. Unless it's an AL-only format using OBP, pass on him. ... Eligibility alert: New York Yankees outfielder Vernon Wells, who homered and stole a base Wednesday, finished the game playing third base! For some of you, that could be valuable. I'm sticking with Wells in 10-team formats. He has slumped of late, but he's going to hit 25 home runs this season.