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Breakout or Fakeout: Grading the April Hitting Stars

Last week I evaluated some unexpectedly hot pitchers (Breakout or Fakeout: Are These Hot Starting Pitchers For Real). This week I will do the same for hot hitters. Coming into the season none of these guys were ranked in the top 200 overal players on most cheat sheets, yet they are all ranked in the top 30 hitters in fantasy leagues right now. We are more than a month into the season, so sample sizes are no longer all that small. It is getting harder to say these guys are just off to fluke streaks in the early going. Could these guys actually be legitimate breakout studs? Or will they fade back into oblivion after a brief month of glory? Read on to find out…

Charlie Blackmon — 23 Runs, 5 Homers, 18 RBI, 7 Steals, .374 AVG — Ranked #1 hitter on Yahoo now, #333 preseason overall rank

Holy cow Blackmon! Those are superhero stats! His first extended playing time as a major league regular didn’t begin until he turned 27 last July. Never considered a top prospect, the Rockies’ lefty batter opened some eyes last season with a .803 OPS in half a season’s worth of games, although it wasn’t nearly enough to earn him high rankings this Spring. Thus far in 2014 he has a 1.034 OPS with some speed to boot and is currently the top-scoring player in fantasy baseball! It is very rare for a player to suddenly develop into a true star at the late age of 27, so that is a yellow flag of caution when evaluating his long-term fortunes. Another thing to be aware of are Blackmon’s split stats. Although he is a lefthanded batter he has hit lefty pitchers better than righties in his career, which is unusual. My intuition says that is a small sample size aberration that will correct itself over time, but he is not a lefty who must be platooned. You can feel comfortable leaving him in your lineup against LHPs. His Home/Road splits are another matter entirely. I will say it bluntly: Charlie Blackmon is a Creature of Coors Field. His career OPS at home is .943 while his road OPS is a mere .653 — a stark contrast that shows you how to use this player in your lineup moving forward, especially if you play daily fantasy baseball. Verdict: Trade him now while his value is high. Play him at Coors Field, bench him for road games.

Justin Morneau — 14 Runs, 6 Homers, 22 RBI, 0 Steals, .343 AVG — Ranked #16 hitter on Yahoo now, #233 preseason overall rank

Here is another Rockie tearing up baseballs. Unlike Blackmon however, Morneau has a long history as an elite hitter, even winning an MVP Award way back in 2006. “Way back” is the key part of that sentence — most of the former Twins’ slugging actually happened in the previous decade. The last few seasons of Morneau’s career have been marred by injury, including a very severe concussion. Recently he has been a mediocre hitter who wasn’t worthy of starting on a good fantasy baseball squad. Now fully healthy and playing in the league’s foremost hitters’ paradise it is reasonable to expect Morneau to flourish once again, much like his longtime Twins teammate Michael Cuddyer has done the last few years. Cuddyer has played much better in Coors than he ever did in Minnesota, Morneau will resurrect his career in the same manner. Verdict: Keep him. Put him in your lineup most days, but sit him on the road against good LHPs.

Melky Cabrera — 18 Runs, 5 Homers, 11 RBI, 3 Steals, .342 AVG — Ranked #17 hitter on Yahoo now, #293 preseason overall rank

Last season the Melk Man was terrible. He had just returned from a PED suspension, so when he struggled most people just assumed it was because the juice wore off. They were wrong. Cabrera was playing with a bad knee injury, battling hamstring and quadriceps injuries, and also had a painful tumor on  his spine which was removed in the offseason (the tumor, not his spine). It is no wonder he couldn’t play well. Now fully healthy once again, Cabrera is once again playing at an All Star level and can be expected to continue doing so. Verdict: The Real Deal, keep him and use him every day.

Anthony Rendon — 19 Runs, 4 Homers, 20 RBI, 1 Steal, .316 AVG — Ranked #18 hitter on Yahoo now, #250 preseason overall rank

Rendon was an absolutely awesome hitter in college at Rice. Beginning in his freshman season it was a foregone conclusion he would be the #1 overall pick of the 2011 Draft. But then he began to suffer major injuries on a regular basis. It earned him the label of “brittle and fragile” and resulted in him falling to the 6th pick of the draft, which was an absolute steal of a bargain for the Nationals. Rendon put up a solid stat line as a rookie in 2013 but has really kicked it into high gear this year. I fully expect Rendon to be a top 3 second baseman for the next decade, putting up .300+ batting averages with 20+ HRs and ample Runs and RBIs hitting in the middle of the Nationals’ batting order. He will be a strong asset in OBP leagues as well. The only thing he won’t do is steal a lot of bases. Verdict: True Breakout Player. Keep him for the long term.

