While contemplating that Patrick Corbin sure seemed to pick a good year to be healthy, I was looking through some of the leaderboards the other night and noted several things we couldn't have predicted last month. I also didn't predict the Reds would fire Bryan Price after 18 games (3-15). Now interim manager Jim Riggleman will get Nick Senzel and soon a healthy Scott Schebler followed by Eugenio Suarez. Price might not have been great, but I'm not sure who could have done much better with this group.
Anyway, a few observations/surprises:
Matt Chapman leads (tied with Didi Gregorius) the league in WAR
We already knew the 24-year-old Chapman had an elite glove and some power, but I wasn't exactly expecting .313/.413/.609, particularly after he hit .234/.313/.472 a year ago. Chapman exhibited extreme home road splits last year, posting an .892 OPS at home and just .675 on the road (including a .196 BA). He also struck out an elevated 28.2 percent of the time, but that's dipped to 17.3 percent this year, and his performance at home and on the road have been equally good. Chapman struck out 26.6 percent of the time in nearly 1,400 career minor league plate appearances, so the huge dip in strikeouts probably isn't sustainable, but he also walked 10.2 percent of the time, and a big step forward can't be ruled out. Chapman hit just .178 this spring, so put him alongside Shohei Ohtani as the poster children for the "spring training stats are irrelevant" crowd. I buy the 30-35 homer power, and though I don't exactly buy him as a .300-plus hitter, I could see him hitting .270-plus the rest of the way, making him a massive draft bargain at his 287 ADP.
Ozzie Albies has a .662 slugging percentage
After homering once every 97 at-bats in his journey through the minors, Albies hit six last year in 217 at-bats with the Braves (36.2 AB/HR), which was nice enough progress and led us to project him for 11 homers in 2018. This year, Albies already has five long balls (14.2 AB/HR) to put him on pace for 40-plus, which has to be ridiculous, right? If you dig deeper on his home runs, we see they aren't exactly being hit off Max Scherzer here:
March 29 – Adam Morgan, PHI
April 6 – German Marquez, COL (in Coors)
April 8 – Chris Rusin, COL (in Coors)
April 11 – A.J. Cole, WAS
April 14 – Jose Quintana, CHC
Still, five home runs are five home runs, I suppose, but no one is expecting Stanton-like power from Ozzie Albies. That said, our 2015 Albies outlook included the following sentence, "The power isn't there, and his slight frame (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) doesn't lend a whole lot of hope to him developing much in time ... " So, what can we expect? Albies probably won't develop the power of another diminutive second baseman, Jose Altuve, but at this point 20 homers looks like a viable total. We just must wonder if that will continue to come at the expense of his speed (just one SB so far).
DJ LeMahieu has five home runs
The total is amazing enough even before you realize that all five of LeMahieu's home runs have come away from Coors Field. He's off to a strong .297/.381/.581 start to the year with half of his 22 hits going for extra bases. He's striking out at his normal low rate (13.2 percent) and his walk rate is a career high (11.9 percent). The batting average is actually a bit low given he's a batting title winner (.348 in 2016), so even if the power dries up a bit, the batting average rise could help compensate. LeMahieu isn't going to maintain a 26.3 percent HR/FB rate (career is 7.4 percent), but he is getting the ball in the air more (30.2 FB% versus 19.7 percent a year ago) and that should help offset the decline in the HR/FB rate. I'll say he finishes hitting .310 with 15 homers and 10 stolen bases. LeMahieu is a free-agent-to-be and with possible internal replacements that include Garrett Hampson and perhaps even Ryan McMahon, LeMahieu could be in his last season with the Rockies. If it is, it's looks like he may go out with a bang.
