Fantasy Baseball

Three Days of Takeaways/A Guide to Patience

We are now a week and a half into baseball.  The opening day pomp and circumstance has come and gone.  Some teams are raking – homers, steals, runs and RBI left and right.  Some teams are not.  Today, I am going to provide you with a little insight into early struggles and what you can do about them.

The amount of preparation that goes into fantasy baseball is what makes early season struggles so difficult to accept.  You did all that research, crunched numbers and put together a team that you were confident was a championship contender…  And you are off to a dreadful start.  Your hitters are not hitting.  Your pitchers are giving up homers and when they are not, they are walking the world.

Sample size has become a buzzword in the fantasy industry – right along side “regression.”  In this case though, the echo chamber spouting off sample size is correct.  The simple fact is that we really cannot judge much of anything from 35-45 PA sample.  The numbers are not stable and subject to way too much variance on a day-to-day basis.  To illustrate this, let’s look at Jose Altuve, who got three hits last night to raise his batting average from .216 to .275.  A couple of hits (or homers or RBI, etc.) makes a big difference at this time of year.

Now, that is not to say that every player that is a funk will bounce back.  Undoubtedly, you are going to be wrong about some of the players that you drafted.  Everyone will.  You could be wrong on a player for any number of reasons – an undisclosed injury, a poor mechanical change, personal reasons, age-related decline, etc.  No one is perfect.

However, if a majority of your team is struggling and you want to identify their issues, there are some exercises that you can do early in the season to find out whether you should be concerned about a player’s performance.  Your old friend BABIP is a very useful tool.  If your player has not experienced wild variations in their K% or BB% and is struggling, then there’s a distinct possibility that it could just be poor batted ball luck.  Although one cannot simply assume that BABIP will return to normal levels, it is an indication that the player (and in turn, you) might be a little unlucky.  In one league, I have gotten off to a slow start.  I ran the numbers and low and behold – .220 BABIP from offensive starters.  Immediately, I felt better.

The same thing goes for pitchers.  Check their BABIP, check their Home Run rates.  These are the indicators of whether a pitcher might be suffering from some poor luck compared to past seasons.  Similar to batters, the K and BB numbers are much more indicative of potential struggles than contact issues.  I would caution though that K and BB numbers also can get inflated and distorted in this small sample size.

The most important thing you can do is stay patient.  Do not drop players that you believed in wholeheartedly.  Do a little digging and you will probably find that your players are just in a rut to start the year and soon will find their form.  If you dig in and don’t like what you see on K% and BB% then you might have something to worry about and maybe should throw some early feelers out there.

Even then you should proceed cautiously, as a personal example, I own Jonathan Villar just about everywhere and he rivals Byron Buxton for strikeout to walk futility at the moment.  There are a couple of reasons why I am not overly concerned about Villar (compared to Buxton).  First, we have seen Villar make adjustments before, which makes him more likely to make a counter-adjustment to what pitchers are doing to him than someone (I.E. Buxton), who has never made a significant adjustment at the Major League level.  Second, digging into the numbers, I realized that pitchers are hammering the strike zone early in the count against Villar (80% compared to 57.3% last year).  They are trying to take advantage of his patience and desire to draw a walk.  Villar just needs to be more aggressive early in the count and then pitcher will not be so eager to throw first pitch strikes against him.  Sure enough in the last two games, he has only taken the first pitch twice in his last nine at-bats and has not struck out once.

Hear my message, irrational, struggling fantasy baseball owner…  Patience and reasoning will guide you through these turbulent times.  You will see results that you desire soon enough.

-I was not one of the Trea Turner hype-men during the offseason.  If anything, I was the total antithesis.  With that established, I am concerned about what this hamstring injury means for Turner.  Jean Segura also suffered a hamstring injury and I am equally concerned about him.  When speedsters suffer these soft tissue injuries, there are a couple of adverse things that can occur for fantasy owners.  One, the players do not push it, run less and hurt their value.  Two, the players push too hard and the injury reoccurs.  Of course, there is the possibility that they one or both come back completely healthy and this is a blip.  However, if they come back on a tear with the bat, I would shop them because I think there is a high probability that their speed production will take a hit for one reason or another.

-Tony Barnette was set to get the first post-Sam Dyson save in Texas last night, but there were extenuating circumstances.  Matt Bush was out after getting an injection in his shoulder – he is expected to return on Friday.  Jeremy Jeffress had worked back-to-back days.  If I had to place a bet, it would be that Jeffress will take the job, but I am hardly certain.

-James Paxton is looking like the rare, high-helium sleeper that might still turn a profit for his owners.  In two starts against a dangerous, right-hand heavy Houston lineup, Paxton has been flawless.  If he can do that to a lineup loaded with right-handed stalwarts, imagine what he will do against lineups that lean on left handed hitters.  He is someone to be very excited about in the early-going.

-I have seen very little buzz around Brandon McCarthy, who has opened the year with back-to-back quality starts.  Although he does have Brett Anderson/Rich Hill injury risk, McCarthy’s velocity looks good, he has a good repertoire and is in a pitcher’s ballpark in the NL.  When healthy, he could provide useful Lackey-esque innings for your fantasy team.

-Cesar Hernandez is baffling to me.  He seems like the player that nobody wants (13%), but everyone can use.  He’s hitting leadoff for an offense with some talent behind him (Howie Kendrick – the protypical two hitter, followed by popular sleepers Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco).  He has speed and on-base skills with a little bit of pop in a favorable ballpark.  Second base is just loaded and I think that’s why he remains readily available.  Still, I would not be shocked if he’s a waiver wire star by the end of the year.  If you can make room, he’s an add.

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