Sorry, posting is delayed this week. Hopefully the examples aren’t too outdated.
This week’s query: How do you go about gauging early season performance? What underachiever are you most concerned about?
Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs, The Process, @jeffwzimmerman): For starters, I’m only looking at K%-BB% but waiting at least four starts until I make a move. For hitters, I’m only looking for changes in playing time (lineup order or platoon). It takes two-months for a hitter’s talent to take shape so I’m in the waiting game a week into the season.
AJ Mass (ESPN, @AJMass): The short answer is I don’t. In normal seasons, I’m usually loathe to make any big roster moves (save for injuries or a clear change in role where a player has clearly lost playing time). In 2022, with the shortened spring, it’s going to be a while. So a leadoff hitter who seemingly can’t make contact with the ball – looking at you, Mr. Grossman – gets an extra week or two to try and recapture his timing before any panic sets in. Marathon. Not a sprint.
Michael A. Stein (Fantasy Judgment, @FantasyJudgment): I typically do not overreact to anyone’s performance during the first couple weeks of the season unless they are losing playing time. For pitchers, it usually takes a few weeks to build up endurance so I am not concerned about starters going 4 innings or throwing 70 pitches. I do have serious concerns about Jarred Kelenic right now even though we are less than a week into the season. He looked completely overmatched for most of his tenure with the Mariners in 2021. But I figured that experience, along with the fact he would be in the starting lineup everyday this year, would help him mature and figure things out. However, he still looks lost and confused. It is obviously too soon to give up on him, but I am growing concerned that he may not be as good as all the hype that has surrounded him since he was drafted by the Mets. The Mariners have plenty of outfield depth, so it would not be surprising if Kelenic loses playing time if he does not figure things out soon.
Fred Zinkie (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @FredZinkieMLB): I look at velocity and K-BB ratio for pitchers. I also look at strikeout rate for hitters, as those who are striking out often could be lost at the plate and might lose playing time. But mostly I’m looking for role and opportunity. I want to find players who are cementing important roles and drop those who have been relegated to smaller roles. The players I’m most concerned about those who needed to bounce back from a bad 2021 season and have started out poorly. Cody Bellinger would be the poster boy for this group.
Charlie Wiegert (CDM Sports, @GFFantasySports): Bellinger…his rough spring and slow start, until 2 hits Sunday and Joe Adell’s K streak to start season until 2 hits Monday. KikiHernadez is stilllooking for first hit, but he’s always been streaky so no major worry. Urias start in Colorado so no major worry except velo down. Ryu struggled last year, so first start being bad makes me wonder.
Brian Walton (CreativeSports2, @B_Walton): For me, the most worrisome underachiever has to be Cody Bellinger. From a 1.025 OPS in 2019 to .789 to .542 last season. Then .301 this spring and now .432 out of the gate in 2022. This trend looks like my stock portfolio!
Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): The actual results are mostly meaningless. I focus on the underlying skills that stabilize quickest – pitch velocity, batted ball exit velocity, and perhaps changes to batted ball type distribution (ground ball/fly ball rates). Those metrics will tell me if a player’s underlying skills have changed, whether or not the results have been affected yet. It’s wayyyyyy too early to even label players as underachievers so far, let alone be concerned about any of them. I don’t usually start to seriously evaluate results until at least two months into the season.
Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): I don’t even worry about anything except health and playing time until after April. I still rely on projections otherwise. I am not overly worried about a specific player unless they are getting less playing time than expected.
D.J. Short (NBC Sports Edge, @djshort): I’m not focused on results as much as I am on how they are doing it and what opportunities will be like moving forward. It’s much too early to deviate signficantly from what you thought a week ago. I’d say someone like Alec Bohm is concerning because his defense at third base is just so bad and the Phillies have a replacement right there in Bryson Stott. Not that those in mixed leagues were really counting on Bohm in the first place, but some (including myself) were hopeful about a rebound. Limited flexibility in the DH spot really hurts him.
