Got an email from a guy who heard me on the Fantasy Alarm Show on SiriusXM today and asked for some of the data I was quoting during today’s hot/cold starts segment so he could show his work buddy with whom he shares a team in a high-stakes league. Apparently they share a team in a money league and are disagreeing on a few decisions to make involving some of the players I discussed. I feel like it was helpful information so, ask and ye shall receive.
For those who listened, today’s Daily Bender might give you a little déjà vu. For those who didn’t – I took the top five most asked-about hot starters and the top five most asked-about cold starters and dug deep into the numbers to not only find out why, but whether or not it will last. The sample size of emails, texts, tweets and Facebook messages to determine who made the lists was substantial, and we can just leave it at that.
Top 5 Most Questioned Hot Starts
5. Jason Castro, C MIN – Maybe it’s knowing the dimensions of Target Field versus Minute Maid Park, but we’re not seeing the same swing-for-the-fences guy here as Castro has been a lot more selective at the plate, given his 38.3-percent swing rate and 4.2-percent strikeout rate through his first 24 plate appearances. Even better is the 31-percent swing rate when he’s got two strikes on him which means he’s finally learned to lay off that high fastball every pitcher learned to throw him. And not only are his contact rates above-average, they are well-above any numbers he’s posted in the last six years. The 31.3-percent line drive rate will come down over time, which will likely increase his fly ball rate. If that brings an increase in home runs, I don’t think anyone is complaining. As to whether or not he can sustain this level of production, it all comes down to his plate discipline here. If he can remain selective, he could prove to be more than just a band-aid for Gary Sanchez owners. If not, he’ll be the same ol’ same.
4. Yunel Escobar, 3B LAA – The guy is 34-years old and has been in the big-leagues for over a decade, yet some people are looking at him like they’re seeing him play for the very first time. Escobar is making crazy contact (88.3%) and getting an awful lot of help from his30-percent line drive rate and subsequent .483 BABIP. He’s never been known to be too selective at the plate as he’s seen only one pitch in 18.1-percent of his plate appearances since 2015, but he’s also not up there hacking away. So I looked at what pitchers have thrown his way and it’s 62.2-percent fastballs. Maybe it’s because it’s early in the year, but he’s not seeing a whole lot of breaking stuff. That should change fairly quickly when pitchers realize that Escobar has a 76.5-percent ground ball rate against curves and sliders. Once they make that adjustment, he’ll go back to being Yunel again.
3. Miguel Sano, 3B/OF MIN – For some guys, it’s about relaxing and at the plate and being selective. For Sano, it’s all about being aggressive at the plate. Since 2015, he’s posted a 37.3-percent line drive rate and 1.224 slugging-percentage when he’s swung at and made contact with the first pitch he sees. That would explain his 50.4-percent swing rate which is well-above league average. And when you learn that he swings and misses 40.1-percent of the time when he’s got two strikes on him, you can certainly understand why you don’t want him to sit back and wait. It’s a risk to be that aggressive, but if he can avoid chasing some outside first-pitches, there’s no reason to believe he can’t sustain his power levels.
2. Manny Margot, OF SD – He’s got something you rarely see in rookies who make the Opening Day lineup and bat leadoff – plate discipline. Maybe it’s pitch selectivity. Whatever the case may be, Margot’s 41.5-percent swing rate and well-below average 22.7-percent on swings outside the zone is not typical for a young player and his fantasy owners are reaping the benefits. His contact rates are very strong, but what’s funny is that his current batted ball profile doesn’t fit the type of hitter we expected him to be. His 19.2-percent line drive rate is good but not great, but he’s generating a lot of power and that 42.3-percent fly ball rate has helped him to three home runs and a 1.198 OPS against right-handed pitching. Nothing in his history suggests he is someone to consistently hit for power, but I am expecting that line drive rate to increase at the expense of the fly balls and allow him to get on-base and steal some bases more. He’s definitely someone to own.
1. Mitch Haniger, OF SEA – I love the power potential and I love the current swing rates. He’ll have the usual ups-and-downs most rookies go through, but overall, he should be just fine. Against right-handed pitching, that is. Against lefties? Well, not so much. Haniger has trouble with the southpaws and actually has a 38.9-percent strikeout rate against them, dating back to the 2016 All Star break. He’s only faced one lefty this season, has struck out once in three at-bats and it looks like the team has enough options that they may limit his exposure to them. If they do let him face lefties consistently and he improves his strikeout rate, he could prove to be the total package a little further down the road.
Top 5 Most Questioned Cold Starts
5. Anthony Rendon, 3B WAS – Low contact rates, fishing for too many pitches out of the zone and a .176 BABIP over 34 at-bats have Rendon as the only player on the Nationals who isn’t smacking the crap out of the ball. The hacking and pressing at the plate have to stop as a 32.1-percent strikeout rate isn’t going to summon those BABIP luck dragons and the slump will persist. He needs to start laying off a ton of pitches, focus on making contact with the breaking stuff and things will fall into line. He just needs a little time to work himself out of this.
4. Brad Miller, 1B/SS TB – Looks like someone is awfully focused on hitting the 30-home run plateau again this season. Unfortunately, it’s throwing him off in a major way. To counter his vehement attempts to put the ball over the fence, pitchers are throwing him sliders 21.9-percent of the time, a massive rate increase over last year, and as a result, he’s mashing the ball into the dirt at a rate of 58.8-percent. Few people expected Miller to reprise the 2016 power, but if he doesn’t make the proper adjustment to the pitch mix he’s now seeing, he’s going to have trouble reaching even the 20-home run plateau.
3. Tommy Joseph, 1B PHI – His 53.9-percent swing rate is far too high and his 35.6-percent swing rate on pitches outside the zone is awful. That kind of aggressive hacking has resulted in a 36.2-percent strikeout rate (13.2% SwStr) and a 46.7-percent ground ball rate. He’s getting no help from his insanely low 6.7-percent line drive rate or his .133 BABIP and the overall results have been dismal. It seems like a timing and pressing thing right now because when he is making contact, it’s not hard contact at all. I was never really high on him as most people were thanks to his qualifying at catcher on the DFS sites, so I always viewed him as an average-at-best first baseman. That means 18-20 home runs. He’s not as bad as his current numbers indicate, but he’s also not as good as some purport.
2. Trevor Story, SS COL – Well what did you expect from a guy who struck out 31.2-percent of the time last year and is now posting one just under 40-percent with a 17-percent swinging strike rate? He’s not swinging at a world of pitches and he’s not hacking outside the zone either. He’s just swinging through everything and when he does make contact, he’s popping it up. What’s worrisome is that his .267 BABIP is significantly lower than last year’s, but not so low that you can’t help but know it will go up soon enough. He’s getting fooled by the changeup and pitchers aren’t going to let him off the hook. He won’t be this bad all year thanks to Coors Field, but don’t expect his numbers to come close to 201q6 unless he dramatically changes adjusts his approach.
1. Byron Buxton, OF – Well I hate to end it on something so predictable, but there isn’t a single fantasy writer out there who hasn’t had his/her fair share of “Should I drop Buxton?” In short, no. Stash him on your bench. I don’t even need to cite numbers here. You’ve heard me say it a million times -- too much pressure batting third and by the time he was finally dropped in the order, he was so “in his head,” that snapping out of it is going to take a few weeks. His defense will keep the Twins from demoting him and when he finally snaps out of it, you’ll still have five months to reap the benefits.