Scott Pianowski

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Scott Pianowski is a fake-sport maven and a really nice guy.

  • Closing Time: Have the Pirates fixed Edinson Volquez?

    Vitamin E (USAT)

    Evaluating coaching is one of the most difficult things to do for any sports observer, especially when we're looking at the development and improvement side. We're not in the locker room, we're not on the practice field, we're not in the workout room. Players improve all the time and it's not always clear who deserves the credit – and how much of that credit might go to someone (or something) outside of the player himself.

    All preamble aside, it sure looks like Pittsburgh has a good thing with pitching coach Ray Searage. And by proxy, this might be enough to make a case for reclamation project Edinson Volquez.

    Searage became Pittsburgh's full-time pitching coach in 2011 and he's had plenty of feel-good stories on his watch. A.J. Burnett repaired his career with the Pirates in 2012 and Francisco Liriano did the same thing last year. No one thought much of Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon when they joined the Bucs; now, they're both considered lockdown relievers.

    Is Volquez the feel-good story for 2014? Let's have a look around.

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  • Closing Time: Julio Teheran’s house of mirrors (but where’s the smoke?)

    Talk of the Town (USAT)

    Normally when a former top prospect gets off to a tidy 1.80/1.00 start on the mound, everyone sits back, relaxes, enjoys the ride. But we're seeing an interesting divergence of opinion on Julio Teheran.

    Teheran's latest start was a seven-inning dandy against the Marlins on Monday (7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8). He had to settle a no-decision when Craig Kimbrel struggled in the ninth, but nonetheless this was a fun, useful line for all formats. We could be upon the stardom campaign the scouting hounds have been waiting for – Teheran was a Top 5 prospect on pretty much everyone's clipboard back in 2011-2012.

    Alas, there are chinks in the armor when you look under the hood. Teheran's fastball velocity is down thus far in 2014 (it's anywhere from a 1.5 mph drop to a 0.8 mph drop, depending on where you get your radar love), and his secondary numbers (.240 BABIP, just 5.4 K/9, 7.1 HR/FB) don't fully support the 1.80 ERA. Most of the ERA estimators say Teheran should have a number in the high 3s or low 4s right now; the projection system Pecota calls for a 4.17 ERA (whoa, Nelly) the rest of the way.

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  • Do you have the stomach for Kyle Farnsworth?

    The secret handshake of the ninth inning (USAT)

    While everyone remembers Gordon Gekko's speeches and Bud Fox's rise and fall from the seminal film Wall Street, Lou Mannheim is the hidden soul of the picture (in Rounders terms, he's the Knish). Here's one of Lou's watershed tidbits:

    The main thing about money, Bud, is that it makes you do things you don’t want to do.

    Mannheim was talking about, well, money. But for our purposes, let's assume he was referring to saves. Framed another way: how badly do you want (or need) Kyle Farnsworth today?

    Jose Valverde has been a hot mess over his last three appearances (eight runs, four homers), forcing the Mets to make a change. You're grounded, Papa Grande. Terry Collins made it official on Easter morning: Farnsworth is the closer for now.

    Farnsworth is the ultimate journeyman, a 38-year-old veteran who's been with eight teams over the years. He's occasionally had success as a closer, most notably a 25-save season with the Rays back in 2011. But the same Tampa Bay organization kicked Farnsworth to the curb last summer, frustrated by a 5.76 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. Farnsworth redeemed himself with a brief run of success in Pittsburgh, then became a free agent. Bidding was tempered, but the Mets offered a contract in late March.

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  • Closing Time: Double dips for Travis Wood, Wily Peralta

    Wake up to Wood: still free in half of Yahoo leagues (USAT)

    You need a plan for the upcoming week, so let's take a look at the double-dipping pitchers for the period Monday-Sunday. As always, consider everything on this list tentative: sometimes pitchers get scratched, sometimes plans change, sometimes it rains.

    Additional notes will follow after the pitching form.

    1. Adam Wainwright (at NYM, PIT): Overdue for a Cy Young.
    2. Yu Darvish (at OAK, at SEA): Won't miss the Arlington undertow.
    3. Chris Sale (at DET, TB): Hope he goes deep because the bullpen is a joke.
    4. Felix Hernandez (HOU, TEX): For what it's worth, April is best career month (2.51/1.10).
    5. Cliff Lee (at LAD, at ARI): Clear favorite against Maholm and Arroyo.
    6. Jose Fernandez (at ATL, at NYM): Gets two calls if Marlins skip fifth starter.
    7. Masahiro Tanaka (at BOS, LAA): Trip to Fenway Park his first major test.
    8. Justin Verlander (CWS, at MIN): Sale up front, but then gets Pelfrey cookie.
    9. James Shields (at CLE, at BAL): Stuck with Royals offense, but still a no-brainer.
    10. Francisco Liriano (CIN, at STL ): Career at PNC (15 starts): 9-2, 1.72, 1.00).
    11. Johnny Cueto (at PIT, at ATL): Velocity up, looks 100 percent healthy.
    12. Julio Teheran (MIA, CIN): Pitching to contact, but career K/9 much higher in 2H.
    13. Anibal Sanchez (CWS, at MIN): Down 1.7 mph on heater but the whiffs are there.
    14. Andrew Cashner (at MIL, at WAS): Raw stuff finally turning into strikeouts.
    15. Hyun-Jin Ryu (PHI, COL): One terrible start, four outstanding ones.
    16. Wily Peralta (SD, CHC): Andy Behrens is a believer.

