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April 9, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

Small-Sample Numbers That Matter

by Craig Goldstein

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Pretty much every article you’ve read between Opening Day and today has started with the caveat that there’s no point in drawing meaning from the statistics that are about to be presented, but then going ahead and presenting them anyway. In the end, the articles either draw a meaningless conclusion (they warned you at the beginning though) or waffle on what, if anything, any of their contents mean (nothing, they told you up top).

While I can only concur that the statistics that have been accrued since opening day (Salvador Perez has a 25 percent walk rate in six games, despite a career 4.5 percent walk rate) are at this point meaningless in a data sense, they are meaningful in that they matter to managers. I’m not going to draw any conclusions about a player’s evolving skillset or change in approach, so much as I am highlighting players who have either bought themselves or potentially cost themselves some rope, in the eyes of their manager. This has a very tangible effect in the fantasy world, especially in deeper leagues, where players who merely rack up at-bats are worth something.

Billy Hamilton, CF — Cincinnati Reds
One of the most divisive players in pre-draft rankings, Hamilton has a unique skillset that could impact the fantasy game (specifically roto leagues) in a way not seen since Vince Coleman. Even those who were high on the rookie acknowledged that the ultimate question was how dedicated first-year manager Bryan Price and the Cincinnati front office would be to using Hamilton in the event he struggled out of the gates, albeit hoping that this situation wouldn’t come to pass.

At this point, it’s passing before our very eyes. It’s only 18 plate appearances, but Hamilton is slashing .059/.111/.118 (that’s two hits, one walk), though he did stretch a routine single into a double with his blazing wheels. It’s clear that Hamilton can dig himself out of this hole, but the concern is that he has to dig at all. The upside in all of this? The Reds don’t have much of a backup plan at center field, as Roger Bernadina might be the best defensive option outside of Hamilton. The downside is that even with marginal improvement, Bernadina might be an overall upgrade at some point this season. We’re not close to that point yet, but given that we don’t know when that point is, those who bought early are surely feeling a little pressure right now. Oh, and he’s got zero steals to boot.

Charlie Blackmon, CF—Colorado Rockies
Almost a polar opposite of the the Billy Hamilton Experience has been the Charlie Blackmon Experience. Blackmon didn’t exactly distinguish himself this spring, a concern because the Rockies entered the season with six outfielders (this after shipping Dexter Fowler to Houston in the offseason). He wasn’t highly drafted, even in deeper/-only leagues but has exploded out of the gates with a .464/.467/.679 slash line, heavily impacted by his 6-for-6 game on April 4.

We’ve already seen the fruits of Blackmon’s labor, not only in the statistics he’s producing, but the Rockies optioned one of his main competitors for playing time in Corey Dickerson to Triple-A in recent days. Colorado appeared set to endure a season with a rotation in center field, flanked by Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer, but they’re going to find it hard to get Drew Stubbs’ defense into the game if Blackmon can replicate even his 2013 numbers, which were stretched over 258 appearances (.309/.336/.467). It’s clear that this is a hot start with that six-hit game carrying considerable weight, but with a solid skill set beneath those superficial numbers, Blackmon’s hot start could have season-long impact.

Emilio Bonifacio, 2B—Chicago Cubs
Bonifacio is tearing the cover off the ball, hitting a clean .500 thus far on the young season, adding four stolen bases in just six games. Bonifacio has been passed around the major leagues like a Starbucks card at your office’s white elephant party, but like that gift card, there’s some functionality here, if only short-lived. A nice super-utility guy, Bonifacio tends to be exposed over a long period of time. This is, of course, irrelevant to most fantasy owners who would rather see a bad hitter with plus speed get plenty of run, than a timeshare between said speedster and a empty wizard like Darwin Barney.

The true impact of any sustained success for Bonifacio is likely to be had on the Cubs precocious prospects. Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez are both playing in Triple-A and either (or both) could see major-league playing time at some point this season. If Bonifacio, already a strong clubhouse presence on a team that has some young Latin talent and is about to receive more, can add on-field production to his résumé, it’s going to be difficult for rookie manager Rick Renteria to pull him off the field.

Dan Uggla, 2B—Atlanta Braves
B.J. Upton is the greatest thing to happen to Dan Uggla right about now. If not for the struggles of the former, more scrutiny would be given to the latter, who is also in his second straight year of utter suckitude. Uggla’s current .217/.208/.304 slash line is somehow worse than 2013’s .179/.309/.362 but it’s early, so there’s… um… hope?

Upton is quite the candidate for this list, but given that he’s only in the second year of his contract and only has competition from Jordan Schafer, he should have a little bit of a longer rope than Uggla. With Tommy La Stella starting the year at Triple-A and showing an advanced approach at the plate, to go with a solid hit-tool if not a ton of pop, it is incumbent upon Uggla to get off to at least a decent start. It’s been a rough go of it over the first six games, but it’s a situation to monitor, as the Braves can’t continue to run out two black holes in their lineup. If La Stella can perform at Triple-A, Atlanta may be forced to make a change, small sample or not.

Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Buy... (04/09)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Buy... (04/09)
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