Early-Season Trends and In-Depth Insights
Around 20 games into the season, some MLB players’ improvements are really starting to be noticed. Whether it be a new approach in their hitting style, or pitchers striking out hitters at new rates, these guys have been noteworthy so far. We also include some negatively trending performers to consider.
The 25-year-old second baseman has huge power numbers to start the year. Through his first 19 games Baez has hit seven home runs and leads MLB in Isolated Power. One of the biggest differences in Baez this season is his aggression on pitches inside the strike zone. He has swung 80% of the time on balls in the strike zone, whereas in his career overall he has only done so 66% of the time. Baez made a reported adjustment to his swing to hit more balls in the air, and it has resulted in his ground ball rate being down to a career low 32% after a career high 48% last season. There is always a chance that he falls back into his old habits, but the new approach has produced great results for Baez and he is on his way to his best season of his young career.
At this point of the season the Twins might be regretting signing Logan Morrison, as he has started off the season as one of the worst hitters in MLB. Early signs make it seem like his great season last year for the Rays was a fluke. He is struggling mightily against right-handed pitchers after hitting 32 home runs off them last season. The biggest drop-off is his hard-hit rate against RHPs. Last season he had a 50% hard hit rate against right-handed pitchers, and it sits at only 31% so far. The power drop-off for Morrison has not been that crazy if you look at his whole career. His Isolated Power was only around .170 in other seasons besides 2017. Comparatively in 2017 he had an Isolated Power of .270, which is elite in MLB, showing that it most likely was an outlier. Morrison is a player that will disappoint this year after a great season in 2017. Cut him if you have not already.
— Jon Gamble (@JGamble98) April 20, 2018
One of the biggest surprises so far has been the extremely good start for Christian Villanueva. After a solid 12-game stint in 2017, when he hit four home runs and batted .344, he has continued to impress with seven home runs and a .355 average through 19 games. He seems to be another player that is trying to hit more balls in the air with a 46% fly ball rate and only a 29% ground ball rate on the season. Villanueva has been deadly against left-handed pitchers with six home runs and a .480 average, making him a great hitter to target against lefties in daily fantasy. He will be an interesting player to watch during the season to see if he can keep up his insane home run rate. He is at least worth the pickup to find out, especially if you are cutting Morrison. Do keep a close watch on his recent hamstring issue.
Encarnacion has not struck out more than 20% of the time since 2005, his rookie season, but has struck out 30% of the time so far this year. He should be able to fix it, as he has been so consistent throughout his career. What’s leading to the strikeouts has been his impatience swinging at pitches outside of the zone this year with a career high 29.8% O-Swing rate. Encarnacion is a player to target if you can get him a lower value as his issues are easily fixable for him.
Mitch Haniger is making home runs nearly an everyday occurrence recently. He has hit eight home runs through his first 21 games after hitting 16 home runs in 96 games last year. His home run to fly ball rate is very high at 29% right now and should come back down to earth after just a 15% rate last year. Nevertheless, Haniger is producing a good hard contact rate of 43%, up from 34% last year. The home run rate is alarmingly high, though, and gives an opportunity to try to sell on him if another Fantasy owner is buying into the insane production. Haniger is still a good bet for 25+ home runs, around a .280 batting average, and a .360 on base percentage for those formats, so don’t completely write him off if you cannot move him.
Throughout Cabrera’s career he has been a guy that had success against left-handed pitchers but struggled against the opposite hand. That isn’t the case in 2018 , as he has been great against right-handers, batting .362 with 10 extra base hits. The most notable change in the success against right-handed pitchers is the harder contact he is getting against them, and more line drives. His hard-hit rate has risen 7% against right-handed pitchers and he has a 7% higher line drive rate as well. This has been an extended great stretch for Cabrera, as in September he hit .371 with four home runs and 17 RBI. Cabrera has been rotating throughout the top four spots of the order, so he will have the opportunities for RBI and to score some runs.
The highly-touted prospect for the White Sox is having a tough start to the season. After seven promising starts in 2017, Giolito has gone backwards so far this year. The issues are stemming from his bad command, walking 19% of the batters he has faced, or 19 batters through four starts. The hitters aren’t chasing his pitches out of the zone because the command has been so bad, with batters swinging at 14% less pitches out of the strike zone compared to his 2017 campaign. Giolito has the potential to be a good starting pitcher but his command is something that will most likely haunt him his whole career.
The 35-year-old is currently eighth among pitchers in strikeout rate. Happ has struck out 32% of the batters he has faced in 2018. The success has come from his ability to generate misses on strikes. He has an absurd 14.3% swinging strike rate compared to 9.4% last season and 8.4% in his career. This is expected to go down, but countering that is his home run to fly ball rate. It currently sits at 27%, up from 11% last year. His go-to four-seam fastball has been very good for him so far and has used it 2% more of the time this season compared to last. An impressive start for Happ will lead to another promising season.
Mike Scioscia does not want to call Keynan Middleton the closer yet, but it safe for us to call him the closer at this point. Six of the Angels’ seven saves on the season have come the way of Middleton. He has done well with the opportunities, as he has yet to blow a save. Middleton arguably had better stuff last year. His swinging strike rate was 16% last season and it is down to 8% so far this year. If he can get back to that ability of making hitters miss, he will rack up saves for the rest of the season and not lose the job.
Edwin Encarnacion Featured Image: AP Photo/Phil Long
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