As we wrap up the first month of games, there are always surprises, both good and bad. Everyone knows about Cardinals outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker, and anyone who opted to pick him up after his first week is reaping the rewards — though only time will tell whether it will last. (Hint: It’s always safer to assume it won’t. Trade him now!) But what about players who you drafted thinking they would give you good to great value, and they’ve performed well below expectations? It’s time to start looking into whether their first month was a trick, or whether they’re going to make you look like a fool all year long.
What do you do with top-10 pitcher who is ranked #516 overall after four starts? As anyone will tell you, small samples for pitchers aren’t always reliable. On the other hand, it’s one-eighth of the season, so there could be predictors there for the rest of year. I’ll leave it up to you, because the metrics are a mixed bag. His G/L/F profile is in line with other recent seasons, and so are his hard hit and soft hit rates. He’s attacking the zone more than ever, and he’s maintaining a swinging strike rate above the major league average. His walk rate is still great. However, so far his K/9 is on the decline for the third straight year, and it’s sitting at 7.0, far from elite. He has already given up 5 home runs after giving up only 14 for all of 2015, and his HR/FB ratio is one of the highest of his career. His SIERA and xFIP are the highest they’ve been in nine seasons.
My verdict: It’s what most people will go with: he’s an ace caliber pitcher, and given what you paid for him entering 2016, you have no choice but to ride it out and hope he turns it around. Given that his BABIP is the highest of his career, there’s likely a bit more bad luck here than a collapse in skill. But like Wainwright, any chinks in the armor have to be noted, because he doesn’t sport lights-out stuff like Kershaw and Bumgarner.
Here’s a guy I gambled on in his first year, and I made a handsome profit. Now that he costs a bit more, he’s having the worst start to a season in his short major league career. What’s going on here? I wish I could say it was all bad luck, but his game is a bit off, so the red flags should be heeded. As we all say in April, it’s early, but… The bad BA isn’t all strikeout related, because his K% isn’t that much higher than 2015, but his contact rate is down, and his swinging strike rate sits in the middle of his three-year career. Despite a very low BABIP, there are reasons for that result. His hard hit rate is pretty awful, losing over 10% from 2015, and his soft hit rate is up as well. This has resulted in his lowest LD%, and though his FB% is the highest it’s been, he’s popping up more infield flies due to the poor contact, so “fly ball” isn’t always a good thing, especially with a reduced HR/FB rate.
My verdict: I look at the very low BABIP and hope for a rebound, and some pundits say it takes until most of May is over to get a firm grip on a player’s season. That said, I worry this April fool won’t bounce back strong, and you may continue to wear the jester’s cap if you hold on all season long. To be safe, I’d play up the “too early to call it” and “just an early slump” cards, and trade him even at a slight discount.
I never fully bought in on the recent Braves SP prospects: Minor, Beachy, Teheran, Delgado. I liked Beachy the most, but injuries wiped out his potential. Therefore despite two solid seasons from Teheran in 2013-14, I didn’t pony up the dollars at the auction table to invest in 2015, and I’m glad I held back. When I look at his metrics from those two good seasons, nothing screams at me. There wasn’t any obvious luck factor, aside from tiny amounts in BABIP and strand rate in 2014, and normally I like pitchers with a solid walk rate. But he didn’t sport elite strikeout ability, he didn’t have a ground ball tilt, and I didn’t love the Braves. Just as there were no major metrics to explain his great 2014, there was not much wrong with 2015’s worse result. In 2015 he took a step back in BB/9 as it jumped over 1.0, and his HR/FB went from a bit below league average to above it, resulting in a poorer strand rate. Now in early 2016, he’s retaining that higher BB/9 and that higher HR/FB. His velocity is noticeably down, and so is his swinging strike rate.
My verdict: Over the last two years, hitters are fooled less by him, swinging out of the zone by 5-7% less than his 2013-14 seasons. He doesn’t have elite stuff, and his hard hit rate is quite a bit higher despite a league average BABIP. The way I see it, he got lucky in his first two seasons, and now the league has caught up to him. There’s nothing special about his profile, and you’ll be a fool for the year if you expect a return to 2014.
I’ll admit I pick on Freeman, because he’s had so much hype for so long, but he’s never had the breakout we’d hoped for. So when I see headings like “Freeman slowly breakout of slump,” and yet he’s sporting just 2 R and 1 RBI in the last seven games, it makes me think people are still drinking the Kool-Aid. After hitting well under the Mendoza line the first two weeks, he’s now hitting above .270 the last two weeks, so that’s good at least. “Hitting safely in 7 of his last 9 games” doesn’t mean much if you’re 1-for-4 or 1-for-5. In the last week he’s hit the ball very hard, but his LD% is low, and he hasn’t hit a home run, so there’s not a lot of concrete value to that. For the season, his hard hit rate is the lowest of his career, and his contact rate has cratered from consistently acceptable (76% career) to 67% in April, and he has the worst swinging strike rate of his career. Is he still bouncing back from his injuries last year (wrist, oblique)?
My verdict: I’d have been apt to call you a fool if you drafted Freeman in the top-12 at first base. Those who keep hoping for a big breakout and drafted him within the top-10 are really paying the price. The Braves are bad this year, and teams don’t feel they have to pitch to Freeman: he already has three intentional walks, compared to four all last year. I’m personally not optimistic about the rest of 2016, but if you want to cling to hope, I’ll point to a career low BABIP, which could possibly mean some bounce back. He’s hitting lefties but not righties right now, a reverse platoon split — but given that fantasy managers think he’s supposed to be a BA boon, that’s not helpful when he faces more RHP. The fact is that even with his above-average career BABIP, he’s only hit above .290 once. Maybe he’ll sort himself out and get back to his career levels, but you certainly can’t expect the “UP: 30 HR, .320 BA” some pundits were still spouting before 2016 started.
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