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Fantasy Baseball: These kids ARE alright

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We aren’t even done with the first full week of baseball. Everyone just CHILL. Heath discusses six semi-random players.

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Early season fantasy baseball can be insane. For instance, yours truly is dealing with the loss of Luis Severino and Trea Turner from his TGFBI squad. And then a scare with Brandon Nimmo, as well as a “banged up knee” from Jeff McNeil. Hardly an optimal way to begin life in the Champions League, but that’s the way the current cookie has begun to crumble.

Injury concerns coupled with slow starts by other parts of your team really can drive you mad. So today, I want to look at some guys that there are questions about. And yes, it’s a small sample. Some things aren’t meant to be predictive. But some of these performances might last, so why can’t we see who is off to a good or a bad start? I’ll try to do a good job with the data that we currently have.

All numbers are derived from Fangraphs or Baseball Savant. Fangraphs leaderboards were sorted for batters with at least 20 plate appearances.

A couple of days ago we asked who you were worried about:

Pitchers were a common topic, with names like Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Matt Strahm, and Walker Buehler making the list. Others mentioned were Miguel Cabrera, Matt Carpenter, Juan Soto, Eddie Rosario, and Jesse Winker. I definitely want to hit on some of those, but let’s see where the numbers take us, okay? We’ll check out three pitchers and three hitters, and then call it a day.

PITCHERS

Chris Sale is averaging 90.9 mph on his fastball, which is about four ticks less than he averaged the last two years (94.4, 94.7). However, there’s also precedence for Sale dialing things back a bit early in the season:

Conventional wisdom tells us that having a dead arm at this time of year is fairly common. And Sale only made a pair of Spring Training starts. I’m not saying that’s the case, but Sale is only two starts into the season and coming off of a year where he finished with shoulder issues. And he has a history of dialing things back a bit in the early going. I’m leaning towards having more concern for the state of the Red Sox offense than I am worrying over Sale. Just score some runs, Boston. Stop worrying about your ace.

I just can’t be worried about Nick Pivetta after one measly start. There’s nothing wrong with his velo, as he’s sitting at 95 mph this year. His pitch mix in his first start looked a little different than last year, as he beefed up his curveball usage and threw less fastballs. That jives with 2018, as hitters had a .185 ISO on his four-seamer, a wacky .318 ISO against his sinker, and a nutso .389 ISO on his changeup. Against his curve, hitters managed a .081 ISO and struck out 38.1% of the time. It’s only one start, but if Pivetta can figure out the best pitch mix and utilize his blazing heat to keep guys off balance, he’ll find ways to be productive. His expectant ADP meant he didn’t make many of my teams this year, but if I were someone who drafted him, I’d keep holding on for now.

The anti-Sale is Martin Perez, whose fastball velocity has increased to an average of 95.2 mph in 2019—up from 92.7 mph last year. Perez has a laughably small 3 23 innings pitched in 2019, but he has struck out six of those 11 batters and has a whopping 13.4% swinging strike rate. We can’t tell a single thing from this small of a sample, but the increased velocity is enough to catch my eye. I’ll be paying attention to him, and he’s one of bench guys in at least one deep tilt where I need the depth.

HITTERS

Juan Soto isn’t someone people are actually worried about...right? I don’t own Soto in many places (side effect of not many OBP leagues) but an early .304/.385/.522 slash line and 11.5% walk rate are stupid-healthy. I suppose it’s the 34.6% strikeout rate that is worrisome? That’s backed by an early 16.5% swinging strike rate, but we are talking about 26 plate appearances, people! His chase rate is still above-average, as is his walk rate. Soto is only 20 years old and there might be some growing pains in Year 2. But you drafted a 20-year-old, okay? I wouldn’t be cutting bait because of a handful of early strikeouts. CHILL.

Christian Walker is scalding the ball, as he ranks first in the Majors with a 87.5% hard contact rate. His 56.3% pull rate is encouraging, as is the recent quad injury to Jake Lamb that opens up playing time. But beyond the crazy hard contact rate, Walker’s early plate discipline is most encouraging. In his recent MLB stints he swung far more than the 46% MLB average (53% and 58% in the last two years). But so far in 2019 Walker’s overall swing rate is down to 44.3%, which is right at the MLB average. Meanwhile, his 27.7% chase rate and 78.3% zone swing rate are above-average. His contact rates (overall in and in the zone) are above-average. And finally, being more selective has paid off in the swing-and-miss department, as Walker’s 8.6% swinging strike rate is far better than the 11.5% MLB average. I think he is an excellent add at your corner infield position, a guy who might offer 20+ homers if he can keep up the gains he has made.

Don’t laugh, but Alex Gordon’s first strike percentage is the lowest in the MLB, at 33.3%. No one else in the Majors has seen fewer first pitch strikes. Gordon is everyone’s favorite whipping boy offensively, but his 5.4% swinging strike rate and corresponding 96.8% zone contact rate are epic. Gordon’s 20.3% chase rate is also elite, far better than the MLB average. It’s too bad about his home digs in Kansas City. If Gordon played in a more hitter-friendly environment, his story might be a tad different. His current exit velocity and launch angle numbers are a hair below average, but his three barrels on 18 batted ball events gives him a barrel rate of 16.7%, which is well above the MLB average of 6.4%. Gordon is 35 years old and we shouldn’t expect a breakout in that home park. But if you were desperate enough to add him as a depth piece to cover an early injury, I think he’ll find some ways to continue being useful...especially on the road.

I haven’t quite worked out how I’ll be picking players to either buy or sell during the season. But we may keep using the Twitter feed as a sort of mailbag. In short, though, the wisdom is this: IT’S TOO EARLY TO FREAK OUT!

Unless you drafted Trea Turner and Luis Severino in League 1 of TGFBI. Then it might be time to be worried. But luckily, I’m the only person on the planet that applies to...