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April 30, 2015

Fantasy Freestyle

Checking in on April Leaders

by J.P. Breen

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We can only glean so much information from looking at April’s statistics. It’s inherently a small sample size. However, in my experience of dishing out advice to fantasy owners in the Bat Signal and on Twitter, it’s obvious that owners don’t often evaluate the “state of the position.” That is, they tend to look at individual players and not focus on the context of the position.

I hope to fill in some of those open spaces. I have compiled the top-five fantasy players at each position, as of Sunday morning. In addition, I offered a potential buy-low candidate in each section, though I did not offer additional thoughts because this article already offered too many words.

CATCHER

#

Name

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Stephen Vogt

.355

11

4

14

0

2

Salvador Perez

.333

10

3

13

1

3

A.J. Pierzynski

.439

8

3

12

0

4

Derek Norris

.316

11

1

11

0

5

Russell Martin

.190

12

3

12

1

It’s been a wild ride behind the plate for fantasy owners. None of the top-six preseason catchers are currently ranked in the top five. Mesoraco, Lucroy, and Gomes have spent time on the bench with injuries. Posey has been fine, but he usually doesn’t become otherworldly until the second half. Gattis and McCann, on the other hand, have gotten off to slow starts.

Vogt has been a revelation for fantasy owners thus far. The standard BABIP-regression schtick applies to almost every player we’ll discuss in this exercise, but Vogt also has displayed a quality approach. His 11.1 percent walk rate and 13 percent strikeout rate gives him one of the best K:BB at the position—only Posey and Jason Castro have done better in that area. Now that Vogt has acquired catcher eligibility, he’s primed to be one of the unsung heroes of the ‘15 season.

Russell Martin shows us two things: (1) batting average isn’t absolutely everything in standard roto leagues, as value can be accumulated elsewhere; (2) it’s a massive benefit to bat in a potent lineup. His run/RBI statistics have been great, helped by a very good Blue Jays’ lineup and a high walk rate. One has to figure the .190 batting average climbs in the final five months, so perhaps this is the time to buy -- while rival owners don’t necessarily understand his true value.

Buy Low: Jonathan Lucroy, MIL

FIRST BASE

#

Name

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Adrian Gonzalez

.377

18

7

18

0

2

Paul Goldschmidt

.315

16

5

19

4

3

Joey Votto

.316

13

7

16

2

4

Anthony Rizzo

.323

16

2

9

6

5

Mark Teixeira

.232

13

8

18

0

Let me just say one thing to start: the first base position has been f------ nuts this month. For example, Adam Lind is hitting .329/.398/.548 with three home runs, seven runs, and 12 RBI. He’s the 21st-ranked first baseman thus far! I don’t know what else to do with this information, other than type it here, italicize it, append an exclamation point, and hope someone else finds it as astounding as me.

Adrian Gonzalez has been extraordinary through his first 20 games. He is sporting a .390 ISO with a near .400 batting average. Some fantasy owners began to doubt him in 2012 and 2013 when his power dropped, but the 32-year-old is anchoring one of the best offenses in baseball and is crushing the baseball. That’s fantasy royalty.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a brief piece that analyzed the running strategies of baseball’s six new managers. I noted that Joe Maddon had the Cubs running much more than they had been in recent years. Rizzo has been one of the prime beneficiaries of that, and it’s catapulted him into the position’s top-five because stolen bases are not commonplace at the power corner. Goldy and Rizzo are unique in that way.

Oh, and Joey Votto would like to have some words with those who doubted him. He’s really good at baseball-related activities.