Brian Dozier — 25 Runs, 7 Homers, 9 RBI, 6 Steals, .216 AVG — Ranked #18 hitter on Yahoo now, #218 preseason overall rank

The 27 year old Dozier is another late bloomer like Blackmon. His counting stats this year are inflated, largely by the fluky hot start the whole Twins offense has gotten off to this season. Don’t expect it to last. Moving forward count on Dozier to provide some pop and steal a few bases but with a low batting average. Putting him in your lineup is kind of like eating pancakes for dinner, they taste good and fill you up but you will be hungry again soon. Dozier is a good option at 2nd base for the time being but will never fully satisfy you. Verdict: Keep him and use him, but plan on replacing him within a couple years.

Dee Gordon — 12 Runs, 1 Homers, 6 RBI, 13 Steals, .344 AVG — Ranked #20 hitter on Yahoo now, #268 preseason overall rank

Gordon is off to a hot start but I am not a believer at all. He is a great base stealer and that is where 90% of his value lies. He will put up a decent but hollow batting average and will score some Runs, although not as many as the leadoff hitter for the Dodgers really should. He will be a total dud when it comes to HRs and RBIs. I don’t like players who are one-category guys. Yeah he can score you a bunch of points in the Steals category but he will kill you in HRs and RBIs. If you play in a points league where steals are worth less than they are in roto leagues he loses most of his value. The next time Gordon has a slump he will lose his spot in the starting lineup to Alexander Guerrero. Verdict: Fluke, sell high while you can.

Michael Morse — 14 Runs, 6 Homers, 20 RBI, 0 Steals, .302 AVG — Ranked #22 hitter on Yahoo now, #261 preseason overall rank

Morse can hit quite well, but can he stay on the field enough for it to matter? He is 32 years old but has only exceeded 300 ABs in a season twice, with 522 as his career high. If he is healthy and in the Giants’ lineup, even in cavernous AT&T Park, then he will put up good hitting stats for your team. He is a solid option for your corner infield or utility slots. Verdict: Keep and use him, make sure you have a backup plan ready.

Adam LaRoche — 17 Runs, 4 Homers, 17 RBI, 0 Steals, .312 AVG — Ranked #25 hitter on Yahoo now, #256 preseason overall rank

LaRoche is a proven veteran hitter coming off a bad season. He seems to be back to normal and the notorious second-half player is even thriving early in the season for once. He will continue to post very nice counting stats to pad your R, HR and RBI totals while not hurting your team batting average.  The Nationals often give him the day off when they face a left handed pitcher, and so should you. Verdict: The Real Deal, keep him and use him.

Emilio Bonifacio — 15 Runs, 0 Homers, 5 RBI, 10 Steals, .337 AVG — Ranked #26 hitter on Yahoo now, #356 preseason overall rank

The only good things about Bonifacio are that he steals bases and has multi-position eligibility. Other than that he Sucks with a capital S. In some very deep leagues with large starting rosters it can really be beneficial to have a backup player you can plug in at several different positions to cover injuries and off days, and he fits that bill. Bonifacio was lucky just to find a major league job this winter, but he won’t keep this one long because the Cubs have a flood of elite prospects coming up soon to replace guys like him. Verdict: Total Fluke, sell him if you can get anything at all. Thank me later.

Chris Colabello — 11 Runs, 3 Homers, 27 RBI, 0 Steals, .290 AVG — Ranked #31 hitter on Yahoo now, #946 preseason overall rank

The former independent league journeyman is a fascinating story that a lot of people are really pulling for to succeed, but don’t count on it. He is 30 years old and just now getting his first real taste of the major leagues. He got off to a blistering start but it is just not going to last. He will likely stick around in the major leagues for a while and may even have the occasional hot streak like he had in April, but those will not come often enough to make him a desirable option at fantasy positions where you need to put a plus hitter. His stellar RBI count right now is impressive, but is due to an abnormally high team OBP for the Twins in the early going and it is not sustainable. Verdict: Total Fluke, sell him immediately.

If you have any questions about any other players who are off to hot or cold starts ask them in the comments below. I will reply ASAP!

Nick Doran writes all kinds of cool stuff about the game’s ultimate flamethrowers at Blazing Fastball and will answer your baseball questions on Twitter @BlazingFastba11.

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Nick Doran

Nick Doran

24 Comments

  1. May 3, 2014 at 9:39 am — Reply

    I’m curious for your thoughts on brandon belt. I have him in a 12 team keeper roto league. We can keep six players. Keep or trade?

    • May 4, 2014 at 1:02 am — Reply

      I like Brandon Belt but I don’t think he is good enough to be a keeper if you only get 6 keepers. He is a good young player but I don’t see him ever becoming a star unless he moves to a hitter’s ballpark. Belt is a very good hitter who plays in a lineup that doesn’t score many runs, making it hard for him to rack up Runs and RBIs. I would use him until just before your league’s trading deadline, then package him with another player in a trade for a better keeper.

