Six Notoriously Slow Starters Likely to Pick Up the Pace

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It’s easy to pass judgment on a player based on his production in April, but it’s important not to overreact to a small sample size in the season’s opening month— especially when that player has a tendency to crawl out of gate as if he had been napping all offseason.

These six players all have a history of poor numbers in April, but always pick up the pace later on in the year.

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Stay The Course

Kyle Seager (3B, SEA)

Seager is a perennial mixed-league asset and was widely considered a top-60 pick this year, but he doesn’t always produce right off the bat. The 29-year-old has hit just .244 with 16 homers throughout his career in March and April, including a .159/.266/.378 slash line before May in 2016— he finished with an .859 OPS. If fantasy owners don’t realize this trend and have soured a bit on the Mariners’ third baseman in the midst of yet another slow April — .684 OPS with no homers through his first 53 at-bats — this may be a good time to buy low on one of the more reliable options at the hot corner.

Albert Pujols (1B/DH, LAA)

Pujols is an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he’s also not the same player he was just a few years ago. At 37, it’s understandable for fantasy owners to expect some sort of continued decline. Through 54 at-bats, the 10-time All-Star is slashing .204/.259/.333 with two long balls— even after a timely three-run homer on April 18. When Pujols managed just a .570 OPS in April of 2012, it’s unlikely anybody batted an eye. But now that he is getting up there in age, there could be some widespread panic. Pujols is a career .309 hitter, but that number reads just .282 in March/April. Even at this point in his career, the three-time NL MVP should pick up the pace over the remaining months.

Kyle Hendricks (SP, CHC)

With a career April ERA of 4.77 — almost two whole runs higher than his lifetime ERA of 2.98 — the 2016 NL Cy Young runner-up has always been a slow starter. The 3.91 he posted last April doesn’t seem so bad, but when you consider his second-worst month, June, saw him post a 2.50, it becomes pretty clear that the 27-year-old doesn’t truly find his form until May. It’s incredibly unrealistic to expect anything close to what we saw from Hendricks a year ago, but if those who reached on draft day are beginning to grow frustrated, now is an ideal time to take action.

John Lackey (SP, CHC)

Lackey currently owns a 4.00 ERA through his first three starts, but his ERA has been well under 4.00 for four consecutive years. Like Pujols, Lackey could soon see his overall production decline, but his track record indicates there’s a good chance this is simply another slow start— especially considering he yielded just one run on four hits over six frames against the Dodgers on April 12. In each of the last two years, Lackey’s April ERA has been well above 4.00, including a 4.97 mark in the opening month a year ago— he finished at 3.35. Additionally, his current xFIP of 3.38 likely signifies a positive trend, and Lackey could end up being one of the more reliable NL arms over the remainder of the season.

Hisashi Iwakuma (SP, SEA)

For his career, Iwakuma has a 4.20 ERA in March/April, but is sub-4.00 in every other month. He suffered a career-worst 4.12 ERA in 2016, but even that number had been up at 4.65 at the beginning of May.

The 36-year-old doesn’t have a ton of upside at this point, but improvements from his current K rate (9.8 percent). ERA (5.40) and FIP (6.97) are to be expected. Iwakuma may have even been dropped in some shallower leagues given his 5.40 ERA through three outings, so don’t hesitate to pounce on the opportunity to add him to your roster.

Ken Giles (RP, HOU)

While admittedly based on a small sample size, Giles has now proven to be a slow starter. In 2016, Luke Gregerson beat him out for the closer role in Spring Training, and didn’t help his cause early in the year, posting a 9.00 ERA across 10 frames in April. However, he settled down and managed a 3.23 ERA with 88 strikeouts over his final 55 2/3 innings. This year, with ninth inning duties well in hand, he came out of the gate sluggish once again— 7.50 ERA with 11 punch-outs in six innings. Given his improvements following the opening month a year ago, as well as his appealing strikeout stuff, Giles is worth buying or sticking with going forward.