Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
Can Yovani Gallardo be fantasy-ace material this season?
The Brewers did make some effort to re-sign ace CC Sabathia this offseason, although it was apparent pretty early in the process they wouldn't have the funds. Fans in Milwaukee didn't expect anything different and knew Ben Sheets would join Sabathia in being anywhere but Wisconsin. However, the team knew that even when the aces bolted, the Brewers had another in the hole. Yovani Gallardo is going to be up to the challenge.
Fantasy owners expected big things of Gallardo a year ago, and obviously, getting only four starts from the right-hander was a major disappointment. However, he wasn't recovering from an arm injury like Francisco Liriano. He wasn't stuck in a bullpen like Joba Chamberlain, toiling in the minors like David Price or just awful like Homer Bailey. He just got tangled with the Cubs' Reed Johnson on May 1 and tore his ACL. It happens.
When Gallardo pitched, he pitched well, and he even managed to make it back to the Brewers in September, a rather incredible recovery, and was on the mound in October. It was a harbinger of what's to come, of someone rushing to take the ball when needed. The Brewers might have lost a pair of aces, but any playoff run this season is going to hinge on the success Gallardo brings them.
As you might imagine, I'm not terribly concerned with Gallardo's knee being a long-term problem, since we saw him pitch in October. While there is some concern the Brewers will be cautious with his innings, I don't think it applies to someone in his third season with the big club, one who starts Opening Day and has an arm like he has. It's not like Gallardo has a history of injuries. He's likely to make 30 starts, and based on every metric we have to analyze how he's pitched in the past, they should be good ones. He's a strikeout pitcher, having fanned 457 hitters in 395 2/3 minor league innings, and with the Brewers, he's been able to overpower batters at times. Right-handed batters have a .657 OPS against him over 325 plate appearances.
Gallardo made 17 starts as a rookie in 2007, winning nine of them with 93 strikeouts in 101 innings and a 3.67 ERA. Even that final number is a bit misleading, though. Anyone else remember that Wednesday afternoon game at Coors Field when Gallardo had to take one for the team, allowing a nasty 11 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Rockies? I sure do, since I was watching it. No, Gallardo just didn't have it that day, and he was left in the game far too long. He went on to allow nary a run in four of his next seven outings. How would fantasy owners have reacted that offseason if his ordinary 3.67 ERA was missing the Colorado outing and ended up at 2.84? I think it would make a difference.
Gallardo proved his mettle as a rookie, that he was mature enough to overcome a bad outing, and in 2008, he proved his determination to rehabilitate quickly enough to return for a postseason stretch run. That's what aces do. Some view 2008 as a lost season, but I tell fantasy owners to view things in their proper context. Certainly any team would miss a Sabathia or a healthy Sheets, but Gallardo is going to become a fan favorite in Milwaukee really soon, and pretty soon, fans will be asking, "Ben who?"
Our aggressive projection on Gallardo seems just about right to me -- expect 34 starts, nearly a strikeout per inning and 15 wins, with a 3.40 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Hey, we can't expect him to win the Cy Young right away, can we? Gallardo made our top 20 for starting pitchers, but it's likely you can get him at far more of a bargain price, since there are concerns about him. Me, I'm not terribly concerned.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.