Happy almost All-Star break! I am sitting here contemplating how we could possibly already be at the 15th week of the fantasy baseball season already. It feels like just yesterday we were all drafting our teams and placing all our eggs in the wrong baskets (I’m looking at you, Zack Godley). As always with our weekly article, I am going to try to look deep into the tea leaves and determine whether we should be slapping the panic button yet, or continue to remain patient. It feels like remaining patient gets harder-and-harder as the season pushes into mid-July but we must try to do our best.
To start off this week we will even look at a player who was just selected to next week’s all-star game in Washington, but that won’t stop us from analyzing his recent downtick in performance. Without further ado, let’s get into the good stuff.
Jose Abreu – .255 AVG, 13 HRs, 43 Rs, 52 RBIs, 1 SB
If you currently own Abreu you know exactly why I am writing about the current American league all-star at first base. On the surface, Abreu’s counting stats look decent but over the last 30 days, Abreu’s season has been in a tailspin into mediocrity. The Cuban first basemen is slashing a miserable .157 AVG/.198 OBP/.250 SLG/ .189 wOBA over that time period, and adds just 3 home runs, 9 runs, and 13 RBIs. His .189 wOBA over the last thirty days would rank 2nd to the last in the MLB among batters with 75+ plate appearances, only Alcides Escobar has been worse. Being in similar company as Alcides Escobar is never a positive thing unless you are talking World Series rings (the Mets fan in my cries over this nightly).
Heading into the 2018 season, the consensus surrounding Abreu was that he was a dependable bat that could count on him to hit 25-30 HRs, 100 RBIs, 85 Rs, and hit close to a .300 average. However, after Abreu’s recent struggles, he may fall short on nearly all of those numbers. Depth Charts (a projections based system blending Zips/Steamer) projects Abreu to finish the season with just 25 HRs, 76 Rs, and 91 RBIs. While that line is still good, it will fall short of what you were hoping for when you drafted “the dependable” Abreu at his 36 preseason ADP price.
The good news is when looking through Abreu’s profile nothing really jumps out to justify his struggles. He is hitting the ball actually harder than he did in 2017 at 91 MPH, which is well above the MLB average of 87.3 and places him 30th overall among hitters. His low batting average can be attributed to a touch of bad luck too, with an xBA .30 points higher than his current average. Similar to his xBA, the White Sox first baseman has an xSLG (.063) and xwOBA (.42) both above what he is currently producing. Abreu is scuffling at the plate right now, and I know you are looking at the waiver wire and thinking that you can swap him for that hot new thing, but better days are coming. Just hold steady.
Jose Quintana – 97.2 IP, 8W – 6L, 3.96 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 87 Ks
The Cubs starter has always been a relatively interesting player for me because he has always been just who an uptick in strikeout rate away from becoming a top fantasy pitcher. 2017 saw his K-rate jump up to a career-high 26.2%, it was the first time the lefty has had a k-rate above 22% in a season. I was excited, Quintana with his typical mid-3 ERA and a 25%+ K-rate? Count me in. Yet, here we are and Quintana has regressed back down to his career marks for strikeouts, but he also he started to walk more batters as well. His current BB-rate of 10.7% is the worst of his career, his current FIP of 4.62 is the worst of his career, his 8% whiff-rate is the worst of his career. 2018 has been a season full of low-marks for the Chicago starter.
So what has gone wrong with Quintana is 2018 so far? He is just plain getting hit harder. Batters have an average exit velocity of 89 MPH, which would rank the 41st worst among starting pitchers. Along with getting hit harder, he has seen his wOBA rise to .325 (worst in his career) and his xwOBA jump up to .339 (worst mark in his career). He is getting fewer and fewer batters to chase his pitches outside of the zone to start. His O-swing so far in 2018 is down 4 percent to 25.9%.
Another reason for Quintana’s struggles in 2018 is his declining changeup. He dominated hitters with the pitch in 2017, holding batters to a slash line of .208 AVG/.306 SLG/.224 wOBA with an average exit velocity of 86.3 MPH. So far in 2018 hitters have been having a considerably better time versus the changeup with a slash of .286 AVG/.536 SLG/.400 wOBA. Hitters have been tattooing the pitch with a drastic rise in exit velocity to 93 (!) MPH. According to FanGraphs the average movement for a left-handers changeup is typically 8.9 horizontal movement and 5.1 vertical movements. Quintana is getting significantly less movement than either, and his horizontal movement has dropped from 6.5 in 2017 down to 2.5 in 2018.
The decline in whiff-rate and strikeouts make it hard to imagine that we are going to get an elite pitcher out of the current Cubbies starter. Nick currently has Quintana ranked 67th on The List, around the likes of higher upside guys like Fredy Peralta, Domingo German, and Luis Castillo. In shallower leagues, I would rather take the upside arm, but Quintana can still provide value as an innings eater in deeper leagues despite the lack of K’s.
Verdict: Panic (Sorta)
Jake Lamb – .229 AVG, 6 HRs, 30 Rs, 28 RBIs, 1 SB
After making his first all-star appearance in 2017, Lamb is off to a mediocre start to 2018. He missed most April and May with an AC Joint sprain in his left shoulder, and since returning he has been underwhelming at the plate. Lamb is currently producing his lowest slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) since his rookie season in 2013. As you should expect with the young third basemen he is still struggling versus lefties. His current .186 average versus southpaws is actually twenty points above his career average, however, his slugging percentage of .256 is dismal and below his career norms. I would expect to see him either platooned versus lefties or failing to produce when given the opportunity to face them.
Lamb has seen a decrease in both his exit velocity and launch angle so far in 2018. His 87.9 MPH is nearly two ticks below his career average of 89.5 MPH. The drop in exit velocity is concerning, but what has me even more concerned is his the drastic -7.2° drop in his launch angle (12.2° in ’17, 5° in ’18). Roll both a decrease in exit velocity and a sharp decline in launch angle and you have me very concerned. A part of the problem for Dbacks lefty is his inability to catch up to the fastball in 2018. Lamb slashed .283 AVG/.573 SLG/ .393 wOBA with a launch angle of 14°. He has seen his slash line tumble down to an ugly .206/.363/.309 with a sharp 5-degree drop in his launch angle. The struggles can be attributed to some poor luck for Lamb who has an xSLG of .458 and xWOBA of .358, both significantly better than he is currently producing.
The positive about Lamb is that he predominantly hitting in the 3rd position for one of the top offenses in the NL. That should not change unless the Diamondbacks make a big splash at the trade deadline and make a move for Manny Machado(which looks less and less likely by the day). The counting stats should come for the 27-year-old, but the average will most likely stay in that .240-.260 range he has sat for most of his career.