One of the hardest things to do as a Fantasy player is remember that the start of a new season doesn't necessarily mean more than any other stretch of the season. That's not entirely true -- players add or lose skills in the offseason, to be sure -- but it's still important to remind yourself not to anchor your opinion to a player too tightly based on an especially good or especially bad first few weeks.
We're at the midway point in May, which means we're at roughly the quarter-way point of the season as a whole, which feels like a good time to look at some players who got off to especially good or bad starts and have seen a significant change in their performance since the calendar turned to May. There's nothing special about April vs. May -- it's just an easy end point to sort through FanGraphs.com's splits leaderboard, so that's how we're doing it.
Here are the 10 hitters who have improved most from April to May, along with some thoughts on whether you should buy into the changes they've made:
If you listened to the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast, we said over and over that Tucker was one of the best buy-low candidates of the first month, and that's come to fruition. Since the calendar flipped to May, he has four homers and is hitting .333/.423/.638 with a 9:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's hitting the ball better in May, but mostly, he's just getting better results on his batted balls. His expected stats via StatCast showed that, but even more traditional measures showed he was mostly just having rotten luck; most notably, he had a .164 BABIP for the month of April. You'd like to see Tucker run more (two steals in 40 games) after he had eight steals in 58 games last season, but he's hitting so well that you really don't mind. Tucker may not quite be an elite hitter yet, but he's not far off, and if you bought the dip in April, you're going to end up with a heck of a value.
The case for McCutchen coming into the season as a low-end starter in the outfield was that he was a relatively safe performer, so it was definitely alarming to see him hit .169/.301/.247 in April. After all, he is 34, and surely nearer his last day of Fantasy relevance than his first. He's hitting .313 with four of his five homers in the month of May, but there is one reason to be skeptical of this turnaround: Entering Sunday 44.3% of his May PA came against LHP, compared to just 29% in April. McCutchen has fared better against righties since the start of this month, too, to be sure, but much of the apparent improvement could just be chalked up to a bit friendlier of a schedule to McCutchen's skill set at this point. In 2020, he had a .944 OPS vs. lefties compared to just a .683 mark against righties, and while that kind of split could make McCutchen that low-end starting OF we were expecting, it's reason to be skeptical of his apparent turnaround.
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Coming into the season, Kiner-Falefa was kind of a curio; we liked him as a Fantasy option for Yahoo leagues, where he maintained catcher eligibility despite not playing there since 2019, but we didn't think there was much else to be excited about. However, even in April he had three homers and four steals and was looking like a viable Roto middle infield option. I wouldn't buy that there's some significant breakout happening here, but Kiner-Falefa should be a solid source of batting average and speed while hitting at the top of the lineup, and he's a must start in any league where he is catcher eligible and a viable option as a middle infielder where steals matter.
We break down struggling players including Lucas Giolito and what to do with them on the latest Fantasy Baseball Today podcast. You can subscribe to make sure you get the latest episodes when they drop on Apple and Spotify.
Arenado looked like the guy I sort of feared he would be away from Coors in April, and he's looked like the MVP version of himself since. The truth is probably somewhere in between. He's still avoiding strikeouts as well as ever and has recovered from last season's struggles driving the ball, but I don't think he's going to be the first-round caliber hitter he was with the Rockies -- mostly because I'm not sure you can count on him to get to 35 homers even with nine through the quarter mark of the season. Still, he should hit .280 or so, which is pretty close to an elite mark in a league where the average hitter is hitting below .240, and the run production numbers will be there in the end. I think he's avoided the worst-case scenario, at the very least.
Over the past few seasons, Goldschmidt's game has changed quite a bit as he's had to adjust to getting older. In 2020 it looked like he had made a conscious decision to trade power for contact and would be settling in as a high-OBP, middling power first baseman. And then in April, it looked like he had reversed course, selling out for power but without actually seeing the results he needed. It looked like a worst-case scenario, but Goldschmidt has rewarded anyone who stayed patient with him, as the power has actually come around while he's also managed to improved his strikeout rate and plate discipline. Goldschmidt is never going to be the high-end bat he once was, but if you're looking for a bat who might not cost much, Goldschmidt has seemingly settled back in as a low-end starting first baseman, even if the overall numbers don't show it yet. They will.
I thought Bogaerts was one of the best early-round hitter values, and boy has he been. He was elite in April and has been arguably the best hitter in the league in May, which is what we should come to expect from him at this point. Bogaerts has career-best numbers in his traditional triple-slash line -- .344/.404/.609 -- and he has by far the best expected stats of his career. That is even more impressive when you consider that Bogaerts has outperformed his expected stats every single season of the StatCast era. You could theoretically make a case that Bogaerts is a sell-high candidate because he's playing at a level he's never reached before, but given that Bogaerts seems sort of perpetually undervalued, I doubt anyone is really going to blow you away with the kind of first-round talent you probably need to move him.
Rojas is striking out more and walking less in May than he did in April, but he's made up for it by hitting the ball significantly harder -- a 5.2 mph increase in average exit velocity and an increase in hard-hit rate from 32.9% to 45.0%. Rojas has limited Fantasy appeal because he just doesn't hit for much over-the-fence power and doesn't steal many bases, but he's hit .287 with a nine-homer, 14-steal pace per-162 games over the last three seasons. May isn't the start of some incredible breakout as much as a hot streak that has his numbers suddenly looking like they should. However, if you need a batting average that isn't completely empty, Rojas can be a worthy target on waivers -- though hopefully his day off Sunday with Jazz Chisholm back in the lineup wasn't a sign that he's viewed as more of a utility player moving forward.
Grossman has a long track record of being just a pretty decent player, but he's showing signs of being more than that so far -- specifically with his seven steals in 39 games -- his previous career high is nine in 138. However, he's stolen 15 in 90 games since the start of the 2020 season, a 28-steal pace for a 162-game season. He won't keep running at a 94% success rate, but he's showing 25-steal upside with excellent on-base skills, and his improvement in May isn't just good luck -- Grossman is locked in right now, with just a 10.2% strikeout rate and 91.8 mph average exit velocity, up from 87.3 mph in April. Don't expect Grossman to be an elite bat or anything, but he should continue to get on base a ton at the top of the Tigers lineup, which should lead to steals and, at least in theory, runs. The latter have grown less theoretical in May as the lineup as a whole has heated up, so hopefully that continues.
Semien feels like another case of a player regressing to the mean after a cold start, and his overall numbers -- .269/.331/.487 -- seem to be pretty much in line with expectations. However, it may not be quite that simple because Semien's expected stats paint a pretty grim picture for the whole season. He has an expected average of just .213 and an expected wOBA of .299 compared to his .337 mark. Semien has managed to outperform his xwOBA each season of the StatCast era, but I'm still not quite sure he can keep this up with his pull-heavy approach. You'd like to see him cut the strikeouts as he did in 2019 to sustain the batting average, but more bad news on that front: He has a 28.3% strikeout rate in May. Semien should continue to see a heavy volume of plate appearances in his role near the top of the Blue Jays lineup, and the fact that he's running so much (he's on pace for nearly a 30-30 season) helps, but I think I would view him as a sell-high candidate right now.
Castro is a lot like Rojas at this point in his career. Maybe he's got a bit more pop and a bit less speed, but it's a contact-oriented approach that should produce a not-entirely-empty average. The problem is, even in his better May, his per-162 game pace is just 47 runs and 35 RBI to go with his .315 average. Castro is what he is, and that's a useful corner or middle-infield option if you need batting average help and a low-end injury replacement in deeper points leagues. Nice May, though.