(Photo By Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire)
We’re in the midst of the second weekend of 2018’s regular season, and while most rate statistics from this small sample of meaningful baseball are going to fluctuate drastically over the next month or so, that doesn’t mean that several players haven’t started the season with a decisive bang. In many cases, a lot of guys who are enjoying success by the standards of 5×5 categories formatting will also be among the top performers in points leagues. The object of this piece is to pinpoint standouts for points league play, whether that entails batters hitting extra-base hits and notching awesome BB/K ratios or pitchers who are racking up innings and quality starts while also limiting the long ball. It will usually behoove us to discuss guys who are woefully underperforming as well, so don’t be surprised if you see some names that have been freshly dropped in your points league with a buy/sell recommendation based on their likelihood to break out of their respective funks. In any case, let’s get to the good stuff.
Yolmer Sanchez (2B/3B, CWS) — Amassing three runs and one homer probably means Sanchez hasn’t caught anyone’s attention who’s purely focused on 5×5 parameters. The .400 BA won’t last, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s been written off without a look at his other stats. Sanchez already has a pair of triples, tied for MLB best with four other guys, which spikes his value for points formats emphatically. Throw in two HBP and a double on top of 1 SB, and all of a sudden, you’re looking at one of the top-15 average points-getters in baseball to this point in the young season to the tune of 5.7 per outing. For those unfamiliar with PL scoring, 3.5-4.5 PPO is the floor you reasonably would want from your stars over the long term. It’s worth keeping an eye on some deeper metrics for Sanchez, though: a) I’d like for his hard-hit rate of 28.6% to improve, b) he’s hit groundballs 61.5% so far even though a line drive percentage of 30.8 is contextually solid, and c) his zone numbers of 64.4% Z-swing and 72.4% Z-contact don’t impress upon closer investigation. That said, The Venezuelan is worth stashing on your bench (4% owned in ESPN, 6% owned in Yahoo) since his effective bat has been promoted from eighth to fifth in the searingly hot White Sox lineup.
Didi Gregorius (SS, NYY) — Perhaps not the Yankee many had pegged to be the best hitter in baseball a week into the season, Gregorius leads the league in total bases and is tied for second league-wide in RBI. The pace of his power is also encouraging, with three homers to his credit, including a two-bomb Tuesday outing against Tampa Bay. What’s most remarkable about his start, though, is all the production complementing exceptional plate discipline. In 35 PA, he’s only struck out twice (!) while earning six walks and advancing once by HBP. Gregorius’ 5.7% K-rate and a mind-numbing Z-contact percentage of 97.2 thus far speak volumes as to what he’s been up to this past week. His biggest games have come when he’s batted cleanup, whereas he had a dud at the 5-spot and was unremarkable hitting sixth for the season opener, for whatever that’s worth. A .348 BABIP likely won’t last, but owners who got him on draft day have to be elated with his top-flight start.
Marco Estrada (SP, TOR) — He’s benefiting from getting some run support from his batting order, as Estrada currently has a FIP of 5.52 that is easily overlooked if you fixate on his 1.00 WHIP and 2.77 ERA. But having said that, he’s capitalized on a good set of circumstances to notch back-to-back QS through 13.0 IP. He’s allowed three homers, so concern over that is probably justified but as long as he limits the damage like he’s been able to do, Estrada might be worth putting on your watch list. He’s coming off 176 K and 17 QS last year, so smart streaming of his skill set in a favorable situation with the Jays could absolutely be a viable strategy. I’m looking for him to get his K/BB in the 2.75 range as opposed to the 2.25 where it sits now before I’m getting more enthusiastic, but the Toronto hurler has my tentative attention as a top-10 PL play so far (47 points accumulated).
Joe Panik (2B, SFG) — Panik’s stats are unusual for him given where we are in the season. He’s had no fewer than 27 doubles in two of his last three seasons while never amassing more than 10 homers, and yet here we sit on Day 10 of the year and Panik has homered thrice in six games without an XBH otherwise. He’s toggled between leadoff and the 2-hole for the Giants to start 2018. To put his week in perspective, his 34.5 points are tied with Jose Altuve, except Panik has reached that total in 11 fewer AB. He’s contributed a sac fly as well, while only striking out twice. I’m excited about his 40.0% hard contact so far, even though it’s still incredibly early. I’m also a fan of the fact that he’s got 63.6% O-contact even though he’s only swung at 19.6% of stuff thrown to him outside the zone. I personally own him in an ESPN points league, and I’m glad I’ve got him since people have clearly been taking notice of his hitting exploits: he is currently registering as the third-most added batter behind Toronto’s Kevin Pillar and Atlanta’s Preston Tucker.