Buy Low: Edwin Encarnacion, TOR

SECOND BASE

#

Name

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Devon Travis

.356

17

6

19

1

2

Jose Altuve

.348

11

2

13

8

3

Dee Gordon

.400

11

0

10

8

4

Howie Kendrick

.297

20

3

14

2

5

Marcus Semien

.275

9

3

12

3

My colleagues Ben and Craig are the resident dynasty sherpas—ya know, aside from the #boss—and they recently ruffled some feathers due to their perceived non-love for Devon Travis. I do not wish to rehash the whole argument here; however, it should be noted that Travis has never hit more than 16 homers in a single season as a professional. I think 15 homers is reasonable to expect from the 5-foot-9 second baseman. But let’s not go nuts because he’s tearing the cover off the baseball and we haven’t seen him fail yet. Although I hate to be reductive about it, the Detroit Tigers wouldn’t have shipped him to Toronto for just Anthony Gose if he had the potential to be the best second baseman in the league.

It’s interesting to see Semien on the list, considering his numbers aren’t phenomenal, but that’s reflective of how poor second basemen have hit in April. It should be noted that Ian Kinsler will hit more than zero homers this year. Owners would be wise to target him before he goes on a power binge and secures his top-five status -- everything else looks really good for Kinsler.

I don’t know what happened to Jason Kipnis, man, but I’m glad I cashed out after the 2013 season. He may suffer from the Dustin Pedroia problem of not hitting enough fly balls to hit for power. Only four second basemen have lower fly-ball rates than Kipnis.

Buy Low: Brian Dozier, MIN

SHORTSTOP

#

Name

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Hanley Ramirez

.295

15

9

20

1

2

Adeiny Hechavarria

.312

15

2

16

1

3

Starlin Castro

.342

9

2

12

2

4

Marcus Semien

.275

9

3

12

3

5

Jed Lowrie

.300

11

4

10

1

Hanley Ramirez is doing what I thought Troy Tulowitzki would be doing to the shortstop position. His value is light-years ahead of the competition thus far. And, as we will see later, Ramirez will be just fine once he’s restricted to outfield-only eligibility. He’s special at the plate. It’s incredible to think what kind of player he could have been if he had been able to stick at short.

Hechavarria has been the surprise of the season, in many ways, but few people have paid attention to him because the power numbers aren’t eye-popping. He’s benefiting from quality players hitting ahead of him, as well as a lofty BABIP. As his .400 BABIP with runners in scoring position returns to earth, though, he’ll become a limited fantasy asset once more—decent average with runs and a smattering of stolen bases. Nothing to write home about, and certainly not anyone to be offering up anything of value to acquire.

We spent all offseason waiting for the Cubs to trade Starlin Castro, leaving us a bit numb to his start of the year. Amidst the hype surrounding Bryant, Soler, and Rizzo, the 25-year-old has done nothing but hit. I keep waiting for his power output to increase; however, I think his below-average approach at the plate keeps his raw power from showing up in games. He’s also benefiting from Joe Maddon’s presence and already has half the stolen bases he did a year ago.

Buy Low: Alexei Ramirez, CHW

THIRD BASE

#

Name

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Josh Donaldson

.349

18

5

16

2

2

Todd Frazier

.239

15

5

14

3

3

Matt Carpenter

.380

17

3

12

0

4

Mike Moustakas

.346

17

3

8

1

5

Alex Rodriguez

.254

13

5

13

0

The fantasy team at BP expected Donaldson to be the only elite option at third base. He’s living up to that hype thus far, and his swing appears locked-in with the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s benefiting from a lofty BABIP, but even if that drops to the .320-.330 mark, he’ll still be a solid .280 hitter with copious amounts of power.

I wrote about Mike Moustakas and his early-season adjustments a couple weeks ago. Our own Ryan Parker—who is an expert hitting instructor—broke down some of the swing changes Moose has shown this month and says that he likes what he sees:

And #ARod4MVP.

