When going into fantasy drafts, everyone has their strategies. Some want to take the risks with high-profile players and others take the safer approach just to assure they can secure their specific counting stats. Each season allows the opportunity to go after the next up-and-comers, the shiny new toy syndrome that many have. This season highlighted such players as Bobby Witt Jr., Oneil Cruz, Julio Rodríguez, and Adley Rutschman. With all the uncertainty of those players’ production from day 1, targeting “safe” options later in drafts was a strategy of many.
There were always the veteran staples throughout baseball that have continued to produce for us throughout the year. This season, those “safe” veterans have been everything but. Father Time has remained undefeated throughout the years. These three hitters were drafted in hopes of providing security later in drafts, allowing more opportunities to take the risks on the young prospects earlier in drafts. One month into the 2022 season, has Father Time taken these three hitters victim?
Tik Tok on Father Time’s Clock
If he was to hang up his cleats right now, Joey Votto would be in elite company with a slash line over .300/.400/.500 in his career. However, this season is not giving much optimism about this being the case.
We saw an adjustment to Votto’s game last season when he decided to adopt a more aggressive approach at the plate, including a change in his batting stance. This change resulted in a loss of base hits, but an uptick in home runs for the Reds’ veteran first baseman. Before being placed on the COVID-IL, the six-time All-Star is just 9-for-74 on the season with one extra-base hit and a lowly .413 OPS. That has him ranked as third-worst in baseball amongst qualified hitters. Even during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, when many started to notice that change in approach, Votto was still ranking in the upper half of MLB hitters in xBA and xSLG.
As shown in the table above, while sporting a career-worst in strikeout rate, Votto is swinging on first pitches, and pitches outside of the zone, more often than ever before.
With Votto’s new change in approach, it might be safe to assume he will no longer be the .300 hitter we saw him be for the majority of his career.
‘Ol Dodger Faithful?
After turning his career completely around when joining the Dodgers, Justin Turner has been a “go-to” for many in fantasy because of his consistent production each and every year. Now, there’s a chance he can be found on your league’s waiver wire because of the start to this season.
Despite the slow start this year, during his tenure with the Dodgers, Turner has been a slow starter to the season. From 2014 to 2016, his highest OPS in March and April was .749. As of Thursday, Turner has a .543 OPS to pair with a .097 ISO and a -0.5 WAR.
His Baseball Savant page is as blue as the color of the “Dodgers” team name across his chest. His 17.4% strikeout rate ranks the highest of his career and the 7.1% BB% is the lowest since 2016 when he had a 7.8% walk rate.
As we get into the summer months of the baseball season, here is to hoping that Turner reverts to the safe option that had many targeting later on in drafts to provide stability to their roster.
Where Has the Platano Power Gone?
One of the more prolific power hitters in the game has had many looking past his UTIL-only label because of the stability he provided to many lineups in fantasy. Nelson Cruz was not the same hitter after being traded over to Tampa Bay at the last season’s deadline and it has carried over into 2022.
From 2014 to 2021, Cruz had established himself as one of the game’s best power, and overall, hitters in the game with a .283/.359/.549 slash line through that time. General Manager Mike Rizzo is attributing the ramped-up Spring Training as the reason behind the slow start.
Although the Max Exit Velocity still ranks in the 92nd percentile, the rest of his hitting metrics are middling.
His launch angle is currently sitting at 6.2% degrees, which is just about half of his career LA of 12 degrees. With the lowered LA, his GB rate is at 55.8%, 11.2% higher than his career mark of 45%
Cruz has struggled to find his form this season for the Nationals. It was recently revealed that he has been dealing with lower back stiffness and that could be what is attributing to the dip in launch angle this year. We have seen back injuries affect other players across the league, Cruz could just be another victim.
Nelson Cruz has not typically been a slow starter throughout his career. His March/April stats have been better than those in May since he entered the league in 2005. Before this season, many were wondering when the age-less Cruz would begin to show signs of slowing down. This may be the start.
Photography by Randy Litzinger, Rich Graessle, Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire & Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash | Adapted by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)