Struggling 30-Somethings: Five Quick Evaluations
Food comas. That feeling about an hour after you eat a big lunch during the work day where you get sleepy and lose focus. Reading about veteran players are akin to being affected by this plague. The lines begin to blur, head starts nodding, and suddenly you awaken twenty minutes later. That’s in stark contrast to breakout players and prospects, who are more like a mouthful of pop rocks on the Fourth of July. They’re more fun to read and, honestly, to write about. However, veterans are still an underrated aspect to dynasty squads, providing filling stats to support your a championship run. So let’s look at five older players who’ve started slowly in 2018 and see which hitters can rebound and which 30-somethings could be toast.
Kole Calhoun – .167/.195/.211, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 10 Runs, 2 SB in 118 plate appearances
First off, I was a bit surprised to see that Calhoun is 30 years old since it doesn’t feel like he’s been in the majors that long. However, crossing that decade threshold hasn’t been very kind to his performances thus far. He’s walking just one-third as frequently as his previous two seasons, and his strikeout rate has ballooned up to 28.0% (he was at 20.5% in 2017). And even though he’s still making hard contact, Calhoun’s started hitting a ton of worm-burners this year (56.8% grounders versus his career GB rate of 42.3%). The Angels have called up Jabari Blash recently, who has taken a couple starts away from Calhoun. There are a lot of concerning trends in his profile right now. Verdict: Moving On
Matt Carpenter – .163/.317/.316, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 12 Runs, 0 SB in 123 plate appearances
The ever-patient Carpenter has taken his approach to new level this season, but it remains to be seen if that’s a good level or not. He’s swinging at a career-low 32.2% of pitches, 2nd-lowest behind Joe Mauer among qualified hitters. While that’s been a boost to his already prolific walk rate, he’s also striking out a lot more than normal (26.8%, up from his career 18.4%). Carpenter’s contact rate has also been an issue this season, dropping over 11 percentage points from 2017. There are also legitimate concerns about his shoulder injury lingering and he was having back trouble in spring training. However, he’s still ripping baseballs when he makes contact (5.8% soft contact) and he hasn’t had any luck with balls in play (.197 BABIP). Unless something crops up about his health, I still have some faith, but the check engine light is on. Verdict: Holding On
Dexter Fowler – .161/.278/.321, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 18 Runs, 2 SB in 133 plate appearances
When you hear regression, it’s easy to assume that it’s a negative draw on production or skills. After looking at Fowler’s batting profile, it’s clear that he’s going to regress, but in a good way. Instead of using the term regression (to the mean), I believe saying a player is due for normalization paints a more clear picture of what is being forecast. In Fowler’s case, his terrible .153 BABIP isn’t supported at all by his batted ball data. Therefore, Fowler’s batting average should regress (normalize) back to his career .265 mark over time. His plate discipline, hard hit data, and contact rates are all within his usual bounds, so expect a return of the classic high runs, useful power and speed version of Dexter Fowler once his luck corrects itself. Verdict: Holding On
Jason Kipnis – .184/.258/.272, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 17 Runs, 0 SB in 152 plate appearances
Kipnis was victimized by the injury bug last year and although he’s healthier in 2018, we’re still seeing a bit of a lag in the areas of power and speed. Even though he jacked six homers in spring training, the depreciating power last year (career-worst 22.1% soft contact) has continued into this campaign (19.4%). Kipnis also hasn’t attempted a steal yet this year. That could be an effort to keep him healthy, but losing his wheels significantly depresses his fantasy value. Though his walks are up a tick, so are his strikeouts (23.0% versus his 19.0% k-rate in ’17). In a deepening 2B talent pool, Kipnis is trending in the wrong direction. Until he starts running again, I don’t want to own any shares. Verdict: Moving On
Ian Kinsler – .198/.271/.267, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 10 Runs, 3 SB in 96 plate appearances
Starting the season on the DL, Kinsler hasn’t returned to the lineup with much gusto so far. That’s somewhat surprised considering he’s still making contact at an elite level. His 88.8% contact rate would rank 4th among qualified hitters, sitting behind Ketel Marte, Jose Ramirez, and DJ LeMahieu. The reason behind his low batting average that his hits are being caught. His .211 BABIP should normalize back towards his .286 lifetime mark, bumping up his batting average. Nearing the age of 36, Kinsler’s power is beginning to wane a bit, as he’s registering his lowest hard-hit rate in his career (23.4%). However, the veteran is still active on the base paths. And hitting leadoff in front of an ample Angels lineup will continue to see plenty of run production come Kinsler’s way. If you’re an owner contending this year and need middle infield help, now’s the time to buy Kinsler. Verdict: Holding On
So are you still awake after reading about boring veteran players? Ok, grab some coffee to perk yourself back up. People like to be the first to predict when the career cliff arrives for older players, but you can miss some decent value buys when dismissing these players. Plenty of people have predicted that players like Nelson Cruz or Adrian Beltre will disappear, but they’re still valuable. It’s a tough practice to know when a respected player will lose his fantasy productivity. Hopefully Kipnis and Calhoun prove me wrong and turn their campaigns around. I’d rather see people succeed than fail. Maybe some of these players will help you succeed in your quest for a title.