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5 Burning Questions (Fantasy Baseball)

by Max Freeze | @FreezeStats | Featured Writer
Apr 4, 2018

The calendar has turned over to April and we have just about a full week’s worth of regular season games in the books. It’s always a fun exercise to check out the leaderboards through the first couple of weeks of the season. Take the American League RBI leader, Didi Gregorius, for instance, with nine. How about the NL batting average leader? Well at this moment it’s Rhys Hoskins hitting .500. Will the current league leaders be there at the end of the season? Listen, these guys are good players and anything is possible, but I doubt it. Is Jose Ramirez going to go hitless this season after going zero for 15? Of course not. In fact, he just got his first hit (a home run) as I’m writing this. The point is, he’s been extremely unlucky and he hasn’t even struck out yet!

Speaking of slow starts, let’s jump into the first burning question.

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What should you do about players that start slow?
First things first, don’t panic. The season is six months long and players go through slumps throughout the year that can last for weeks. It’s just more noticeable at the start of a season. I’ve written about how climate changes can wreak havoc on hitters early in the season. Keep in mind players don’t travel (across the country) during their Spring Training games. Players get comfortable with the consistently warm weather and the lack of travel. So again, don’t panic.

We are one week into the season, so keep things in perspective. Trust your process, no one loses their league in the first two weeks of the season. Baseball is a game of percentage and probabilities. If you’re concerned, look at Statcast for poor exit velocities from your hitters. Poor exit velocities may be a precursor to an injury for a hitter. Do the same with your pitchers, monitor their fastball velocities. Other than that, be active on the waiver wire, just don’t drop one of your studs after a slow start.

Should we be worried about Clayton Kershaw’s velocity?
Kershaw’s first start of the season was good. He went six innings, striking out eight, and allowed only one run. He also allowed eight hits, walked two, and was down 1.4 mph on his fastball velocity from 92.9 mph in 2017 to 91.5 mph. Not so good. As I just mentioned, velocity dips can be a precursor to an injury, but I’m not concerned, yet.

Kershaw is not a pitcher that needs to hit 95 mph on the gun. His slider is one of the best in the game and his curveball is nearly unhittable when he’s on. His fastball is not great, but it doesn’t have to be. He’s also been throwing it less in recent years. His fastball usage rates have been down about 10% in the last few years. I’m not concerned about a small velocity dip at the first start of the season. Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball when healthy. If the velocity continues to drop, then I’ll put him on watch. Here’s a list of pitchers who’s velocity drop concerns me. Any pitcher with over two mph drop in velocity is on my watch list.

Update: In Kershaw’s outing last night, he started off throwing 91-92 mph in the first inning and even touched 93 mph. He maintained 92-93 mph on his fastball for the first few innings. He did give up a couple of solo home runs humidor and all! I won’t lie, I didn’t stay up for the entire game, but I’m not concerned about Kershaw going forward.

Is Matt Davidson for real?
George Bell, Tuffy Rhodes, Dmitri Young, and now Matt Davidson. That’s the complete list of players who have hit three home runs on Opening Day. Other than George Bell, that’s not exactly the who’s who of Major League Baseball. Either way, it’s an impressive feat that has sent fantasy owners running to the waiver wire to pick up Davidson. Is this 27-year-old worth owning on your fantasy team long term?

Davidson hit 26 home runs in 443 plate appearances in 2017. Those are solid power numbers but it came with a .220 batting average and pathetic strikeout and walk rates of 37.2% and 4.3% respectively. I’m sorry, but there’s no way I can spin those numbers in a positive direction. In Triple-A, Davidson regularly had strikeout rates at or above 30%. I don’t see him keeping it below 30%, but what I will be watching is his approach and patience at the plate. If he can keep his O-Swing rate (chase rate) below 30% and his contact rate over 70%, then I think he has a chance to be everything people hope Matt Olson will be this year, a .240 hitter with 35 home run upside. If you were able to grab him this past week, go ahead and ride the wave. Keep a close eye on his plate discipline. If that starts slipping, you have to cut bait.

