“Round Robinson”: Deciphering April Stats (What Matters, What Doesn’t)
Much like playing the stock market, treating the players we own as commodities is exactly the approach we should be taking, and buying low and selling high is common economic practice.
I wouldn’t hesitate to say that about 95% of seasoned fantasy owners already know this. We see fast starts from guys like A-Rod and Lorenzo Cain and know, to a point, they are unsustainable. When a leaguemate tries to sell overly high and rip us off, we’re (rightfully) insulted. We’re sophisticated and savvy enough to know better than to get caught up in a hot/cold start and believe it’s indicative of a substantial change in a player’s profile, unless something fundamental has changed (more on this later).
So why does the majority of fantasy analysis still treat us like we’re in the Strat-O-Matic (look it up, kids) days?
Since we’re in the NL East, let’s use Stephen Strasburg as an example. He had two rough outings to start the season against the Mets and Red Sox and all of a sudden he was a buy-low target. And this would be true theoretically since he should have no problem bouncing back, but what fantasy owner in their right mind would be selling Strasburg after two poor starts? If you can find a guy willing to part with a top-10 pitcher two weeks into the season, you either need A) a more competitive league, or B) to stop bribing other owners under the table. You’re not getting Strasburg at a discount. Stop it. Still, so much of the fantasy analysis I come across feels the need to highlight these buying/selling “opportunities”.
And I’m over it. In fact, I’m over just about anybody trying to claim that standalone statistics mean anything when we’re not even a tenth of the way through the season. You should be too.
This isn’t to say you can’t make changes to your valuation of a player based on April stats, but you better have something else besides a small sample size to make your argument. For my money, there are three instances of fundamental change that can radically affect how you view a player: injury, opportunity and skill set. What do I mean by each one of these? I’m glad you asked.
Injury – This one is pretty straightforward. A player can’t help you if he’s not on the field. However, I’m talking more about those either playing through injuries or with injuries that will linger once they return. David Wright immediately comes to mind. Another hamstring injury has him sidelined right now, although he could return by the end of the month. Once he’s back, the Mets will be extra cautious with him considering this is a recurrence of an injury that cost him nearly two months back in 2013. Hamstrings are tough since one injury increases your chances for future injuries, so don’t be surprised to see him suffering through this all season long and possibly make a return trip to the DL. I also expect more restraint on the basepaths from this point forward. For these reasons, he drops out of my top 100 and won’t make it back upon his return.
Opportunity – The simplest example is and will forever be a newly minted closer. Inserting Jeurys Familia and Jason Grilli as the new closers for their respective teams immediately vaulted them into must-own status, and hopefully you got in on at least one of them. They currently sit 1-2 atop the MLB leaderboard for saves, and Familia is the one I expect to stay near that perch for the duration of the season. All of a sudden my prediction of 30+ saves looks a little conservative.
There are less obvious opportunities that arise as well. I had every intention of talking about Travis d’Arnaud and his move up to the #2 spot in the order after Wright’s injury. Not only was he given a better shot at producing runs, but it also showed a vote of confidence from manager Terry Collins to insert his young catcher at such a prime position in the lineup. I can’t say I blame him after d’Arnaud started the year slashing .317/.356/.537 with 10 RBI in 11 games.
Unfortunately, a broken hand will keep d’Arnaud on the shelf at least a month. If you have the room to DL him, you should. Catcher looks very shallow this year and d’Arnaud is a guy I think could be a difference maker at the position. The only thing that could derail this is if former first round pick Kevin Plawecki, who had a strong showing in his debut with the Mets on Tuesday, takes advantage of his own opportunity. With steady production, he could force his way into a timeshare with d’Arnaud, so keep his name in mind, NL-only owners (and in case you were wondering, Juan Lagares got the bump to the two-spot to replace d’Arnaud).
