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FANTASY BASEBALL/DFS

10 Thoughts: Week One Edition

We all love the game of baseball, and with so many teams and players, it’s easy to think of 10 things every week. Here’s our thoughts for Week One.

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This is the first edition of my weekly 10 Thoughts column in which I highlight 10 of the most fantasy-relevant things that catch my eye each week, enjoy!

Because it’s incredibly early in the season these 10 thoughts are focused on individual player trends, but as the season goes on I will also be analyzing macro trends across the league and how they impact fantasy baseball strategy. This week, I cover Tyler Glasnow’s new slider, Trevor Rogers’ middling debut, the emergence of Cedric Mullins, and a whole lot more.

1) Tyler Glasnow’s new slider is filthy, and it could help him make the jump from good to elite.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was watching Glasnow carve up the Miami Marlins with gorgeous sliders in addition to his usual nasty four-seam/curve combination in his first start. Glasnow didn’t just mix in the new slider, he threw it a hefty 33.8% of the time and dominated hitters with it all game long. When I say Glasnow dominated, I mean it. Tyler only allowed one baserunner and struck out six hitters in the six innings he pitched. The slider averaged around 88 MPH with insane movement throughout the outing; it’s a pitch with so much vertical movement that it could be confused with a curveball, but it still has enough horizontal break to make it a dominant two-plane pitch with his curveball being the true vertical hammer. Remarkably, Glasnow only threw his curveball 11.7% of the time after throwing it 34.8% of the time in 2020. While the curveball is an amazing pitch, Glasnow does have trouble throwing it for strikes at times, so it may be best served as a third pitch that generates whiffs below the zone. The thought of Glasnow primarily throwing 97-98 MPH fastballs and nasty sliders while mixing in the curve when he needs to in order to keep hitters off-balance is as tantalizing as it gets. Though I did not have access to Statcast data from Glasnow’s second start for this write-up it’s worth noting that he was dominant once again on Tuesday against the Boston Red Sox. If Glasnow can continue to dominate with this new slider there’s nothing stopping him from becoming a true ace. 

2) Jared Walsh is the real deal.
Walsh came up through the Angels system as a two-way player, and he was a good enough pitcher to get some innings in at the highest level, but hitting is clearly his true calling. Walsh has crushed his entire career dating back to college baseball, the minor leagues, and now the Majors. Walsh established himself as a Major League threat in the box last year, posting a .293/.324/.646 line in 32 games. Walsh put up that line while sporting an unlucky .256 BABIP, so don’t be surprised if Walsh keeps up the high batting average in addition to impressive power production. Walsh’s 2020 xSLG of .522 indicates that his .646 SLG was a bit unsustainable, but a .522 SLG would have been excellent either way. Fast forward to 2021 and Walsh is demolishing the ball again (.375/.412/.875 slash) while hitting in the heart of a potent Angels lineup. Walsh will never sport a great on-base percentage, but he is the rare power hitter with a low strikeout rate, which allows his raw power to play up a ton due to the fact that he consistently gets the bat on the ball. It’s possible that pitchers will find a weakness in his approach at some point, but at the moment everything points to Walsh being one of the better first basemen in fantasy baseball.

3) Trevor Rogers’ debut bodes well for his outlook, despite uninspiring results.
Rogers received a lot of Spring Training hype after he unveiled a much-improved slider and dominated opposing hitters, but he didn’t get great results in his first start (4 IP and 2 ER). So where do we go from here? I watched Rogers’ start intently because I’ve been really high on him as a sleeper/breakout guy, and I’m not worried, I’m encouraged. Rogers showed off the explosive three-pitch mix he’s been honing by generating a ton of whiffs, especially on his fastball that averaged 95.3 MPH, a 1.7 MPH increase from 2020. Trevor really got himself into trouble with walks in the first frame, and it seemed like jitters impacted his ability to throw strikes. It’s hardly unusual for young and unproven pitchers to struggle with nerves in a season debut, so I’m not reading too much into it. Rogers had some control issues last year but still managed a 3.86 SIERA and a 12.54 K/9, and that was without the improved slider he showed off this spring. The 95+ MPH heater, nasty changeup, and workable slider combine to give Rogers an arsenal that can make hitters look silly, as demonstrated by a 94th percentile whiff % in his first start and the remarkable 29:5 K/BB ratio in Spring Training. I’m not counting on Rogers to anchor a fantasy staff, but the so-so first outing might create a nice buying window on a guy that still has a lot of potential this season.

4) Cedric Mullins could be a starting quality outfielder for the rest of the season. 
Mullins was an intriguing fantasy prospect in past seasons due to his power/speed tools and opportunity for ample playing time, but it hasn’t worked out, to say the least. It looks like Mullins could be putting his past poor performances behind him this year, however, as he’s been tearing the cover off the ball, slashing .524/.545/.667 atop the Orioles lineup early on. Mullins scrapped switch-hitting this year and is going with an all-left-handed approach that is obviously working out in the early going. Mullins has hit for average so far, but the power and speed should come along in addition to plenty of runs scored as the lead-off hitter. Depending on how shallow your league is you may want to wait on acquiring him, but this is a player to keep tabs on.

