Panic over slow-starting bats?
It's a lesson we're taught every April, yet despite years of absorbing it, even experienced fantasy owners seem to forget it.
There's no reason to panic with your slow starters.
Well, that's true for most players. Sample sizes are small, with stories that cannot yet be told merely by the numbers, but we understand if you're closely examining all your worst performers, hoping to find a rationale behind their stats.
For some -- a precariously small bunch -- a hidden injury or a change in approach could be responsible. For others, it's merely random variance, which we can illustrate by showing you five players from 2012 who were struggling as of this date:
Aramis Ramirez: He was batting .114 with zero home runs through nine games and hit .312 with 27 homers and 100 RBIs in his next 140.
Alex Gordon: He was batting .128 with one homer in 10 games, and he managed .305/.377/.469 triple-slash rates in his next 151.
Ryan Zimmerman: A .209 hitter without a home run through his first 11 games, he batted .288 with 25 homers and 91 RBIs in his next 134.
Freddie Freeman: He was hitting .162 without a home run in his first nine games, but he managed 23 homers and 93 RBIs in his next 138.
Giancarlo Stanton: He was batting .229 with zero home runs in his first nine games, and he hit .295 with 37 homers in his next 114.
So which is it for this year's slow starters?
There's no easy answer to that, but at the same time, it's foolish to completely write off the numbers to date. After all, small samples or not, that's what fantasy baseball is built upon: Small samples. The key is remembering not to overrate such facts, rather tucking them away as you formulate your decisions in upcoming weeks.
Today, let's examine 10 of the most frustrating players in fantasy baseball to date. Might any of them warrant panic? Read on &Alvarez
Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates: Understandably, Alvarez's owners are frustrated, and with good reason. With a .073 batting average, zero extra-base hits and 16 strikeouts in his 41 at-bats, he has certainly earned his standing as the third-worst hitter on our Player Rater to date. His performance also might draw painful memories of his 2011, when he batted .191 with four homers and suffered a demotion to the minors.
Still, anyone who drafted Alvarez knew his propensity for streaks; players who have his strikeout rate of 30 percent or greater tend to endure painful slumps such as this. For example, he batted .067 with 15 K's in 30 at-bats (albeit with two home runs) in his first 10 games of last season. He also endured two separate spans of 15 games during which his batting average was .151 or worse later that year.
Granted, pitchers are testing him more with breaking pitches -- he has seen fastballs only 36 percent of the time thus far -- but Alvarez improved substantially against them in 2012, to the point where giving up on him this quickly would be foolish. He hit nine home runs against curveballs and sliders last season, meaning there's hope of a turnaround yet. Verdict: No reason to panic.Martinez
Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers: Tigers fans -- and fantasy owners of their hitters -- might have noticed that, on Tuesday, six of their nine starters boasted batting averages of .300 or greater at the start of play. Yet remarkably, No. 5 hitter Martinez was one of the three to sport a sub-.200 mark entering the game, and he had only four RBIs despite the four men who bat ahead of him all having on-base percentages of .400 or greater.
Mark Simon shared one possible explanation. ESPN Stats & Information uses a video-tracking service that tracks "hard-hit balls" using the eye test but with definitions of hard-hit well-established after years of tracking. He points out that the average major leaguer gets hits on about two-thirds to 70 percent of his hard-hit balls. Martinez himself is evidence of this; from 2009 to 2011, he got hits on 68.3 percent of hard-hit balls.
In 2013, however, Martinez has 15 hard-hit balls -- and only six hits. An average player would probably have 10 or 11 by now. And Martinez's nine outs when he makes hard contact are most in the majors. Keep that in mind if you're sweating his "slow start." Verdict: No reason to panic.Kipnis
Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians: In addition to missing each of the Indians' past three games and six of their past nine, Kipnis has gotten off to a miserable start with the bat, hitting .125 with no home runs or stolen bases. The latter two are more bothersome; Kipnis contributed 14 homers and 31 steals to his fantasy teams in 2012.