Buy Low: Adrian Beltre, TEX

OUTFIELD

#

Name

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Nelson Cruz

.329

12

9

21

1

2

Hanley Ramirez

.295

15

9

20

1

3

Adam Jones

.403

17

5

18

0

4

Wil Myers

.287

19

4

15

3

5

Mike Trout

.300

16

4

11

5

While we spend a lot of time discussing park factors and projecting how a player’s power will translate to bigger or smaller ballparks, Nelson Cruz is reminding us that plus-plus power plays anywhere. Not only does he have the hardest-hit ball this season, according to Baseball Savant’s leaderboards, but he’s also hitting for average. It’s only April and this level of performance won’t continue, but it’s not an overstatement to suggest Nelson Cruz has become “must-watch” baseball this month.

I adore that Wil Myers is atop this list. He’s batting leadoff for the Padres, which means his run totals will be inflated, but he’s also taking off on the basepaths. The stolen bases are a nice surprise for Myers owners. I think the power will only continue to grow, too.

Side note: Joc Pederson has a walk rate that’s artificially inflated due to his time in the eight-hole, but he’s forcing his way up in the batting order and has shown flashes that he’ll be a force with which to be reckoned. The high strikeout rate will keep the batting average under wraps, but he still could be a 20/20 player and has wonderful value in dynasty leagues.

Note: My condolences to those who spent an early draft pick on Rusney Castillo. That hasn’t turned out well whatsoever.

Buy Low: Desmond Jennings, TB

STARTERS

#

Name

ERA

Wins

K%

WHIP

SV

1

Chris Archer

0.84

3

30.6%

0.74

0

2

Johnny Cueto

1.95

2

27.5%

0.73

0

3

Felix Hernandez

1.61

3

30.2%

0.79

0

4

Sonny Gray

1.98

3

18.4%

0.88

0

5

Matt Harvey

3.04

4

29.0%

0.94

0

Not much to add here. Four of the top-five names are legitimate studs, while Chris Archer has been a revelation this month. His slider has become a plus-plus pitch, getting a huge percentage of whiffs and Archer is trusting the pitch in any count. It’s easy to forget the Rays should also be getting Alex Cobb and Matt Moore back in the coming months—which gives Tampa Bay a monstrous rotation, now that Archer is asserting himself.

Fun Fact: Of starting pitchers who have thrown 400-plus innings since 2011, Johnny Cueto has the second-lowest ERA in Major League Baseball (2.46)—behind only Clayton Kershaw. He’s crazy good and plays in a terrible ballpark for pitchers. To put this another way, Johnny Cueto gonna get paid this offseason, and deservedly so. I selfishly hope he winds up in a pitchers park. It’d be a joy to see what kind of numbers he could compile in friendlier confines.

Buy Low: Alex Wood, ATL

RELIEVERS

#

Name

ERA

Wins

K%

WHIP

SV

1

Jeurys Familia

1.69

0

34.2%

0.66

9

2

Andrew Miller

0.00

0

46.0%

0.75

8

3

Joakim Soria

1.86

1

17.1%

0.52

8

4

Aroldis Chapman

0.00

1

46.3%

0.75

5

5

Wade Davis

0.00

2

33.3%

0.33

4

Relievers are a bit of a crapshoot, aside from studs like Aroldis Chapman. I tried to tell people to avoid the high price tag on Dellin Betances this draft season, but my influential reach is very limited. Thus, many are feeling the pain with Miller in the closer’s role—and he’s been brilliant. Statistically, he’s been the AL version of Aroldis Chapman.

Wade Davis, it turns out, does have the #ClosersMentality. Funny how really good pitchers tend to have that skill set.

If I had to “sell” a reliever this early, it would be Soria. He’s not missing bats at a high rate and is benefiting from a very low BABIP. The Tigers will probably win the AL Central -- thus the save opportunities will be plentiful—but he’s not a dominant reliever, as he once was. In other words, I think he’ll be good, not great, throughout the remainder of the season. Perhaps it’s best to sell high, if given the chance.

Buy Low: Steve Cishek, MIA

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

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Buy Low,  Small Samples

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Premium Article Minor League Update: G... (04/30)
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