Skill Set – This to me is the big one. It’s been said that once a player displays a skill one time, he owns it. Conversely, once a skill has deteriorated, it’s hard to get it back. If you need proof, just check out Ryan Howard. Anyone can say he’s off to a rough start, but it’s why he’s struggling that has me giving up on him. Howard has completely fallen off the rails against the most basic pitch in baseball, much like Chris Davis circa 2009 when he posted a -1.12 runs above average per 100 fastballs (or wFB/C). Howard’s number currently stands at an atrocious -1.33 w/FB/C, good enough for 148th out of 193 qualified hitters. For comparison’s sake, his career number stands at 1.79, and last year he managed a 0.77 wFB/C. His lone home run in 2015 came this past Tuesday when he ran into an 84-MPH slider off Dan Haren, so scouting reports will continue to call for plenty of juice as long as these struggles continue. Hopefully you’re not still hoping for similar power numbers to last year (23 HR, 95 RBI), or you will be sorely disappointed.
If you can detect a change in a player’s profile in one these three categories, then by all means adjust his valuation up or down accordingly. But if you can’t, then it’s too early to start making sweeping generalizations that a player has changed. That goes for all the analysis you read this month as well. Take it with a nice fat grain of salt and demand more from anyone claiming a player is a buy-low or a sell-high based on two weeks worth of stats. We’re the smartest group of fantasy baseball players in the history of the game, after all. We have the right to a more evolved brand of analysis. All we have to do is ask for it.
First Pitch Swinging – News and Notes Around the Division
- Those who’ve been waiting on Anthony Rendon are in luck. One of last year’s breakout stars, Rendon is starting a rehab assignment today with Double-A Harrisburg and this time next week should be nearing his season debut with the Nationals.
- Christian Yelich has been held out the last few days with back tightness and an MRI could be the next step. He’s day-to-day at the moment, but keep a close eye on this situation to see if it progresses.
- Dynamic Phillies prospect Maikel Franco has been scorching hot so far at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. In 54 AB, the 22-year-old has an OPS of .999 with 10 extra-base hits. He’s been getting starts at first base this past week as well, and with Howard’s struggles, the writing’s on the wall that a move could be made sooner rather than later.
- Those who value middle relievers took a hit when Mets RP Jerry Blevins hit the DL. He had a league leading five holds and a win in seven appearances before suffering a fractured left forearm. This is more bad news for a bullpen that’s already down Mejia and Parnell. Alex Torres (oversized protective cap included) and Carlos Torres (no relation) are the replacements I would be targeting.
On Deck – What to Watch for April 24-30
Atlanta: @PHI(3), vs. WAS(3), vs. CIN(1)
Miami: vs. WAS(3), vs. NYM(3)
New York: @NYY(3), @MIA(3), vs. WAS(1)
Philadelphia: vs. ATL(3), @STL(4)
Washington: @MIA(3), @ATL(3), @NYM(1)
Hitter to Watch – Lucas Duda, NYM
Love the Mets’ left-handed batters this week as they get to take aim at the short porch at Yankee Stadium. The only thing you worry about with Duda is that they might sit him against C.C. Sabathia on Saturday because of those porous career numbers against LHP. Forgive the small sample size but, in 10 AB against southpaws in 2015, Duda has five hits. Yes, all of them are singles, but it could be enough to keep him in the lineup. He’s also batting .381 on the road so far and will see the unimpressive trio of Cosart, Phelps and Latos when they visit Miami. With no Wright and no d’Arnaud, Duda will have to use those broad shoulders of his to carry the offensive load for New York.
Pitcher to Watch – Trevor Cahill, ATL
Trevor Cahill is a bad major league starting pitcher. Period. I won’t even try to say anything good about him because I’m still trying to figure out why on Earth the Braves acquired him in the first place. But this isn’t about Trevor Cahill. This is about his matchup. Just how bad is the Phillies’ offense? Besides being last in baseball with a 2.6 runs per game average, Philadelphia has managed at least four runs in a game just five times this season and only once plated more than five. Sure, Cahill could become the second pitcher to do the deed, but I’ll take my chances with a below average starter against this abomination of an offense. You might have to be a little desperate to spot start Cahill at the end of your weekly matchup, but in times of desperation, Philadelphia is never a bad place to look.
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