In Kipnis' case, there is something of long-term concern: the health of his right elbow, which was responsible for his recent absences. It's an injury that dates back to spring training -- the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported March 22 that he had injured it playing long toss -- and one that likely contributed to his .179/.230/.339 triple-slash rates during the spring. Injuries can help explain early struggles, so it's understandable if Kipnis' owners are worried. Verdict: Some panic -- all health-related -- is warranted.Hamilton
Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels: Hamilton was one of my "Bleagh" players for 2013, and many of the concerns outlined in that column have extended into the season. After striking out in 25.5 percent of his trips to the plate last season -- 29.3 percent after the All-Star break -- he has whiffed at a ghastly 29 percent rate in 2013. It is his newfound propensity to swing and miss that has put his batting average in the higher-risk category; he's a .200 hitter thus far and might struggle to approach 2012's .285.
That said, Hamilton deserves patience for two reasons. One is that he's adapting to new surroundings, which might have caused the kind of adjustment period we're seeing, and the other is that he remains one of the more powerful bats in one of the most potent lineups in the league, meaning home runs and RBIs should be plentiful. Verdict: It depends upon your preseason expectations; had you drafted him as a .270 hitter with 30 home runs, as recommended, there's no cause for alarm.Bruce
Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds: His is a strange stat line; he leads the National League in strikeouts (19) yet has batted .262 despite his early struggles. More frustrating is Bruce's lack of power, as he hasn't hit a home run in 61 at-bats. Still, it's not the longest homer drought of his career; Bruce has had four streaks that were longer in the past three seasons alone (2010-12).
Perhaps if Bruce continues to strike out at his elevated current rate of 29.5 percent of his plate appearances, he'll struggle to top his 2012 career high of 34 home runs and might have a difficult time batting higher than the .252 he did last season. But Bruce's streaky tendencies build his case for patience, as last season alone he endured a 25-game span in which he homered 12 times and an 11-game span in which he homered seven times. Verdict: No reason to panic.Heyward
Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves: He has the seventh-worst qualified batting average in baseball (.116), but if there's a most-irrelevant fantasy statistic for this time of year, batting average is it. Few numbers are flukier, and Heyward's .091 batting average on balls in play shows that he has hardly gotten the benefit of many lucky bounces.
Here's another thing to remember: Even in Heyward's outstanding 2012, he had just a .233 batting average and six home runs through his first 50 games, meaning that it's not like he started last year off hot either. He hit his second home run of the season Tuesday and has made contact at a higher rate thus far too. Verdict: No reason to panic, other than that batting average might never be his strong suit.Kemp
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers: Unlike some of the names above, there is something with Kemp that could warrant concern going forward, that being his ongoing recovery from October surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff damage in his left shoulder. He has batted just .185 through his first 14 games, with a bloated 29.3 percent strikeout rate that is more than 6 percentage points higher than his 2012 number.
Kemp has made hard contact only nine times in 38 balls in play this season (24 percent), whereas in 2012, he did so on 33 percent of his balls in play. Still, a sluggish start coming off that kind of operation is understandable, and his fantasy owners need be patient accordingly. The problem: If Kemp is to be classified a buy-low candidate, might it be smarter to wait a couple of weeks to see whether he picks up the pace slightly first? Verdict: Some panic is warranted, but it doesn't remotely mean bail on him.Montero
Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners: This one is all about league context; there is a vastly different strategy required in one of our standard, 10-team mixed leagues than in, say, an AL-only league of 12 teams with two starting catchers. In the latter, Montero's owners need be patient, if only because there isn't much else out there to improve upon his lackluster production. Through 10 games, he's batting .211 with only one extra-base hit (a double) and he has yet to draw his first walk.
Montero's defensive performance, however, might be the larger problem. Through those 10 games, opposing base stealers are 6-for-6 against him, and he has committed one passed ball, the Mariners' five wild pitches with him behind the plate. In terms of raw defensive ability, Montero is probably more suited to being the designated hitter rather than catcher -- except the Mariners have a better bat there in Kendrys Morales, as well as several other players whose defensive deficiencies paint a similar DH picture (Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse). Verdict: In a 10-team mixed league with one catcher, feel free to panic. Otherwise, be patient.Moustakas
Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals: At least he has a higher batting average than Pedro Alvarez (.167, to Alvarez's .073). Moustakas' fantasy owners can't be any more pleased with his results, though, and the aggravating part is that he finished the 2012 campaign similarly poorly, batting .204 with one home run in 29 games from Sept. 1 on.
