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!