We're one month into the baseball season, and fantasy owners have already been forced to adjust and readjust their starting lineups. From injuries to top players like Bryce Harper to Michael Pineda being caught and subsequently suspended for using pine tar, there's been no lack of drama this year.
Several players are off to slow starts this season. Who do you think won't eventually heat up?
Beller: I was down on Dustin Pedroia coming into the season, largely because of alarming downward trends in his HR/FB ratio and stolen base totals. Both of those have come home to roost this season. Pedroia is hitting.274/.330/.358 this year. He has yet to hit a home run and has just one steal. He hasn't been unlucky, evidenced by a .305 BABIP, and he has a puny .085 isolated slugging percentage. Given that this continues a pattern that started back in 2012, I don't have faith in Pedroia turning it around. I would try to sell while his name brand still resonates.
Gonos: Edwin Encarnacion's owners need to trade him as soon as possible, in my opinion. He had wrist surgery in the offseason, and a wrist injury has been known to sap a power hitter's strength, much like thumb and other hand injuries. The power generated from the hips, shoulders and arms is negated by a pair of wrists that don't turn over as hard and quickly as they should. His batting average is 30 points lower than the past three years, which we can usually shrug off to a small sample size. But it's his HR-to-FB ratio is just 6.3 percent, which is painfully low compared to the 18.0 percent in his past two seasons. His strikeout percentage is at 22.3 percent, but even when he is making contact, he's just not hitting it out of the park.
Encarnacion has 16 hits in his past 26 at-bats (.615 batting average), with two home runs and nine RBI in his past seven games. This is a peak to what will be many valleys in his 2014 season -- it's time to punt.
Why is scoring down across the board, and will it pick up?
Beller: Scoring is down for a number of reasons. Teams have put an emphasis on power pitchers, and they're as dominant as they have been in a long time. They've also gotten savvier with defensive shifts, and more teams are employing them with increasing frequency. Those are really the two main factors driving scoring downward this season. As the weather heats up, we'll likely see an increase in home runs, but the paltry batting averages that have become commonplace in the first month of the season are likely here to stay. Expect offense to remain at a premium for most of the season.
Gonos: We're getting back to the MLB's normal scoring pace, but there are several reasons that affected hitters over the past month. First, there's the polar vortex that has toyed with all of us this April. From the north to the south, temperatures have been colder than usual, which we've learned keeps flyballs from flying as far.
Secondly, we're looking at the results of MLB's crackdown on PEDs over the past half-decade. While it's true, we saw 14 players that were either in the majors or had major-league experience, get suspended for PEDs in 2013, there were just seven in 2012, and three in 2011. Last year's Biogenesis investigation could have been a "bio-revelation" that was the final warning shot to most major leaguers. The ISO numbers of non-pitchers have dipped from the .160s from the late '90s to 2012. Last season, non-pitchers had a combined .146 ISO, and this year, that number sits at .142. That means hitters just aren't hitting the ball as hard.
Who will steal the most bases by the end of the season?
Beller: Dee Gordon is the current leader with 13, Eric Young is second with 12, and a host of players are tied for third with nine. Billy Hamilton will be a popular choice, but all the fears over his ability to get on base with any consistency have proved well founded. It's boring to go with the guy at the top right now, but I'm casting my vote for Gordon. His .397 BABIP will certainly come down, and his 4.4-percent walk rate is unimpressive, but Don Mattingly has turned him loose this year. Chances are he won't need to have much better than a .330 OBP or so to swipe 50-plus bases. The same, of course, is true of Hamilton, but he's going to struggle to accumulate a .300 OBP, let alone .330. Gordon, who has just 12 strikeouts in 91 plate appearances, is the best bet.
Gonos: As leery as I was about drafting Billy Hamilton, you still have to give him credit for stealing 10 bases despite reaching base just 27 times this season. His batting average is still painfully low (.244), especially for a leadoff hitter. But the Reds are sticking with him at the top of their order, and even if he picks up his batting average by another 10 points, that could be the difference between 60 steals at season's end, and 70 or more. No player has more than five stolen bases with as few appearances on the basepaths as Hamilton.
Which player did you invest in this spring who hasn't quite capitalized?
Beller: I really thought Wil Myers would build on his 2013 Rookie of the Year season, and obviously there's still plenty of time for him to do so. He's hitting just .232/.305/.337 with two homers and an ugly 26.7-percent strikeout rate. His line-drive rate is a paltry 14.9 percent and he already has three popups; he had five in 373 plate appearances last year. Myers has hit his whole life and I do believe he will turn it around, but it has been a rather disappointing April for last year's AL ROY.