Perry Van Hook (Mastersball, @): For Hitters I am just looking at playing time and health – if they are secure in their job, then I expect they will round into expected results. But injuries are a bid and largely unknown problem so I am very concerned about Anthony Rendon, who is supposedly healthy but struggling. I would also be worried about Bellinger IF I owned him, but fortunately don’t. Starting pitchers I give a longer leash, especially with the shortened spring training this year but we are already seeing far too many injuries. I do look closely at relief pitchers early to try and get some clue as to what their usage is and will be, although we haven’t been taught much in four games.
Bret Sayre (Baseball Prospectus, @BretSayreBP): I have a feeling this is going to sound broken record-y with all the bright minds in this article, but in a normal year we’d be a week and a half out from Opening Day and performance concerns or velo dips wouldn’t really be much of a concern. In my mind, none of this matters until at least the fourth week of April and even then, we’d be applying SSS disclaimers to everything we see. In other words, trust your preseason valuations and ask again in mid-May. It’s another weird year.
Vlad Sedler (Fantasy Guru, @rotogut): Not as much performance but am trying to stay wise to pitch count expectations when making lineup decisions this month. For example, certain teams like the Astros have been letting their starting pitchers go a bit deeper into games. We know that leagues can be won or lost by a couple of stats or points at the end of the year. Being mindful to the wins and strikeouts category in the next couple weeks will be imperative and could have end-of-season implications.
Matt Williams (The Athletic, @MattWi77iams): I do not care about early results, at all. The only thing I look at this early is of there has been an obvious change to opportunity (loss of role or playing time) or a tangible change such as mechanics, pitch mix, or velocity. Plate discipline is certainly the most “sticky” early season barometer, so I may keep an eye of strikeout rates (hitters) and K-BB% (pitchers).
Phil Hertz (BaseballHQ, @prhz50): I’m looking at who’s getting PT and in what circumstances and how are relievers being used. I’m especially looking for usage that was not expected. I’m not worried about anyone (unless it’s a health issue), YET.
Frank Stampfl (Fantasy Pros, @Roto_Frank): I don’t really care much about the actual results but rather what’s under the hood. For example, if a pitcher gets rocked and his velocity/spin rates are way down, that’s something I would pay attention to. For hitters, I like to pay attention to plate discipline early and playing time, specifically with young players. Julio Rodriguez and Spencer Torkelson each have seven strikeouts over their first four games. It doesn’t matter much now but if they continue to struggle this bad for the first 2-3 weeks, we could see them lose playing time.
Andy Behrens (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @andybehrens): I’m not even sure it’s safe to call Cody Bellinger an underachiever at this point, because maybe this is simply who he is. I didn’t buy the dip on Bellinger, so this isn’t a situation that directly affects me. But I don’t have much confidence he’ll surge at any point, not after his miserable spring (5-for-36, 0 XBH, 18 Ks). As for the rest of the player pool, I’m primarily concerned with prospects who start slow and risk demotion.
Larry Schechter (Winning Fantasy Baseball, @LarrySchechter): This early only thing that matters is health, role or lineup changes. I don’t have Akil Baddoo but would be concerned if I did. He has hit at bottom of order and when Riley Greene is ready they will have a glut of OF after adding Austin Meadows. And major concern…Jonathan Villar…not playing!
Jennifer Piacenti (SI.com, @jenpiacenti): I gauge by whether or not they are better than Cody Bellinger. Kidding. (sort of). For hitters I look for plate discipline, playing time, and where they are being used in the order. Pitchers who show control and go deeper into games this early in the season are the ones that intrigue me.
Steve Gardner (USAToday Fantasy Sports, @SteveAGardner): The red flags for me are indications that the manager has lost confidence in a player. Akil Baddoo, as Larry mentioned, being dropped down in the batting order after the Tigers acquired Austin Meadows or sitting against a left-hander is a bit concerning. Also, a ton of strikeouts early will make me worry. (Hello Jo Adell.)
Derek VanRiper (The Athletic, @DerekVanRiper): Process stats are key for me. The quality of contact metrics we have now go a long way toward determining whether a player’s slow start is just bad luck, or a hint of a bigger problem. When something stands out in the underlying numbers, I try to dig in and watch video, or at least make a point to follow-up on the player once we have a slightly larger sample to work with. For pitchers, velocity fluctuations are important to me in very small samples. Shane Bieber is the player I’m most concerned about. He’s averaged 90.6 and 91.0 mph on his fastball in his first two starts, respectively, roughly two full ticks from his 2021 velocity and more than 3.0 mph down from his 2020 shortened-season mark (94.1).
Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): I’ll be the bad guy here. Next level MLB metrics are great, but they’re still far more descriptive than predictive. I get trying to be first with prescient analysis, but even using the new information, a paragraph beginning with, “It’s a small sample, but…”, should still be taken with a grain of salt. We all want to force smart analysis into a scenario where it just isn’t time… yet. So-called stabilty points are a huge misnomer. Yes, if you don’t act on an available player, someone else will, but because we want to believe the new metrics are more telling doesn’t make it so.
Sara Sanchez (bleedcubbieblue.com, @BCB_Sara): I have stats I am watching, but honestly I don’t think we’ve had enough games to pass judgement on anything. For hitters I’m keeping a close eye on K% and BB% compared to previous years. Even with that, I don’t feel like I have enough data to pass judgement there, 3-5 games just isn’t a big enough sample size for me to say anyone has changed their approach at the plate. Come back to me in two or three weeks for actual concerns about hitters. For pitchers I do look at pitch changes and velocity drops, but even then it’s important to compare month v. month data because lots of pitchers have variance in season on their pitches. That said, Robbie Ray and Joe Musgrove’s velocity looks down a bit this year, which I am keeping an eye on. If that persists for another start or two I will be very concerned. I would caution putting too much stock into other pitch changes month to month this season, however, considering the sticky stuff crackdown was later in the year so the data isn’t comparing apples to apples.
Ariel Cohen (CBS Sports, @ATCNY): As Jeff Zimmerman said above, its K-BB%. That tends to stabilize very quickly, and I particularly look at this for pitchers. I’m also looking for velocity changes and pitch mix changes in pitchers, and how it realtes to their change in performance. For hitters, it is a bit early really, however for stolen bases – I am looking at how often they run. Opportunities tell the story of their willingness to run. Take Luis Robert who already has 4 SB. Cody Belinger is most concerning.
Scott Swanay (FantasyBaseballSherpa, @fantasy_sherpa): The only thing that would cause me to reevaluate a Hitter this early in the season would be either an uptick or downturn in playing time (batting much higher or lower than expected in the order would also count). For Starting Pitchers a marked increase or decrease in their velocity. For Relief Pitchers, any Closers who seem to be wresting control of what was previously thought to be a Committee situation. Again though, for the most part it’s too small a sample size to radically change your evaluation of players at this point.
Toby Guevin (BatFlipCrazy Podcast, @batflipcrazy): For pitchers, I’m looking for changes in velocity, pitch mix or new pitches that can change their underlying skill. For hitters, it’s more about any changes in lineup spot and then monitoring plate skills for anything that might change there (o-swing, contact rates), since the samples become meaningful quickest on per pitch metrics.
Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): I generally don’t? For pitchers, a severe velocity drop could mean an injury so I’ll watch for that. For hitters, I’m looking at role changes, platoons, etc. that might mean I need to reconsider playing time and overall stat projections. Jo Adell is probably the player I’m most worried about. Between the slump and Joe Maddon’s weird obsession with Taylor Ward, a demotion wouldn’t be surprising.
Jeff Boggis (Fantasy Football Empire, @JeffBoggis): With a grain of salt. Some of the best moves that I’ve ever made were the ones that I didn’t make. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I do look at players that have been dropped by an impatient league manager (we all have them) that are off to a slow start. Top hitters that are off to a slow start like Trea Turner or Bryce Harper are not tradable at this time, but players drafted outside of the first few rounds that I am most concerned about is Adalberto Mondesi and his lack of stolen bases to date. He has 1 SB to date and is batting .167.
