Examining Cold Starts (2019 Fantasy Baseball)

May 15, 2019

Votto owners have reason to worry.

Last week we asked our writers to touch on hot starts that they were buying into and others they were selling. This week, we’re going to examine cold starts. We’ll first check out slow starters that are concerning and we’ll wrap things up with others that our writers aren’t as worried about.

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What is one cold start that you are concerned about?

Joey Votto (1B – CIN)
At this point, Joey Votto shouldn’t even be owned in fantasy leagues. Sure, his exit velocity and other metrics resemble his 2018 numbers; too bad he wasn’t any good last year, either. For the first time in his career, Votto is on pace to strikeout over 20% of the time. In a best-case scenario, Votto gets hot, and by the end of the year, brings his average up to .275 with 15 home runs. In a more likely scenario, Votto will hit around .250 and be useless to fantasy owners.
– Alex Altmix (@altmix_23)

Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF – BOS)
JBJ has been miserable to-date, sporting a .149/.252/.184 slash line. Unfortunately, this line isn’t likely to become fantasy relevant any time soon. His expected batting average, slugging percentage, and wOBA all fall in the bottom 14 percent of all of baseball. He is making eight percent less contact on balls, and four percent less contact on strikes. He is hitting a ridiculous 60 percent of his batted balls on the ground, meaning those 56 homers he’s hit over the past three years are a distant memory. Cut him from all leagues, including 15 teamers.
– Carmen Maiorano (@cmaiorano3)

Ender Inciarte (OF – ATL)
Ender’s game looks pretty awful so far. Instead of bouncing back from a down 2018 at the plate, he has gotten far worse. He’s hitting .218/.295/.323, which has forced the Braves to exile him to the bottom of the order. That has resulted in just three steals in four opportunities. It’s hard to anticipate better days with the third-worst exit velocity of any hitter with more than 50 plate appearances. Making matters worse, his usually stellar defensive metrics are down, and the Braves are giving the red-hot Austin Riley outfield reps in Triple-A. Inciarte is in danger of playing his way out of a starting job.
– Andrew Gould (@andrewgould4)

Editor’s Note: Inciarte exited Tuesday’s game early and the Braves have called up Riley.

Randal Grichuk (OF – TOR)
I’ve long been a fan of the former Cardinal and current Blue Jays outfielder, however, Randal Grichuk is testing my patience. His mini-breakout over the last two months of 2018 had fantasy owners clamoring for a 35-home run, .500 slugging percentage season in 2019, yet that hasn’t happened. Grichuk’s barrel rate to start the year is half its level from previous seasons while he has made no discernible improvements to avoid whiffs or strikeouts. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go on a hot streak sometime this summer, Grichuk’s lack of progress since his 2015 debut is painting him out to be a one-trick pony power hitter with little long-term fantasy relevance.
– Nick Gerli (@nickgerliPL)

What is a different cold start that is not concerning?

Matt Carpenter (1B – STL)
The whole Cardinals’ offense has been hot and cold this year, and Carpenter has been no exception. Except, Carpenter has really only been the cold part. As just about everyone knows, Carpenter did this exact same thing last season, then busted out on May 16th. The rest of the way, he was the most valuable player in the league. We’ve officially hit the middle of May, and the hot streak is coming for Matt Carpenter. Be patient.
– Alex Altmix (@altmix_23)

Yasiel Puig (OF – CIN)
Eno Sarris of The Athletic wrote an intriguing piece on how players coming over to new teams sometimes increase their swing rates and reduce their exit velocities as a result of additional pressure they place on themselves. Most of the hitters in the sample turned it around after the first month. Safe to say that has happened to Puig. All of a sudden, he has seven bombs and seven steals, putting him on pace for close to a 25/25 season. His .238 BABIP will continue to rise. Check in on Puig’s owner to see if he’s failed to realize the season he will wind up with.
– Carmen Maiorano (@cmaiorano3)

Justin Smoak (1B – TOR)
Smoak would have been considered a hot starter before recording two hits in his last nine games. He’s suddenly hitting an anemic .223 with a .384 slugging percentage, but Statcast still credits him with a .266 xBA and .517 xSLG. His exit velocity (91.9 mph) is up, the strikeouts are down (20.8%), and he’s walking at an elite rate (16.9%). He still might have a .240-.250 average and 25 homers left in the tank, so don’t give up on Smoak as a steady corner infielder.
– Andrew Gould (@andrewgould4)

J.D. Martinez (OF – BOS)
Perhaps I’m being a bit liberal in designating Martinez’s .900 OPS thus far in 2019 as a “cold start.” However, JD owners were likely expecting more than seven home runs and a .193 ISO at the season’s quarter-way point. But rest assured — Martinez is still arguably the best hitter in baseball, with a .456 xwOBA that ranks fifth best in 2019 and better than the marks he posted in 2017 and 2018. He’s just been massively unlucky to start the season, with the second highest xwOBA – wOBA differential in baseball. Expect JD to start launching balls out of Fenway as the weather warms.
– Nick Gerli (@nickgerliPL)

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