The Fantasy Lookout: Slow Start, Fear Not
As we enter the second month of the season, Fantasy owners are starting to see where they stand with their rosters. The big question for most owners is whether or not the first month is a good indication for the remainder of the campaign. When any of our players are off to a slow start it becomes concerning, especially if the cost was an early draft pick.
With just over 30 days of statistics, we can now start to rely on the underlying numbers to help us reach a meaningful conclusion. The sample size is still small and prone to errors, but relevance is now there.
We have to remember that a player’s previous body of work still counts for something, but clues can still be gained from what we have seen in the early going. It is not uncommon to see a fair degree of variability in a player’s headline numbers. However, often when we look at some of the under-the-hood statistics, we will see that they are telling another story.
In the previous Fantasy Lookout, we tried to shed some light on BABIP from a pitcher’s perspective. In this week’s Fantasy Lookout, we will take a peek at a few preseason favorites that are off to a slow start. All of these players have underlying stats that suggest a turnaround is on the horizon.
Now, let’s see which four studs will flip the switch now that the calendar has turned to May.
The Fantasy Lookout: Slow Start, Fear Not
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
The Astros’ young phenom has limped out of the gate so far in 2017. With a paltry three home runs and a mere 11 RBI, Carlos Correa has not produced what Fantasy owners were expecting. However, when you look beyond the headline counting stats, you find that there is light at the end of the tunnel, despite the slow start.
Correa currently ranks within the Top 20 of qualified hitters with respect to hard hit rate, with a mark of 44.6-percent, which would easily be the best number of his young career. A power surge seems to be on tap in the very near future, as Correa’s 10.7-percent home run to fly ball rate seems destined to double towards a mark closer to 20-percent.
He is also hitting fly balls at a near 40-percent clip, which is a material increase over his previous career mark of 29-percent. As the season goes along, Correa will also fare much better with runners in scoring position, as he will surely improve on his .129 batting average and .182 BABIP in that situation.
Over the remainder of the 2017 campaign, you should expect Correa to regain his status as one of the top hitting shortstops in the game. Don’t be shocked to see Correa sets new career bests in home runs, RBI, and runs for the 2017 season.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
Absent his Top 12 RBI total, Maikel Franco’s early 2017 headline stats leave much to be desired, especially when you see that his batting average has been hovering around the Mendoza Line. That being said, if you dig a little deeper, you will be pleasantly surprised with what you find.
The biggest mystery has to be his .220 BABIP, as it has occurred despite hitting line drives and producing hard hits both at rates that easily surpass his previous career highs. A further increase in Franco’s batting average should come as a result of his improved plate discipline. At his current pace, Franco will post a new career best in both strikeout rate and walk rate.
Further evidence is provided by his marked improvement in not swinging at as many pitches out of the strike zone coupled with Franco notching a single digit swinging strike rate for the first time in his career. Franco has also only hit one infield fly ball, good for a popup rate of 4-percent, which pales in comparison to his career figure of over 15-percent.
Despite his slow start, Franco seems primed to set new career highs in all five of the major roto statistical categories.
Kenta Maeda, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kenta Maeda’s sophomore campaign has not gone as planned to say the least. It has to be hard to get too jazzed about his unsightly pitching line that includes a 6.58 ERA. On the flip side, excitement starts to build as you look under the hood at his peripherals.
Maeda’s K-BB% of 19.6-percent is actually an improvement over his 18-percent mark from his rookie campaign last year. He holds the seventh best swinging strike rate among starters who have thrown at least 20 innings with a 14.3-percent mark, once again an improvement over his 11.6-percent number last year. Maeda has been allowing more fly balls and fewer ground balls and that has contributed to a bad case of gopheritis.
Despite surrendering a hard hit rate in line with last year, Maeda has been tagged with a home run to fly ball rate of 18.4 -percent; nearly double his figure from 2016. In fact, he has allowed seven long balls over just 26 innings so far, which is shocking given he only allowed 20 over 175.2 innings last year.
After taking into account some positive regression and the likelihood of Maeda not sustaining his left on base rate of 63.5-percent (16th lowest total among starters with 20 innings), it is easy to see how his ERA will be trending towards last year’s mark of 3.48. By the end of the 2017 season, Maeda’s slow start will be nothing but a distant memory.
Lance McCullers, SP, Houston Astros
With an ERA north of 4.00 and a WHIP of 1.30, Lance McCullers’ slow start has not been what the doctor ordered. However, this is another case of how judging a book by its cover is often not a good idea.
McCullers owns the fifth best K-BB% among qualified starters thanks in large part to posting the 10th best swinging strike rate. He has also been extremely tough to square up on as evidenced by him allowing the fifth lowest hard hit rate. The fact that McCullers has allowed a .353 BABIP, good for fourth highest among starters, is downright shocking, especially when you consider that he has allowed a sub-20-percent line drive rate. The long ball has also plagued him, as his home run to fly ball rate is a cool 25-percent, over double his career mark.
Since McCullers’s peripherals are all essentially at new career bests, it is easy to envision a scenario where he has career year in 2017. Expect a final ERA that hovers around 3.00 with a WHIP in the neighborhood of 1.15.
If you hold any of these players, do not sell them for anything less than full cost. Also, if you do not own these players, do not be afraid to test the waters with a few trade offers and see if their current owners are getting impatient. Think of it as doing them a favor as they will now sleep better at night with nothing to worry about. Until the next Fantasy Lookout, enjoy the games.
Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com
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