FANTASY PLAYS: Analyzing several April baseball surprises
There are several fantasy baseball surprises as we head into May, both good and bad. This week, we examine two impressive early season hitters, a struggling starter, a mirage at closer and a player who's better in real life than fantasy.
Aaron Judge, NYY - Judge is giving Yankees fans everything they hoped to see and more. With an average over .280, 16 runs, seven home runs and 15 RBIs, how could any fan not love him? Well, we will see if that love continues when Judge inevitably goes cold for a stretch. Judge is a mammoth man with power for days, but he has significant strikeout concerns. He carried a mid-20 percent strikeout rate through the minors. That number usually increases at the major league level, especially with power hitters, and Judge struck out 44.2 percent of the time last year. He has that number down to 25.4 percent this year, largely due to his improved plate discipline. That's admirable, but pitchers are going to adjust to Judge, throwing more pitches outside of the zone. Judge is more of a .250 hitter, which means he will regress a bit. Sell high to owners thinking that Judge is the next Nelson Cruz. He's more like Khris Davis, which is still great, just not top 20 player great.
Avisail Garcia, CHW - You might not remember when Garcia first came up, but people called him Mini Miggy (after Miguel Cabrera). Garcia has missed significant time almost every season, but he's looking Cabrera-like this year. Garcia is batting over .370 with 13 runs, 4 home runs and 17 RBIs. The average is inflated by his .462 BABIP, but he's swinging and making contact with more pitches inside the strike zone. Garcia has become a more patient hitter, and it's paying off. Garcia's isolated power and slugging percentage are at career highs, but while some might worry that it's a fluke, you now know that Garcia is the same hitter he's always been just with improved discipline, which leads to better hits. Don't sell high unless it's for top 30 outfielder value.
Robert Gsellman, NYM - The start of the 2017 season couldn't be much worse for the Mets, and both Gsellman and Matt Harvey were hit hard during their recent starts. Should you bail after Gsellman's impressive 2016 season? Not yet. Both he and Harvey were thrown off by rotation changes, when Gsellman was supposed to have his start completely skipped. Secondly, Gsellman's metrics point to his pitching better than his unsightly 6.23 ERA. Gsellman has a predictive ERA of 3.36 thanks to an extremely unlucky .377 BABIP and 52.5 LOB percentage. For comparison, those numbers were .325 and 81.3 last year. Gsellman has actually improved his strikeout numbers as well with hitters making contact with more pitches outside of the zone (weak contact normally). Gsellman isn't as good as his 2.42 ERA from last season, but he's much better than this. Don't panic yet; just wait a start or two until we see his numbers normalize.
Dansby Swanson, ATL - Swanson is a perfect example of a player that is better in real life than in fantasy. At best, we're looking at a 10/10 hitter (10 home runs, 10 steals) with a decent average. Where is the fantasy baseball appeal? Answer: there isn't any. Even if Swanson could get his average near .300, it would be a mostly empty average, as the runs might reach 80 but the 10/10 description would still fit and the RBIs would be mediocre. Think Scooter Gennett with more runs - and again, only if he gets the average up, which doesn't look likely given his poor plate discipline so far. Swanson isn't worthy of fantasy rosters outside of NL-only and deep leagues.
Tony Watson, PIT - Watson was one of the top bets among closers to lose their job this year. People might think that's changed with his perfect 7 for 7 in save opportunities and 0.96 ERA, but sell now, and quickly. There is a reason his predictive ERA is an eye-catching 5.34. Tony Watson has been extremely lucky and he isn't fooling hitters. He has a 0.0 SOBB (Strikeout percentage minus Base on Balls percentage). Yes, zero. He's only striking out 4.8 batters per nine while walking the same. He also has an unsustainable 100 LOB percentage. Watson is going to regress soon, and it's going to be ugly. Don't be around for it.
STREAMING WITH SOBBs
The Brewers continue to strike out more than any other team, but they can put up a ton of runs too. Stream against them cautiously with Mike Leake and Chad Kuhl being interesting plays. The Padres are near the top as well and have one of the lowest-scoring offenses. That makes Tyler Chatwood, Antonio Senzatela and Hyun-Jin Ryu intriguing options. The Blue Jays still haven't turned things around with several players batting below .200 in the lineup. Luis Severino is a must-start, especially with his hot start, and CC Sabathia and Jake Odorizzi are strong streamers.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by Jake Ciely of the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com