TDG Roundtable: Whose fast start are we selling?
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 not believe in.
Huascar Ynoa, SP, Atlanta Braves
When I put out this topic to the staff, the first name that came to my mind was Huascar Ynoa. He has been a great surprise to start of the season but I see a rough ride for him for the rest of the year. In all respects, he is a two-pitch pitcher (four-seam/slider) but he will throw a show-me change occasionally. There are very few starters who can make the two-pitch schtick work for an entire season. He has one of the largest discrepancies between his ERA and FIP (a 1.37 difference between the two), which can indicate his overperformance. Also, we have never seen this amount of great command from Ynoa in his career, outside of a three innings MLB stint back in 2019. He is also buoyed by a 91 LOB%, which is in the top five of the league. Taking a look at his match-ups so far this season: 2 against Philidelphia, Washington, and the Cubs and then one against the Marlins and the Diamondbacks. Not a murderer’s row, for sure.
I just don’t get it. Everything I look at says MOVE ON, so I think you should too.
Nate Lowe, 1B, Texas Rangers
The top-25 player who I think will face some regression the rest of the way is David Nathaniel Lowe. Nate Lowe has had a great start to the 2021 season and is currently the 16th overall hitter on the Razzball player rater. Lowe has been popping off with regularity in the first six weeks of the season, racking up RBI and Runs, hitting seven home runs, and even chipping in four steals thus far (Texas is letting everyone run these days, even Adolis Garcia, who keeps getting caught. Imagine if they had acquired Villar, he’d have 30 by now, but I digress). His average looks good at .288, his walk rate is a respectable 12%, with a slightly above league average strikeout rate at 26%. His StatCast numbers are mostly in the light-to-bright red, so why do I think his hot start is not worth buying? First off, let’s start with his splits. Lowe is a left-handed batter, and like many left-handed batters, he does not hit left-handed pitchers near as well as he does their counterparts from the right-hand side. Unfortunately, Lowe also shows barely any power against them, three homers versus lefties compared to 15 versus righties in his short MLB career so far and a similarly poor 1:4 ratio in the minors.
Now Lowe did improve in the minors against lefties every season, getting up to “pretty well” in the last two, so maybe he just needs time to adjust. The Rangers are not going to compete for the playoffs this season, as they have let him hit against lefties all season long, so it is quite possible he improves with more experience. But that is not something I want to bet on long-term at first base, what with platoons being all the rage. A couple more 2021 stats: his BABIP so far is .367, providing a major boost to his .288 batting average. That will not continue as Lowe is much more a .260 hitter (at best), so in leagues that use batting average, he will become less valuable. His ISO is currently .194, which can maybe get a little better but it is just about in line with his minor league ISO of just over .200. Lastly, first base is a deep position, littered with vets who can help out- heck, you probably already have another 1B fill-in on your roster. I do not think Lowe will stink the rest of the way, as Texas is going to let him play every day, but if I had to predict the most likely finishes at around number 10-14 at first base for 2021 (which is great based on where he was drafted). Long-term Lowe (that’s my new band name) more than likely settles in as a fantasy starter in 14-team leagues and larger as he enters his prime ages. But his value is much higher than that after his stellar start and it is worth seeing what kind of a return he gets in Dynasty leagues, especially if he helps fill a need. Rebuilding teams should be looking for what top prospects or picks he can bring back in a trade.
Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs
Aaron A. Cumming
Kris Bryant is off to a torrid start. The only thing that has slowed him down so far has been his own sinuses. He is 3rd among all hitters in fWAR. His .308 batting average would be a career-high, as would his .650 slugging. He has a 178 wRC+ and is on pace for 40+ home runs.
And it’s all a lie.
Bryant is obviously talented. Rookie of the Year, MVP, 3-time All-Star, anchor of curse-breaking World Series team. He has all the acclaim and accolades of a bona fide star. In fact, his talent might even warrant the stellar performance he’s put on through the first quarter of the 2021 season. The only problem is that he hasn’t capitalized on that talent to this extent in a number of years, and some underlying stats make this seem unsustainable.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone, even someone with Bryant’s skillset, showing perpetual decline for several seasons, and then suddenly having a career year. According to Baseball Savant’s percentile rankings (where 100 is the league leader) from 2016-2020, he has gotten worse every year, in nearly every category. His xBA ranks: 68, 55, 43, 32, and 7. His xSLG ranks: 95, 82, 61, 60, and 13. His HardHit% ranks: 61, 56, 28, 24, and 18. His Barrel% ranks: 89, 78, 66, 65, and 31. He has demonstrably and consistently gotten worse for 5 years running. Now, at age 29, we are supposed to believe that he has simply flipped a switch and reached heights beyond even his MVP campaign?
