First impressions drive many of our social interactions. Whether it’s the turbulent job market or the popular rapid-fire world of speed dating, research increasingly confirms that humans make split-second decisions about the personality of an individual. Some studies suggest we take a mere one-tenth of a second to judge someone as likable or not. Similar studies suggest we’re pretty good at it, too.

First impressions remain remarkably resilient over time, especially negative impressions. Michael Kurschligen from the prestigious Max Planck Institute in Bonn, Germany, suggests that individuals are “particularly sensitive to negative impressions” and tend to hold onto those opinions more tightly than positive or neutral ones.

This principle certainly seems to extend to fantasy baseball. Early-season performance in April often drives season-long opinions of a player, and like Kurschligen has suggested about negative impressions and broader society, the negative opinions are much slower to change. Players who spin their wheels out of the gate and subsequently improve in May and June are perennially overlooked in fantasy leagues. Recognizing this market inefficiency (if you’ll excuse the term) can be useful for fantasy owners who are looking to upgrade their squads with undervalued talent.

Here are some examples of players who struggled mightily in April 2014 and turned it around throughout the remainder of the year:


April 2014

Rest of Season 2014

Career Average

Billy Butler




Pablo Sandoval




Denard Span




Chris Carter




Carlos Santana




Starling Marte




Ian Desmond




The results shouldn’t necessarily be surprising, but they remain instructive. The above seven players suffered through brutal Aprils in 2014, causing many owners to drop or trade them. In other words, the first impressions were overwhelmingly negative, and public perception of these players took a nosedive into oblivion. Yet, as it turns out, their career average was a much better barometer for determining their rest-of-season performance than the month of April.

Early-season struggles are aesthetically ugly and profoundly shape our valuation of players in fantasy baseball. There’s no getting around that. Even if we try to keep the long game in view, the first impression of April still heavily weighs on our minds. However, the key is to perhaps recognize which players begin to break out of their April slumps in May and to pounce on them before the average fantasy owner begins to change his or her first impression.


A quintet of facts about Adam Eaton:

1. He signed a five-year, $23.5 million contract extension this offseason.

2. He hit .300/.362/.401 with one home run and 15 stolen bases in 2014.

3. His nickname is Spanky.

4. He hit .192/.241/.256 with zero homers, zero RBI, and one stolen base in April 2014.

5. He has hit .265/.326/.432 with seven doubles, three triples, three homers, 11 RBI, and one stolen base since the beginning of May.

It’s difficult to overstate the putridness (the putridity?) of Eaton’s month of April. He was the only qualified player who finished the month with zero runs batted in and was one of only 25 players who batted under .200. Granted, Matt Joyce owners may be reading this and thinking, “Oh, you want to talk about a bad month? I’ll show you a bad month.” but Adam Eaton ranked outside the Top 150 fantasy outfielders by the end of April. For a guy who was drafted as the 50th-overall outfielder, that’s a tremendous fall from grace.

Eaton’s fortunes at the plate have begun to turn around. As noted above, he’s hitting .265/.326/.432 with 13 extra-base hits and 11 RBI since the beginning of May. His career-average slash line is .272/.340/.384. Thus, much like the seven players listed in the table from 2014, one could say that Eaton has “returned to normal,” in a way. To put this in perspective, he’s the 31st-ranked fantasy outfielder over the past 30 days.

Despite all of this, the fantasy baseball community has been incredibly slow in changing their first impressions from April. Adam Eaton is only owned in 19.1 percent of ESPN leagues. That number has actually declined over the past week, and Eaton has posted a .733 OPS with 11 runs, seven RBI, and two stolen bases over his past two weeks. Not otherworldly, to be fair, but that’s certainly not something on which fantasy owners should be bailing.

Those first impressions, man. They’re tough to break.

The savvy baseball fan knows by now that random fluctuations in performance should be expected, and often, they’re tied to what we commonly refer to as luck. Case in point: Adam Eaton suffered from a .234 BABIP in April. The 26-year-old leadoff man has a career .322 BABIP in the majors. Thus, it should not be surprising that his batted-ball luck changed dramatically in May (.302). One could perhaps expect his BABIP to continue climbing, too, given his major-league history.

Still, BABIP isn’t solely luck-driven. It’s also dependent upon things like speed and contact velocity. That it to say, players who are slow and don’t make consistent hard contact shouldn’t be expected to post a league-average BABIP. If Eaton failed to make hard contact in April, his struggles shouldn’t so much be written off as bad luck, but also as bad processes.

His batted-ball profile doesn’t show too much movement. His ground-ball rate declined from 59.0 percent to 51.8 percent in May, but that’s not a massive jump. Moreover, his hard-hit percentage only jumped five percentage points to 26.1 percent. I wanted to look at Eaton’s average batted-ball velocity in April and May, but I haven’t found a way to parse out those numbers as of yet. Daren Willman’s wonderful Baseball Savant doesn’t have a monthly splits function at this point.

What we can determine by looking at Eaton’s swing percentage on the three categories of pitches, though, is that he has become more frugal at the plate in recent months.
















The June numbers are obviously an extremely small sample size—so they should be taken with a grain of salt—but the marked difference between April and May stands out. It’s interesting that Eaton swings most often at breaking pitches, as they have been his biggest weakness throughout his professional career. Perhaps he has significant issues picking up spin and/or determining the path of the break early enough to avoid swinging.

Either way, it’s striking that improved performance stemmed from a dramatic decrease in swing percentage for Eaton. Perhaps this is a manifestation of the “swing at what pitches you should hit, rather than the ones you can hit” mantra that I mentioned a couple weeks ago.

Adam Eaton has begun to turn around his season after a miserable April. Since then, he’s hitting .265/.326/.432 with a pair of stolen bases and 13 extra-base hits. He also scored 20 runs in May, which ranked 13th-best in all of baseball. The Outfielder Also Known As Spanky has been a top-40 outfielder since the month of April, yet the collective fantasy baseball community continues to treat him as if he’s the guy we saw at the beginning of the season.

Gotta let go of those first impressions and look at the bigger picture.


For most of y’all, this is merely a question of going to the waiver wire and picking up Adam Eaton. He’s owned in fewer than 20 percent of ESPN leagues, and owners who need help in the average or run categories would be wise to invest. He’s also a good bet to steal 10-plus bases from now through the end of the season. For deeper leagues or dynasty leagues, Eaton is a prime trade target because owners likely have a bad taste in their mouths due to the month of April. He could even be languishing on the bench for some squads. Pounce. It shouldn’t cost much at this point.

Thank you for reading

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I think #4 should be April 2015, not 2014.