      • May 4, 2014 at 1:35 am — Reply

        Yeah, I’m trying to package him for a 7th round next year with Granderson. Thanks for the response Nick!

      • May 4, 2014 at 5:07 pm — Reply

        Good idea Derek, report back here if you do make a trade.

  2. Adam
    May 3, 2014 at 10:13 am — Reply

    How do you feel about Howie Kendrick this year?

    • May 4, 2014 at 1:09 am — Reply

      It is tough to get very enthusiastic over Howie Kendrick. He hits for a good batting average but is pretty boring in the other stat categories. He is the type of player who is worthy of being in your starting lineup, but you are always looking to upgrade. He is a serviceable player but won’t give you an edge over your opponents. Kendrick is off to a hot start to the season, but he is 30.5 years old and unlikely to get any better, so don’t expect his numbers at the end of the season to be any better than they have been the last few years. Good solid player, not a star.

      • Adam
        May 4, 2014 at 10:11 am — Reply

        That’s what I figured. I have him as an injury replacement for Kipnis, but will drop him once he’s back. Thanks for the reply!

  3. Braves22
    May 4, 2014 at 3:28 am — Reply

    I have Brian Dozier in a 12-team H2H categories league (OBP and SLG, no AVG). We keep 12 each year, and there’s no MI or CI. Where would you rank Dozier going forward this year and in the future as far as 2B’s go?

    Thanks, and great work by the way!

    • May 4, 2014 at 5:12 pm — Reply

      I think Dozier is in the 10-15 range among 2nd basemen, worthy of being a starter on a fantasy team but he is not going to be one of the better starters. In a league with 12 keepers per team I don’t think Dozier makes for a good keeper candidate. He is much more valuable in a league with a MI slot.

  4. Jack
    May 5, 2014 at 8:21 am — Reply

    Nice article, i’m hoping since I seemed to miss out on adding all these fluky guys, they begin to fall back to earth soon. I’m curious how you feel about about John Axford for the rest of this year, his walks are awful, but everything else seems great? Again, thanks for the great work you guys do here.

    • May 5, 2014 at 3:25 pm — Reply

      Thanks for the compliment Jack! You are correct about Axford walking too many batters, that has been a problem his whole career and it is even worse than usual this year. Not only that but his strikeout rate has dropped too. He has been very BABIP lucky this year as well. Combine those red flags with the fact the Indians have a much better pitcher waiting in the wings in Cody Allen and you can see that Axford is not likely to last the season as closer in Cleveland. If you have him I would definitely recommend picking up Cody Allen as a handcuff. If you can trade Axford for a better closer or at least get full closer trade value then I would deal him now. Otherwise continue to use him as long as he is the closer, which might not be long!

  5. andy
    May 5, 2014 at 8:45 am — Reply

    No question. Nice article, hope this is a monthly feature

    • May 5, 2014 at 3:30 pm — Reply

      Thanks Andy. We will definitely keep you posted on which players are legitimate breakouts and which ones are nothing but flashes in the pan. If you are wondering about any specific players just hit me up on Twitter @BlazingFastba11 any time.

  6. Abner
    May 6, 2014 at 10:26 am — Reply

    Very good read Nick, wanted to ask, what should i be looking for? I know it would depend on needs, but rank wise, were should i draw the line? I own Blackmon & Colabello. Any advice would be great.

    • May 6, 2014 at 4:46 pm — Reply

      Thanks Abner! Regarding trade value, Colabello is already fading fast, so anything you can get for him would be gravy. Try to trade him ASAP or he will be completely worthless soon.

      Blackmon on the other hand has a lot of trade value. He is playing way over his head right now but should continue to be a fairly good fantasy player for a couple years at least. He is a top 5 hitter in every format right now, so now is the best time to trade him before his value inevitably drops. I think there are lots of team owners out there who would pay a good price to get him. I think you should at least be able to snare a good closer or a 2nd-tier starting pitcher for him, maybe more. I would target struggling star players like Jay Bruce, Chris Davis, Edwin Encarnacion, Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre, David Wright, Adam Jones and Jason Kipnis. You might have to sweeten the deal a little with another player, but now is the time to strike while those star players’ owners are panicking.

      If you make a deal for Blackmon be sure to let me know who you get!

      • Abner
        May 7, 2014 at 6:35 pm — Reply

        Hey Nick, so still no bite on Colabello as expected. But managed to get Cole Hamels, for Blackmon straight up, really needed the pitching, and it served well that he homered last night. WIll let you know what i get Colabello. Thanks for the advice.

      • May 7, 2014 at 6:42 pm — Reply

        Awesome job Abner. I love that deal! Hamels will be a stud long after people have forgotten about Charley Blackmon.

