Last season, Baltimore led the league in homers with 212, a cool 24 more than second place Seattle. This year they rank 29th with just 10, a cool 19 behind the Angels. What a difference a year makes huh? Chris Davis hit 53 bombs last year, so he was good for a long ball once every 11 at-bats. He blasted 25 percent of the team’s total. So far, through 58 at-bats he has one.
Davis isn’t their only power bat struggling though. Adam Jones hit 33 homers last year en route to a career season, and has only has one through his first 67 at-bats. J.J. Hardy has yet to put one out over his first 43 at-bats. These three guys combined to hit 111 homers last year. It’s a wonder this team is 8-9. It obviously gives one reason to search for a cause.
One thing stuck out in my search, and it was their competition. So far this year, the only pitching staff Baltimore has faced that has consistently given up the long ball has been the Yankees. They rank third in the league with 24 given up. Baltimore hit four of their nine homers against them in their three game set.
They have also faced off against Boston twice (tied for 9th in the league in homers against), Tampa Bay (25th), Detroit (tied for 26th) and Toronto (surprisingly tied for 26th). One can argue the Orioles slow start contributed to these team totals, but these guys didn’t magically forget how to hit homers. Quality opponents have just gotten the better of them early.
The Orioles will break out of this power slump. And as a Fantasy owner you are going to want to be a part of it when they do. All three of the guys I mentioned above are prime buy-low candidates. If you own them you hold tight. If you need power and find a panicked owner you strike. Offer 75 cents on the dollar, which would probably be enough to get a deal done.
Entering this season there were quite a few Fantasy experts touting Wilin Rosario as the top option at catcher. I ranked him third. Loved the power potential and saw enough improvement in terms of batting average that I felt he could maintain last season’s totals at the very least. This year he has started cold, posting a .254-4-2-10 line over his first 64 plate appearances. If I told you he was walking more and striking out less than his career numbers most would have thought he would be off to a bigger start. The only problem I see here is that he is hitting the ball on the ground 54.9 percent of the time. For his career that number stands at 44.1 percent. Pitchers are throwing him a league low 43.7 percent fastballs, which means he is going to be prone to hot-and-cold spells because of all the off-speed stuff he sees. Once he gets some loft back in that swing and squares up a few offerings he is likely to explode.
I was taking a gander at average fastball velocity. The first surprising name, who is actually tied for the league lead with an average heater of 95.9 mph, is Garrett Richards of the Angels. Through three starts he has posted a 2-0 record with a 2.84 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 8.23 K/9. This was definitely enough to get my attention, so I decided to dig further for a reason behind the strong start. For starters, he is throwing his fastball 72.5 percent of the time, a smart thing considering the gas he throws. He has also abandoned his changeup to use his curveball more. Not a bad idea considering his changeup was a fringe offering at best. The new repertoire makes him interesting, but that doesn’t mean I am sold on him. In fact, there are some early red flags for regression. His BB/9 stands at 4.74, which ranks 10th highest in the league among qualified starters. He is also throwing a career low 45.4 percent first strikes and only throwing 45.4 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. Patient teams are going to eat him alive. He should be on mixed league radars, but we need to see these control issues reigned in before he should garner more attention.
Last season, Neil Walker set a career high with 16 homers. He did so by playing in 133 games and getting 551 plate appearances. After hitting another homer on Sunday against Milwaukee he now has six through his first 82 plate appearances. This puts him on pace to hit 51 on the season and has him flying off waiver wires faster than the hottest toy on Black Friday. At 28, Walker is right in that prime breakout age. The question is do we have one? I think we very well may. It’s hard not to like a guy with a career .271 average over 2,078 at-bats. Throw in the fact that his strikeout rates have been trending downward and you have yourself another plus. He is hitting .250 on the season, but his BABIP stands at just .217. His average should rise as his luck evens out. If we head back to last season, Walker hit seven long balls in September. That’s 13 homers over his last 168 regular season at-bats. If still available in your league, go out and get him. He looks primed for a 20 homer season at a minimum. In fact, I think he hits 20 more from this point forward. Team that with a solid batting average and you have yourself a very nice option at second base.
Every year, it seems that a few players slip through the cracks a bit longer than they should when it comes to ownership. This year, Michael Brantley looks like one of them. He was drafted in 59-percent of leagues on CBSSports.com, even after posting career best numbers in runs (66), homers (10), RBI (73) and stolen bases (17) all while posting a solid .284 batting average. This season, the 26-year-old is off to a very nice start, but still getting little publicity. His batting average is par for the course (.284), but he is currently on pace to hit 30 homers and steal 20 bases. While I don’t see 30 homers in his future, I can get onboard for 15. He has shown improvement across the board in each of his last three seasons. That growth has me very optimistic that he takes another step forward with his power. Last year, only 12 players hit 15-plus homers and stole 20-plus bases. Brantley is still available in 26-percent of leagues polled. Knowing this do you think that should be the case?
The Cubs are off to a 5-12 start and already sit eight games behind first place Milwaukee. The culprit, without a doubt, has been their offense. They rank 28th in runs scored, 28th in slugging percentage, 23rd in on-base percentage and 22nd in batting average. This team has five guys that receive regular playing time with a batting average under .192. Emilio Bonifacio, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are the only players on this team hitting over .246. I bring this up because Javier Baez (ankle sprain) was just activated off the 7-day DL on Sunday. Yes, he is off to a slow start at Triple-A, hitting .133 with two homers and 13 strikeouts over 30 at-bats, but let’s not forget just how impressive he was this spring. Darwin Barney, currently posting a .129/.270/.226 triple slash is really the only thing standing in the way of the young Baez at the Major League level. Because of this, I truly believe that we are just one minor league hot streak from Baez away from his arrival to take over at the keystone. If he is available in your league I suggest making a play for him now. I think he will be the next impact bat called upon unless an injury in Pittsburgh or St. Louis jumps Gregory Polanco or Oscar Tavares up first.
This week you all get a treat as I double up in Cleveland. Danny Salazar has been a hot topic of late courtesy of his poor start. Through his first 14 innings he has given up 12 earned runs and four long balls. Enough to make one gulp for sure, especially when you see his average fastball velocity is down 2.7 MPH from last season. I am not all that concerned though, as the Indians “slow-played” him this spring in an effort to limit his innings. The result has him tossing just 24.2 innings thus far. Most starters see that kind of workload just during the spring. He is still building up arm strength. Combine that with the fact that Salazar has been extremely unlucky and you have yourself a fine buy low candidate. Among pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched his .405 BABIP ranks ninth highest in the league HR/FB rate of 20 percent ranks tied for 21st highest. These numbers will stabilize. When they do, his 11.18 career K/9 is going to look awfully nice in your starting lineup. He is a fine buy low candidate. Have faith in Cleveland’s pitching coach Micky Calloway. He fixed Ubaldo Jimenez last year, I am more than confident he with right the ship with Salazar as well.