Fantasy baseball notebook: Exercising patience with elite prospects, explaining Joey Loperfido and more



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One month down, five more to go.

Hopefully you’re on a 40-homer, 90-steal pace like Elly De La Cruz, or a 50-30 pace like Gunnar Henderson.

My first in-season Top 300 hitter rankings update went live Friday, and while I tend to use them for leagues with trading, we might begin to see more second-chance drafts held throughout the year.

It’s never too early to make a trade, though I have found that most managers want to let the season play out for about two months before making big swaps. The long Memorial Day weekend at the end of May seems to be the official start of “trade season.”

As I mentioned in the preamble before the rankings, there are a few metrics I lean on very heavily when making early-season adjustments.

  • Barrel Rate
  • Hard-Hit Rate
  • K% and BB%
  • Swing Discipline (O-Swing%, Z-Swing%)

My favorite way to visualize year-over-year changes is to use the FanGraphs Season Stat Grid tool. That page makes it easy to see the biggest movers in a wide range of metrics.

Curious who the Top 5 risers in barrel rate are from last season? Tyler Stephenson, Elly De La Cruz, Salvador Perez, Christian Walker and Jake Cronenworth.

The Top 5 fallers? Aaron Judge (he’s still at 13.1%), Luke Raley, Nolan Jones, Spencer Torkelson and Ramón Laureano. (José Abreu is ninth.)

Beyond the movers in key indicators, the toughest players to rank this time of year are the established players significantly underperforming through their first 30 games. While it’s fair to ask where Ronald Acuña Jr.’s power has gone, if Corbin Carroll’s shoulder might be hampering his pop, or why Julio Rodríguez is still stuck with one homer entering play on May 3, the early-mid rounders like Nolan Jones, Gleyber Torres, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Alex Bregman feel less certain to produce at their expected levels. Even in 10-team leagues, I would consider all of those players holds, though the level of concern with Arenado is higher than the others given the back injury that slowed him at the end of 2023.

Sometimes it’s easier to accept a prolonged slump to begin a season when there is a known injury in the mix — Corey Seager’s truncated spring training due to hernia surgery might explain everything about his .219/.305/.289 start to the season.

Perhaps to my own detriment, I am trying to remain patient with the rookies who have been given regular opportunities to begin this season. This group includes Wyatt Langford, Evan Carter, and Jackson Chourio.

An organization’s patience and plan for a young player figuring it out will vary for a lot of reasons, but I’m taking some comfort in looking back at the first month from current first-rounders upon their arrival to the big leagues in recent seasons.

Julio Rodríguez struck out 37.0% of the time with a 60 wRC+ in his first month with Seattle in 2022 -— both marks are career-worsts for any month. Bobby Witt Jr. had a career-low 52 wRC+ in his first month (March/April combined split) upon arrival that same year. Ronald Acuña Jr.’s first full month with Atlanta in May of 2018 (he debuted in late April): 30.8% K%, 80 wRC+ — the worst production for any month in his rookie season.

It’s easy to forget that the leap from the upper levels of the minors to the majors is a massive one, even for elite prospects.

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Monday

The week started with an attempt to explain how Joey Loperfido might be able to post a lower K% as a rookie in Houston than he did during his time at Triple-A, where the automated ball-strike system has wreaked havoc by increasing strikeouts and walks at the highest level since being introduced.

  • Loperfido ranks second at Triple-A in total barrels (18) this season. O’s prospect Coby Mayo (19) is the only player with more, while Kyle Manzardo (16), Kyle Stowers (15), CJ Alexander (14), and Hunter Goodman (14) are the other hitters in the Top 5.
  • Jo Adell was a picked up in a lot of 12-team leagues coming out of the weekend. His ROS projections point to 18-22 homers and 7-13 stolen bases, albeit with a .223-.234 average. If he continues to show a reduced strikeout rate, Adell could exceed expectations in that category given the amount of hard contact he’s making (53.3% HardHit%).

Wednesday

We discussed the latest injury setback for Mike Trout, José Abreu’s demotion to rookie-level West Palm Beach, and if the Nationals’ rebuild might be ahead of schedule.

  • Among the ideas we had to keep Trout healthy in the future: Would he consider a move to first base?
  • James Wood’s impressive growth at Triple-A to begin this season is another big win from the Nats’ return in the Juan Soto trade. Even if he continues to show out, will we have to wait until late August before he debuts, a la Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson in 2022?

Thursday

Eno Sarris and I covered another around of injuries, tried to figure out where Ronald Acuña Jr.’s power has gone, and discussed strength-of-schedule factors to consider before our usual Project Prospect and weekend waiver preview segments.

  • In addition to offering speed and a great sense of the strike zone, Tyler Black might land in a prominent spot in the Brewers batting order. His first MLB start on Wednesday came from the clean-up spot, while he was slotted into the third position for Friday’s series opener with the Cubs. The Brewers’ depth chart and batting order are very fluid, which makes the range of outcomes extremely wide for Black in the short term. The lack of production from Jake Bauers, who has been excellent defensively at first base, leaves the door open for Black to be a big-side platoon option. The Brewers are scheduled to face just one left-handed starter during the upcoming seven-game week.
  • Our suggestion for those seeking pitching on the waiver wire this coming weekend was to seek a pitcher returning from the IL, or to scoop up Christian Scott where available. Soon after recording, we learned that Scott will debut for the Mets against the Rays on Saturday. Scott has the stuff and command to stick for good if he pitches well from the jump, and it would hardly be surprising to see him to make enough of an impact to be relevant in more shallow formats.

Friday

We were live again with Trevor May at 1p ET to discuss a few surprising starting pitchers, why it’s so difficult to hit in Seattle, and how we would pitch to Elly De La Cruz.

Have a great weekend! We’re back with you Monday.

(Top photo of Joey Loperfido: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)





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