We’re still on the April page of the calendar, so the appropriate response to most fantasy-induced panic is still “it’s too early.” The phrase “small sample size” might be getting on our nerves, but it’s still applicable. Yet this is not to say that there is no reason to dabble in some roster moves.
Take my industry league teams (please). After the third weekend of play, my Tout Wars mixed auction squad has staggered its way to 10th place out of 15 teams, and in TGFBI, I am sitting in 11th place. The two rosters share more in common than being mired in the lower half of the standings. Both teams got there because of a lack of power and run production. In Tout Wars, I rank 14th in home runs and 13th in runs. In TGFBI, my team is 14th in home runs and 13th in RBI.
Because it is still early, the inclination to think one’s hitters will rebound is usually a good one. However, when I inspect my Tout Wars lineup, I can’t be surprised or disappointed that my team is not hitting for power. I spent a disproportionate share of my budget on pitching, so my hitters consist of a few highly- and moderately-priced players — Aaron Judge, Manny Machado, Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Seager and Domingo Santana — and a larger group of endgame fliers. (I wrote about how this came to be shortly after the auction.) Of my five pricier players, only Santana has been a disappointment.
The only reason Santana remains in my lineup is the lack of a viable replacement, and fixing that is on my to-do list. He has only one-extra base hit (a double), and it’s not because of bad luck. Santana has a 58 percent ground ball rate and a merely ordinary 30 percent hard contact rate. Two-and-a-half weeks of too many grounders isn’t earning Santana a spot on the ejector seat in my 12-team leagues, so I’m not even thinking of dropping him in Tout Wars. I do need to bench him as soon as I can get a decent replacement.
The rest of the lineup was not really built to hit for power, as some of my endgame bids acquired players who are more useful for OBP or steals than for home runs. Derek Fisher and C.J. Cron were exceptions to this trend, but neither has come through. The promotion of Franchy Cordero should help some, but he’s just taken the place of Denard Span as the fifth outfielder. I got Aledmys Diaz with $22 in FAAB (out of a $1000 budget), and he should be a clear power upgrade over Ketel Marte. Acquiring Diaz also allowed me the luxury of trading Scott Kingery to Baseball HQ’s Fred Zinkie in exchange for Yuli Gurriel, Tyler Flowers and Brent Suter. While Kingery could be a good power source in his own right, he was superfluous on my roster, while Gurriel gives me a power-hitting alternative to Cron or Joe Mauer. Flowers, when he is activated from the DL, will be a distinct upgrade over Christian Vazquez.
There is more work to be done (though the run-scoring problem should fix itself over time), but this was clearly a case where standing pat was going to put me at risk of falling too far behind.
This is in stark contrast to my TGFBI team, which was built to hit for power. Beyond my core of elite power hitters — Joey Votto, Kris Bryant and Justin Upton — I drafted several hitters with the strong potential to hit 20 or more homers, including Yasiel Puig, Elvis Andrus, Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez, Kevin Kiermaier and Tim Beckham. Losing Perez to injury right before opening day has certainly put a damper on my place in the standings, but so have the power outages experienced by Votto, Merrifield, Puig, and Beckham.
While I will be without Andrus and Kiermaier for a large portion of the season, patience is the right approach for now. Puig’s batted ball profile so far has been similar to the one he composed last season, when he bashed 28 homers, but he is not pulling the ball quite as often. Merrifield owns a robust 44 percent hard contact rate. Beckham, like Santana, has been a little too grounder-prone, but he is in the top third off all hitters (min. 10 batted balls) in terms of average exit velocity on flyballs and line drives.
If there is a player who elicits worry, it’s Votto, who just got his first extra-base hit on Monday night. He is not hitting with much authority, falling in the bottom 25 percent for exit velocity on flies and liners. If it were a less-proven hitter — perhaps Beckham — who was struggling in this way, it might already be time to think about dropping him. You don’t drop Votto at any point, much less after two-and-a-half weeks, and it’s a poor time to try to trade him. It’s best to remind myself that Votto started 2016 off poorly as well. By the end of April, he was batting .229 with two home runs and a double. From May on, he batted .342 with 27 home runs, 33 doubles and two triples.
If you, too, are starting off this fantasy season slowly, it probably won’t take a series of earth-shaking moves to get your team back on track. Most of our injured players will be back with plenty of season left to play. The Vottos, Gary Sanchezes and Jose Ramirezes will most likely find their footing. Even if you’re dealing with a flawed roster, it’s too early for a total teardown. Some judicious FAAB bids or waiver claims, along with some lower-key trades, can provide some incremental upgrades. With 24 weeks left to go, that’s all you need for now.
Streaming Starting Pitcher Update
With two full-week scoring periods in the books, it appears my Tout Wars team has not benefited from my choice to stream projected two-start pitchers. Then again, there may not be much we can confidently conclude, and not just because it’s only been two weeks. The only two-start pitcher I have streamed so far this season has been Ben Lively. He did not make his second scheduled start in the first full week, and then I rolled him out again for two starts this past week that he actually made.
Still, if I had stuck with the pitchers Lively replaced (Tyler Anderson and Sal Romano), I would not have lost any ground in wins, and I would have helped myself with ERA and WHIP. As the table below shows, Anderson and Romano combined for a 2.61 ERA and 1.26 WHIP over 10.1 innings, whereas Lively provided 15.1 innings of a 5.87 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. The payoff for using the Phillies’ righty and was adding nine strikeouts to my team total.[table “91” not found /]
Prorated over a full season, that advantage in strikeouts could be good for three or four places in the standing, but that would likely be outweighed by the increases in ERA and WHIP.
In TGFBI, I got more help from my streamed two-start pitchers. Though they didn’t give me more wins than the benched pitchers, they provided 11 additional strikeouts and a WHIP that was seven points lower. The two-start streamers presented a downgrade in terms of ERA, but the less-than-two-run increase was modest compared to the increase created by Lively in Tout Wars. This limited sample offers some hope that aggressive streaming of two-start pitchers might actually provide a dividend.[table “92” not found /]
There won’t be anything new to report for next week, as I did not pick up any two-start pitchers in either TGFBI or Tout Wars who I intend to drop after this scoring period. I did pick up Brent Suter in TGFBI, and I benched Lively in order to start him. However, I am planning on keeping Suter for the long haul.