Alex Chamberlain (Rotographs, @DolphHauldhagen): Not a lot you can do. But: (1) Has a hitter done what he’s doing at some point before? [For example, if so-and-so has a 0% K through 5 games—can you look at his rolling graphs to see if this has happened before? If not, maybe this is a legitimate improvement.] (2) Has a hitter or pitcher altered his mechanics? [Alex Cobb went to Driveline to clean up his mechanics and train with weighted balls—now he’s throwing harder than ever, in his mid-30s.] (3) Has a pitcher added a pitch, changed pitch usage, added or subtracted velo, changed pitch shape, etc.? [Drew Rasmussen now throws a cutter—and based on my pitch comps for it, it looks like it’s at least an above-average offering.] Otherwise, try not to overreact, which I’m sure we all have not done! No overreactions whatsoever. Nope. None at all.
Adam Ronis (Fantasy Alarm, @AdamRonis): For hitters, it’s about playing time. Cavan Biggio and Jo Adell are the ones who are the concerns as of now. For pitching, I am looking at velocity changes and new pitches. With the abbreviated spring and lack of pitchers getting built up in the spring, it’s difficult to overreact to one or two starts.
Shelly Verougstraete (Dynasty Guru, @ShellyV_643): For pitchers, I’m looking for new pitches, new pitch shape, more (or less) velocity, and K-BB%. For hitters, I look at lineup spot and playing time as playing time is the key to everything. To be honest, it is way too early to freak out if you are in a roto league. The season is a grind! However, if you play in a weekly head-to-head league, you need to be active on the wavier wire if you see any positive (or negative) changes.
Zach Steinhorn (CreativeSports2, @zachsteinhorn): I’m not really concerned about anyone yet, particularly underachieving starting pitchers, who have been hurt by the shortened spring training. Most teams have been limiting their starters to around 75 pitches to this point, so the small sample size factor especially applies to them. Over the first few weeks of the season, I pay most attention to playing time for hitters and closer situations. Saves are becoming harder and harder to predict but sometimes you can guess right and a modest FAAB investment in early-April could net you 25+ saves.
Brian Entrekin (Benched with Bubba, @bdentrek): It is obviously way too early to fully panic, but there are a few things I look at if I am concerned. First, playing time. If a player I am rostering is not playing as much as I thought they would, I am starting to get concerned. For hitters, I am also concerned with poor plate discipline, aka- striking out a lot. When it comes to pitchers I watch velocity. If the velocity is down a bit, I begin to watch closer as my concern grows. I am not overly concerned with too many players yet, but Jo Adell would concern me as he is being platooned and having trouble with the swing and miss.
Howard Bender (Fantasy Alarm, @RotobuzzGuy): With an abbreviated spring training, I’m trying not to overreact to some of the cold starts we are seeing. Managers are handling their pitchers with kid gloves and many hitters are still working on their timing. When it comes to evaluating the hot starts, I look for fundamental changes in certain guys, like Jesus Luzardo, Tylor Megill and Alex Cobb all seeing upticks in velocity. Guys who develop a new pitch or alter their pitch-mix are also ones to watch. I’m in on those guys as opposed to just watching some ham-n-egger who has a nice outing in a soft match-up. For hitters off to hot starts, many of them like Steven Kwan, I’m ready to sell to some poor sucker who doesn’t understand that they’re chasing yesterday’s points. Kwan, for example, doesnt have a lot of power or speed and he’s certainly not going to be hitting over .300 in a month’s time. Can’t say there’s an underachiever I’m concerned about, but with all these closers gettting beaten up, we could be looking at some higher-end guys getting bumped soon enough.
Anthony Aniano (Rotoballer, @AAnianoFantasy): I try not to over think the first few games of the season. The sample is too small to draw any major conclusions. My concerns at this point are the injuries to pitchers which can be traced back to the shortened spring training. Players like Patino, Walker, Giolito have all gone down and one has to wonder was the 3.5 weeks of spring training a cause and which pitcher will be next.
Brad Johnson (Patreon/BaseballATeam, @BaseballATeam): This isn’t mind-breaking stuff – I mostly look to exit velocities and plate discipline for hitters, more to get a sense for what’s been weird rather than looking for breakouts just yet. For pitchers, velocity, repertoire, pitch usage, spin rate, anything really on Alex’s Tableau Leaderboard. I’m concerned about more pitchers than I can name. Some of them will get their missing velocity back. Some of them won’t. And some of them will injure themselves TRYING to get their velocity back.