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Analyzing Hot and Cold Starts - Fantasy Baseball Hitters and Pitchers

Lucas Giolito - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

Do not overreact! That is one of the cardinal rules for having success in fantasy baseball. Baseball has more variance and randomness built into it than probably any other sport. We need large samples of data before we can make any confident conclusions. If you're reading this, I'm not offering you anything new. You know that you should not judge a player based on 10 games. But knowing that and then having the mental acuity and self-control to act (or not act) on that knowledge are two different things.

One more important thing here before we start talking about some names – the more granular, predictive stats are subject to randomness as well. Yes, it is better to look at barrel rate than home run totals over a two-week span because barrel rates are more predictive. However, that does not mean that a player can't post an outlier barrel rate over a short period of time, in fact, it happens constantly. What I want to focus more so on today are the players that are over or underperforming in those "under the hood" statistics as well. This might actually help us be able to buy low or sell high early on in the year since most of the competition is aware of these underlying statistics at this point and might be more prone to panic if those are the bad stats rather than just the box score stats.

Let's move forward, and then I think what I'm saying will become more clear.

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Slow Starts - Hitters

Nick Castellanos, Philadelphia Phillies

Castellanos was one of the bigger busts of the 2022 season, and 2023 sure has not started off well. He has a 43% strikeout rate in his 37 plate appearances. That likely has the Castellanos manager who drafted him for the bounce-back being pushed toward giving up. It probably won't be much longer before Castellanos hits some waiver wires if this keeps up, but to me, that means it's time to buy.

Highest K% - Hitters (Prior to 4/10/2023)

Player PA K%
Brandon Belt 25 60.0%
Nick Castellanos 37 43.2%
Gunnar Henderson 35 40.0%
David Hensley 30 40.0%
MJ Melendez 38 39.5%
Max Muncy 41 39.0%
Michael A. Taylor 32 37.5%
Ramon Urias 30 36.7%
Blake Sabol 30 36.7%
Ryan McMahon 41 36.6%

Since 2021, Castellanos has a strong 22% K%. That is over 1,138 plate appearances. Trust those plate appearances and ignore the 32 from this year. He also has yet to barrel a ball this year, so that puts him 8.6 points below his 2021-2022 barrel rate of 8.6%. I'm not saying that Castellanos is going to get back to his 2018-2021 ways this season, but I am telling you that he's likely very, very easy to acquire right now.

Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers

Another player that disappointed for most of last year and might be buyable right now after his slow start (40.5% K%, 50.8% Contact%). Muncy's strikeout rate across 2021 and 2022 sat at 22.7%, a solid number. His contact rate was up there at 75.3% - right around the league average. Muncy puts balls in play at a league-average rate (when swinging at least), and there's no reason at this point to think he won't continue to do that in 2023.

Muncy also gives you very nice positional flexibility playing 2B and 3B in most leagues, which is a big boost for fantasy purposes. I think Muncy is a great guy to attempt the buy-low on.

Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates

He might be a little bit tougher to buy because the bad stats he's putting out are mostly just the box score stats that tend not to fool anybody at this point. That said, I don't think anybody who drafted Hayes had really high hopes for him, so he's likely not a player that would be tough to pray away from someone in your league.

The best thing we're seeing from Hayes right now is that he's hitting more balls in the air. From 2021-2022, his average launch angle was 4.1 degrees. This year, it's 17.8 in 33 PAs. A small sample, to be sure, but launch angle does stabilize pretty quickly so there's a good chance this is signal rather than noise. To put this in another way, Hayes' ground-ball rate has come down from 52.9% to 41.4% so far.

Javier Baez, Detroit Tigers

If you are completely out on Javier Baez and just won't listen to any of this, I don't blame you, in fact – I respect you.

However, if you were like me and were into buying low on Baez this draft season, I don't believe you should have changed your mind already despite this miserable start where Baez has hit .121/.171/.293 without a homer or a steal. He also has yet to barrel a baseball. But we are talking about 35 plate appearances, that's just not enough to make you care about the lack of production.

One positive for Baez is that his strikeout rate came down in 2022 and it's low again to start this 2023 season at 21.9%. That is backed up by an improved (still not good, but improved) contact rate of 67% (it was five points lower in 2021-2022). The Tigers have faced some tough pitching so far, and Baez is a notoriously streaky hitter - now seems like a pretty good time to go get him for peanuts.


Hot Starts - Hitters

Adam Duvall, Boston Red Sox

Tuesday update: Duvall did indeed hit the IL with a broken wrist. He will not require surgery, so he could be back with time left this season, but he's a drop in fantasy right now, so you can ignore this write-up.

This might be a moot point if Duvall hits the IL with this wrist injury he sustained yesterday (my apologies if this post comes out after that happens, at this time of the writing it's unclear). Either way, it's tough to trade a guy with an injury – but if Duvall does get back relatively quickly, I think he's a guy to try the sell-high on.

So far he has a 12% strikeout rate. That's just not going to keep going. His career strikeout rate is above 30% – and no, I'm not willing to believe a 34-year-old player can drop his strikeout rate by more than a couple of points while maintaining the same power. Duvall is a fine player for homers and RBI, but nothing should have changed in your mind about his batting average potential.

Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates

Reynolds isn't exactly a veteran, but he's no spring chicken either at the age of 28. That makes it tougher to believe that he's about to have a huge breakout season where he messes around and gets MVP votes.

