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Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Updated: April 17, 2:39 PM ET
Sixty Feet, Six Inches: Go back in time

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

If you could go back in time, would you draft Brian Bannister?

My friend and cohort Eric Karabell has done a careful analysis of the interesting Kansas City Royals' rotation, which features the surprising Bannister as a vital cog. At this point, since the 27-year-old righty sits at 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA and a 0.71 WHIP (and is owned in 97 percent of ESPN.com leagues), you'd probably have to answer, "Yes." While his excellence might not last, owning Bannister even in a shallow mixed league would be mighty enjoyable.

But here are a few tougher calls concerning other guys who are off to good starts. As we sift through them, ask yourself: Do you wish you had drafted them?

Micah Owings, Diamondbacks (owned in 100 percent of leagues)
The running joke about Owings this March was we would be happier if we could draft him to play first base. At the time, my logic regarding Owings was that he isn't overpowering, he's homer-prone in a homer-happy ballpark and like any young pitcher, sometimes he gives you an outing in which he just doesn't have any command. But through three starts, Owings is 3-0 with a 2.29 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and 19 strikeouts versus five walks, and his success has been made possible in part because he features a new changeup. Despite the fact that I wouldn't have drafted him in a shallow mixed league, He's clearly ownable in all formats right now, although I view him as a possible trade-high candidate if this keeps up much longer.

Shaun Marcum, Blue Jays (owned in 100 percent of leagues)
The question was whether you believed in last year's breakout. I didn't. He wore down in '07 (7.27 ERA in September), and his 27 homers allowed were fifth-most in the American League. But Marcum is back to his solid strikeout-to-walk ways, and it's clear I should've drafted him in a shallow league here or there. He's got 20 Ks and just five BBs in 20 2/3 innings, and he posted one of his two eight-strikeout games against the Red Sox. He may always be a bit prone to the gopher ball, but I'm now convinced he's for real.

Wandy Rodriguez
Wandy Rodriguez has an identical 0.63 ERA and WHIP in two home starts this season.

Wandy Rodriguez, Astros (owned in 38.1 percent of leagues)
The one thing that probably sticks in your head about Wandy is that he's the NL's answer to Ervin Santana. In other words, he's dominant at home and just awful on the road. Last season he had a 2.94 ERA in 15 home starts and a 6.37 ERA in 16 road outings, and that trend has continued so far in '08: In his opener in San Diego, he got lit up, but since then he's been excellent in two home starts. Rodriguez's control undoubtedly improved overall in 2007, when he went from a 4.2 BB/9 in '06 to a 3.1 BB/9. Wandy is also a guy who tends to get rattled with men on base, and it's been speculated that he has a hard time pitching from the stretch. His overall numbers look great (2.33 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 19/2 K/BB), and against my earlier instincts, I have to say that Rodriguez is probably rosterable, provided you spot-start him at home, beginning this Saturday against the Rockies.

Cliff Lee, Indians (owned in 38.4 percent of leagues)
Of all the fifth-starter candidates in Cleveland, Lee was the one I was staying furthest away from this March. Heck, I was more interested in Aaron Laffey. I knew Lee was limited by a bad abdominal strain in '07, and maybe his relative problems with control (3.1 BB/9, compared to 2006's 2.6 and 2005's 2.3) were related to his health. But no way, I opined, was Lee getting anywhere near his 15 wins from '05. Yet Lee has dominated the A's twice, to the tune of 12 strikeouts and just one walk, and now even mixed-leaguers have to consider him as a short-term fill-in because of his upcoming schedule: he gets the Twins, Royals and Mariners in his next three.

Comings and goings

Starter Rankings

Please note that this list comprises my outlook for the entire season, not just the forthcoming week. Thus Erik Bedard remains in the top 10 despite being out until April 24.

