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Starting Pitchers: April 26th

There’s a few big name starting pitchers returning from the disabled list this week, so let’s look at how their arrival could impact your fantasy team…

Cliff Lee (expected back Friday)

The Mariners aren’t quite sure (or have just declined to announce) who they’re going to lift from the rotation for Lee, but the signs point to Ryan Rowland-Smith. Both Jason Vargas (3.39 FIP) and Doug Fister (2.71) have pitched well enough to keep their jobs, and it’s already been announced that Ian Snell will keep his spot, but just be pushed back a few days in lieu of Lee.

Through just about four complete turns through the rotation, RRS has been the weak spot, posting a 7.47 FIP thanks to a completely unacceptable 0.50 K/BB. He’s run into a little bad homerun luck (15.0% HR/FB), but the scary part is that his BABIP sits at just .198. Once that starts to correct itself, the Aussie-born lefty could see his ERA (4.63) and WHIP (1.33) get even uglier. The fact that the Mariners don’t have a southpaw in the bullpen adds a little more fuel to the fire, especially since RRS has historically been better against same-side batters during his career. He’s still owned in 33% of Yahoo! leagues, which at this point is far too many. Lee, obviously, is a must start all season.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (expected back Sunday)

One of the biggest enigmas in the league, Dice-K went from fantasy stud in 2008 to hurt and ineffective in 2009, and now we have no idea what to expect when he returns from back and neck issues. CHONE projects a 4.30 ERA with his usually high WHIP (1.41) and a slight drop in strikeouts (7.89 K/9), a projection that lumps him in with guys like Jorge de la Rosa, Jonathan Sanchez, and Edwin Jackson. Solid No. 3 or 4 fantasy options, but hardly staff anchors.

However, those three are owned in 81-84% of Yahoo! leagues, while Dice-K is owned in just 46%. The risk of injury and/or total meltdown may be higher, but so is the reward considering the strong defense behind him (yes, I know the Boston’s run prevention attack hasn’t done the job so far, but they will soon enough). With starts coming up against the helpless Orioles (.303 wOBA) and somewhat offensively challenged Angels (.322), jumping on him a little earlier than most could pay dividends. He’ll frustrate the hell out of you, but then again so will most fantasy starters.

Other Notes

Brett Anderson scared fantasy owners and A’s fans alike when he exited his last start with a stiff left elbow, and the team is justifiably taking it slow with him. He may not make his next start, which would put Chad Gaudin or Tyson Ross in the rotation for a turn. Neither has fantasy value. Vicente Padilla was placed on the disabled list, but his replacement has yet to be named. Regardless, none of the possibilities to replace him are viable fantasy options. Jeff Suppan has been replaced by Chris Narveson in Milwaukee’s starting five, but he’s not rosterable in any league. The same could be said for Luis Atilano, who took over for the injured Jason Marquis.

The Blue Jays recalled Brett Cecil earlier this week to replace the injured Brian Tallet, and he went on to strike out eight Rays over 6.2 innings in his first start. The former University of Maryland closer mixes his curveball, slider, and changeup in heavily with his low-90’s fastball, and he’s posted very strong minor league batted ball rates (42.9% GB, 22.9% LD, 28.6% FB). His next start is against the Red Sox at home, but after that he’s looking at outings against the offensively inept Indians (.290 wOBA) and White Sox (.311). If you’re in an AL-only or deep mixed league, he’s a fine option if you look ahead to early next week.