Gonos: Pablo Sandoval has been a big disappointment for me this season. I paid $16 for him in Tout Wars, and he was tied as my fourth-most expensive player on my roster. Through Tuesday, he's hitting just .177 on the season, with two homers and 11 RBI. That puts him on pace for about a dozen homers, 40 RBI and 60 runs scored, which is quite Stephen Drew-like. I had expected big things from Kung Fu Panda, mostly because he came into camp having dropped 40 pounds for the final year of his contract. Nothing motivates a player like an upcoming big payday, and it just hasn't happened for him -- yet.
Some good news for fellow Panda owners -- his BABIP sits at just .208, which is .100 points lower than his career number of .312, which should mean some hits will avoid fielders soon. His K-percentage is up to 20.6 percent, which is nearly 50 percent higher than his career average, and his ISO numbers are down just a big (from .176 in his career to .125). Could it be that Cheetos and buffalo wings gave him Popeye power last season? If so, fat men everywhere will point to this case study for decades.
Who are some sell-high candidates after the first month of the season?
Beller: Charlie Blackmon is the poster child for sell-high candidates. He has it all: A hot start that has people talking about him, a paltry track record that suggests his performance will regress at some point and a gaudy stat line that looks awfully pretty through one month of the season. Additionally, he also appears to have some staying power, and that's the key here. Anyone can smell a sell-high deal coming from a mile away. You can't sell high when you're trying to trade a Chris Shelton or Bryan LaHair. Your sell-high player needs to be a guy people actually believe in, and Blackmon fits that bill. The bottom line, however, is that the Rockies haven't just stumbled upon a 30/30 guy. Blackmon's pace will slow, and his value is likely at its peak right now. You would be wise to see what he can fetch in a trade.
Some other sell-high players for me include Nelson Cruz, Justin Morneau, Aaron Harang and Tim Hudson.
Gonos: The top two hitters in head-to-head leagues right now are rookies Jose Abreu and Charlie Blackmon. If you can find a great deal for either of them, you should take advantage before pitchers get another look at them in the coming months.
Francisco Rodriguez is currently on pace for 78 saves this season, as he leads all major leaguers through the first month. The 13-year veteran already has more saves than he posted last season, and a lot of his success comes from the fact that the Brewers lead the majors with 20 wins (three more than any other team). Or is it vice-versa -- the Brewers' success is due to K-Rod's closing ability? Either way, you have to expect them to come back to the pack during the summer months.
Name one under-the-radar aspect of the fantasy game this year (stat, player, etc) that owners may not have picked up on.
Beller: Are all fantasy owners watching the same Garrett Richards I've been watching? I fear not. Otherwise, he'd be nearly universally owned. Richards has been great this year, posting a 2.53 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 1.00 WHIP and 31 strikeouts in 32 innings. His 24.6-percent strikeout rate is not a mirage. Richards' average fastball sits at 95.9 mph this year, and his slider has been among the best in the game thus far. He throws a four-seamer, two-seamer and cutter, and has commanded all three beautifully in his first five starts. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer four of his five times out, and has fanned at least five batters in each outing. Richards is going to be a profitable player all season in even the shallowest mixed leagues. That he remains widely available regardless of where you play fantasy baseball is beyond me. Get him now.
Gonos: I can't remember a time where there were this many Tommy John surgeries happening this early in the season. While that may not necessarily be an under-the-radar aspect to the season, it deserves another mention. Since the end of last season, the list of players lining up for this surgery makes for an impressive fantasy team: Brandon Beachy, Patrick Corbin, Matt Harvey, Josh Johnson, Kris Medlen, Matt Moore, Ivan Nova, Jarrod Parker, Bobby Parnell, and top prospects Miguel Sano (3B) and Jameson Taillon.
I wonder if a few of these players have decided to have the surgery relatively early in their careers in order to avoid it later, knowing how successful pitchers have been after the surgery. Only Josh Johnson, Kris Medlen and Bobby Parnell are older than 27 years old, and there are seven players, including the prospects, that had the surgery with fewer than five years of major-league experience.
Tommy John himself expressed his shock at the number of pitchers going under the knife. John points to the probable over-use of many of these pitchers as children. "[Pitchers are] taught to throw a lot when they're young," John told the Italian American Civic Association this past week. "And then it just builds up and builds up until they're like 24, 25 or 26 and their ligaments weaken. And they keep throwing and keep throwing -- and it's a shame."
From a fantasy perspective, I'd say this bodes well for hitters in the second half of the season, as pitchers who shouldn't be in the majors yet are now throwing to big-league bats. Also, there will be a great list of fantasy sleepers in the spring of 2016, as we'll have a couple dozen or so pitchers two years removed from Tommy John surgery.