Fantasy Baseball: Michael Conforto bats leadoff in debut, and other lineup trends
Chris Towers takes a look around the league at some of the most interesting lineup notes from the first week.
Early in the season, it's hard to figure out what is skill and what isn't. Is a batter hitting well because he has legitimately improved, has he just faced a run of subpar pitching, or is it just luck? You probably need at least 100 plate appearances, and likely many more, to know for sure when we're talking about skill.
However, other things don't need quite as much time to react to. Throwing velocity is something that you can identify after two or three starts. A change in batted-ball profile can be seen after a few dozen games, too.
And when you're talking about things that are based on intent, you may not even need that much time. If a pitcher is throwing a new pitch or changing his repertoire, you can tell after one start's usage. Lineups and playing time are based on intention, so even after just one week we can start talking about them. So, here are some of the more interesting lineup and playing time notes from the first week of the season.
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Interesting playing time notes
Happ is batting leadoff, when he's in the lineup. It's hard to say just how much of his two off days are the result of the slump Happ has been in to open the season – he's struck out 10 times in 18 plate appearnaces – compares to Joe Maddon's typical lineup juggling. However, Schwarber has yet to be a victim of Maddon's machinations, which is a great sign for his value after a rough 2017. Once Happ gets going, he should be fine, but don't be surprised if he continues to get the occasional day off to get Albert Almora in against tough lefties.
Jonathan Villar started five of the first six games
A top-50 player two years ago, Villar was essentially left for dead this draft season, sporting an ADP of 199 overall. If we had known he was going to play this much – he's started five of six, and got three PA in the other – he might have gone 100 spots higher for the stolen base potential alone.
Ryan McMahon started just one of the first six games
We were excited to see McMahon crack the opening day roster, but the Rockies have been in no hurry to get him in the lineup. It is worth noting that the Rockies have faced just one right-handed pitcher so far, but McMahon didn't even get the start against him. I don't mind stashing him for the upside, but if you need some help, dropping McMahon is advisable given his role.
Rhys Hoskins has started every game
There is a rotation in Philadelphia's outfield, but it doesn't involve Hoskins. He's starting every day, batting fourth and even stealing some bases. There are things to sort out in Philadelphia, but Hoskins' role isn't one of them.
Ryan Braun has sat two of six
The Brewers know they need to give Braun regular days off to keep him healthy, but sitting every third day won't be good for his value, even if it does keep him fresh. It will give Domingo Santana an opportunity to get in the lineup, but Santana still isn't going to play every day. It will be interesting to see what the Brewers do if Christian Yelich's oblique injury lingers for more than just a few days.
Hanley Ramirez has started five of six games
The shoulder is healthy, and he's already played five games at first base, and Ramirez is hitting the ball well in the early going. That's good, because a slump to open the season – or a recurrence of that shoulder injury – could have easily cost him his job. The Red Sox mostly need to play J.D. Martinez at DH, so if Ramirez couldn't handle everyday work at first, he would have been the odd man out pretty quickly. Ramirez didn't play his first game at first base until May 10 last season, so he's well ahead of that pace.
Austin Barnes started just two of first seven
There were plenty in the industry who thought Barnes was going to overtake Yasmani Grandal this season, but Grandal has been red hot to open the season, while Barnes hasn't hit since last October. Barnes is a talented player, but if you need a starting catcher right now, you probably need to drop him.
Michael Conforto batted leadoff in his debut
It's just one game, but this is a great sign. Conforto went deep in his debut, and he did it batting at the top of the order, where he got five trips to the plate. He likely wouldn't bat lower than third or fourth no matter how the Mets set up their lineup, but batting at the top could mean 10 percent more plate appearances. With a hitter this skilled, that's huge. If he can stay healthy of course.
Joey Gallo batting 2nd
The Rangers' plans for the top of the lineup already went awry when Delino DeShields suffered a hand injury after just two games, but Gallo has still been the No. 2 hitter for each of the team's first seven games. They're going to stick with him there, it seems, which is great news for his counting stats, even if he hasn't heated up yet.
Trea Turner batting 6th
Technically, Turner hasn't hit sixth in every game; he batted fifth twice and leadoff once. However, it seems when Adam Eaton is in the lineup, Turner is going to be in the bottom half of the order. That will give him more RBI opportunities, but at the cost of runs and potentially steals. It hasn't been an issue for steals thus far – he has three in seven games – but the rest of his numbers are dispiriting so far.
Billy Hamilton has only led off twice
The good news is, one of those leadoff appearances is set to come Thursday with Jesse Winker in the lineup. Hamilton's only other leadoff appearance came with Winker out, so this could be the start of a change. Of course, he's still likely to see more days off than in years past, as long as the Reds' outfield rotation remains intact. Nobody is going to be in the lineup every day in Cincinnati's outfield, at least not until someone ears it.
Charlie Blackmon batting leadoff
There was some talk – and concern, speaking for myself – that Blackmon might be moved to the No. 3 spot to increase his run production opportunities. Thankfully, the Rockies didn't go with that plan, and Blackmon has already batted five times in three of the Rockies' first six games. He's an elite hitter with arguably the best counting stats situation in baseball. He may have been a bargain on Draft Day, even as a late first-rounder.
Yasiel Puig batting third
Puig mostly lived up to the hype last season, hitting .263 but with an .833 OPS, 28 homers and 15 steals. However, he combined for just 146 runs and RBI despite those solid numbers, largely because he racked up fewer than 600 plate appearances. Batting third and in the lineup everyday, counting stats won't be a problem for Puig as long as he hits.
Chris Davis batting leadoff
I'm not sure we could call what Davis has been doing so far "batting," but his name has been in the lineup in the first spot for five of the team's first six games. In theory, it's not that dissimilar from the Rangers' decision to bat Gallo second, except that Davis had a .309 OBP last season. If he can get back to even 2016 levels – he hit 38 homers with a .221/.332/.459 slash line – this could work out. Seeing as he's 1 for 21 to open the season, it's not working yet.
Zack Cozart batting leadoff
At least as long as Ian Kinsler is out, it seems Cozart will stay there. If Kinsler gets back, they could move Cozart down, but I would hope they keep giving him a chance there, because batting in front of Mike Trout is a great place to be. Especially if Cozart can get back to last year's .385 OBP, or something close.
Eric Thames batting leadoff vs. (some) RHP
Thames won't be an everyday player unless he shows something against lefties. However, he has batted leadoff twice in four starts, and even stole a base. Thames crushes righties, and might be able to do enough even in a platoon role to be worth a spot in a Roto lineup, especially with a few extra PA every week out of the leadoff spot.
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