Moustakas did spend the winter working to improve his approach at the plate, and it's possible that he's merely enduring an adjustment related to that. He's swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone, particularly when behind in the count, and he has cut 5 percentage points off his strikeout rate (15.2 percent this year, 20.2 percent in 2012). That he typically doesn't walk much and has a high fly-ball rate (47.1 percent) in his career makes him another player at risk of falling into extended funks. But he has untapped power potential, and he might be a nice buy-low option. Verdict: No reason to panic.Gomez
Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers: He's a streaky player if you ever saw one. His ratio of 4.9 strikeouts per walk last season was fourth worst among players who came to the plate at least 450 times. Gomez has also never batted higher than .260 in a single year, and even during his breakthrough in the second half of 2012, he batted just .278.
Still, what's most puzzling about Gomez's slow start is this: He hasn't stolen a base, having been caught stealing on his only attempt. That's a large part of what has been pushing his rotisserie ranking down, but his next-level stats continue to reflect the aggressive approach he brought to the plate last year. He has swung 83 percent of the time on pitches in the strike zone, which would represent the third consecutive year that number has risen, and his well-hit average (percentage of at-bats that resulted in hard contact) is up, going from .189 to .196. Verdict: No reason to panic.
TOP 150 HITTERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 150 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued. For position-specific rankings, see the "Pos Rk" column. Previous Ranking ("Prv Rk") is ESPN's preseason ranking among all hitters.
# Player, Team Pos
# Player, Team Pos
1 Miguel Cabrera, Det 3B1 2 76 Rickie Weeks, Mil 2B8 70 2 Ryan Braun, Mil OF1 1 77 Alcides Escobar, KC SS7 83 3 Andrew McCutchen, Pit OF2 4 78 Carlos Gomez, Mil OF36 76 4 Mike Trout, LAA OF3 3 79 Jed Lowrie, Oak SS8 99 5 Robinson Cano, NYY 2B1 5 80 Carlos Beltran, StL OF37 80 6 Justin Upton, Atl OF4 9 81 Brett Gardner, NYY OF38 82 7 Carlos Gonzalez, Col OF5 7 82 Aramis Ramirez, Mil 3B11 81 8 Prince Fielder, Det 1B1 10 83 Torii Hunter, Det OF39 96 9 Joey Votto, Cin 1B2 8 84 Aaron Hill, Ari 2B9 50 10 David Wright, NYM 3B2 13 85 Ben Revere, Phi OF40 84 11 Matt Kemp, LAD OF6 6 86 Howie Kendrick, LAA 2B10 89 12 Troy Tulowitzki, Col SS1 14 87 Kevin Youkilis, NYY 3B12 95 13 Albert Pujols, LAA 1B3 11 88 Nelson Cruz, Tex OF41 86 14 Evan Longoria, TB 3B3 17 89 Victor Martinez, Det C6 87 15 Jose Bautista, Tor OF7 12 90 Miguel Montero, Ari C7 92 16 Adam Jones, Bal OF8 18 91 Carl Crawford, LAD OF42 106 17 Ian Kinsler, Tex 2B2 19 92 Mark Teixeira, NYY 1B13 100 18 Giancarlo Stanton, Mia OF9 15 93 Neil Walker, Pit 2B11 88 19 Buster Posey, SF C1 16 94 Ryan Howard, Phi 1B14 91 20 Bryce Harper, Wsh OF10 30 95 Josh Reddick, Oak OF43 94 21 Adrian Beltre, Tex 3B4 21 96 Erick Aybar, LAA SS9 85 22 Jacoby Ellsbury, Bos OF11 25 97 David Ortiz, Bos DH1 97 23 Jason Heyward, Atl OF12 20 98 Alejandro De Aza, CWS OF44 101 24 Dustin Pedroia, Bos 