TDG Round Table: Hot Starts We’re not Buying
Every week on Fridays, our writers here at The Dynasty Guru will be bringing you some quick hit musings about a particular topic so you, the reader, can get a blast of info from a bunch of different writers with some passionate opinions. This week’s roundtable topic is hot starts to the 2020 season we’re not buying.
JaCoby Jones, OF, Detroit Tigers
JaCoby Jones has put up some really enticing stats so far this season. As of this post, Jones is hitting .303/.373/.717 with five home runs. Jones has been a bit of a fringe fantasy contributor due to his combination of power and speed. He has put on a power show, but when we take a deeper look, I think Jones is just on a heater. His 41.7 HR/FB% goes along with the same 112 MPH max exit velocity he had the past two seasons, indicating he is the same guy. Taking a look at his plate discipline, he is swinging less but also making less contact. His 68.8 contact% is the lowest in the past two years. Even more concerning is that his contact in the zone has dropped from 87.1% to 78.6%. Oof. Jones, once a threat on the bases, has not attempted a stolen base since July 28th of last year and his last successful swipe was July 25th. As we head over to check out his Sprint Speed, we see it’s dropped from 29 ft/s in 2017 to 26.5 ft/s this year. Yikes. If he is on the waiver wire in your league, just back away; you missed the best part of his season.
Colin Moran, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
So far in 2020, it has only taken Moran 64 plate appearances to accumulate half the home runs he did in all of last season. It’s quite obvious he’s selling out for power this year and so far it has worked to his advantage, however, I’m not so sure he can keep it up. We have over 1,000 plate appearances from Moran as evidence of the kind of player he is. He’s a contact driven, average hitter. Selling out for power has had its expected effects on his stats, a lower average, many more strikeouts, but what has me the most skeptical about a prolonged power surge is his launch angle is actually three degrees below his career mark. Selling out for power tends to lead to the opposite effect. The dropped launch angle actually suggests he has less control of the barrel through the zone. Now is a perfect time to trade Moran high.
Dylan Bundy, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Let me start out by stating I like Dylan Bundy! On the default version of FanGraphs auction calculator, Steamer has him as the 26th best SP for the remainder of 2020, at 9.42 K/9, 2.58 BB/9, and a 4.22 ERA. I think this is reasonable and would not advise trading him at this valuation. Of course, he has performed quite a bit better than 26th so far—he is baseball’s #1 pitcher by WAR, with pristine numbers regardless of your fancy, ERA, xFIP, FIP, K%, BB%, SIERA. I do think you need to test out the trade market on him though to see if people are valuing him as a top 10 or 15 SP already (whether dynasty or re-draft). Aside from leaving Charm City, he just doesn’t look changed enough from last year for me to believe he’s all of a sudden Gerrit Cole meets Cy Young meets Optimus Prime or something. His average four-seam fastball velocity is the same as it was at the beginning of 2019, around 91 MPH (and pre-2019 he threw even harder). His spin rates are also very similar in 2020 versus 2019 on all of his pitches. The big change so far is he’s throwing fewer fastballs and more off-speed stuff—fastball usage in 2020 is at 30%, versus 42% last year; slider usage is 31% in 2020, up from 23% last year, changeup and curve usage are also up a few percentage points. Ask yourself whether 11 percentage points less fastball usage and four starts of utter domination is enough to convince you he’s a demigod ace now.
Kyle Freeland, SP, Colorado Rockies
Not buying into a Rockies starting pitcher shouldn’t be news to anyone. However, Freeland is actually off to a great start, logging four straight quality starts to begin the season and ranks in the 75th or better percentile in exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate. He has been keeping hitters off-balance with a revamped four-pitch mix that has been featuring his changeup (32.9% in 2020 up from 12.5% in 2019) and curveball (18.7% vs. 6.1%) and drastically reducing the use of his four-seamer (41.5% vs. 26.5%) which only averages about 92 mph. The result is a career-low WHIP, ERA, xERA, BB/9, and BABIP. However, that’s where the good news ends as he ranks in the 20th or lower percentile in strikeout rate (4.56 K/9) and whiff rate (career-low on every one of his pitches), and is likely due for a correction to his nearly 94% left-on-base percentage, which is currently top 10 in MLB. Freeland probably ranks fairly high in your league, especially if you use quality starts, and has provided nice production to those lucky enough to be rostering him. I’m on board to ride the hot streak while it lasts, but this profile is not sustainable for these results over the long-term. If another manager (let’s call him Kevin) is interested in Freeland, I’m willing to trade.
