Fantasy Baseball: Time to worry about eight slow-starting stars?
Concern level Thursday: Which hitters should you have real concern over, and which can you expect to bounce back? Let's start with Vladimir Guerrero
On the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast every Wednesday, we play a little game: "Worry-O-Meter Wednesday." Host Adam Aizer will give us a list of players, and we'll tell the listeners how worried we are about that player.
This is probably the most common category of question we get from listeners and readers: "What's wrong with [Player X]???" Truth is, at any given point in time, there are always going to be several players failing to live up to expectations, and thousands of Fantasy players who are trying to figure out what is wrong, and what they should do about it.
It's hard to get to all of those, but I went to Twitter to get some players our followers want us to focus on. Of course, because it's Thursday — and because I don't want to infringe on Adam's IP rights, obviously — I can't call this "Worry-O-Meter Wednesday."
So, it's "Concern Level Thursday." I'm digging into the numbers on eight high-profile disappointments to try to help you figure out how to handle them. I know, it's not a catchy name, but the advice is good! I promise.
Let's start with an easy one, but one a lot of Fantasy players are undoubtedly worrying about right now. Through his first 41 plate appearances, Vladimir Guerrero has hit just .162/.244/.189, a ghastly showing from one of the most hyped prospects of the Fantasy baseball era.
But let's not overreact here. As Craig Edwards pointed out on FanGraphs.com today, Guerrero isn't the first top prospect to struggle in his first taste of the majors, and struggles in the first 40 PA have essentially no bearing on what will happen in the future. Through his first 11 games, for example, Mark Teixeira hit just .125/.205/.300; he hit .270/.341/.495 with 24 homers the rest of the way as a rookie.
Guerrero is being treated like a superstar hitter already, with just 37.9% of pitches in the zone so far. Pitchers don't want to make a mistake to him. They don't want to challenge him. That's made it hard for him to thrive, but Guerrero's pitch recognition is too good for him not to figure this out. Once he starts making pitchers pay for throwing out of the zone by walking, they'll have no choice to start challenging him. And he'll win.
Concern Level: 1
Given the way the last few years have gone, it's no surprise Daniel Murphy has already missed time with an injury. What is surprising is he just hasn't hit well at all, with an average below .200 and as many infield fly balls as line drives. The good news: His plate discipline has still been exceptional, so there hasn't been much erosion there. Missing time right at the start of the season can really throw you off, and it may take him a little while to get his legs under him.
One thing that should make you feel better? Just 19 of Murphy's 53 plate appearances so far have come at home. Coors Field is a good tonic for what ails any hitter.
Concern Level: 2
I had high expectations for Puig this offseason, with a big park improvement and a move up to the middle of what we expected to be a decent lineup — at least at the top. Unfortunately, while Jesse Winker has started to come around, the rest of the lineup has pretty much been a bust, and none bigger than Puig.
Puig has taken a step back in his plate discipline, but the bigger issue is what's happening when he is making contact. An 11.3% popup rate and a drop in expect batting average from .278 to .243, per Baseball Savant. Is there bad luck involved here? To an extent, sure. And Puig's history of streakiness should assuage your concerns somewhat as well; don't forget, he had just a .500 OPS after 28 games last season, and then hit .289/.351/.574 from that point on.
You were betting on the talent coming into the season, and you still are. But you aren't starting him right now.
Concern Level: 4
I've never been a huge Seager backer, but I found myself drafting him a lot this preseason, when his price tumbled coming off elbow and hip surgeries. I figured because Seager had the surgeries early last season, he'd be far enough along in his recovery to put those issues largely behind him.
It appears I was wrong. His average exit velocity is down to 87.6 mph to date, and his hard-hit% is down to 35.7% — both career lows. Seager has, in other words, entirely earned this slow start. I still want to bet on the talent to come around, but for those of you in Rotisserie leagues, it's not hard to see how Seager never becomes a must-start option at shortstop this season. The position is deeper than ever, and Seager's just-okay power and mostly nonexistent speed meant he needs to hit near .300 to have significant value. He's probably just a MI at this point, even if he does turn it around.
Concern Level: 7
I had concerns about Andujar backing up his 2018 performance coming into the season, and now I think there is essentially no chance. He played over his head last season, and now thanks to a torn labrum in his shoulder, it's hard to see how he even matches up to my diminished expectations.
I would still hold onto Andujar in case the shoulder starts feeling better and he can show some signs of last year's success, but my hopes are low. He should just have the surgery and prep himself for 2020 — I suspect if the Yankees had anyone healthy, he already may have.
Concern Level: 10
It's possible Cano has just lost it. We can't deny the possibility with a 36-year-old. Age is an undefeated foe, and it's just a question of when it comes to claim its victory. Switching leagues can be tough on hitters, too, and it's impossible to say what Cano might have lost coming off his PED suspension last season. It's possible this is it.
But it doesn't seem likely. Once you look under the hood, Cano looks like he hasn't lost much at all even amid his slow start. Per Baseball Savant's expected batting average metric, Cano should be hitting .293, with a .491 expected slugging percentage. That's basically the spitting image of what the StatCast data showed for him over the previous four seasons. The strikeout rate is up, which is a bit of a surprise, but he's still hitting the ball with authority. Cano is a buy-low candidate in my eyes.
Concern Level: 2
When Ramos has been healthy, he's pretty much always hit well. Last season, he managed a .306/.358/.457 line; he hit .307/.354/.496 in 2016 before suffering a knee injury. He has no excuse in 2019, and he's off to a pretty disastrous start so far.
Ramos has hit like late-era Jonathan Lucroy so far with just four extra-base hits in 34 games, and there isn't much you can blame on bad luck. Ramos is just pounding the ball into the ground, with a 63.2% groundball rate, highest in baseball.
He does still rank above the 75th percentile in both average exit velocity and hard-hit%, so he could be a simple tweak away from figuring it out. I'd rather bet on him making that change than trying to find help at catcher on the waiver wire, where it is largely nonexistent.
Concern Level: 6
This is an interesting one, because I pretty much expected Desmond to be a wholly empty source of middling power and speed, but he has actually changed his profile in some interesting ways. Once the most extreme groundball hitter in baseball, Desmond has lowered his groundball rate to 40.3%, while sustaining last season's above-average exit velocity and hard-hit%. Baseball Savant's metrics suggest he should be hitting in the .250 range with an ISO over .200.
Yep, Desmond may have become a victim of bad luck, not his own subpar approach, so I would expect better things from the bat moving forward. One concern, however, is that his average sprint speed has fallen to league average, which could be a sign that the steals aren't coming. If that is the case, it might be hard for Desmond to have much Fantasy appeal, even if the bat comes around a bit.
Concern Level: 5
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