Bryant has a deep red Statcast page this season, seemingly stemming from a significant drop in his launch angle. Bucking the league-wide trend is likely a conscious effort to sacrifice power for batting average. As the benefactor of a laughably lucky 25.7% home run/flyball rate, that sacrifice will soon catch up with him. If he can maintain his luck and the adjustments continue to payoff, wonderful; ride out this fantastic season from a fun player. However, if regression creeps in and Bryant’s established downward trends rear their head, this ship will soon be sinking.
Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Jesse Winker has come out firing this year, with a triple slash of .374/.432/.682 as of this writing, with 7 home runs and an ISO of .308. When you look at his Statcast data there are lots of red dots showing he’s hitting the ball hard, and many good things are expected to happen when he makes contact. But we’re looking at a small sample of 27 games. Winker still struggles against lefties, with a .565 OPS so far this year, a bit lower than his career mark of .602. That .602 mark comes in only 205 career plate appearances, despite playing in 330 career games, and 1,156 career plate appearances. Yes the Reds have long protected Winkler from lefties, and in the 27 games this year, the team has avoided left-handed starters, and rested Winker many times when they do face one. These kinds of splits are easy to hide in a small sample, but as the season grows long that ratio of plate appearances against lefties will grow, or Winker will just lose at-bats.
Beyond these splits, Winker is just getting very lucky with a BABIP of .434, helping him to that .374 batting average. He’s also seeing an abnormal number of fastballs (63.2%), a pitch he normally does very well against, and surely pitchers will start to avoid throwing him. This is a man who’s on pace to hit 35 home runs, but his current career-high is only 16. Granted he’s only once played over 90 games in his 5-year career, but that one time only amounted to 113 games and 384 plate appearances. While he has once spent a 60-day stretch on the IL, Winker is not someone who’s been labeled injury-prone. He is a platoon risk and at some point, history shows the Reds will see far more lefties than they have so far in 2021. When they do look for Winker’s production to wane.
Dylan Carlson, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
I was a big fan of Carlson after seeing his breakout 2019 minor league campaign which vaulted him into the conversations of being one of the next premier power-speed players. He has definitely rebounded from a less than encouraging 2020 debut season, but I’m starting to think I am just not quite as sold as I once was. So far his 2021 slash line of .286/.363/.808 looks great with solid counting stats due to a solid lineup around him, but I don’t think it is sustainable with his current batted ball metrics. Carlson is right around 50th percentile in both average and max exit velocity. These numbers look even worse considering exit velocity numbers are up across the league due to the new ball. Even less encouraging is his 9th percentile hard-hit percentage and 28th percentile barrel percentage. A .312 BABIP is likely what has kept his average as high as it is so far this season, with a lot of the expected stats showing that decline should be expected. On average his expected stats for BA, SLG, and wOBA are .050 points lower than his actual stats.
Perhaps even more discouraging, Carlson is not really delivering on what everyone was counting on him for: home runs and stolen bases. So far in 2021, he has three home runs and zero stolen bases, a 150-game pace of 12/0. His average launch angle is less than ideal at 11.5 degrees, and from simply looking at his spray chart for this season, it just doesn’t look like he is hitting the ball very far. This could just be an early-season trend, or it may be signs that he is a player that might be affected more than others by the changed ball due to the way he strikes the ball. Carlson also has yet to attempt to steal a base this season. The Cardinals rank in the bottom third of the league in stolen base attempts per game so perhaps it’s a team mindset that’s affecting Carlson, but no matter what the reason he is not helping to contribute in that statistical category. Taking all of this into consideration, I am expecting his overall stat line to continue to decrease over the next few months settling in around .250 and I am not expecting more than about 15 home runs and 5 steals total on the season. Unfortunately, this may not be the breakout 2021 everyone was hoping for and that looked possible early on in the season.