After Wednesday's games finish, we'll have one week's worth of games in the books for the 2021 MLB season. We've seen all of the healthy starters make their first turn through the rotation and we've seen at least five lineups for every team -- except for the Mets and Nationals as their opening series was postponed. We're recommending waiver-wire adds each day on CBSSports.com, and my trade values are already up for Week 2 of the season, so obviously, it's not too early to make roster moves for your Fantasy team.
However, it is too early to really start worrying about your stud players. Most of them, at least. I know, it's easy to get antsy at this point in the season when you see Anthony Rizzo sporting a .394 OPS or Javy Baez with a .490 mark -- it's been a rough start for my "Cubs offense is going to bounce back!" take -- and you probably don't feel great about Max Scherzer giving up four home runs in his first start or Max Fried with seven runs on 14 hits in seven innings over his first two starts.
But, it's important to remember that you probably felt at least a tinge of worry after Luis Castillo's poor Opening Day outing, especially since his velocity was way down in that one. However, he bounced back with seven shutout innings, while his fastball velocity was up a full mph, so you're breathing easier. One bad start or a three-game slump should never be enough to change your opinion about a player. But that doesn't mean every player is worry free right now.
On Wednesday's episode of the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast, we talked about a handful of players off to slow starts and whether you should be worried about them. For the most part, the answer was "No," but you can listen to the full segment below to hear Frank Stampfl and I's thoughts:
However, there are a few players you probably invest a lot of draft capital in who it's fair to be worried about at this point. Let's take a look at a couple of players I really have no worries about and then five who I'm definitely not feeling great about right now:
I'm not worried about …
We often talk about slow starts as if they are either the result of some bad luck or something to be worried about, but Scherzer represents a third path. He gave four runs in six innings in his debut Tuesday, all of which came on solo home runs. And they weren't cheapies: The four home runs allowed by Scherzer had an exit velocity of 105.0, 107.5, 107.9, and 108.4, with an average distance of 412. Scherzer made four bad pitches to three excellent hitters and they did not miss. But it really was just four bad pitches. He allowed just one hit, otherwise, and struck out nine with zero walks in his six innings overall, with 21 swinging strikes on 91 pitches. If he pitches like that 31 more times, he's going to be a Cy Young contender. Not every lineup can punish your rare mistakes the way the Braves can.
Sometimes, you do just get unlucky, and that's what has happened with Machado, who has just two strikeouts in his first six games but is hitting just .238 with a .766 OPS. He has just one extra-base hit and two RBI, despite leading the majors with a whopping 12 batted balls hit over 100 mph. He has just five hits on those 12 batted balls, four of which are singles, and has a .386 expected batting average so far. You don't need me to tell you this, I'm sure, but it's worth saying that Machado is still an elite player, and he's going to get red-hot any day now.
I'm not not-worried
Paddack took a significant step back in 2020, as he continued to struggle finding a reliable third pitch and had newfound issues with his fastball. There were reports from the offseason that he was working on both, and specifically that he had identified the specific issue with his fastball -- not enough spin and the wrong kind of spin to make it a true swing-and-miss pitch. In 2019, his fastball had 12.6 inches of vertical movement -- two inches less drop than the average fastball -- and 7.6 inches of horizontal movement, creating the illusion of rise that so many pitchers are looking for from their four-seamers. In 2020, he had 14.7 inches vertical movement, slightly more drop than average, and 9.8 inches of horizontal movement -- his fastball moved more like a two-seamer. And, at least in his first start, the same issue was there, and he didn't even attempt to throw a curveball or cutter, throwing 56 four-seamers and 33 changeups. Paddack is such a talented pitcher that I certainly don't want to write him off after just one start, but the fact that he knows what went wrong in 2020 and, at least for one start, hasn't fixed it, is a bad sign.
I've been as big a Hiura booster as you'll find in the Fantasy industry, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't starting to get really worried. His 34.7% strikeout rate in spring was easy enough to overlook because he had a .935 OPS, but now he's struck out in 10 of his first 20 plate appearances without 59.3% mark in 2020. I still believe a fully locked in Keston Hiura can be a destructive force at the plate, but he still has significant holes in his swing that he needs to fix. I'm not giving up on him yet, but I'm not sure I can keep penciling him into my lineup. Until he can go at least one game without striking out multiple times, something he hasn't done in his first five.
I was fading Biggio for a lot of reasons in 2021 drafts, but the changed baseball was a not-insignificant part of that. We're still waiting for more evidence of exactly how the new baseball will play, but the early returns suggest that, while exit velocity is likely to be higher across the board, the ball won't travel as far as it used to. Biggio has had the lowest max exit velocity in baseball over the previous two seasons, so he's had to sell out pretty hard for what power he has been able to produce -- an 18.8-degree average launch angle leading to the third-shortest average home run distance in 2020 -- the evidence suggests Biggio could be affected more than most by a ball that doesn't travel as far. His slow start doesn't play as much of a role in this -- and the fact that he's been hitting second pretty consistently with George Springer out is a nice bonus -- as much as the potential that the hitting environment has shifted against him.
Kluber didn't have his trademark command in the spring, walking seven in 13 innings with three hit batters, and he didn't have it in his season debut last Saturday either, as he walked three in four innings with a hit batter. That would be pretty concerning in its own right, but it's even more concerning given he was averaging just 89.6 mph with his fastball -- down from 91.3 in 2019 and 92.0 in 2018. Kluber's never had elite velocity, and he's never had a particularly good fastball either, but it's awfully hard to get excited about him when he's maxing out below 91 mph. It's possible he finds more velocity as the weather warms up and he gets further removed from his shoulder injury, but I was starting to back off Kluber in spring, and I wouldn't be trying to buy low based on what we saw in his debut.
There's nothing about how Karinchak has pitched the concerns me. His velocity is where you want it to be, and he should continue to be one of the game's elite strikeout artists this season. I am worried about his usage, though. Karinchak was the No. 6 reliever drafted on average in 2021, but he pitched in the ninth inning just once in his first three appearances, coming in to record one out in a game Cleveland was trailing 3-0. I'm not sure who the closer for Cleveland is -- Nick Wittgren got the first save Wednesday, so it may very well be him instead of Emmanuel Clase -- but I'm pretty sure it isn't Karinchak. At least not right now.