Monitoring Hot and Cold Starts: A Year Long Exercise
For years, I’ve fallen prey to the hot start. Every year, a player will get off to a scorching start and its impression will be etched in my mind until late June. Take last year, when Eric Thames hit .345/.466/.810 with 11 homers in April. It was well over a month when I realized the rest of the league had caught up to Thames. After his hot month, he hit .226/.335/.455 with 20 home runs.
I’m not a big fan of using monthly splits to pick apart a player’s game. If a player had a hot month where they hit the ball with authority, they deserve credit for it and it shouldn’t be dismissed, even if they had difficulty replicating it the rest of the season. Taking the best out of a player’s final line and then analyzing it is bad analysis because you’re willfully ignoring something that happened. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t monitor these unexpected starts to see if these guys come crawling back to the mean.
Ian Desmond: .188/.240/.354, 4 HR, 10 R, 13 RBI, 3 SB
Preseason ZiPS Projection: .268/.321/.438, 19 HR, 68 R, 75 RBI, 18 SB
ZiPS Rest of Season Projection: .257/.310/.427, 16 HR, 55 R, 61 RBI, 15 SB
Welp. If this holds up, this would be Desmond’s third pitiful fantasy season of the last four years, which is quite a feat when half of those seasons are played in Coors. He doesn’t have the crutch of shortstop eligibility to prop him up any longer, so this is a make-or-break stretch for Desmond, who also has Ryan McMahon breathing down his neck.
Jason Kipnis: .167/.248/.225, 0 HR, 11 R, 6 RBI, 0 SB
Preseason ZiPS Projection: .262/.327/.426, 14 HR, 67 R, 55 RBI, 11 SB
ZiPS Rest of Season Projection: .249/.317/.399, 11 HR, 56 R, 45 RBI
Today is my 24th birthday. I’m going to be taking tests all week after being sick for two weeks, so happy birthday to me! 24 isn’t a milestone or anything, but it will make it ten years since I was in 8th grade. 8th grade sucked, but it was a benchmark for me because that was the first year I got really into baseball. Until 2012, everything felt compact. Everything felt young. I grew up with certain guys playing for certain teams and everything was familiar. Now, I feel so old looking up Jason Kipnis’ player page on B-Ref and seeing he’s 31. Kipnis has been a sleeper favorite of mine for years and now he’s on the downside of his career, only putting it all together in 2013. Whether it’s injuries, bad luck, bad performance, or some combination that suppresses one of his tools, he’s never sustained the potential that he showed in his younger days. This isn’t his death knell or anything, but it sucks to see a player with his talent get off to this bad a start after such a crappy season the year before.
Anthony Rizzo: .157/.272/.200, 1 HR, 8 R, 8 RBI, 0 SB
Preseason ZiPS Projection: .276/.389/.527, 33 HR, 94 R, 110 RBI, 10 SB
ZiPS Rest of Season Projection: .266/.380/.500, 26 HR, 76 R, 88 RBI, 8 SB
Perpetual All-Star Anthony Rizzo is off to a bad start. Boo hoo. He’ll be fine. It might not even hurt his final line. Rizzo has the ability to go on a tear at any moment.
Yasiel Puig: .193/.250/.250, 0 HR, 11 R, 7 RBI, 4 SB
Preseason ZiPS Projection: .267/.345/.475, 23 HR, 69 R, 78 RBI, 11 SB
ZiPS Rest of Season Projection: .259/.334/.449, 17 HR, 57 R, 62 RBI, 10 SB
Speaking of hot starts, Puig has never been able to shake his. From 2013-2014, Puig hit .305/.386/.502, good for a 153 wRC+ (5th among qualified hitters.) Since he’s hit .256/.326/.438, an uninspiring 106 wRC+ (right behind Howie Kendrick!) Puig just went on the disabled list with a hip pointer and bruised left foot that he sustained after fouling a ball off it, so maybe we can chalk it up to a hip injury. Either way, it’s not a good sign for the 27-year-old who should be entering his prime. Baseball is more fun with a dominant Puig, so here’s to hoping he can bounce back and entertain us.
Didi Gregorius: .340/.436/.766, 10 HR, 24 R, 30 RBI, 2 SB
Preseason ZiPS Projection: .267/.306/.430, 20 HR, 69 R, 77 RBI, 5 SB
ZiPS Rest of Season Projection: .275/.324/.467, 20 HR, 64 R, 73 RBI, 5 SB
A shoo-in to win AL Player of the Month, Didi has cemented himself as a force to reckon with. I always liked Didi because he’s a shortstop that was banked for 20 bombs in a lineup that could pad his RBI totals, but THIS!? ZiPS projects Didi to have himself a 100 RBI season, which would be a godsend for his owners and an omen for poor, poor Eddie.
Something to keep an eye out for is Didi’s walk rate. His career walk rate sits at 6%. He’s currently at 15.4% across 117 PAs. Walk rate stabilizes quickly, but stabilization doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to expect him to sustain it going forward.
Jed Lowrie: .339/.397/.583, 6 HR, 13 R, 27 RBI, 0 SB
Preseason ZiPS Projection: .258/.330/.385, 9 HR, 59 R, 49 RBI, 0 SB
ZiPS Rest of Season Projection: .270/.341/.415, 10 HR, 50 R, 50 RBI, 0 SB
Can you believe Lowrie is already 34? It feels like yesterday when Lowrie was slashing .368/.389/.574 for the Red Sox in April. Fresh off his first full season since 2013, Lowrie is one homer shy of crossing the halfway point to last year’s total. ZiPS is estimating him to tie his career high with 16 home runs, but if Lowrie can maintain even half of this power, he’ll set a new career mark. Lowrie’s never come particularly close to hitting .300 so the average will be worth watching as well.
Matt Chapman: .269/.361/.529, 6 HR, 21 R, 15 RBI, 0 SB
Preseason ZiPS Projection: .225/.298/.463, 27 HR, 66 R, 73 RBI, 5 SB
ZiPS Rest of Season Projection: .231/.307/.472, 23 HR, 60 R, 62 RBI, 4 SB
Out of everyone on this list, Chapman is most likely to keep this up. He’s always had the raw power, has the swing to unleash it, and while he’s outperforming his projected averaged by over 40 points, his BABIP isn’t bonkers. If you were patient with Chapman, your bet is paying off in his first full season of play. Chapman’s yet to work his way around the league so the all to well-known rookie adjustment may be on the horizon. His strikeout rate currently sits at 23.5% and will be worth tracking as he makes his way around the map.
Asdrubal Cabrera: .340/.393/.580, 5 HR, 20 R, 17 RBI, 0 SB
Preseason ZiPS Projection: .265/.326/.429, 15 HR, 63 R, 60 RBI, 4 SB
ZiPS Rest of Season Projection: .275/.336/.449, 14 HR, 58 R, 54 RBI, 3 SB
What looked to be the end of his run as a Met after last season, Sandy Alderson surprisingly picked up Cabrera’s option, despite an Amed Rosario sized rock at shortstop that would keep Cabrera from playing his favorite position. Entrenched as the starting second baseman over perennial fifth infielder Wilmer Flores, Cabrera has thumped his way through the early months, helping to prop a lineup featuring an (until recently) sluggish Adrian Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, and Michael Conforto. Cabrera is an old 32, so there are no delusions of grandeur here. Odds are he’ll have The Asdrubal Cabrera Season from here on out, hitting for a decent average and walking a little with some doubles power. The final average might be closer to .300 than .280, but we’ll see how it looks moving forward as the season ages. Flores might also creep into his playing time, barring how they decide to handle the first base situation.