Fantasy Baseball Risers & Fallers: Week 1
By definition of this article series, players are either increasing or decreasing their fantasy value in the eyes of owners. However, I try to temper expectations and avoid overreacting so early in the season. For these articles, I will highlight players who have started the 2019 season on fire but also cover those who wish they were still in Arizona or Florida.
Please don’t freak out if you see one of your guys on the fallers list, because we aren’t even five games into the season yet. As we get deeper, I will have a better feel with more data to back up whose value is really rising or dropping. Let’s dive into the players who are generating buzz (good or bad) from this past weekend.
Paul Goldschmidt (1B – STL)
The former longtime Diamondback jacked three home runs in his second game with the Cardinals, so naturally, he lands on the risers list. He added his fourth home run of the season on Sunday and is now tied with Christian Yelich, Khris Davis, and Cody Bellinger for the MLB lead. It’s less about the overall production to date and more about his exit velocities off the bat in comparison to last season. Through the first six games of 2018, Goldschmidt only hit one ball over 100 mph (100.3 mph to be exact). Thus far in 2019, he’s tallied seven batted balls that have passed the 100-mph barrier in just four games. I touched on how Goldy was elevating the ball more in spring training, which could lead to more home runs. It’s clearly carried over, as he’s hit just one ground ball compared to eight balls in the air. We could see a 40-homer campaign for the first time from the 31-year-old this year.
Joc Pederson (OF – LAD)
Pederson, an afterthought on draft day, was a rumored trade candidate earlier this spring. A deal never materialized, and all he’s done to start the season is hit .467 with three homers, eight runs, and five RBIs. He’s done damage while leading off for the most productive offense to start 2019. It’s important to note that 100% of Pederson’s production has been against right-handed pitching with just one at-bat versus a lefty. At this point, we know who he is against southpaws, and that’s a .181 hitter with a .257 wOBA. Given the Dodgers’ depth, he will likely sit against most lefties, but he should still provide plenty of production from the leadoff spot against righties.
Tim Beckham (SS/3B – SEA)
Beckham went undrafted in most fantasy leagues with an ADP near 500. He’s started 2019 off with a bang and even gave us the first bat flip of 2019. The 2008 draft’s number one overall pick followed up the Japan series by mashing two bombs off none other than Chris Sale (see below). If you remember, he hit .278 with 22 homers in 2017. If given the Mariners’ everyday role at shortstop, Beckham could be a top-200 option and a bargain for those who nabbed him off waivers early this season.
Domingo Santana (OF – SEA)
Santana is stuffing the stat sheet early this season with three home runs, two stolen bases, and 10 RBIs through the first five games. Drafted as a fourth outfielder in most leagues, Santana has already moved to the third spot in Seattle’s lineup. There’s quite a bit of risk in his game given his high strikeout and low fly-ball rates, but he does have patience at the plate. He can also run a little bit, totaling 15 steals in his 2017 breakout. I expect some prolonged slumps with around a .250 average, but he should outpace his ADP by providing 25+ homers and 12 to 15 steals.
Enrique Hernandez (2B/SS/OF – LAD)
Hernandez, another guy undrafted in most 12-team leagues, has gone 4-for-12 with two home runs, both on Opening Day against the Diamondbacks. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has named him the starting second basemen. I recently discussed Hernandez when analyzing spring training ground out/air out ratios (GO/AO). His approach is to clearly elevate the ball with regularity. While I think Hernandez will provide value, his upside is limited given his lack of speed. I like him to outproduce his ADP and love his flexibility as a “glue guy” on many winning fantasy rosters.
Madison Bumgarner (SP – SF)
Mad Bum’s ADP slipped to nearly 100 overall this offseason after two injury-riddled seasons. In his first start, he rolled the young Padres on the road, going seven scoreless innings and most importantly tallying nine strikeouts. He’s throwing even fewer fastballs and more cutters, which bodes well for him going forward. The strikeout rate is extremely important because his strikeout rate has dropped nearly eight percent since 2016. As I said in the open, I won’t overreact because his velocity was still sitting around 91 to 92 mph. I also have a feeling the Padres will be near the top of the league in strikeouts this year. Not to fully discredit Bumgarner, he looks healthy and has me a little bit interested going forward.
