The Hot Seat

One would expect, considering the nature of this column, that this space would be occupied by words of glowing praise for Wil Myers. Heck, even I thought I would write about Myers this week.

His upside is absolutely worth rostering in any league, and he’s one of the top prospects in baseball, but I feel pretty confident that there’s already plenty of Myers analysis out there for you to enjoy. Also, a conversation I had with THT Fantasy’s own Jeffrey Gross on my podcast this week has been on my mind for days, and I feel the need to dig into it.

This week, a spry youngster by the name of Roy Oswalt is expected to be called up from Double-A Tulsa to join the Colorado rotation. While the 35-year-old is certainly a bit old for the level, he has been utterly fantastic, prompting the Rockies to make the call.

Oswalt, who was rated as the #13 overall prospect by Baseball America in 2001, may not have that shiny prospect status he used to, but he still could provide plenty of value for the Rockies and fantasy owners. In his last three starts for Tulsa, Oswalt has tossed 22.1 innings, allowing just four earned runs with a terrific 16:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His last start was especially good, as he pitched 8.1 scoreless innings, scattering five hits and one walk while striking out seven.

When Oswalt signed his minor-league contract with the Rockies last month, few expected him to make an impact this season after his rough stint with Texas last year that ended with a demotion to the bullpen. It sure didn’t help matters that Oswalt would be pitching half his games in hitters’ haven Coors Field this season, if he even reached the majors at all. However, there are now plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his potential 2013 contributions.

Last year with the Rangers, Oswalt was pretty bad on the surface, with an ugly 5.80 ERA and a WHIP over 1.50 in 59 innings. However, even a cursory glance at the underlying numbers makes it obvious that he was getting tremendously unlucky. His FIP for the season was 4.23, and his xFIP was even better at 3.27. Also, he struck out a batter an inning and issued just 1.68 walks per nine innings. In fact, his 5.36 K/BB ratio was the best he’d posted since way back in 2001, his rookie season.

The reason Oswalt’s surface stats were so bad last year is a combination of three factors. His strand rate of 67 percent was the worst of his career, his .378 opponents’ BABIP was another career-worst, and the same can be said of his insane 18.6 percent home run-to-flyball ratio.

Please stop yourself before you get all smart and say, “Of course he gave up all those dingers! He was pitching in Arlington! That place is a bandbox! Why should we expect him to be better in Coors?!” Of the eleven homers Oswalt served up last year, just three of them came at home, further underscoring the notion that he was simply experiencing some terrible luck.

His velocity is reportedly up considerably, sitting around 92 and topping out at 95. Since July of 2010, Oswalt has thrown exactly one major league pitch that hit 95 on the radar gun. If his velocity is seriously back to the level it was at three years ago and not just the product of a juiced Double-A ballpark radar gun, this could be exciting.

Oswalt himself has said he feels much better about his chances this year than last year, saying that the Rangers “rushed me a little bit getting me up” last season, while the Rockies “have a better plan, and I feel like I’m a lot more ahead of the game than I was last year.” When you take into context that he didn’t even really pitch that badly last year, it’s an encouraging sign.

Will Oswalt return to his All-Star form from the mid-2000s? It’s incredibly unlikely, but it also wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he’s owned in the majority of fantasy leagues by season’s end. This is a guy with a 3.28 career ERA in 2,213 innings who, because of one “bad” 59-inning sample from last year in Texas, is suddenly an afterthought and a has-been. Kick the tires on Oswalt; you might find more air in them than you expect.

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