Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: Is it too early to worry about slow starters?
Chris Towers takes a look at who our readers are worrying about after the first couple of seasons.
- More analysis:
It's too early to panic, right?
Yes. The sample sizes are still too small to definitively change your mind on a player, especially someone you liked enough to draft as a starter.
However, it's not too early to start thinking about panicking, right? No. There are plenty of players you might have liked enough to draft, but still had questions about, or players who have just gotten off to an unexpectedly rocky start.
I took to twitter to ask who our readers are worried about, and picked eight to write about: Four I'm not worried about at all, and four I'm starting to think about. Let's see who falls in which category:
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Not worried at all
No homers! Not even one extra-base hit! Only two walks in nine games! Anytime we're talking about an older player, you always have to be on alert for signs that the skills are starting to fade. Could that be the case with Joey Votto?
But probably not. In his first nine games in 2016, he hit .242 with no extra-base hits and only three walks. As late as May 25, Votto had an OPS below .700, with just six homers in the first 47 games of the season. He hit No. 7 the next day, with Nos. 8 and 9 to follow shortly, and ended up hitting .373 with 23 homers over the final 111 games of the season.
Maybe this time really is the time Votto is just losing it. But I'm going to need to see a lot more than just two weeks to give up on one of the great hitters of this generation. Besides…
If I'm going to worry about a player, it's going to be because there are signs of a declining skill set or some other change going on. Alex Bregman has nine walks to just five strikeouts in 49 plate appearances, and is rarely swinging and missing at pitches, so there doesn't appear to be much lost there. He got off to a slow start last season and in his MLB debut in 2016, so he might just be the kind of hitter who needs a little while to find his footing.
When your calling card is power, only seeing one homer in eight games is a bit concerning. Gary Sanchez is a good hitter, but what makes him stand out at catcher is the first baseman's power. Right now, we're not seeing that from Sanchez, who has already hit four infield flyballs, after having just 14 last season. That's a concern, sure, especially because Sanchez doesn't have a particularly long track record – just 177 games in the majors entering this season. However, no catcher has ever hit homers more frequently in their first three major-league seasons than Sanchez, so it's way too early to be worried. Especially when it's been so cold in the northeast so far this season. As the weather heats up, so will Sanchez.
Blake Snell doesn't have the track record of the players above, and he's allowed five runs in nine innings to open the season, so why am I not worried? Well, for one thing, Snell's had just about the toughest pair of matchups possible to open the season, facing the Red Sox and Yankees to open. He was good against the Red Sox, but had just two strikeouts – because the Red Sox never strike out. And then, he had five strikeouts against the Yankees, but allowed two homers in 3 1/3 innings – the Yankees might homer more than any team in baseball history in 2018.
The other reason I'm not worried about Snell? His velocity is up. As hard as he was to hit last season when he was right, he wasn't throwing 97. If he can hold onto these gains, Snell really could take a leap. I'll be watching his matchup with the White Sox Tuesday very closely. It could be the start of something special.
I'm starting to sweat…
This is a tough one for me to answer, because I was lower on Andrew Benintendi than you likely were coming into the season. The biggest reason for that is because Benintendi needs to prove he can hit lefties, and he hasn't done that in the majors yet. The career .211/.318/.252 hitter against lefties is hitless in seven at-bats so far this season, though he does have three walks to just two strikeouts against southpaws. It's early – both in the season and Benintendi's career – but he hits like a platoon player right now, even if the Red Sox don't treat him like one. As long as that remains true, Benintendi is going to keep disappointing you, especially if you drafted him as a top-40 player, as many did this preseason.
If all you knew about Ian Happ in 2018 was that he had struck out at multiple times in six of his seven games, and 56.7 percent of his trips to the plate, you'd have reason to be concerned.
Alternately, if all you knew about Happ was that he had started just five of the Cubs' first nine games, you'd have reason to be concerned.
We know both. How could you not be worried? Happ showed big upside in 2017, but it came with an unexpected number of strikeouts, and that has proven to be his downfall so far. His glove isn't keeping him in the lineup so far, and neither is his ability to hit from both sides of the plate. There is still 30-homer, 15-steal potential here, but he's lost right now. I might feel better about him if he traded some power for contact, something he.
Byron Buxton has started each of the Twins' first eight games, and has been removed just once for a pinch-hitter, so playing time isn't a concern. Except… it is, because he's batting seventh or eighth in the lineup every game. You typically lose 15-20 plate appearances for every spot down the order you move, and we were hoping to see Buxton bat in the 3-5 range so that right there lowers his ceiling for the season. I'm less worried about the slow start, if only because we know Buxton is streaky at this point. Still… would it kill you to take a walk, Byron?
Danny Duffy had arthroscopic surgery on his elbow last year and told reporters in spring his elbow hadn't felt this good in years. After two starts, I'm worried about what he would look like if his elbow didn't feel good. He's walked five and struck out eight in 9 2/3 innings, while allowing eight runs on 10 hits. The results are bad, but the bigger concern might be that his velocity is down yet again, with his average fastball down to a career-low 91.9 mph. It's early, and Duffy dealt with shoulder tightness late in spring that could be holding him back, but this is a very concerning start. Especially with the step back he took last season.
I don't know if this one is concerning, as much as it's just inexplicable. A.J. Minter induced a ton of swings and misses with his fastball/slider combination last season, but batters are mostly laying off. One issue I see in his pitch data is Minter's fastball velocity is actually down 1.5 mph on average, while his slider velocity is up. That kind of velocity differential could make him more difficult to hit, if the slider and fastball look enough like one another before the batter has to decide to swing. However, opposing batters haven't been fooled yet. It's just four innings and 61 pitches, so you shouldn't be too worried about Minter yet, unless you were hoping he would take the closer's job from Arodys Vizcaino sooner rather than later.
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