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If the Major League season were to end today, two of the favorites for the World Series (Cleveland and Los Angeles) would not be making the playoffs, and Pittsburgh would be a top seed. Not that we can put much stock into six games, they still serve as the beginning of some insight into the MLB season and serve to provoke reaction to unexpectedly hot or slow starts.

In the game of fantasy baseball, quick reactions can win pennants, as counting stats in April matter as much as they do in July. In this article, we look to some of those great starts that you should have your eye on due to the past struggles of these four. Basically, over the small sample, we want to know who is defying their career paths from previous years.

Most of the players on this list are well known, rostered, and starters. Do not read this as a waiver-wire piece, but instead context for existing players. A chance to add a player who is starting off the year hot is vital as you begin to move your gaze to the trading block to fill positions and replace injured stars. At the very least when all of these players tend to get better as the season goes on, and their floor for improvement is already higher, the chance of a better season than usual make a trade worth the risk. To help frame these players, Average Draft Position from the National Fantasy Baseball Championship for drafts in February and March is included.

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Will They Flame Out or Keep Burning?

Edwin Encarnacion (1B, CLE) (ADP: 94.25)

Encarnacion is in no way a sleeper and is owned in 100% of CBS leagues. Then why include him on this list? Encarnacion NEVER starts off the year well, and this year he is uncharacteristically playing very well already. Looking to his past three seasons take his March/April “fantasy slash-line” (AVG/HR/R): 2015 - .205/4/10, 2016 - .250/3/9, and 2017 - .200/4/9. Now, look at his 2018 numbers so far: .200/3/4. First reactions to this would say that his AVG is still down, but he has almost matched his home run totals for the first twenty-five games of 2015-2017 in six. He is on pace for sixteen runs in March/April which would be his best total over the sample period. Even more encouraging for that low batting average is a .091 BABIP meaning the average should improve. Even a small improvement sets Encarnacion up for a career-best start to the season. The key for Encarnacion is the early home runs.

Advice: Hold firm in all leagues you own him and try to wrestle him away from a skeptical owner everywhere else.  Use the low batting average to your advantage but expect a surge.

 

Brian Dozier (2B, MIN) (ADP: 75.54)

Of all the players off to a fast start, Dozier is the most interesting. Hitting in a lineup that is not getting production from Byron Buxton, Logan Morrison, or Eddie Rosario, Dozier has continued to rake and keep the lineup afloat. Again, this is unusual for Dozier based on his previous March/Aprils. 2016 saw Dozier post a .191 AVG with a 20 K% and 10 BB%. These numbers continued into 2017 with a .242 AVG and an 18 K% and 11 BB%. This year, those numbers have shot up to .318 and 12% for K% and BB%. Besides, the HR are there with a 2016 total of three, 2017 total of two, and four already this year. Dozier is hitting better, seeing the ball better, and on pace for more than 16 HR in the opening months of the season. Do not sleep on a second breakout year from the Twins second baseman.

Advice:  Dozier has clear value now, and when the rest of the offense starts producing this will only increase. Must start and must keep. Avoid the sell-high play. If the Twins fall out of the race, this is a top trade chip that could be moving to the Dodgers or Washington only increasing his value.

 

Justin Verlander (SP, HOU) (ADP: 78.43)

Verlander has enjoyed somewhat of a revival in Houston after falling on some rough times towards the end of his Detroit tenure. For a strikeout pitcher, Verlander’s worst numbers come at the beginning of the season. For example, take March/April where for his career he posts an 8.2 K/9 rate. Compare this to his career August 9.1 K/9 and September/October 9.2 line. It is not uncommon for high-velocity pitchers to take a few weeks to ramp up, but that makes Verlander’s numbers all the more impressive this year. Through two starts with Houston, he is averaging 10.8 K/9. Even more notable is that Verlander is averaging 4.67 K/BB this year, and his career average for March/April is 2.55. Owners skeptical that he could maintain last year's second half magic could be in for a surprise.

Advice: While starting pitchers are fantasy gold, this is a clear example of a sell-high.  While we like that Verlander is off to a hot start the age and deep run in the playoffs could come back to bite later in the year.  Flip him now when you can sell the increases for more value.

 

Ian Desmond (1B/OF, COL) (ADP: 149.24)

After suffering through a rough first year at Coors Field, Ian Desmond looks to have found his stride in the opening games of the season. Though 19 AB, Desmond has two HR and seven RBI to complement a .421 AVG. Like most others on this list, Desmond performs the worst in March/April with a career .250 AVG. Compare this to his May (.267), June (.266), July (.266), and August (.292) numbers for some context. Can he maintain a 211 WRC+? No way. Still, a .462 BABIP before playing a single game in Denver is a good sign. Desmond is also relying on his pull-side less than usual this year. His career average is 34.3% whereas this year he is only hitting 6.7% of balls that direction. Most of his hits (60%) have gone up the middle, a 23% jump over his career average. Also, he has a hard contact rate of 53.35 according to Fangraphs. Compare that to his career average of 29.1% and the profile is compelling. A multi-position player at Coors already has value, but with a rebound, he looks to shoot up the most wanted players list.

Advice:  Like Verlander, cash in on Desmond now if you can.  He will be in Colorado for a while with that contract, McMahon is the apparent successor at the position which could turn Desmond into a platoon when he cools off.  In mixed leagues, this is a trade chip, and in NL-only ride the hot start.

 

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