So far this year, compared to the last two seasons, he is beating his barrel rate by 26 points, beating his strikeout rate by ten points, and beating his average exit velocity by 5.6 miles per hour. Nobody with a brain is going to be fooled to think there isn't serious regression coming, but that does not mean you can't sell him for significantly more than you could have a week ago.

Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays

Everything is going perfectly for Franco so far. He's hitting .351/.400/.757 with four homers and two steals already, scoring more than three fantasy points per plate appearance (the league average is around 2.6).

I am telling you to sell high on Reynolds, but I'm not necessarily telling you that about Franco. Nothing under the hood is all that different from what we've seen from him in the Majors so far, so there really might not be all that much regression here. However, if someone offered me a first or second-round player for him in a redraft league, I'm still going to take that. Two weeks of games should not be changing our views of players all that much, so if you can ever trade up several rounds from your leagues' draft results – you should probably do it.

James Outman, Los Angeles Dodgers

Rookies are always tougher to give advice on because we just don't know much about them. What we have seen from Outman so far is incredible as he's hit three homers in 35 PAs with a 31% barrel rate. His max exit velocity is 108 miles per hour and his average is quite good as well at 91 miles per hour.

However, he currently sits with a scary 36% strikeout rate and a 59% contact rate. If those numbers do not improve, he's going to be a tough player to start - and he's likely going to be spending some time on the Dodgers bench. Young prospects are always tougher to let go of, but the smart decision right now would be to let someone else have him if they'll give you a more reliable starter for your fantasy team moving forward.


Slow Starts - Pitchers

Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

This is a case where things are down across the board. His stuff+, SwStr%, and everything else you might look at are showing red flags.

This is exactly my point. You should not react much even when these more advanced metrics are scaring you in two or three outings. What do you think is more likely?

  1. Burnes just stinks now after two years of Cy Young performances
  2. It was a couple of super randomly bad starts clustered together at the beginning of a year

I'll answer that! Number two is more likely. If you have Burnes, hold him. If you don't have Burnes, try to check the panic meter on the person that does.

Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox

This fits that Muncy/Castellanos mold nicely. Giolito crushed fantasy managers last season, and those first two starts have been more of the same. People are sick of him, claiming he's completely washed. I just don't buy it. Yes, he has a bad 11.2% SwStr% so far with a 14.3% Brl% allowed and he's given up nine earned runs in two starts. However, he's only walked one hitter and most of the damage came in one start. He had a pretty good outing in his first go at it with a 6:1 K:BB ratio throwing five decent innings.

I don't think Giolito will ever be a fantasy ace again, but you have to imagine that the cost to acquire him is just too low right now.

George Kirby, Seattle Mariners

A 4.36 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP is not what people were hoping for from Kirby after two starts, but he faced two pretty great lineups in the Angels and Guardians.

The most important thing I can tell you is that he's still throwing strikes like he always has. He's walked just one batter in 10.3 innings with nine strikeouts. Better matchups are coming, and Kirby is too talented to downgrade right now. I would aggressively buy low on him if he has another down outing.


Fast Starts - Pitchers

Jeffrey Springs & Drew Rasmussen, Tampa Bay Rays

They were popular breakout SP picks during draft season, so those that drafted them are probably feeling pretty validated right now. I don't think they are going to be guys that you trade and you're like over the moon about it in a couple of months because they fell apart right after the trade, but I do think the market is probably a bit too high on them right now.

Springs has faced the Tigers and Athletics, and Rasmussen has faced the Nationals and Athletics. You couldn't have hand-picked an easier schedule to start the year for these two.

I'm not saying trade them for anybody that went ahead of them in your draft because they both are legitimately exciting young pitchers, but if someone is offering me Luis Castillo or someone like that (Corbin Burnes maybe if you have a real panic guy in your league) – I'm pulling the trigger, and I think you should too.

Jesus Luzardo, Miami Marlins

Luzardo's fantasy stock has been all over the map in his young career, and right now it's probably near a high point. He struck out 10 Twins in seven innings on April 5 and followed that up with 5.2 more strong innings against the Mets. He now has 15 strikeouts in 12.2 innings with a 31% K%.

The bad news is the 10.4% BB% and the history of maddening inconsistency we have from him. He will have some sparkling outings, but I can't help thinking there are going to be some trainwrecks mixed in as well. If you can get anything close to a true fantasy ace for him, I'd do it.

Justin Steele, Chicago Cubs

The lefty has thrown a dozen innings now and has given up just one run, and they weren't cakewalk matchups either against the Brewers and Rangers. The K% is okay at 23.4%, but the walk rate is bad at 10.6%. He is still essentially a two-pitch guy:

You can certainly get away with that (Hunter Greene, Spencer Strider), but the difference with Steele is that neither of his two offerings pops in the pitch quality models (the four-seam has a 103 Stuff+, and the slider is at 103). He seems like a guy with average stuff and a lack of depth in the pitch arsenal. It's very tough to be successful like that.

It's possible that Steele is just so deceptive that he'll continue to fool hitters, but he seems like someone to get rid of while the getting is good. Maybe I'll eat my hat on this one, but I think it's sound advice right now.



So I guess my general thesis here is that very early in the season, it's a good idea to trade away your surprise best players and try to get your hands on other people's disappointing duds. The first couple of weeks are when the majority of overreactions happen because the stats you see everywhere are only coming from a small sample of data – there's no more data to look at. Compare this with July, when a player can go on a torrid streak and have it not make a massive impact on their season totals. People will overreact early on, and you should embrace the game's variance and do some buying high and some selling low. Thanks for reading!

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