TDG Roundtable: Whose Hot Start are we 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, our staff discusses whose hot you should believe in.
Jared Walsh, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Angels de Anaheim
Now that Albert Pujols has been cut by the Angels (and what a career he has had as the greatest first baseman of all time), the first base job officially belongs to Walsh for the foreseeable future. The lefty slugger showed signs of a breakout in the abbreviated 2020 season, hitting nine home runs with a .293 batting average and a .917 OPS in only 108 plate appearances. As of this writing, he has 106 plate appearances in 2021, and has done even better with them than last year’s display, with a .348 batting average and an OPS of 1.033, six home runs, a walk rate of 10%, and a strikeout rate of 20%. Walsh worked his way up through the Angels system after being drafted in round 39 (pick 1185!) of the 2015 draft, and his minor league career culminated in 2019 at Triple-A when he hit 36 home runs with an OPS of 1.109. This season he also has provided that oh-so-valuable dual position eligibility splitting his time between right field and first base for the Angels.
Walsh has hit cleanup or fifth in the lineup for almost the whole season, and we should continue to see him acquire RBI in bunches with Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Anthony Rendon hitting in front of him. While the batting average will most likely come down, even if Walsh’s average drops to .300, we should expect 30 home runs and 100 RBI easy. That is a huge win for those that have held onto him in Dynasty leagues and those that threw a dart at him in re-draft ones (he averaged pick 220 in NFBC leagues). Before I go, another factor I love is that 18 of his 32 hits so far this season have gone to opposite field, making his spray chart look oh so good. Most definitely I believe in his hot start but see if those other managers in your league do not and see what reasonably you can do to acquire him.
Ryan McMahon, 3B, Colorado Rockies
McMahon has always had an intriguing upside because he hits the ball really hard (career 91 MPH average exit velocity) and plays at Coors Field. His problems have been strikeouts and groundouts. In 2020, his 34.2% K-rate and a 50.5% groundball rate led to a miserable .215/.295/.419 line. The thin air in Colorado can’t help you if you don’t hit the ball into it.
McMahon spent the offseason changing his swing mechanics, which were overly complicated and hurt his ability to catch up to fastballs. The improvements have been clear. His K-rate is down to 23.6%, groundball rate has dropped to 34.1%, and his average launch angle has risen from 9.2 to 18.1. His new swing has fixed what needed fixing.
McMahon’s power production has tapered off a bit after a fast start, but I am not concerned. Per Baseball Savant, his xSLG is .551, better than his actual .513 mark. That’s particularly interesting because Rockies hitters tend to outperform their Statcast metrics thanks to the park. He hasn’t actually had significant splits so far this season, with an .832 home OPS and .821 away.
I’m confident that McMahon’s breakout is legitimate. He’s only 26, and can be a 30-homer, 100-RBI threat in the next few seasons, and he’ll be eligible at both 2B and 3B at least through 2022 in most formats. Whether he’s a good trade target in your dynasty league likely depends on who rostered him. If the same manager has held him since his prospect days, it will be hard to pry him away. But if he was picked up after his 3-homer game a month ago, it might be worth checking in.
Cedric Mullins, OF, Baltimore Orioles
Cedric Mullins sure has been entertaining to watch so far this season, sporting a .320/.378/.525 line with 5 dingers, 27 combined runs and RBI, and 3 steals heading into Friday. That’s pretty darn sexy for a leadoff hitter! He’s definitely becoming one of the steal-iest of the late-round steals from the 2021 fantasy baseball offseason. And yes, if you’re wondering, I have serious FOMO over it.
I’m not crying…you’re crying.
Why am I buying this start from a player who still has a career OPS just under .700? Well, first of all, that number stems from only 146 games (553 PA’s) and he’s 26 years old. Anything can happen when you’re 26! His launch angle remains comparable with 2020 and his barrel rate is up, but the biggest thing I see is his improved plate discipline (26.1% O-swing, as opposed to 33% in 2020), which is paying major dividends. That decreased need to swing at pitches off the plate coupled with his increased contact percentage has me all kinds of excited to see a full season from Mullins. His 60% bag-swiping success rate is a little disappointing, but there’s still plenty of season left to accumulate. All but one of his plate appearances this season have come from the leadoff spot, so the opportunity should be there. If he’s somehow still available in your leagues, pounce quickly.
John Means, SP, Baltimore Orioles
I have to admit, I was scared off by the Orioles history of “developing” starting pitching, and was not on the John Means train this spring. The industry was also a bit split on him as a sleeper, still qualifying as one despite being an All-Star in 2019, and in 2020 showing a sub 1.00 WHIP and a 6:1 K:BB ratio. It was only 43 innings they said… he gave up 12 home runs they said. Well, this week he made a big stir in the fantasy baseball world by no-hitting the Mariners. With 12 strikeouts and no walks, coming a wild pitch short of a perfect game. Some polish has come off the shine of pitching a no-hitter in recent years, as there have been several combined no-nos with some journeymen having everything break their way to nab one. We’ve even seen a 7-inning no-hitter by Madison Bumgarner. Those are all nice stories and in some cases one of the highlights of the pitcher’s career I’m sure. John Means’ start felt much more like a coming out party for him, a sign he has arrived, and he has legit #2 starter stuff. Sporting a relatively average fastball velocity of 92-93 mph, but an impressive 2400+ spin rate, it’s the command that’s impressive. Means is able to paint either side of the zone with his fastball, and also has a changeup that’s ~10 mph slower than what he regularly throws for strikes, but has been getting a 41.5% Whiff% on. His secondaries include a slider he throws to lefties with a 55.6 Wiff%, and a curve he’s thrown 84 times without allowing a hit this year. The stuff is there, and he’s now getting the rotisserie results, a 1.37 ERA, 0.67 WHIP which will surely go up by September, but his xERA is dropping for a 4th year in a row, and currently sits at 2.62. I’m a big proponent of watching games, as many as possible, so you can tell who’s getting lucky, and who’s too much to handle. Watching Means on May 5th there was no luck involved, he was showing his dominance and just how good he can be. I’m going all in.