Early Season Fast Starts: Who's For Real?
It’s always a fun exercise to extrapolate 5 or 6 games of stats across 162: I loved Trumbo coming into the season, but 80 homers seems a little aggressive, and fresh off a season in Japan, I’ll take the under on 270 RBI from Casey McGehee. The other thing you see in the first week of the season is a lot of managers making snap judgments. Some of those sleeper picks are paying off early while others are may have had a tough week, and you’re trying to decide if you should make a trade offer or race to the waiver wire to pick up this week’s hottest hitter. The thing to keep in mind in all of this is that it’s a LONG season. We’re not even 5% of the way, and an 0-10 slump for a guy in the middle of July might not even register on your radar so let’s keep our head on our shoulders and rationally think through some of the performances we’ve seen this week. It’s way too early for sample size data to mean anything, but we can take a look at other factors and conclude who may be for real vs. the one week wonders.
Justin Smoak (45% owned in Yahoo, Rank 24)
The talk in the offseason was the Mariners were doing a lot to work with Smoak on his swing including some coaching from new 2B Robinson Cano. So far so good, and while he won’t be able to maintain a 33% HR/FB rate, he always has been able to elevate the ball well as evidenced a 45.5% FB rate which has been trending up since arriving in the Bigs. It’s also positive to think he may have a few more men on base when he’s up to bat this year. His plate discipline so far is fairly consistent with last year’s and no one is expecting a batting title, but if he can show a little more flexibility at the plate to take what pitchers give him, it’s not unreasonable to see him improving on last year’s 20 HR and 50 RBI totals. I’ll predict 26 HR and 90 RBI which would make him useful in any league. Verdict – worth the add in any league.
Mark Trumbo (97% owned in Yahoo, Rank 1)
The aforementioned new Arizona outfielder who clubbed his 5th HR of the year on Sunday afternoon. The early returns indicate the switch from Anaheim to compact Chase Field will be a good one for all of us with shares of the Snakes’ slugger. Trumbo is almost universally owned (I’m convinced the leagues he’s available must be 2 man mixed leagues or ones where you’re incentivized to field the worst lineup possible which explains why Daniel Descalso is rostered in 2% of leagues), but if you can find an owner who thinks he’s selling high, it’s worth inquiring on what it would cost. While his insane 55.6% HR/FB rate can’t be maintained, his FB rate should trend back towards his career average. Along with Stanton (worse ballpark and lineup surrounding him) and Alvarez, there aren’t any other NL sluggers I’d be more interested in owning and who I think could top 40 bombs this year. Verdict – Trumbone was on average an 8th round pick, and I’d be willing to pay 3rd or 4th round value.
Charlie Blackmon (41% Yahoo owned, Rank 7)
After collecting 6 hits Friday night, Blackmon’s encore performance on Saturday included 3 more hits, a stolen base and a run scored. Coming out of spring training, there wasn’t much clarity on the Dickerson-Stubbs-Blackmon platoon situation, but Blackmon is the clear winner as Dickerson got sent down to the farm. Never known for his patience at the plate as evidenced by his career 3% BB rate, his early season success has been fueled by an unsustainable BABIP around .600. That said, it’s worth noting Blackmon’s K rate was down in spring training, and that’s continued through the first week of the season (19% in 2013 vs. 5% in 2014). Strikeout rate is one of the quickest stats to stabilize (60 PA) so perhaps Blackmon figured out something in the offseason which is sticking. Playing half his games at Coors and possibly hitting in front of Cuddyer, Tulo and CarGo, Blackmon may be a useful source of BA and runs scored. Verdict – NL only and 14 team mixed add; watch in shallower formats.
Speedsters Dee Gordon and Emilio Bonifacio find themselves in Yahoo’s top 25. Of the two, I’m more bullish on Bonafacio given he has more routes to playing time (able to play more positions and a weaker supporting cast in Chicago vs. LA) and has done it before in (.350 OBP with 70 SBs in 2011-12). For those in need of speed, both are worth pick-ups, but don’t fall in love with either as the batting averages are fueled by crazy BABIPs and will regress soon.
While we’re talking about stolen base specialists, on the flip side what an ugly week for Billy Hamilton who notched his first hit just last night but still doesn't have a successful stolen base attempt! Things will get better for Hamilton on the basepaths and fortunately he won’t face the top of the Cardinals’ rotation on a regular basis, but he’s looking overmatched at the plate (you don’t need much sample size data to pass the eye test) and he doesn’t have the track record to fall back on like many others we’re preaching patience on. You can’t sell him now, but be cognizant of the impact he may have on your ratios, and if he continues to struggle at the plate you may want to park him on your bench until he shows signs of life.
Reds 3B Todd Frazier has gotten off to a nice start including a 2 HR game vs. the Cardinals earlier in the week. I’d like to see him find his way up a couple slots in the batting order and closer to walk-machine Joey Votto, but the forgotten former first round pick might have the breakout season many were looking for last year. Add the fact he could notch double digit steals, and Frazier should be owned in all NL only and deeper mixed leagues.
Opposed to common belief, the Astros aren’t totally devoid of fantasy value. Yes, the expected arrival of uber prospect George Springer has everyone excited, but Dexter Fowler was a bright spot in the offseason additions for Houston. He’s missed the past couple games due to a stomach bug so perhaps a reactionary owner in your league has cut the toolsy outfielder loose. Expected to hit at the top of the order, Fowler should post a good OBP (career 13.2 BB% and .365 OBP) and is a threat to go 15+-15+. Should be owned in mixed leagues.
Brandon Belt has enjoyed a nice start to the season with 4 HR and a great triple slash. A trendy pick in the Trumbo, Rizzo, Adams tier, Belt’s second half numbers were on par with many of the elite 1B in the league last year. Hitting in AT&T Park is never going to be a positive for the young lefty, but it looks like Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy is going to keep Belt’s bat in the lineup regularly (something we’ve been asking for for years). Again, if you’re able to find someone looking to cash out early, be ready to jump at his first slump as 25 HR and a dozen steals to go along with a strong triple slash is a very real possibility for the 1B who’s been trending up for a couple years.
I was surprised to see Bryce Harper’s name atop so many preseason NL MVP ballots, but I’ve been even more surprised at his slow start. That said, the message to takeaway here is if you drafted someone in the first several rounds of your draft, stay patient! Sample size data is extremely small, and any player is one multi-homerun or 4 hit game away from being back “on pace”.
Pedro Alvarez started the season 1-15 with 4 K’s but two games later after a couple HRs, 4 BBs and a SB, he’s nearly back in the Yahoo top 100. Absent injury, a fill-in closer (e.g. JJ Hoover) or some late round flier, you believed in the guys you drafted a few weeks ago, and nothing has really changed that should cause you to go around and make wholesale changes or myopic moves. In fact, it’s this time of year, you should be looking to acquire those early season struggles so you can enjoy when they regress to the mean.