2B3 23 99 Wilin Rosario, Col C8 103 25 Billy Butler, KC 1B4 26 100 David Freese, StL 3B13 98 26 Brandon Phillips, Cin 2B4 29 101 Andre Ethier, LAD OF45 90 27 Starlin Castro, ChC SS2 28 102 Paul Konerko, CWS 1B15 109 28 Edwin Encarnacion, Tor 1B5 24 103 Norichika Aoki, Mil OF46 122 29 Austin Jackson, Det OF13 34 104 Coco Crisp, Oak OF47 108 30 Jay Bruce, Cin OF14 27 105 Kendrys Morales, Sea 1B16 104 31 Paul Goldschmidt, Ari 1B6 37 106 Adam LaRoche, Wsh 1B17 93 32 Matt Holliday, StL OF15 33 107 Michael Cuddyer, Col OF48 114 33 B.J. Upton, Atl OF16 31 108 Jayson Werth, Wsh OF49 118 34 Josh Hamilton, LAA OF17 32 109 Nick Swisher, Cle OF50 105 35 Jimmy Rollins, Phi SS3 38 110 Derek Jeter, NYY SS10 110 36 Desmond Jennings, TB OF18 36 111 Dan Uggla, Atl 2B12 112 37 Adrian Gonzalez, LAD 1B7 40 112 Nick Markakis, Bal OF51 117 38 Elvis Andrus, Tex SS4 44 113 Jason Kubel, Ari OF52 102 39 Ben Zobrist, TB OF19 39 114 Lance Berkman, Tex 1B18 120 40 Ian Desmond, Wsh SS5 41 115 Manny Machado, Bal 3B14 119 41 Alex Rios, CWS OF20 45 116 Everth Cabrera, SD SS11 130 42 Shin-Soo Choo, Cin OF21 47 117 Daniel Murphy, NYM 2B13 123 43 Alex Gordon, KC OF22 49 118 Will Middlebrooks, Bos 3B15 111 44 Pablo Sandoval, SF 3B5 48 119 Mike Moustakas, KC 3B16 107 45 Ryan Zimmerman, Wsh 3B6 42 120 Justin Morneau, Min 1B19 126 46 Michael Bourn, Cle OF23 35 121 Salvador Perez, KC C9 115 47 Yadier Molina, StL C2 51 122 Mike Napoli, Bos C10 133 48 Martin Prado, Ari OF24 55 123 Jose Reyes, Tor SS12 22 49 Allen Craig, StL 1B8 46 124 Kyle Seager, Sea 3B17 113 50 Carlos Santana, Cle C3 52 125 Danny Espinosa, Wsh 2B14 121 51 Yoenis Cespedes, Oak OF25 43 126 Starling Marte, Pit OF53 139 52 Joe Mauer, Min C4 56 127 Matt Carpenter, StL 1B20 141 53 Dexter Fowler, Col OF26 62 128 Brandon Moss, Oak 1B21 134 54 Chase Headley, SD 3B7 57 129 J.J. Hardy, Bal SS13 124 55 Chris Davis, Bal OF27 65 130 Jean Segura, Mil SS14 138 56 Mark Trumbo, LAA OF28 59 131 Trevor Plouffe, Min 3B18 132 57 Michael Morse, Sea OF29 71 132 Michael Saunders, Sea OF54 140 58 Matt Wieters, Bal C5 54 133 Josh Rutledge, Col SS15 142 59 Brett Lawrie, Tor 3B8 60 134 Pedro Alvarez, Pit 3B19 116 60 Jose Altuve, Hou 2B5 61 135 Chris Young, Oak OF55 144 61 Asdrubal Cabrera, Cle SS6 58 136 Chris Carter, Hou 1B22 149 62 Curtis Granderson, NYY OF30 66 137 Alexei Ramirez, CWS SS16 128 63 Hunter Pence, SF OF31 74 138 Jonathan Lucroy, Mil C11 129 64 Hanley Ramirez, LAD 3B9 67 139 Andrelton Simmons, Atl SS17 136 65 Chase Utley, Phi 2B6 75 140 Michael Young, Phi 1B23 137 66 Melky Cabrera, Tor OF32 69 141 Mark Reynolds, Cle 1B24 146 67 Josh Willingham, Min OF33 63 142 Adam Dunn, CWS 1B25 131 68 Shane Victorino, Bos OF34 72 143 Marco Scutaro, SF 2B15 127 69 Eric Hosmer, KC 1B9 64 144 Ichiro Suzuki, NYY OF56 125 70 Anthony Rizzo, ChC 1B10 73 145 Garrett Jones, Pit 1B26 145 71 Todd Frazier, Cin 3B10 77 146 Franklin Gutierrez, Sea OF57 150 72 Jason Kipnis, Cle 2B7 53 147 Matt Adams, StL 1B27 NR 73 Angel Pagan, SF OF35 79 148 Evan Gattis, Atl C12 NR 74 Freddie Freeman, Atl 1B11 78 149 Zack Cozart, Cin SS18 NR 75 Ike Davis, NYM 1B12 68 150 J.P. Arencibia, Tor C13 NR
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
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