5) 2021 could finally be Joe Musgrove’s breakout year.
Joe Musgrove has been a trendy breakout pick for a while now, but this really should be the year. Musgrove did break out in 2020 in terms of K/9, as his K/9 jumped from 8.30 to 12.48, but his ERA lagged behind a bit at 3.86 and he was only able to win one game thanks to his lowly Pirates teammates. The massive jump in K/9 was mostly due to a massive shift in pitch utilization, as Musgrove finally decreased fastball usage and pumped up the usage of his nasty breaking balls, but he also made a concerted effort to throw his fastball up in the zone and experienced great success. All of the best ERA estimators such as SIERA (3.50), xFIP (3.19), and xERA (3.13) indicate that Joe was really unlucky last year, and judging by his first start, they were right. Musgrove went six innings strong in his Padres debut and earned the win while striking out eight and allowing just three hits and zero walks. I fully believe that Musgrove can and will eventually put together a season of low threes ERA, a lot of K’s, and a good amount of wins if he just stays healthy.

6) Jesse Winker could hit 30+ home runs to go along with a good batting average.
Winker has always had a plus hit tool, but last year he started to show some power as well. From 2017-2019 Winker slugged around .470, but last year he was able to hit 12 home runs in just 149 AB’s on his way to a .544 SLG. Winker’s 2020 xSLG was .520, and he also posted career bests in the following Statcast metrics: hard-hit rate, average exit velocity, and barrel rate. The power gains seem very real. I’m even more sold after Winker’s first couple of games this year. In his two games played thus far, Winker is averaging 100+ MPH exit velocities, largely due to the fact that he hit two balls 110+ MPH on opening day. Those exit velocities are no joke and they hint at more consistent power output, especially after what we saw last year. It’s also notable that Winker should have a very easy path to consistent playing time against both righties and lefties due to the Cincinnati Reds outfield injury issues. Cincinnati has deployed Winker exclusively in the leadoff spot early on.

7) Luis Castillo’s velocity dropped precipitously in his first start, and he’s in trouble if it doesn’t recover.
Castillo’s four-seamer velocity was down a full three ticks from his last year’s average of 97.4 MPH on opening day, averaging just 94.4 MPH while sinker experienced a similar decline. It was no surprise that Castillo struggled mightily against the Cardinals with his velocity down, but it was especially worrisome that he got absolutely shelled to the tune of a 21.60 ERA in just 3.1 innings. Castillo is clearly a guy that needs high-velocity heaters to succeed. Castillo’s fastball and sinker have been his two worst pitches by a wide margin over the last couple of years despite the fact that they were averaging 97+ MPH. Castillo doesn’t command either pitch well and both pitches catch the middle of the plate far too often; something Castillo can get away with when he’s throwing 97 MPH, but not so much at 94 MPH. Maybe this is something, and maybe it’s nothing, but if the velocity is down in his next couple starts it might be time to panic.

8) Max Stassi might be… a good hitter?
Many analysts, including myself, wrote off Stassi’s 2020 slash line of .278/.352/.533 as a flash in the pan, but Stassi is hitting once again early on in 2021 to the tune of a .364/.462/.636 triple slash. I wrote Stassi off because his 2020 surface-level and advanced metrics were massive outliers in relation to his career marks, but sometimes guys just figure it out at some point in their career. Stassi was fifth among all catchers with at least 50 batted ball events in 2020 average exit velocity at 91.6 MPH and he’s hitting the ball extremely hard in a very small sample this year. Everything Stassi did last year was backed up by Statcast data, so even though it’s very early days I’m leaning towards accepting that he very well could be one of the better hitting catchers in the league. Stassi should be rostered in every two catcher league, and he’s also likely better than many catchers that managers are starting in one catcher setups. 

9) It looks like Chris Paddack hasn’t fixed most of the issues that plagued him in 2020.
I watched every pitch Paddack threw in his first start and three things stood out to me. First, the one thing that looked fixed from last year was the movement on the fastball. It looked to be showing its optimal rising shape in this one as opposed to the running version that got barreled up last year. Second, Paddack still doesn’t have anything close to a third pitch, and he actually threw 100 percent four-seamers and changeups in this one. And, lastly, it appeared to me that Paddack was still tipping his changeup somehow. The pitch is truly nasty and it was moving great on Sunday, yet nobody was biting. Paddack’s changeup is too damn good for guys to spit on it every time, something is up. Whether it’s an arm action issue or another tipping mechanism, Paddack needs to get the tipping issue cleaned up in addition to developing his curveball if he wants to succeed in the big leagues.

10) As long as Nelson Cruz is breathing, he’ll be mashing.
Every year analysts and fantasy managers alike debate whether or not Nelson Cruz can keep up his insane hitting production, and every year he does. This point is hardly groundbreaking, but after seeing Nelson mash again early this season I will officially be buying into him until the AARP card arrives in the mail and he finally calls it quits. Since 2014 Cruz has five seasons of a .280 batting average or better, six seasons of 37 home runs or better, and six seasons of 93 RBI’s or more. Those accomplishments don’t even include the dominance that Cruz showed in the shortened season last year – the man is not close to declining. I want all the shares I can get however I can get them, this train isn’t slowing down any time soon. 

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