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Opening Day Takeaways

I don’t know about you, but I’m thrilled that Opening Day has come (for most franchises). I assume that if you’re reading Fan/Not/RotoGraphs, you’re probably pretty stoked as well. And nothing says “irrational exuberance” like making changes to the way you look at fantasy players based on a single game on Opening Day.

Nevertheless, there are some things worth talking about — for fantasy — that came out of the past two days worth of baseball. While nothing should dramatically change the way you look at players, a few things happened that seemed to confirm previous theories, or show indications of potential events in the future. So let’s talk about some of the funnest stuff from yesterday and how maybe it’ll be a sign of things to come in fantasy this season.

Chase Utley: Still Great At Baseball

In fantasy, Chase Utley was usually drafted about tenth among second basemen, according to Mock Draft Central. Utley usually popped in the middle rounds (between 8-12), and behind players like Jose Altuve and Aaron Hill and Brandon Phillips. This is not because Utley is a bad, or even average hitter, but because of lingering concerns about joint health in his balky knees.

On Opening Day, Chase went 3-for-5 with a homer and a triple, scored two runs and drove in three. Everyone, from Philadelphia to, I dunno, South Philadelphia was thrilled to see this kind of production from one of the team’s most beloved players. And his fantasy teams, well, they’re off to a great start. We’re all reminded that Utley was a Hall-of-Fame-caliber second baseman during his peak years.

The thing is, Utley still provides phenomenal value from the pivot for any fantasy team. In his previous two seasons, Utley has only played in 196 games, but still racked up 22 homers and 25 stolen bases. He hits in a great park, with an aging but still capable set of hitters around him. Maybe it’s not so crazy to want to go into the season with Utley as your go-to second baseman, and then scour the waiver wire when Chase inevitably has to miss time with injury.

Look, from a pure production standpoint, Utley produced about 114 wRC+ last season, which was good for fourth in the majors among second basemen with more than 100 plate appearances. For the entire league, second basemen produced about 88 wRC+. Give me a guy who’s a question mark in terms of consistency over something that may be consistent, but markedly worse. Especially when you consider what Utley can bring to the table in terms of RBI and power, two things that tend to be in short supply coming from second basemen, I’d consider drafting or dealing for Utley while he’s still got his legs under him.

David Wright Steals Two Bases

I know that you know that Bryce Harper is on pace to smash the MLB home run record … I mean, all he has to do is continue to hit two bombs a day and he’ll finish the season with a respectable 324 homers. But did you consider that David Wright is pacing himself to annihilate Rickey Henderson‘s modern-era single-season stolen base mark as well, with 324 bags swiped of his own? How cool / unexpected would that be?

If I turn off the sarcasm for a second … Wright’s pair of steals yesterday were probably more surprising than Harper’s pair of homers, and it may have caused fantasy owners to perk up their ears at the possibility of Wright reverting to his 30/30 salad days of 2007 or something. In truth, I think that what happened on Monday against the Padres was kind of a perfect storm. Wright reached first base twice against Edinson Volquez, a pitcher notorious for being a slow worker on the mound. And each time Wright stole, it was with number four hitter Ike Davis up at the plate. The book on Davis is that you throw him curveballs until he strikes out, and Wright took the opportunity provided by those slower pitches. Even though Nick Hundley‘s a pretty good defensive backstop when it comes to throwing guys out, Wright took advantage of a good situation — one that won’t necessarily be in place during every game.

At the same time, Wright will hit in front of Davis quite a bit this year, and the team’s willingness to let the captain run with the cleanup hitter batting was an interesting thing to see. Wright (if healthy) may be able to rack up 20+ stolen bases this season, a few more than his last few seasons. It could be an odd situation where if Ike Davis struggles, you’ll see Wright logging more stolen bases.

Erik Bedard Records His First Career Save

I know we’re going back to Opening Night here, rather than Opening Day, but indulge me a little bit here. When the Astros announced that they’d be going to a paired-pitching model in their minor league affiliates, I was really surprised. Baseball (and sports in general) typically do not lend themselves to striking changes in methodology … things tend to adjust slightly over time. Though it’s been done at Single-A, using tandem-starters certainly is not the norm.

So when the Astros basically did something like this, using two starters in one games at the major league level — on Opening Day, no less! — it raised my eyebrows a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t expect this to be the new normal in Houston, or that the team will. Bedard is the No. 5 starter, and probably won’t be used until April 7 or later. He’s not going to get a bunch more save opportunities (unless it’s through the weird three-inning save rule), and even then he might not get more than one or two more this year.

What this does indicate, to me at least, is that the Astros will do their best to (1) identify the best pitchers in their system and (2) get those pitchers as many important innings as possible. And that may not, necessarily mean wonderful things for your fantasy team. You may not see pitchers get the five innings they need to earn a win. You may not see whomever the “closer” is always getting the save opportunities. You may see pitchers bounce between the bigs and the minors. The way I see it, everything is on the table. It’s tough to see a world where most Astros pitchers are rosterable anyways, this just makes things a slight bit tougher to predict.

(… but Erik Bedard’s still a sneaky-good pickup in really deep and AL-only fantasy leagues. Just don’t expect any more saves!)