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Fire & Ice: A DJ For Your Bar Mitzvah

Here we are for another week, and it’s party time! The ugly weather is behind us, so bah gawd let’s play some baseball!

Don’t suck down too much RonDiaz and get all short-sample happy on your roster, though, my friends. That’s almost as bad as taking your pants off on a boat during spring break. Don’t act like you haven’t done it.

It’s important during these early weeks to exercise patience with your roster. For instance, Hanley Ramirez is on pace for a 30/30 season, just as he predicted during spring training. Will he do it? Absolutely not. Stop looking at your standings, while you’re at it. There is so much correction coming for the majority of players that three weeks’ worth of contributions means very little.

That said, we’ve got a pair of hitters here posting anomalous results in the early going that deserve a deeper dive. Let’s get to the bottom of this.

Fire – DJ LeMahieu

We all need a good DJ for special occasions, and I can’t imagine anything more special than putting together a fantasy baseball team. DJ LeMahieu is the perfect DJ for such an occasion, mostly because he’s actually a baseball player. I have no idea what his skills are when presented with turntables and a fog machine. I’m also unsure if he’s available for birthday parties and bar mitzvahs. He is available to help propel your team into first place in the early season standings, however.

We’ve now seen four full MLB seasons from LeMahieu and have come to know pretty much what to expect from him. That’s both good and bad. The good is that he will give you an elite average over a ton of plate appearances with a boat load of runs. The bad is, well, that’s about all you get. He doesn’t give you power or speed, and his RBI totals have never surpassed 67 in a season because he’s always hitting high in the lineup. Twenty games into the 2018 season, however, and he’s trying to pull a fast one on us with five home runs and six doubles for a very nice .269 ISO.

Has the 29-year-old second baseman reinvented himself? A check of his batted ball distribution does show us some change, although with such a small sample it’s hard to get too excited. His FB% is up 11% from 2017, but that still puts him at just 30%. He has also increased his pull% by 12%… all the way up to 33%. He has also upped his hard contact to 35%, likely as a result of more pulled balls, but a 35% hard% in 2015 produced only six home runs.

LeMahieu has always been selective at the plate, but early on he’s outdoing himself. His 18% O-swing% is good for 9th in MLB. He’s been more patient and is seeing more pitches, with a 35% swing rate (8th in MLB). Strong plate discipline lends itself to power since you have the ability to lay off the bad pitches and punish the hittable ones.

That said, it’s just a little to early to buy into any sort of major change with LeMahieu. The increase in FB% is the biggest factor, but he could easily fall back to his 21% career rate over the coming weeks. Even at 30% it’s hard to hit for much power. Can he beat his career high mark of 11 HR this year? Well, he’s already got five, so your answer there is yes.

The early changes in his profile are small enough to be anomalous. LeMahieu himself has said that he doesn’t like to get pull-happy, as it makes him a worse hitter. Don’t expect a markedly different player than what you paid for.

Ice – Ian Happ

You may recall the first pitch of the 2018 season, which Ian Happ sent flying into the Marlins Park bleachers. “Welcome back, baseball!” You may have shrieked, especially if you’re an Ian Happ owner. You are DiCaprio (or Winslet) and are on top of the world!

That might have colored your perception of 2018 Happ, though, because if you haven’t looked lately, he’s been brutal. Thirteen games in, he’s hitting .204/.264/.307. He’s been the Cubs primary leadoff hitter this year, but there is an early-season issue that looms large: a 47% K%. For someone who is tasked to set the proverbial table, that is unacceptable. We’re in MLB, this is fine dining! We aren’t slumming it at White Castle! (Disclaimer: I love White Castle.)

Clearly we don’t expect him to continue such an egregious strikeout rate, but we did hope for him to trim his 31.2% rate from a year ago. Those investing in him had to be wary of Happ’s 16% swinging strike rate and 67% contact rate from his rookie campaign. We had expected natural progression, a position hitting atop a strong Cubs lineup, and a tantalizing power/speed combo, which despite the lackluster contact is plenty to get excited about. Instead, things have gone from bad to worse. Through 13 games, he has a league-worst 47.2% K% and 21.4% SwStr%, second-worst 57.5% contact% and, well, you get the idea. These are numbers that simply won’t cut it at the MLB level.

The most recent update from the mouth of Joe Maddon is that Happ is going to see more time towards the bottom of the order as he works through “some changes” with hitting coach Chili Davis. That’s a promising development for the season-long hopes for Happ. He’ll stick with the club as he works to find himself rather than being sent down to Triple-A for a spell.

We saw a similar situation with Byron Buxton early last year. With some good coaching, Buxton was able to right the ship and be a stud from May on. Happ still has that power/speed combo you drafted him for, so don’t sell at all costs. You can still be DiCaprio (or Winslet), although this ship is sinking and you are bailing out water with a bucket. Chili Davis is putting some Flex Seal on the boat and we’re hoping to save it.

Now there’s a fun image for you. Sit Happ on your bench in the short-term while he works through his issues.

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