Quick Hits on Slow starts Part Two: Outfield

On Sunday I highlighted a number of highly drafted infield stars off to a slow start. My original plan was to cover both outfielders and pitchers next. However, an unexpected schedule change forced me to call an audible leaving me only time for one or the other. It’s probably for the best given the number of players, plus waiting on pitchers until they have another game or two under their belt isn’t the worst idea. So pitchers will have to wait for another day – today I’ll tackle the outfield. Should you sell-low on that early pick or hold? Which struggling stars should you target? In the end that is entirely up to you, but a decision should be made soon before that price you paid starts to drop or that buy-low window closes.

Note: All stats through Thursday.

Giancarlo Stanton: Five home runs with a .226 batting average. The counting stats are there (16 R, 15 RBI) as is the power, but that average is severely lacking. Three numbers stand out. First is the K% which has always been high but never over 30% (34.9). Next is the contact rate which has always been below average but has reached a new low (62.6%) despite little change in swing%. Finally we have ground balls and another career high at 50.9%. The only good news is the hard hit rate is strong at 43.9%. Is he hiding an injury? Is he pressing to hard to impress his new team? I can see holding in hopes he finds his swing, but selling is also a solid option – another month of this and you’ll have to sell for less than first round value.

Cody Bellinger: 3 home runs with a .278 average. Bellinger isn’t exactly struggling, but he is also not living up to his draft status. The strikeouts are down and the average is slightly above where he finished last year. But (there’s always a but) his GB/FB ratio is almost 1.00, the hard hit rate is down to a more human 36.8%, and while he is chasing less and more aggressive in the zone, the contact hasn’t changed and is still below average. Overall there is nothing seriously wrong, but those expecting a power repeat may be disappointed. I would throw his name out there just to see.

Andrew Benintendi: 1 home runs, 5 steals and a .218 average. Not a glistening start to a 20/20 season. The plate discipline hasn’t changed, and walk and strikeout rates are both MLB career bests. Even the BABIP, while unlucky, is only 40 points off last year so not enough alone to explain the poor average. Simply put: he isn’t hitting the ball hard (20%) which is resulting in too many ground balls (50.8%). Like Stanton maybe there is an undisclosed injury. This is also his second full season so a sophomore slump cannot be ruled out. We’ve only seen flashes, but with a limited track record I’m not sure you should bet on what might be if you can flip him for what will be.

Marcell Ozuna: 2 home runs with a .233 average. There’s a slight increase in swings but similar contact. There was a slight drop in fly balls but a big jump in hard hit rate – the rest of his batted profile is similar to years past. The BABIP isn’t far off his career mark. Strikeouts are elevated but acceptable in today’s game.  Outside of a walk rate half his career norm there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong – yet there is. Then again, maybe there isn’t. Maybe we gave him too much credit for his 2017 season when Ozuna is really more like the 2016-23 home run guy. That’s looking like a best case scenario, and if that holds true then your selling window is closing fast with just one career year as a selling point. Ozuna may have that one big month that will make you regret selling (all players tend to do that), but you’ll be happy overall in the long run.

Byron Buxton: 4 stolen bases with a .195 average. We can cut him a little slack with a trip to the DL, but not a great start for what we thought would be a 20/20 or even a 20/30 guy. Strikeouts are down (but still high), ground balls up (good for steals) while fly balls and hard hit rate down (bad for home runs and line drives). He is making better contact thanks to a big increase in swings – that could turn out to be good or bad though. I see growing pains, and with only an average showing last year the market is limited to those few who were betting on a breakout. I don’t see much value selling him, and if his current owner reached for him I don’t see you getting him for cheap. Nothing to do here but ride things out or sell at a discount.

Billy Hamilton: 5 stolen bases and a .178 average. Good news Hamilton owners – he learned to take a walk (12.0%) and is hitting more ground balls than ever (56.8%). Sadly, his soft contact is almost double his career average (41.3%), he is striking out at an alarming rate (32.5%), and his rate of contact which was always above average has slipped to below average. With a coaching change already in Cincinnati, Jesse Winker seeing more time up top and in center, Hamilton pushed to the basement in the batting order and getting the occasional seat, his time as a reliable fantasy asset is over. He was outright dropped in my 15 team H2H and passed through waivers for what it’s worth.

Andrew McCutchen: 3 home runs, 3 steals and a .205 average. It hurts to see a former first round pick fall this far. An unlucky BABIP (.238) is partly responsible. The walk and strikeout rations have not changed, the line drive rate is strong, only a slight drop in fly balls but big increase in hard hit balls (48.5%). The only real change is a decrease in swings outside the zone resulting in a lower O-Contact%, but the overall contact rate is there. A quick glance suggest things could turn around soon for McCutchen. A worst case scenario would be a final line similar to his 2016 season with 2015 being his ceiling. Even if he finishes in between owners would be happy. I am not selling and am all over buying low if the current owner isn’t happy (50/50 chance they are not).

Yoenis Cespedes: 5 home runs with a .200 average. Fly balls are great for a power hitter (57.1%), but not when there isn’t as much behind them as in past years (28.6% hard, .178 ISO – both career worst). Line drives are in their second year of decline; that combined with the decrease in hard contact, a second year of soft contact above 20%, increased strikeouts (42.3%) and a healthy BABIP *.295) give little hope to a batting average increase. The strikeout issues can be tied to chasing outside the zone at a career rate and increased swings overall, but those extra swings have not helped the contact percentage – a career low which is well below average and 10 points lower than his career. Health issues come to mind, as do possible concerns he might be on the decline. His 21 RBI place him 6th overall – a solid selling point – and his last home run was a monster shot. Cespedes is a sell candidate, and those buying should be prepared to absorb the batting average if things don’t change.

Dishonorable Mentions

Yasiel Puig and Domingo Santana: It is doubtful either player was a top-100 pick by the time your draft rolled around. However, several site rankings valued them as such and because of this they may have been drafted earlier than they should have – hence the dishonorable mention.

The writing was on the wall for Santana after the Brewers signed Lorenzo Cain and traded for Yelich. Despite this some believed he would still get a reasonable number of at bats. They were correct (79), but he has done little with them totaling zero home runs, zero steals, and just a .228 average. He has lost 9 points on hard hit rate, 10 points off the line drive percentage, the ground balls are over 50%, and the already low contact rate fell back to 2015 levels (unacceptable) even with a more aggressive swing rate. With a similar walk rate, strikeout rate and BABIP I don’t see much hope for the batting average. And with Yelich, Cain, and even Braun outhitting him we could see decreased at bats moving forward.

As for Puig: Zero home runs, 3 stolen bases and a .195 average are making 2017 look like a career year and not the breakout some considered it to be. The walk and strikeout rate reverted back to 2016 levels, there  is a slight increase in line drive and small drop in hard hit balls, but overall his batted ball profile is similar to past years, and the contact has increase (particularly inside the zone) without an increase in swings. An unlucky BABIP (overall and against his career, but not far off his 2017 mark) combined with other factors hint at a batting average increase, but there is little else to suggest he will repeat or even come close to matching what he did in 2017.

Neither player has any trade value and there are a number of waiver wire stars you would be better off rolling the dice on. Abandon ship, but add them to your watch list in case things turn around later in the season.

 

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Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball. You can also find me at FanRagSports.com

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