Randy Dobnak, SP, Minnesota Twins
Randy Dobnak has picked up right where he left off in 2019 pitching for the Minnesota Twins, opening his 2020 campaign with a 3-1 record, 0.90 ERA, and 0.90 WHIP. He continues to induce ground balls at a high rate, 67 percent so far, but also strikes out very few batters. On the season he only has 11 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched, resulting in a 14.5% strikeout percentage, placing him in the bottom 14 percent of the league. Dobnak is not inducing a lot of soft contact on batted balls either, with a hard-hit percentage well over league average. I believe he is in for a strong dose of regression due to this batted ball data and an unsustainable average launch angle of 1.1 degrees on batted balls. Statcast expected stats support this argument as all are either around or worse than league average including an xERA of 4.28 and an XBA of .282. A ground ball specialist with a low strikeout rate isn’t what comes to mind as a dominant pitcher in this day and age of baseball; so despite having the meanest ‘stache in all of baseball, which Dobnak clearly does, I am just not buying his hot start.
David Fletcher, Util, Los Angeles Angels
David Fletcher is doing what he knows how to do very well; making contact at whatever pitchers throw to him (89.5% O-contact, 96.3 Z-Contact) but he’s doing nothing that suggests an increase in the power department. As of press time, Fletcher has an above-average .197 ISO. For context, last year he had a below-average ISO of .094. Taking some guidance from advanced metrics, he has been basically the same player as last year. Although he’s had an increase in Exit Velocity from 83.8 to 84.8, a slight increase in hard-hit rate can be more truthful. Last year he posted a HH% of 17.1, compared to this year 17.7, also he has decreased his fly ball tendencies (29.6 to 27.3 FB%) and launch angle (9.7 to 5.2). David Fletcher is what he is, a really nice player in real baseball, but for fantasy purposes, he’s not a stud nor a power source, just a nice player to be rostered in deep leagues.
Antonio Senzatela, SP, Colorado Rockies
Through three starts this season, Antonio Senzatela carries a 3-0 record on the mound with a 2.65 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 17 innings pitched. According to Fantrax, Senzatela was drafted in less than 3% of leagues before the 2020 season. Heading into this week, that number has skyrocketed to 53%. It is reasonable to expect regression going forward. Why you may ask? For starters, Senzatela ranks in the bottom-third in batter exit velocity, hard-hit %, and whiff %. Despite a fastball that can light up the radar gun (averages 94.1 mph), Senzatela does not create an optimal spin rate on any of his four-pitch repertoire. A low spin rate often negates deception, which is not ideal when pitching in a park that is often referred to as a pitcher’s nightmare. If there is any sort of “sell high” opportunity in a deep league, there may not ever be a better time to do so than right now before things potentially get ugly.
Donovan Solano, 2B, San Francisco Giants
Solano is batting an impressive .458 through 16 games. That’s largely the result of batted ball luck, as his .520 BABIP is almost certain to regress. It’s possible he can keep hitting for a good average – he hit .330 last season in 228 plate appearances – but that isn’t really my concern. It’s more the lack of power, speed, patience, or any long-term upside. He’s 32 years old. He has one home run this season and just 14 in 1,459 career PA. He hasn’t stolen a base in MLB since 2014. San Francisco’s park and lineup aren’t the best for run production. He’s only likely to make an impact in BA, and he’ll be even worse in OBP leagues as he rarely walks (career 5.3% BB rate, 4.8% this season). When chasing hot starts in dynasty leagues, I look for players with potential as long-term contributors, and I don’t see that in Solano.
Jon Lester, SP, Chicago Cubs
Jon Lester has banked some awesome stats for fantasy managers so far in 2020. He’s opened this shortened season with a 2-0 record over three starts and 17 innings with a 1.06 ERA, good for third in the majors. But don’t be fooled! We’ve seen a decrease in skills across the board from Lester over the last few years, and 2020 is no different. While he has been able to limit hard contact and is in the top eight percent of the league in wOBA allowed, his whiff percentage has dropped on four out of five pitches, and his velocity has dropped across his entire arsenal. Plus, even though his FIP sits at a respectable 3.83, his xFIP and SIERA are both north of 5.00. He’s got some wily veteran stuff in his veins, but this pace isn’t sustainable. So far, he’s played the Reds, Pirates, and Indians, who happen to be the three teams with the lowest averages across MLB. It seems likely that hitters are eventually going to catch up and start mashing. To all the wily veteran fantasy managers out there: strike while the iron is hot and get anyone in return for Lester while you still can.
German Marquez, SP, Colorado Rockies
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Marquez has tantalized owners with his ability but consistently struggled at his home park Coors field. He’s pitched very well so far this year (2.08 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) but of the four starts, only one at home against the Giants. The home run rate is currently an unsustainably low 0.69 per 9, despite a hard-hit rate of 42% (would be a career-high by over 4%). I have a long-standing rule to outright avoid Colorado pitchers. That despite any amount of talent, the market will always underestimate the Coors effect. Call it closed-minded, but it’s a rule that’s served me well over the years. The point of this piece is, who are you rostering? Think of what it would take to acquire Marquez at this moment in time. Now how are you going to feel if he turns back into a pumpkin when the clock strikes twelve and it’s time to go home?
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