Tommy Pham is not a fluke
After Pham went from hitting .226/.324/.440 in 159 at-bats in 2016, he broke out with a monster 2017, hitting .306/.411/.520 with 23 home runs and 25 steals in 444 at-bats, making him in theory, a 30/30 threat should he accumulate 550-plus at-bats. Pham is off to another nice start this year at .323/.440/.468 with two homers and five stolen bases. Pham did post some solid minor league numbers on occasion (.325/.395/.491 in AAA in 2014), but he also struggled at times (.236/.344/.382 in Triple-A in 2016), so seeing last year's breakout at age 29 wasn't something anyone could have predicted. Pham's .400 BABIP isn't sustainable, but at the same time, that mark was .368 last year, so it shouldn't drop like a rock and drag down his average. Pham's power is down, but considering the above and the improvement in his walk and strikeout rates, Pham appears here to stay as a valuable and undervalued fantasy option.
Jose Martinez is good
I had a funny feeling I would regret my lack of Martinez shares after my drafts were completed. A year after he hit .309/.379/.518 in 307 at-bats, I still wasn't buying completely in for a few reasons: he's 29, had just 325 big league plate appearances prior to 2018 and didn't have a clear path to everyday duty due to the presence of Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko as the team's corner infielders and a stacked outfield. Martinez, though, is now the team's primary first baseman with Carpenter at third and Gyorko filling a utility role. Projecting out for the rest of the year, Martinez's hot start, 2017 performance and excellent metrics (12.9 BB% and elite 8.6 K%) should give us confidence that he's a 20-homer guy who could legitimately hit .300/.380/.500. Borderline All-Star material and a huge bargain for fantasy owners compared to his 251 ADP.
Mike Moustakas should have received a better contract
It's still shocking that Moustakas couldn't secure more than a one-year $6.5 million (plus $2.2 million in easily achievable incentives) after hitting .272/.314/.521 with a career-high 38 home runs. Anyway, Moustakas is off to a nice .361/.381/.56 start with four doubles and four home runs in 61 at-bats. Moustakas is clearly not going to hit in the .360s this year when you factor in his .375 BABIP (.268 career) and low walk rate (3.2 percent), but as he showed in 2017, the 35-plus home run power is real. His agent (Scott Boras) just blew this one. Put it this way: Evan Longoria is three years older, is hitting .204/.218/.407, and the Giants are on the hook for more than $70 million through 2022.
Matt Kemp looks like the 2012 Matt Kemp
The swing. The power to center field. The slim body. It all looks so familiar, but even the numbers are looking familiar. Kemp is off to a great start, batting .333/.380/.600 with three homers and 10 RBI. Kemp's 32.0 K% is obviously way too high, but his 8.0 BB% is his best since 2014, and his .267 ISO would be a career high if it holds up. We know a .444 BABIP isn't sustainable, but he's certainly seeing the ball well given his 46.7 percent hard-hit rate, a mark that compares very favorably to his 35.5 percent career rate. He's also hitting more fly balls (36.7 FB% versus 28.2 percent last year), so 25-30 homers assuming 500-plus at-bats looks very likely. Kemp isn't going to hit .324/.399/.586 as he did in his MVP-caliber season, but .290/.350/.510 the way he's going looks possible. Unfortunately, Kemp has swiped just one base since the 2015 season, and it doesn't appear that he'll be let loose on the bases any time soon.
My Dylan Bundy – Paul Goldschmidt deal is finally paying off
It was a now legendary deal in our Staff Keeper League, an 18-team mixed format with 23-man starting lineups, seven-man reserve and 10 minor leaguers. With salaries involved and so many cheap keepers, we get to see things like a $73 Clayton Kershaw, for example. Way back in what I believe was 2013, I traded a $3 Paul Goldschmidt for a minor league eligible Dylan Bundy. Goldy was coming off a season in which he hit 20 homers and stole 18 bases while hitting .286. Bundy, meanwhile, had made it to the big leagues at age 19 and was the consensus top prospect in the game (at least on the pitching side). So of course, he soon thereafter underwent Tommy John surgery while Goldschmidt helped my opponent win titles. So ... oops. Now, however, Goldschmidt is long gone from his team and I have a $3 Bundy posting a 1.40 ERA and 31:4 K:BB through 25.2 innings (four starts). OK, it was still an awful trade and Bundy has yet to post a W, but maybe I'll salvage some good out of this. Bundy is throwing nowhere as hard (91.7 mph average fastball) as he used to, but maybe he's learned to be a pitcher.