Justin Smoak (1B, TOR) — Smoak has a grand slam already under his belt this year, but beyond the obvious power, I’m interested in highlighting that he’s T-2nd with five doubles in 2018. He’s walked four times while striking out nine times, so that is something I’ll be monitoring; he’s already replicating his BB% from the last two seasons pretty nicely, but the strikeout rate is higher than it should be so that’s a slight concern for PL where Ks count for -1 points. More generally, though, I’m loving the 22 TB from Smoak during his run of hitting safely in six of eight games with multiple hits in three of those. It’s shocking to me at this point that he is available in 6% of Yahoo leagues and in 5.3% of ESPN leagues, as he should be owned ubiquitously without stipulation.
Marcus Semien (SS, OAK) — What a polarizing case Semien’s is. Two doubles, a homer, a sac fly and 15 total bases all work nicely for me. And yet, a dozen strikeouts to temper his positive impact in PL play. He’s leadoff for the Athletics, though, so the run production is going to come in droves. I’m just concerned, as an owner of Semien, that it could come at a hefty price. As far as splits go for streaming purposes, he was better against RHP last year (.258 vs. .224 against lefties) but 2018 is already more in line with his career-spanning propensity to hit better off southpaws. He also is a better hitter at home, so there’s that to ponder if you do want to catch him at his best. His 2.5 PPO thus far is basically good, not great. Having said that, his value is such that I don’t recommend abandoning him altogether. Semien is probably best deployed as a backup SS or as an option at MI.
Patrick Corbin (SP, ARI) — One of The Show’s seven starters who’ve already tallied two wins is the 28-year-old lefty for Arizona. Corbin was serviceable on Opening Day against the Rockies, but he was dynamite Wednesday against the vaunted Dodgers when he yielded only a hit and a walk through 7 1/3 IP. That gem has Corbin sitting atop the PL table for SP performance, both total and average, outdoing Luis Severino and a suddenly razor-sharp David Price. Corbin’s value would have been even higher already if he’d made it another out against Colorado to secure the 6.0 IP requirement for a QS, but no matter, as I think we have plenty more of those opportunities on the way. His K/BB of 10.0 is the definition of unsustainable, but the discipline it takes to only issue 2 BB thus far through 13 innings is intensely impressive. The humidor at Chase Field has been in play for both his performances, but I think Corbin was going to be successful regardless of environment before that change came into play. That said, I’m excited to see how he performs on the road at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park on Monday versus the Giants.
Sean Manaea (SP, OAK) — Speaking of an impressive walk rate, 0.57 BB/9 for Manaea is next-level. Loving the innings accumulation with 15.2 so far through two starts. Even if his heater speed flags late in his outings, Manaea has looked really solid from a control standpoint and has only given up a lone homer so he’s essentially maximizing the good while minimizing the bad. The tough-luck defeat on his record came because of that homer to none other than the best hitter in baseball, Mike Trout, but I do love PL criteria for the reason that he got credit in the fantasy world for a quality start despite the L. He should be a consistent contributor for fantasy owners. Oddly enough, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a disparity between ownership stats in ESPN and Yahoo leagues for the same guy, where his numbers sit at 52.4% (!) and 69%, respectively. Get him rostered, people.
Kevin Kiermaier (OF, TBR) — I’ve got nothing for you, owners of Kiermaier who were hoping his cheap steals would come in handy. Thing is, you’ve got to reach base first before you can rack up points from SB. To call his 2-for-28 start anemic is an insult to patients of anemia everywhere. That’s almost a lifeless pace, to be frank. There’s no redeeming caveat either: they’re just base hits, he’s only walked twice and he’s struck out 12 times. Kiermaier has literally hurt his owners, providing -4.3 points in Yahoo leagues and -5 in ESPN ones. It has to get better, but you have more competitive options than this inept bat available to where you don’t have to be patient for him to resurrect his bat.
Mitch Haniger (OF, SEA) — It seems fitting to end on a positive note, since it’s just a blessing that baseball is finally back with a vengeance. Haniger is teasing people all over again. He had a hot start last year, too, only to go down to injury and never return to his early-season form. Loving what I have witnessed this young man do this past week, though, regardless of whether I’m expecting the other foot to drop or not. Haniger hit safely in five straight to open the season before an 0-for-5 outing at San Francisco on Thursday, in which he still got an RBI to bring his season total to six. What’s not to like about an OPS of 1.180, even right now? 14 total bases, a double, and an HBP certainly don’t hurt his cause for excellent PL production. Haniger is clocking a 5.5 PPO rate right now, so even if that regresses to 5.0, he’s still a no-brainer add and should be very helpful if he can stay healthy. He’s only owned in 65% of Yahoo leagues and in 75.6% of ESPN leagues, so get on a FA/WW acquisition of Haniger if you can.