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Identifying Players Who Start the Season Hot (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Feb 6, 2020

It may depend on the settings of your league, but for me, trading is a key piece of success in any fantasy league. Plus, it’s just enjoyable as hell. No knock to them at all, but leagues where you can’t trade are just not for me.

But in order to get something in a deal, you have to get something – well, unless you’re the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But knowing when to pull the trigger on a deal is harder than it seems in order to capitalize on the value of the player. 

What’s best is to identify players who are performing at a level that we don’t feel is sustainable, and then look to move them.

However, in order to do that, we need to find trends.

Since this is the type of thing that I enjoy, I took it upon myself to identify some players who tend to start hot, so that you can look to capitalize on their early value. 

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My Method

In order to find these players, I took early-season stats, which I identified as Opening Day to May 31 over the course of three seasons (2017-2019) for both hitters and pitchers, with a minimum 90 plate appearances over the course of three months and 20 innings pitched.

In order to whittle it down, I sorted by a wRC+ of 125 or higher, and a wOBA of 150 or higher.

For pitchers, I sorted by 24 K% or higher and 3.80 xFIP or better.

Hitters

For hitters, there were 33 names that appeared twice and seven players who appeared three times.

Now, of course, it would be easy to point out guys like Mike Trout or Xander Bogaerts – both of whom appear three times in the sorted list – but that doesn’t help you at all. 

Let’s actually get rid of the top 100 players based on NFBC ADP from January 3 to February 3.

That gets rid of Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Alex Bregman, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Eugenio Suarez, Francisco Lindor, Freddie Freeman, George Springer, J.D. Martinez, Jose Abreu, Jose Altuve, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Pham, Xander Bogaerts, Max Muncy, and Yasmani Grandal

We’re removing them because whether they start hot or not, their performance is carried over for season-long success. That now leaves us with 13 players. But of those 13, there are still some we can eliminate for varying reasons, such as Joey Votto and Jesus Aguilar, who totally disappeared in 2019, and Matt Kemp can be removed, as he has a non-roster invite to the Marlins camp.

So that leaves us with nine guys, and they are:

We basically know who these guys are, though it’s a very interesting list, such as with guys like Muncy and Turner starting their real careers late, Brantley battling health injuries, and Garcia and Lowrie enjoying late-career surges.

I took the average of their listed wOBA and wRC+ (Smoak was the only name to make the list three times, which is amazing) and compared it to their career marks to see the difference, and then combined the gap in difference to highlight hitters who have a trend of starting the season scorching hot. The higher the combined difference on the chart, the higher the chance that they cool down. The lower the combined difference on the chart, the higher the chance that they maintain their early numbers throughout the season.

Name Average wOBA Career wOBA Difference in wOBA Average wRC+ Career wRC+ Difference Combined difference
Paul DeJong 725 332 393 129 107 22 415
Avisail Garcia 378 322 56 141 103 38 94
Mitch Haniger 405 353 52 162 124 38 90
Michael Conforto 404 352 52 157 125 32 84
Michael Brantley 393 343 50 150 116 34 84
Jean Segura 362 317 45 133 96 37 82
Justin Smoak 363 324 39 129 104 25 64
Jed Lowrie 360 326 34 131 106 25 59
Justin Turner 386 361 25 143 130 13 38

 

Pitchers

For pitchers, there were 21 pitchers who appeared twice on the list under the sorted criteria and nine pitchers who appeared three times on the list. 

Like we did with hitters, let’s remove those who are going inside the top 100 in NFBC drafts.

That rids us of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, James Paxton, Josh Hader, Justin Verlander, Luis Severino, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Trevor Bauer, Tyler Glasnow, and Zack Greinke.

That leaves us with six names as potential targets, and they are:

This list, like the hitters, is also very interesting, with a combination of guys who are returning from injury (Carrasco, McCullers), can help with ratios (Garrett), are without a job (Cahill), and whose team doesn’t value him as a starter (Stripling).

I’m going to keep Cahill in for the hell of it because he might land a job with a pitching-desperate team.

Following the same format as the hitters, I took the average of their listed K% and xFIP (Carrasco was the only name to make the list three times) and compared it to their career marks to see the difference, and then combined the gap in difference to highlight pitchers who have a trend of starting the season scorching hot. The higher the combined difference on the chart, the higher the chance that they cool down. The lower the combined difference on the chart, the higher the chance they maintain their early-season numbers throughout the season.

Name Average K% Career K% Difference in K% Average xFIP Career xFIP Difference in xFIP Combined difference
Brad Hand 35 24.1 10.9 3.21 3.87 0.66 11.56
Amir Garrett 35 25.5 9.5 2.92 4.32 1.4 10.9
Trevor Cahill 27 17.6 9.4 3.08 4.4 1.32 10.72
Ross Stripling 29.5 23.6 5.9 2.92 3.49 0.57 6.47
Carlos Carrasco 26.3 25.3 1 3.54 3.41 -0.13 0.87
Lance McCullers Jr. 27 26.6 0.4 3.24 3.24 0 0.4

 
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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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