Is THIS the Jose Berrios we were waiting for?
I'm not a pitching coach, but I'm pretty sure a 24:1 K:BB in 20.2 innings (and a 2.18 ERA) are good numbers. We will see once he faces a team like the Indians, but Berrios opened the year with a three-hit shutout in Baltimore, was knocked around a bit by Seattle and then put up a 7-3-0-0-0-11 box score against the White Sox and a 7-3-0-0-0-5 line Wednesday against the Indians. Berrios was the 32nd overall pick in 2012 with a strong prospect pedigree and excellent stuff (that sinker!) and now seems to have added pinpoint control to his repertoire after posting 5.4 and 3.0 BB/9 rates the last two years. He's a top-20 fantasy starter with top-15 potential.
Some guy named Trevor Williams has three wins and a 1.93 ERA
Williams is two outs short of four consecutive quality starts to open the year, going 3-1 with a 1.93 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. I think, however, most of us can look at a 14:10 K:BB in 23.1 innings and realize this isn't going to last, particularly when you consider his 89-91 mph fastball. Williams was adequate last year, posting a 4.07 ERA in 150.1 innings (25 starts) with a 7.0 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. He's probably best left for NL-only leagues, but maybe he has more run in him until the inevitable blow-up.
Lance McCullers has a 14.6 K/9...and a 5.57 ERA
Thankfully, McCullers (I have multiple shares) rebounded in a big way Tuesday, allowing just one hit (a home run) in seven innings with an 11:1 K:BB to beat the Mariners. The outing lowered his ERA from 7.71 to 5.57 and left him with a 14.6 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9. The walks and that three home runs in 21 innings have hurt, but factoring in a 3.30 FIP to go with elite peripherals such as a 65.2 GB% and 14.5 percent swinging-strike rate, the former of which leads baseball and the latter of which ranks 10th among starters. This sounds like top-10 starter type stuff minus the walks. The odds seem to be relatively low that McCullers pitches 200-plus innings with a sub-3.00 BB/9, but if he can get there at some point, he'll enter the Cy Young conversation.
Bud Norris and Kenynan Middleton each have twice as many saves (four) as Kenley Jansen
The Dodgers bullpen must be located in bizarro world. Overall, the club ranks 21st in bullpen ERA at 4.24 driven primarily by Wilmer Font pitching batting practice in his last four outings and sitting with a 12.54 ERA through 9.1 innings and ... the work of Kenley Jansen. In fact, four of the core relievers have a 1.57 ERA or lower and Tony Cingrani has a 2.57. Even Pedro Baez has been excellent (1.04 ERA, 12:2 K:BB in 8.2 innings), but the Dodgers really need to fix Jansen and/or put him on the DL. Should Jansen need some time off, I'd rank Josh Fields first followed by Baez and Cingrani, as they could form a committee of sorts.
Norris, meanwhile, has emerged as an unlikely closer for the second consecutive year, converting four saves with 1 .93 ER and impressive 17:1 K:BB in 9.1 innings. Greg Holland has the big contract, but he has a brutal 1:7 (yes, that is correct) in 2.1 innings over four appearances, so he's not closing games anytime soon. Middleton also has four saves and his 0.93 ERA is obviously great, but with a 3.30 FIP and mediocre ratios (6.5 K/9, 3.7 BB/9), success could be short lived. Blake Parker and Cam Bedrosian have struggled out of the gate, so should Middleton's numbers turn south, perhaps the Angels hand the ball to veteran Jim Johnson.