Is King Felix back?
It’s been depressing to watch one of the game’s best decline the way Felix Hernandez has the past couple seasons. 2017 marked an all-time low (or should I say high) in terms of ERA (4.36) and HR/9 which sat at 1.77! However, King Felix managed to throw five and a third scoreless innings on his way to his first victory of 2018. Could this be the start of a late-career resurgence? After all, he’ll only be 32 next month. Early in Hernandez’s career, the combination of an elite fastball and very good change-up led to his success. As he began losing velocity on his fastball, he continued to improve on his off-speed offerings including one of the best curveballs in the game. 

Last year, however, he lost all feel for his offspeed pitches and his fastball velocity sat at an unintimidating 91.2 mph.  In his first start of 2018, he sat at 90.7 mph. While Felix doesn’t need a great fastball to succeed, it’s not a great sign. His strikeout rate, swinging strike rate, and chase rate are all heading in the wrong direction. The final line of his first start looked good on the surface, but I’m not buying it. It’s too small of a sample either way to make a conclusion, but my outlook for Hernandez is not optimistic.

Who is this season’s Luis Severino?
Severino went largely undrafted in shallow leagues and was a late-round flier in deeper leagues in 2017 and for good reason. He had a 5.83 ERA in 71 major league innings with a strikeout rate at an unimpressive 21.2%. He was only 23 years old coming into 2017 but showed promise in his rookie campaign in 2015. The 2017 Cy Young contender improved across the board between 2016 and 2017. If we want to find the next Luis Severino, we’ll have to set some parameters. Severino throws hard, I mean really hard, at 98 mph on his fastball that he throws about 50% of the time. His arsenal also consists of a wipe-out slider (35% thrown) and a good changeup (14% thrown).

With a minimum average fastball velocity of 95 mph and sliders thrown at least 20% of the time, the list is relatively small. Dinelson Lamet would have been my number one comparison, but unfortunately, he’s on the DL with an elbow injury that may or may not be serious (most of the time with an elbow, it’s serious). Here is the list of 2018 pitch velocities and percentages to date.

Name Team FB% FB Velo SL% SL Velo CB% CB Velo CH% CH Velo
Luis Severino Yankees 45.10% 97.9 48.40% 87.6 6.60% 89.3
Garrett Richards Angels 50.60% 96.6 44.90% 90.6 4.50% 82.8
Reynaldo Lopez White Sox 58.00% 96.4 20.00% 85.9 4.00% 79.8 18.00% 83.7
Mike Foltynewicz Braves 56.50% 96.1 22.80% 84.8 18.50% 79.6 2.20% 90
Luis Castillo Reds 51.80% 95.8 15.30% 82.7 32.90% 86.3
Jon Gray Rockies 53.50% 95.8 39.50% 89.8 7.00% 79.3
Chad Kuhl Pirates 61.20% 95.2 20.00% 87.4 8.20% 81.4 10.60% 87.2
Blake Snell Rays 54.80% 95 16.70% 86.4 15.50% 81 13.10% 87.5

 

I’ve included Blake Snell and Luis Castillo because Snell throws a curve more than 10% of the time. Castillo has the likelihood of throwing the slider more with his below average effectiveness of his fastball. Richards has come out firing to start to 2018 but I can’t trust him to stay healthy, so he’s out. I think Foltynewicz and Kuhl have good stuff but I believe they may be a year away from a breakout (if at all). I’m removing Gray from this list because he’s already had success, it’s just come at the price of pitching in Coors. That leaves us with Blake Snell, Luis Castillo, and Reynaldo Lopez.

I’m concerned Lopez isn’t polished enough even though I love his stuff and Castillo may hit a few bumps in the road this season. For me, the answer is Blake Snell. The breaking pitches he displayed in the second half of 2017 and so far in 2018 tell me that he’s ready to take the next step. If he can continue to keep the walks down as he did in 2017, I believe the talent is in place. I love the strikeout upside and after throwing over 170 innings across Triple-A and the Majors last year, he shouldn’t be on an innings limit. Just take a look at this slider courtesy of PitcherList.com. I’m rooting for Snell and while putting up the numbers Severino had in 2017 may be a bit too optimistic, he’s got the arsenal to be a future ace. His time may be now.

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Max Freeze is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Max, check out his archive and follow him @FreezeStats.

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