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  • Tip Drill: Five mistakes even good fantasy owners make

    Don't get mad, Trouty, everyone has a price (USAT)

    In many ways, it's the age of enlightenment for fantasy sports. Information is everywhere, advice is everywhere, stats are everywhere. In most of the leagues I play in and observe, there's less of a gap between the proven contenders and the second-division teams.

    But that doesn't mean fantasy owners don't make mistakes. Even the consistent players aren't immune to a misstep here or there. Let's shine a light on some of those errors, five mistakes even good fantasy owners make.

    -- Declaring some players untouchable

    Every so often you hear the call in your fantasy league: a competitor is putting this player or that player on the block. One way to start a conversation, I guess. Often it's a slumping, disappointing player getting pushed into the showroom.

    It's time to take a different angle to this. Why not put your good players on the trading block? Heck, why not have everyone on your team available at any time?

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  • Closing Time: What’s wrong with Danny Salazar?

    Chaos in Cleveland (USAT)

    If you're a fan of young, buzzy pitching prospects, the 2014 draft board had plenty of names to take aim at. Gerrit Cole was on an island somewhat (carrying an industry rank of 21), but opinions were clustered with the next four sophomores of note: Michael Wacha (No. 29), Danny Salazar (No. 32), Sonny Gray (No. 34) and Tony Cingrani (No. 38). Which trendy picks wound up on your club?

    [Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Still time for another league!]

    Salazar is clearly the lagger of the group as we look through the opening couple of weeks, a slump no one saw coming. He had an uneven 5.2-inning stint against Minnesota to open the year, and he's allowed 10 runs over his last two starts (including Thursday's mess at Detroit). Add it all up and there are crooked numbers everywhere: 14 IP, 19 H, 12 R, 4 HR, 8 BB, 7.71 ERA, 1.93 WHIP. The league is batting .345 against Salazar.

    Of course, there have been positive flashes – he's struck out 17 men in 14 innings. There aren't any easy answers here. Take your best guess, what's wrong with Danny Salazar?

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  • Closing Time: George Springer arrives in Houston

    Meet George Jetson

    It didn't take long for the 2014 Houston Astros to sink to the bottom of the pool, as expected. They're 5-9 through two weeks, tied for the worst record in the American League. The offense has been a joke thus far, with a pathetic .185/.258/.347 slash line. They're still light years from contention.

    Obviously it's going to take a lot more than one player to fix this mess. That said, it's time to get excited: one of the team's buzzy prospects, George Springer, is on the way. The Astros made the call late Tuesday night.

    Springer is a 24-year-old outfielder and a name you probably know already, no matter your level of prospect interest and sophistication. The Astros took him with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft and he's rocketed through the minors. Check what Springer posted last year in 135 games, covering Double-A and Triple-A: .303/.411/.600 slash, 37 homers, 45 steals (in just 53 attempts). Absurd. Those are video game numbers.

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  • Closing Time: Who is Jesse Chavez?

    Chavez of Oakland (USAT)

    My fantasy baseball experience dates back to the late 1980s, a much different time. The Internet wasn't around. No Extra Innings package, no smart phones. Heck, we hadn't bailed on MTV yet. Newspapers still mattered, and a lot of your fantasy commodities were anonymous collections of names and numbers. Sometimes you had no idea what these guys looked like, how they played, what they threw.

    Sometimes you didn't even know the first names. Often you'd phone a commissioner (rotary dial) and sheepishly say "pick up Thompson of St. Louis."

    I'm feeling nostalgic because of a story that's brewing in the Bay Area. Let's talk a little bit about Chavez of Oakland.

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  • Sunday Night Fantasy Chat, 9 pm ET

    Jake, in twos (USAT)

    Don Draper and the 60s return tonight? Swanky. The Red Sox and Yankees? Okay, that's a repeat. But let's renew our fake friendship, nonetheless.

    First chat is set for 9 pm ET. Join us, pour a cocktail, grab a donut in the meeting room.

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  • Closing Time: With Koji Uehara dinged up, start the Boston scramble

    Handshakes on hold (USAT)

    As terrific as Koji Uehara has been during his time in America, he's generally been a high-maintenance player. He's only passed the 70-inning mark once (last year), and sometimes he's not best suited for work on consecutive days. I'm not picking on the guy – he's one of my favorite watches in the game, and Uehara was baseball's most dominant reliever last year (all through the championship run). But when a pitcher turns 39, there's only so much we can realistically expect.

    So when the Red Sox say Uehara has a "minor" shoulder stiffness, I'm not going to take it in stride. It's time for a Boston bullpen audit.

    Boston had a push-button save chance ready to go in Friday's 4-2 victory at New York, but Uehara wasn't the man selected. He felt stiffness during his long-toss session before the game and the club decided to keep him out for precautionary reasons. According to respected beat writer Sean McAdam, Uehara won't be available Saturday.

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