  7. […] Breakout or Fakeout: Grading the April Hitting Stars […]

  8. […] you missed my columns on Breakout Starting Pitchers, Struggling Ace Pitchers or Breakout Hitters check them out […]

  9. New to Keeper
    May 20, 2014 at 11:36 am — Reply

    5×5 Roto 6 Keeper (Price = pick)

    R: 9.5
    HR: 2
    RBI: 9
    SB: 11
    AVG: 8
    W: 9
    SV: 2
    K: 10
    ERA: 9
    WHIP: 12

    C – Rosario/Lucroy
    1B – C.Davis
    2B – Gyorko
    3B – Encarcion
    SS – Andrus
    CI – Freeman
    MI – Prado
    OF – Kemp/Rios/Pence/Martin/Aoki
    UTIL – Seager
    BN – De Aza

    P – Ventura/Hamels/Felix
    P – Melancon/Allen/Benoit
    P – Qualls/C.Wilson/Kluber
    BN – Samardzija/Kennedy/Hudson

    I am looking at dropping De Aza for Owings. Plug him in at MI, and use Prado as my bench bat.

    My concern is that R/SB has been dropping, as i lost Alexi, and Ellsbury to trades in April.Also, HR is still going down. Even with the additions of Encarcion and Seager in the lineup. Prado is more of a bandaid won’t help or hurt player. Don’t know if having only that as my bench bat does much for me.

    Was sent an offer of Rendon-Ventura by the following roster.However, i am considering more trying to find a counter than taking as is. However, I don’t know what that counter would be.As I am contending, and they definately aren’t.

    Also am waiting to hear a response from the Cobb owner, about a price. Just as due dilligence if I move a SP here.

    Any thoughts? Do the De Aza-Owings swap, leaving Prado as only bench bat first? Or figure out a counter offer for the owner I have an actual offer from first? How much does a Cobb price factor here?

    Them

    C – Salty/Jaso
    1B – Loney
    2B – Dozier
    3B – Frazier
    SS – E.Escobar
    CI – Sandoval
    MI- Rendon
    OF – Heyward/Stanton/McCutchen/C.Gomez/Craig
    UTIL – Francisco
    BN – Green/Lind/Smoak

    P – Betances/Uehara/Frieri
    P – Bauer/Storen/Clippard
    P – Odorizzi/O’Day/Iwakuma
    BN – Doolittle
    DL – Sale

    • May 21, 2014 at 12:01 am — Reply

      Dropping De Aza for Owings is OK, neither player is a great option. I think you might be undervaluing Prado. He is not off to a good start so far this season but he has a long history of being a good fantasy player. Long term you are better off with Prado in your starting lineup. Rendon for Ventura is a fair trade.

      • New to Keeper
        May 21, 2014 at 1:15 am — Reply

        Prado/Seager are in a battle at UTIL if trade doesn’t get vetoed.don’t see how Seager gets benched for Prado.

        Missed out on Owings. Have put a claim on Cashner for De Aza. As nothing inspiring on WW for batting (Cron,James Jones,Hart,Plouffe,Quentin,Russell/Singleton type prospects).RP wise is even less inspiring as even Motte/Belsario are gone. While decent, but not keeper SP can be found.

        If the trade goes through ive essentially gone from Ellsbury/Alexi/De Aza to Encarcion/Seager/Rendon in the speed department in the last month.

        I am contending now.Do you think another speed guy to make up for what i’ve lost should be my next target? As Rios isn’t getting any younger, and Kemp isnt an A+ health wise.Or wait and see what my roster looks like if I get Rendon? Say if, as my league has a veto history.

        • May 21, 2014 at 1:47 am — Reply

          I thought you got Rendon to replace Gyorko not Prado, right? Carlos Quentin is a good player when healthy and would be a nice WW pickup right now. I hate trade vetoes and won’t play in a league that still allows them. You could use more Steals but it looks like you have several guys who usually steal more bases than they have so far this year, so you might improve naturally in that category as the season progresses.

    • New to Keeper
      May 21, 2014 at 8:05 am — Reply

      Well, position wise 2B/MI/UTIL were the ones that could relatively easily be improved.

      2B – Gyorko MI – Rendon UTIL – Seager BN – Prado gives me the most flexibility. As Prado is 2B,3B,OF. Losing De Aza makes Prado my defacto 6th Ofer in a 5OF league.Also means Prado on bench gives me the flexibility as far as what position to get the speed in.

      Regarding Gyorko. Knew preseason his numbers say .245 would be a luxury in the batting average department.He still has more power potential than Prado. When a 6 HR night only gets you to 3.5 in HR you need power in lineup.

      If something falls into my lap.Or he falls further off the face of the earth AVG wise. I have a decision to make.Don’t know if that decision has to be made in May.

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