“There must be some kind of way outta here, Said the joker to the thief. There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief” ~ Bob Dylan “All Along The Watchtower” (though if you’re like me, it’s totally Jimi Hendrix you hear in your head.)
It’s the confusing point of the fantasy season. Samples are still small, but trending toward significant. The trick is to be ahead of the trend – for good or ill, you have to commit. You’ll be right sometimes, you’ll be wrong sometimes. But you have to be decisive.
Look at your players. Take the numbers into account, but unless they are abysmal or transcendent, don’t give them the final say. This is your team. It’s your instincts that matter here. Is a hot start just a hot start, or is it a breakout? Is it just a cold start, or a sign of the year to come? With a few notable exceptions, no one actually knows yet. We can guess based on all the available data but sometimes players come back from the dead. Melvin “BJ” Upton did for a year. Scott Kazmir did. You can have all the data in the world, and overthink things and run your team into the ground, like the 2018 Phillies.
It’s a confusing time of year. You don’t want to cut a guy too early or keep a guy too long, but you don’t want to lose a major contributor over a bad start either. So, eventual pun intended, where do you look for relief?
Hold ‘Em: Hot
It’s a totally different profile for Wong at the plate this year. Fewer line drives, but enormous jumps in both fly ball percentage and hard-hit rate. He’s taken advantage of the new profile to the tune of 4 home runs and a 170 wRC+ so far.
Obviously, a dip in line drives is concerning. However, in Wong’s case, it is clear he is making a concerted effort to add more loft to his swing and hit for more power. With a hard-hit rate nearly 20% above last season, the early returns suggest the new approach is working. I want to see where this goes.
Another hitter with a fairly radical shift in tendencies, Mancini already has 6 home runs on the season. Considering the Orioles line-up around him, there are no playing time concerns here.
The reason I believe in Mancini is simple. He’s hitting roughly 10% more fly balls than ever before, and roughly 10% fewer ground balls. That’s a change that can stick. More fly balls from a power profile is never something I’m going to give up on.
Hold ‘Em: Cold
I put Ronald Acuna Jr and Josh Donaldson here last week. Both caught fire. I’m hoping this means I know what I’m doing. Of course, Brandon Nimmo also had a 2 home run week after I said cut him, so chances are it was just luck.
Blackmon has always had huge home and away splits. The Rockies have only played 5 games at home so far.
Give the man some home games, and pair that with a 40% flyball ratio, and the production should fall into place. Keep your eye on him though. I think he’ll still be useful, but it’s fair to want to see something first if you’re thinking about acquiring him. He’s the type to go from cold to scorching in a day though, so the asking price may jump once he gets started.
Fold ‘Em: Hot
You didn’t draft Marcus Semien to be anything more than a 15 home run, 10 steal shortstop or middle infielder. He’s absolutely still going to do that. So if that’s all you’re looking for, just keep on keeping on.
On the other hand, if you can fleece someone into believing Semien’s hot start is a legitimate breakout, you should absolutely fold him. Breakouts are not built on a 12% increase in groundballs, with a 5% decrease in line-drives and a 7% decrease in fly balls. But if you know that and they don’t, you might be able to turn something solid into something spectacular.
Fold ‘Em: Cold
Craig Kimbrel, Dallas Keuchel, and any slow-starting Reliever
Kimbrel and Keuchel still haven’t signed. They are going to need time to get ready. If they signed today, it still would be mid-May before they are likely to be ready. That’s a month of an occupied roster spot giving you no production. Worse still, it’s not like they are injured and you can have a rough idea of when they’ll help you. You have no idea. They could be signing as a write this, they could sign tomorrow, or after the June draft or next offseason. Take current production over the what ifs.
As for relievers, there are hundreds (literally, 30 teams times a 7 man minimum in the bullpen is 210) of relievers. There is no point on hanging on to Rosenthal and his 7 walks to 3 outs ratio so far. You can find replacements. Johnny Venters, David Robertson, Arodys Vizcaino all went on the IL recently. Guys will be filling their shoes too. Relief is an endless carousel. Don’t wait it out.
I don’t want to be the man to predict the fall of a giant. That said, Votto’s power abandoned him last year, and his batted ball profile is a mess this year.
He’s hitting more fly balls, but fewer line-drives. That would seem like he’s chasing power. The problem is that most of his flies are to center field instead of pulled or to the opposite field. Fly balls to the biggest part of the yard are generally not a recipe for success. Add in an early declining walk rate and increased swinging strike percentage and it’s possible that Votto’s best days are behind us. I’m not saying you have to fold him. He’s Joey Votto. I am saying that nobody is going to blame you if you can’t keep the faith anymore.