Thinking back to when I first started in this business, particularly when I was writing for FanGraphs, it’s amazing how far statistical analysis of baseball has come. The debate over number-crunching versus “the eye test” is so far in our rearview mirror as more and more MLB teams create analysis divisions within their organizations and the number of widely accepted metrics continues to grow. But number-crunching isn’t for everyone and as much as we’d like to think we can hang with the likes of Ariel Cohen and Derek Carty, sometimes you have to accept the fact that multiplier coefficients and calculating things like wOBA and xFIP just aren’t your bag.
There’s nothing wrong with accepting the fact that math just isn’t your thing. It’s not exactly mine either and before I continue, allow me to correct a huge mistake I made in this year’s MLB Draft Guide by not including an article I’ve written every year for the last five to seven years – Know Your Metric Benchmarks. It’s the ultimate stat guide for those who aren’t math wizards but want to understand why analysts are citing things like wOBA and wRC+. You don’t need to know how these stats are created or calculated; you just need to know what numbers you should be looking for when someone does cite them.
So why am I bringing this up right now? Well, I was mulling over topics for this week’s Buzz Cuts and I was looking at some of the monthly splits for certain players and recalled a great conversation I had with ex-MLB pitcher Todd Wellemeyer a little more than 10 years ago. We discussed the rise of sabermetrics and what players thought about how the analysis side of the game was shifting towards the number-crunching and while he wasn’t someone who thought about strand rate, FIP or BABIP, he did say that he noticed one very important thing – how one good month can turn your entire season around, both statistically and mentally.
You can do the number-crunching if you want and calculate that one month is one-sixth of the season and that ends up roughly five starts for a pitcher and 100-120 plate appearances for a hitter and what the impact is of those numbers on an entire year, but, as Todd explained to me, it’s more than that. It changes your mindset. Even the best of players can get mired in a slump and allow self-doubt to creep in. How many times have we seen great hitter pressing at the plate or a pitcher frustrated because he’s having trouble locating one of his pitches? Players are human and are just as susceptible to mental gymnastics as anyone else. But that one good month not only boosts their numbers, but their attitudes as well.
So, with that, let’s take a look at some of those slow starters in April who have seen the turnaround here in May. If you have them on your roster, enjoy, but if you don’t, maybe you can pry them away from their owner for cheaper than usual because their numbers haven’t “normalized” just yet.
Kyle Tucker , OF HOU – While Tucker may have finished the month of April with five home runs, the rest of the numbers were pretty underwhelming, especially the .181/.238/.372 slash line. May has been a complete turnaround for him as his four homers and 12 RBI at the half-way mark almost match the previous month’s totals. They also come with a .313/.411/.646 slash line with roughly 10-12 games to go. He’s a tough one to pry away if you are playing in a competitive league because the person who drafted them, did so with a relatively high pick and their expectations are finally being met. But if you’re in a casual league, his owners are still staring at a .225 average with just a .298 OBP. Be sensible with your offer, but there’s no reason to pay retail prices still.
Josh Rojas, 2B/OF ARI – He opened the season with plenty of hype and both Jim Bowden and I were driving that train back in March. We knew the power/speed combo was ready to break out after some highly-successful stints at both Double and Triple-A. His biggest obstacle was the big-league depth for the Astros, so when he eventually landed in Arizona, the path to the majors became clearer, especially now that he was entering his age-26 year and his physical prime. The April was gross, batting just .200 and losing at-bats regularly, but his turnaround here in May has been spectacular. Through 14 games this month, Rojas is slashing .389/.421/.611 and his overall numbers are already showing marked improvement. The dual-position eligibility makes him an even more attractive target if he’s not on your roster.
Andrew McCutchen , OF PHI – How many fantasy players were ready to cut ties with the veteran during the month of April? A lot, I’m sure. He was hitting .169 with just one home run and eight RBI and everyone focused on how he was 34 years old and just about cooked. For the month of May, he’s slashing .302/.424/.623 with five home runs and looks as dialed-in as ever. He’s certainly not the same guy who was a perennial all-star during his Pittsburgh days, but he’s also not washed up. With most fantasy baseball leagues requiring five or six outfielders in the starting lineup, adding McCutchen to you mix is likely to serve as a major upgrade to the worst guy you are currently rostering. His current .223 average should help keep the price down.
Zach Plesac , SP CLE – All it took was a pair of disastrous starts against the White Sox and the number of Plesac-truthers too a major dip. He actually had three strong outings in April, but once you add 12 earned runs in just 5.2 innings, the entire balance of the month is thrown off. He snapped out of it with a quality start to close the month, but all people saw was a 1-3 record, a K/9 below 7.00 and a 5.81 ERA. He’s now made three starts in May and has allowed just two earned runs in 21.2 innings. The overall numbers are already normalizing and his 3.56 ERA and 0.96 WHIP are going to be tough to pry away, but if there’s another hiccup in the next few starts, jump at the chance to acquire him.
Max Fried , SP ATL – You want to see monthly splits that tell two completely different stories? Fried is the perfect example of how the calendar flip can change everything. Through his first three starts (all in April), the 27-year-old southpaw coughed up 14 earned runs in 11 innings and closed out the month with an 11.45 ERA and a 2.55 WHIP. Absolutely disgusting. Then he took the mound in the month of May and everything clicked. He’s allowed no more than one run in each of his three May starts and has 18 strikeouts in 17 innings of work. He left his last start with a hand cramp, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue moving forward. His overall numbers right now are a 5.46 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP, so if his owner isn’t paying attention to the stark differences between the two months, jump on it.