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Fantasy Baseball: Smoak and Mirrors

RotoExperts Staff April 14, 2014 5:06PM EDT

It’s hard not to get excited about hot starts in any Fantasy sport. Jumping on a bandwagon early and getting to ride along for a breakout performance very often ends up being a move that helps you win that elusive championship. However, more often than not you end up chasing lightning in a bottle. Not to mention the guy you drafted probably ends up outperforming the guy you chased.

Justin Smoak hasn’t bust out his home run trot since his third game of the year. Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Justin Smoak hasn’t bust out his home run trot since his third game of the year. Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Justin Smoak opened up the season going 6-for-13 with two homers and seven RBIs over his first three games. Obviously this resulted in him getting snatched off of waiver wires. Seasoned veterans of the game would take the time to look and see the 27-year old Smoak is a career .227 hitter over 1,712 at-bats. In that search they would find he also was just a .265 hitter in the minors over 723 at-bats.

What we have here is a 6-4, 230 pound man that on occasion can hit the ball far. But outside that fact he really shouldn’t be sniffing Fantasy rosters. Just check out what he has done since his big three-game start, going 3-for-28 with just two RBIs and 11 strikeouts.  He is getting dropped just as fast as he was picked up.

Moral of this story is simple. Everything is about sample size. Are you not sure if a guy is really breaking out? Take the time to let his past numbers tell you the story. Veterans are much easier to take a peek at numbers-wise. Think of it like looking at the back of a baseball card. As for youngsters, don’t be bashful about digging through their minor league numbers and scouting reports. If you want to go the extra mile, check them out on YouTube.

Observation

Last season, Matt Carpenter led the league in runs with 126. Pundits were quick to point out the fact that he wouldn’t match those numbers this season and those drafting him with a fifth-round pick were going to find themselves overpaying. Yes it’s still early, but Carpenter has 10 runs in his first 12 contests. On that pace, if he plays 155 games he scores 129. Obviously the key to his success is going to his continued ability to get on base. So far this year, Carpenter is showing he plans on improving upon his .392 OBP from last year by working the count more. He has walked in 16.1 percent of his plate appearances so far. That has resulted in a .411 OBP. St. Louis currently ranks 22nd in runs scored. Last season this team ranked third. This offense is still at worst Top-10 in the league. The fact that Carpenter is on pace to exceed his run total from last year with the Cards starting off so slow makes me really like his chances at flirting with last year’s totals.  

Speculation

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Jim Johnson lost his job as the A’s closer. It’s hard to blame manager Bob Melvin for pulling the trigger after watching him give up seven earned runs in his first 3.1 innings pitched. He blew a save and took a pair of losses in the process. If the A’s didn’t have a talented bullpen I would opine that Johnson should get the job back once he gets back on track. Unfortunately for Johnson though, Oakland is loaded with talented arms. Luke Gregerson grabbed the teams first save chance on Saturday night only to watch Sean Doolittle close the door on Seattle on Sunday. This confirms Melvin’s assertion that he would be using a committee. Expect Ryan Cook, who just returned from a strained shoulder, to start seeing looks as well in the near future. All three of these guys will perform, making this situation one that is going to take some time to work out. If you put a gun to my head I would go with Cook. He has had two very impressive seasons under his belt and undoubtedly has Melvin’s trust.

Revelation

Joe Nathan has been rock solid throughout his career, posting eight seasons in which he saved at least 36 games. Heading into Fantasy draft season his move to Detroit was viewed as a positive, and the 39-year old saw his name being called on average as the seventh closer coming off draft boards. Things haven’t been good for him early on. He has blown two of his three save chances and has a 9.64 ERA over his first 4.2 innings pitched. He went on the record on Wednesday stating he dead arm. The numbers suggest he is right. His fastball velocity is down 1.5 MPH, the slider is down 1.0 MPH and his curve down 0.9 MPH. The question now is whether it is indeed a dead arm or has he actually hit the wall?  Based on the fact that his fastball has dropped 3.2 MPH since the ’12 season I think if he hasn’t hit the wall, he is speeding right towards it. We have seen many mid and low level closers lose their jobs thus far. Nathan will be the first big name to fall prey. Sell now while you still have time.

Observation

With four stolen bases on Sunday Dee Gordon now leads the league with nine. That total is greater than or equal to the team totals of all but six teams. I bring this up because last season the league as a whole stole 2,693 bases, its lowest total since 2005 and 536 less than the prior season. Last year there were .55 stolen bases per team, per game. This season, although early teams are averaging .58. Teams are running less, and because of this fact, speed is not going to come as cheap as we have come to know it to be in the past. If you find yourself in the fortunate position of having a few guys that are capable of pushing you to the top of the steals category in your league, hold tight. Build that lead, and then sell to the highest bidder when you feel you are in a position to finish in the Top-3 in your league. Hopefully after reading this all of you Billy Hamilton owners think twice before selling low. He may not become the player you expected this season, but the Reds are going to keep trotting him out there and he will get his share of steals.

Speculation

A.J. Burnett is now pitching in his 16th season. Throughout his entire career he has posted a BB/9 of 3.68. Burnett currently leads the league in walks, and it has resulted in a BB/9 of 7.88. Honestly it’s a miracle he has been able to post an ERA of 3.94 despite all the free passes he has given.  If you own him, there is definitely reason for concern. For starters, his average fastball velocity is down 0.8 MPH to 91.6. That is his lowest mark since tracking of these numbers began back in ’07. It looks like he knows this, because all indications have him nibbling at the strike zone instead of attacking hitters. Only 39.7 percent of his pitches have been in the strike zone, his career mark is 48.5. When he does put the ball in the strike zone, opposing hitters are making contact 93.4 percent of the time; another career-worst mark. I don’t own him, but if I did I would give him two more starts to right this ship. If he doesn’t show improvement, he will probably be in line for a long season.

Revelation

I stress patience this time of year. It is a virtue that will save you from making mistakes just about every time. That being said, you can still try and do some bargain shopping. My favorite early target is Allen Craig.  After setting career-best numbers in games played, batting average, on-base percentage and RBIs, he has fallen flat to start this year. Through his first 10 games he has just five hits over his first 41 at-bats and only three RBIs. I see that and I don’t flinch. I see a lifetime .300 hitter over 1,329 at-bats. It’s called a slump. He is too good of a hitter for this to last. As mentioned earlier, just about the entire Cards offense is off to a slow start. They will snap out of it, and when they do you can bet this guy is going to be a big part of it. If you see this guy’s name pop up on your trading block do yourself a favor and get your hands on him.

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