Collin McHugh (SP/RP – HOU)
In his first start, McHugh increased his slider and curveball usage by 16% and 5%, respectively, from last season. Those two breaking balls were his best two pitches last year. As a result, he finished the day with the highest percentage of called strikes plus whiffs, with 16 of accounting for swings and misses.
Yesterday's – 3/30 – CSW rate leaders (called strikes + whiffs / total pitches):
1 McHugh- 35.8%
2 Quintana- 34.6%
3 Strasburg- 34.4%
4 Pablo Lopez- 34.1%
5 Maeda- 34%
6 Odorizzi- 33.7%
7 Bauer- 33.3%
8 Syndergaard- 33%
9 Hudson- 31.8%
10 Paxton- 31.7%
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) March 31, 2019
It’s known that his 90-mph fastball is not a good pitch, but the increased usage of his breaking balls is a direct correction that decreased his fastball usage. I trust that the Houston organization, which has been known for maximizing its pitchers’ talents, will continue to use him successfully. He needs to be owned everywhere.
Jose Ramirez (2B/3B – CLE)
To be clear, I am not selling Ramirez. Far from it. If you remember last year, he started the season going 2-for-33 and struggled through part of August and all of September while still finishing with 39 home runs and 34 stolen bases. The issue is Francisco Lindor’s injuries and the lack of talent surrounding Ramirez in Cleveland. Losing Edwin Encarnacion is going to hurt his overall production. Pitchers aren’t going to let him beat them, so he’s not going to see a lot of meatballs. Ramirez will hit home runs and steal bases, but I don’t see over 100 runs or RBIs.
Ramon Laureano (OF – OAK)
A popular sleeper coming into 2019, Laureano has started just 3-for-20 with no home runs, steals, runs, or RBI. After hitting leadoff on Opening Day in Japan, he dropped to seventh and eighth in the last few games. The Athletics have elected to go with Marcus Semien at the top of the lineup, and he’s performed well thus far. I’m concerned about Laureano’s long-term success this year, as he’s also struck out an alarming nine times. The A’s have Statcast darling Chad Pinder and sparkplug Robbie Grossman, so I could see some manager Bob Melvin playing matchups with a platoon. We aren’t there yet, but keep an eye on Laureano’s playing time during the next week or two.
Eddie Rosario (OF – MIN)
Rosario is hitless to start the 2019 season in 12 plate appearances. Yes, it’s very early, but his aggressive approach seems to be working against him. Pitchers haven’t thrown him many strikes, and he’s chasing nearly half the pitches outside the zone. I’ll be interested to see if he makes adjustments and increases his walk rate. While I was off Rosario a bit this offseason due to his aggressive nature, he is a talented hitter. Again, just like all the players on the fallers list, don’t panic. Just monitor his approach going forward.
Chris Sale (SP – BOS)
The Mariners really teed him up in his first start last week. Sale did not have his best stuff, especially on his fastball. He averaged just 92.8 mph after throwing 95.7 mph on average last season. Velocity is extremely important to Sale’s success. For reference, last year Sale punched out 42.1% of batters with a .555 OPS when using his fastball. In 2016, the last time he averaged under 94 mph, his strikeout rate on his fastball was 25.1% with a .700 OPS. Sale’s the best pitcher in the game when his velocity is up but just another good pitcher under 94 mph. That’s not what fantasy owners who grabbed him at the end of the first or early second round want to hear. Fear, not Sale owners! In April of last year, Sale averaged just 92.3 mph on his fastball before ramping up the rest of the way. Give him some time and be patient.
Nick Pivetta (SP – PHI)
No, this is not me giving up on Pivetta, not at all. It’s just one start, but he gave up four earned runs, eight hits, and one walk in 4.2 innings pitched. My concerns with Pivetta are the same as they were last year. His fastball is bad. The velocity is fine but his location was poor. He failed to throw it up in the zone and was far too hittable, especially when behind in the count. Although his slider is good, he located it poorly. There’s plenty of time to adjust; I’m not out on Pivetta by any means. However, without an adjustment, he’ll be stuck with a high BABIP and an elevated ERA just like in 2018.