Hold On for One More Day? Dealing with Slow Starts
Everyone I know in fantasy baseball was excited about the return of live games, even if there would be no fans allowed in the stadiums. As the season drew nearer many people realized a sixty-game schedule would require a different strategy for fantasy leagues. Elite starting pitching got bumped up in drafts, league average bats seemed to drop in ADP rankings. All of a sudden everyone was extra leery of players with a history of injury. Now as the season has started, a dilemma has presented itself…
If a non-elite player is struggling, how long do you hold onto him?
In a typical season, after a dozen games, you would probably chalk up a slow start as bad luck. Maybe a couple of tough matchups that resulted in poor results. This season is a horse of a different color, in that some teams are already a third of the way finished. If anything can happen in 60 games, that mantra is magnified in these remaining 40 games. It seems the deeper we get into the season, the more implications each game can have.
Aristides Aquino is a prime example here. In his first 40 games played in 2020, AA slugged 15 home runs thanks to a .636 slugging percentage and stole 7 bags in only 155 plate appearances. Then the pixie dust wore off, and he put up a triple slash of .210/.271/.435 the rest of the way. The Reds weren’t fooled by the hot streak and deliberately replaced him, signing Nicholas Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama to starters contracts. The writing was on the wall, Aquino was on the roster bubble to open 2020.
As far as slow starts go, I’d like to clarify that I’m not talking first-round talent. I’m not suggesting you move on from Nolan Arenado, Cody Bellinger, or Trea Turner. I am suggesting if you drafted a sleeper, but things aren’t panning out, it’s already time to evaluate your options. Yes, we’re looking at a small sample size so far, but the clock is also ticking. There’s not a ton of time to catch up to your league leaders. If a player is struggling and the advanced stats support those failures, is it reasonable to expect a turnaround?
Here are a couple of players you might want to look at moving on from (depending on your league dynamic). The targets here are guys who are not currently producing, whose advance metrics support poor performances, and in some cases, the risks are just not worth the rewards.
Evan White, 1B, Seattle Mariners
The 17th overall pick of the 2017 draft, White had a couple of effective, if underwhelming, minor league seasons. This past offseason, he and the Mariners agreed on a major league contract leading some to believe White was the next big thing. The jump to the big leagues has not been kind, striking out 44% of the time, and slugging .240. All to the tune of a RC+ of (drumroll)… 26! This is simply not enough production from a first baseman. While you can’t drop him in dynasty leagues you certainly can bench him for the time being.
Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals
A former top-5 prospect, and still only 23 years old, it seemed Victor’s best games were ahead of him. 2020 has yet to be kind though, sporting a .264/.361/.358 triple slash despite some BABIP luck (.371). His plate discipline continues to suffer from a 6.6% walk rate, and a 27.8% strikeout rate, but at least he runs… oh, wait he has yet to steal a base this year. It’s early to outright drop someone with Robles’ upside, but it wouldn’t hurt to see who you can get for him in trade.
Bryan Reynolds, OF Pittsburgh Pirates
A player who’s had a high BABIP throughout his professional career and last season it looked like some power might develop for the Pirates outfielder. The power has regressed to a .133 ISO in his first 18 games, and the BABIP has regressed to .263 as well. His fantasy managers have put up with a triple slash of .183/.300/.317 and one single RBI. It’s early, but it’s time to ask yourself what you really think you’ll get out of Bryan Reynolds.
Jon Gray, SP Colorado Rockies
A former top pitching prospect with an elite fastball, Gray showed flashes of success in ’17 and ’19, but has fallen on hard times again this season. Five starts so far have resulted in a 5.74 ERA (4.99 xFIP) and his fastball is down from 96.1 MPH to 93.7. The lowered velocity is one contributor to a 10.6% Swinging Strike percentage and measly 5.4 strikeouts per 9IP. He’s getting hit hard as well, to the tune of 47.8% of balls in play and allowing 1.35 home runs per 9IP. True, four of his five starts have come at home in Coors, but through his career, Gray has nearly identical home (4.50) vs. road (4.52) ERAs, and let’s face it, he’s going to have starts at Coors Field. He’s experienced some bad luck stranding runners this year (51%) but has also been quite lucky with BABIP (.256), meaning while things could improve, they could also regress even further. If you can find someone of interest on waivers who is producing, you might want to ride that wave over Mr. Gray.
Matthew Boyd, SP Detroit Tigers
A hot start to 2019 put Boyd on the map, then he caught gopherballitis finishing with a 4.56 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. The strikeouts were still there (11.54 K/9 on the year) and his xFIP was a more respectable 3.88. Furthermore, his walk rate was 2.43, so there was hope of a return to early-season form. That’s not what we’ve seen so far; a 10.24 ERA is bad, and so are the rest of the peripherals. 54.5% strand rate, .397 BABIP, 2.33 home runs per 9, and now the strikeouts are all but gone too. His K/9 is 8.38 and his swinging strike rate is down to 11.3% from an elite 14% last year. It’s difficult to roster a player giving up so many home runs, and wins are unlikely on a bad Tigers team. Maybe you can trade him, maybe you can wait it out, but at this point, you just can’t start him.
Madison Bumgarner, SP Arizona Diamondbacks
Yes, he’s a big name, had years of success, and infamous for his role in the Giants World Series championships. Those years of success have put a lot of innings on his arm, and the World Series runs included some blatant overuse. His fastball velocity is down 3.5 MPH to 87.8, the overall hard-hit rate is over 50%, and he’s given up 7 home runs in only 17 innings. Currently on the IL with a mid-back strain, maybe you can get someone in trade for the name, but the writings been on the wall for a Madbum demise.
If you’ve been considering dropping a player, hit me up in the comments below or on twitter. I won’t always be right, I won’t always be wrong, but I’ll always let you know what I really think.