For many years, fantasy owners avoided Rockies pitchers like they were the plague. That seemed to change after last year (although they currently are demonstrating why it was a good idea to stay away from them in the first place).
Just as fantasy owners were jumping on the Rockies' pitching bandwagon, they also were avoiding players on a number of other teams for a variety of reasons. However, a month into the season, some "misfit" teams are producing a handful of players fantasy owners should have, or at least watch closely.
In fact, there are some surprising teams serving as the league leaders in such primary fantasy categories as ERA and steals. Let's see who some of these leaders are and which of them you might want to fill out your fantasy team. Of course, it still is relatively early and things can change quickly, like they did for the Royals' starting pitching staff earlier this season.
A's pitching: I doubt anyone figured Oakland would be leading the league in ERA at this point in the season, especially with Rich Harden already back on the disabled list. Sure, Joe Blanton and Huston Street are highly regarded guys and are doing pretty well, but a ton of guys who were barely on the fantasy radar at the start of the season are outperforming the established names on the roster.
There were plenty of question marks in the rotation to begin the season, but for now, the A's have found the answers in Greg Smith and Dana Eveland, both acquired this past winter in the Dan Haren deal, and in Chad Gaudin, who was sidelined early in the season with an injury.
In the bullpen, the A's have hit paydirt with Santiago Casilla, who has yet to allow a run in 16 1/3 innings, while striking out 20 and walking just two. He had his moments last year in the 'pen, but he definitely has stepped up his game with the potential of taking over the closer's job, should something happen to Street. ESPN fantasy players definitely are taking notice, given that he is owned in 35.4 percent of leagues. The A's also have found a couple of gems in Andrew Brown (0.53 ERA) and Joey Devine (0.82 ERA), who are useful in AL-only leagues.
Rays bullpen: They enter Monday's action a surprising fourth in relief ERA (2.80) after finishing dead last (6.16) in 2007. Troy Percival is further proof you don't have to spend too much on saves, as he has six so far this season, and even better, he has allowed just two hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in 10 scoreless innings to open the season. It remains to be seen how many more save chances he can pick up as the season goes on, but there is some decent starting pitching ahead of him to give him his opportunities.
However, the bigger surprise in Tampa's relief corps has been setup man Dan Wheeler, who sports a nifty 1.69 ERA after struggling in a similar role upon being acquired from the Astros last season. He seems to be a safe bet in AL-only or deep mixed leagues as the next in line for saves should anything happen to Percival. While Wheeler has just eight strikeouts in 16 innings, he also has just one walk. Others who could be useful pieces in deeper leagues include Gary Glover (when he comes off the DL) and J.P. Howell.
Marlins bullpen: It's hard to believe the Rays and Marlins rank among the league leaders in bullpen ERA, given how shaky we thought their closers were to start the year, nevermind the pitchers behind them. And it's even stranger to see the two Florida teams doing so well while other 'pens we expected to shine (and which had valuable pitchers beyond their closers), like the Padres and Indians, are near the bottom of the list.
The Marlins have posted a nice relief ERA, even though the pitchers that got any fantasy attention (closer Kevin Gregg, who has five saves, and setup man Matt Lindstrom) have been just so-so. Instead, Renyel Pinto (0.83 ERA), Justin Miller (2.25) and Logan Kensing (3.31) are leading the way. However, I'm hesitant to recommend any of them, even in NL-only leagues, given their relatively low K/BB ratios (I usually like relatively high ratios from my middle relievers). In fact, the Marlins staff, in general, is struggling with its K/BB ratio (158 strikeouts and 116 walks in 258 innings). The low strikeout rate across the board could catch up with them down the line.
Giants offense: In our draft kit, one of our 30 questions centered on the Giants' offense, or lack thereof, heading into the season. And in many ways, the offense is just as bad as advertised, as the Giants are dead last in runs scored, third worst in strikeouts and in the bottom five in OPS. Still, Bengie Molina ranks among the top fantasy catchers, Aaron Rowand has hit well and Fred Lewis is looking like a revelation at the top of the lineup once again.
No, the reason the Giants are on this list of surprising league leaders is that they have the most steals in the majors. So, if you're looking for cheap steals, there are plenty to be found here, although you won't feel good about it. Guys like Eugenio Velez, Randy Winn, Ray Durham, Emmanuel Burriss and Brian Bocock all have their shares of steals, but they all sport very disappointing batting averages. The question becomes: Do you chase steals at the expense of the other four roto categories? (At least the low-average power hitters like Adam Dunn and Richie Sexson can produce in three categories -- homers, RBIs and runs -- with one swing of the bat.)
It is amusing, though, that the Giants lead the majors in stolen bases but are dead last in runs scored. Conventional baseball wisdom used to preach a strong running game would produce extra runs. However, that's been debunked by today's statistical analysis. And you can see it in action big-time with the Giants. Sure, the Giants will run, but with a team OBP of .311, scoring is not a regular occurrence.
Cardinals rotation: I already mentioned them in depth a couple of weeks ago, but I'm adding them here again because they have unearthed another gem, Joel Pineiro, who has bounced back after struggling in his first start of the season. Pineiro, like teammate Todd Wellemeyer, had some nice outings as a starter last year after joining the Cardinals and has continued the success this year, further showing Dave Duncan's magic in resurrecting pitchers. (Percival also could fall into that category.)
James Quintong is an editor for ESPN Fantasy.