1. Johan Santana, Mets
2. Jake Peavy, Padres
3. Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks
4. Cole Hamels, Phillies
5. Josh Beckett, Red Sox
6. Dan Haren, Diamondbacks
7. Aaron Harang, Reds
8. John Smoltz, Braves
9. Erik Bedard, Mariners
10. Justin Verlander, Tigers
11. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
12. Roy Oswalt, Astros
13. Chris Young, Padres
14. Javier Vazquez, White Sox
15. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
16. C.C. Sabathia, Indians
17. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
18. James Shields, Rays
19. Tim Lincecum, Giants
20. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
21. Ian Snell, Pirates
22. Tim Hudson, Braves
23. Scott Kazmir, Rays
24. Rich Hill, Cubs
25. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
26. Brett Myers, Phillies
27. Ben Sheets, Brewers
28. Zack Greinke, Royals
29. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
30. Fausto Carmona, Indians
31. John Lackey, Angels
32. Matt Cain, Giants
33. John Maine, Mets
34. Francisco Liriano, Twins
35. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
36. Derek Lowe, Dodgers
37. Dustin McGowan, Blue Jays
38. Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees
39. Brad Penny, Dodgers
41. Jered Weaver, Angels
42. A.J. Burnett, Blue Jays
43. Greg Maddux, Padres
44. Ted Lilly, Cubs
45. Jeremy Bonderman, Tigers
46. Joe Blanton, A's
47. Shaun Marcum, Blue Jays
48. Jeff Francis, Rockies
49. Phil Hughes, Yankees
50. Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers
51. Johnny Cueto, Reds
52. Tom Gorzelanny, Pirates
53. Oliver Perez, Mets
54. Bronson Arroyo, Reds
55. Pedro Martinez, Mets
56. Scott Baker, Twins
57. Joe Saunders, Angels
58. Brian Bannister, Royals
59. Randy Wolf, Padres
60. Gil Meche, Royals

With Johan Santana out of the league, Erik Bedard was supposed to be the AL's best starter this year, especially considering his move to Safeco. But he was scratched from two straight starts with a bad hip, and now he's on the DL. If all goes well, Bedard could return next weekend. R.A. Dickey gets Bedard's start Friday, but you don't want any part of Dickey. … Yovani Gallardo was temporarily in the majors last weekend in case of a long rain delay, but his services weren't needed, so he returned to the minors for one final rehab start. It didn't go that well, but he's still expected to make his season debut Sunday against the Marlins. Get him in there. … Scott Kazmir successfully threw two innings in extended spring training on Monday, and now the Rays have a timetable for his rehab. He'll throw three minor league games, and if all goes well, he'll return on May 3 against the Red Sox. … The surprising Cardinals saw Chris Carpenter throw batting practice on Monday, taking a major step in his rehab from Tommy John surgery. The team thinks they might get Carpenter back just after the All-Star Break. … Speaking of injured St. Louis pitchers, Mark Mulder began his rehab tour after another shoulder surgery, throwing a Class A game this week. If all goes well, he could be back in two or three weeks. … The Nationals' erstwhile ace, Shawn Hill, is expected to come off the DL Saturday to face the Marlins. Activate him in NL-only leagues, but you probably have to wait and see before doing so in a mixed league. … Matt Garza is on the DL with a radial nerve problem but has already begun throwing pain-free. What sounded like a potentially bigger deal may turn into a true two-week absence: Garza expects to pitch on April 24. … Justin Duchscherer threw off flat ground on Tuesday and said his strained biceps felt all right. He could return from the DL as soon as April 26. … Tom Glavine had to leave his Sunday start because of a pulled hamstring. It's not yet known whether he'll miss a start, but the Braves don't think he'll need a DL stint. … Nate Robertson had to come out of his start Tuesday because of soreness in a lat muscle. He doesn't think he'll miss any more time. … Ian Kennedy was drilled in the hip by a liner off the bat of Jason Bartlett and had to leave his Monday start, but he'll go on Saturday. … The Brewers signed Jeff Weaver to a minor league contract, which, considering how many rotation options they already have, seems really weird to me. Anyway, it's an incentive-laden deal that will allow Weaver to become a free agent if he's not in the majors by June, so you can expect to see him get a call-up at some point in the next month. … The A's say they think Rich Harden might be able rejoin their rotation by the end of April. Yeah, right.

Eye on the Minors

Bartolo Colon has been on the Red Sox's minor league DL with a strained oblique, but he was able to play catch earlier this week. The Sox think he might rejoin Triple-A Pawtucket's rotation this weekend. … Former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar has a 2.60 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP in three starts for Triple-A Omaha, and with John Bale pitching terribly in the bigs, Hochevar could get a call sooner rather than later. … The Dodgers' lefty phenom Clayton Kershaw, 20, has a 2.57 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP to go with 18 strikeouts in 14 innings so far at Double-A Jacksonville. He still seems like a good bet to be in the majors this year. … Joe Savery and Rick Porcello (of the Phillies and Tigers organizations, respectively) faced one another in a Single-A game on Sunday. The 2007 first-rounders were both good, but Savery was better, throwing eight scoreless innings. … Watch out for the Diamondbacks' Max Scherzer. He struck out 11 batters last Saturday at Triple-A Tucson and looks ready for the majors. In the long term, Arizona views 2006 first-rounder Scherzer as a starter, but there are whispers around the majors that he could get into the closer mix for '08. Brandon Lyon and Tony Pena don't exactly scare you at the back of the bullpen on a team that otherwise looks ready to contend now.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.