For weeks we’ve cautioned about not getting thrown off by results (or lack thereof) based on small sample sizes. Week 3 is still a little too early to make any sweeping declarations, but there is a least enough of a base built up that we can start to see trends emerge for better or worse.
That’s not to say a bad start or even three weeks of poor results is a genuine cause for concern. For example, last season Kyle Tucker was batting an unsightly .224/.280/.408 at the end of April with a 16:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Anybody paying attention could see that Tucker was headed toward a turnaround even, with weeks of poor at-bats that said otherwise.
So, be cautious with your first impressions. One manager’s panic is another manager’s buy low.
Eloy Jiménez, OF, Chicago White Sox
Nothing has gone right for Jimenez to start the season. He’s slashing just .184/.262/.499 with 4 runs, 4 RBI, no home runs, and no stolen bases (not that you expected one anyway). He looks completely lost at the plate, striking out six times in his past three games, including all four at-bats against the Orioles on Sunday. His 34.3% strikeout rate is by far the worst of his career.
He simply has no eye for the ball right now. His whiff rate (41.8%) is almost double the league average and is quite literally in the 1st percentile. Put another way, he swings and misses at more pitches than 99% of other batters in the league.
It would help if he stopped chasing so many pitches outside of the zone, which he does at a 38.1% rate despite making contact on those swings just 35.5% of the time. Of course, he’s also hitting fewer pitches inside the zone than ever before too, so he might just be pressing to make something happen.
Jimenez has famously struggled with health in his career, missing 185 games over the past two years. That bug bit again in Spring Training as he dealt with a hamstring strain. He’s already made one trip to the 10-day IL for the hamstring.
Verdict: Patience. Jimenez is a notoriously slow starter whether it’s the first month of the season or his first month back from injury. He’s dealing with both this year. In his career, Jimenez is hitting just .214 through in April and May combined. With the time that he has missed this season, Jimenez is still in Spring Training mode. It may not happen as quickly as you’d like, but give him time to lock in at the plate and the hits and homers will come. Just hope that he can avoid the IL again.
Manny Machado, 3B, San Diego Padres
Machado has not been quite as hopeless at the plate as Jimenez, but he has not done much to help your fantasy team either. He’s slashing .240/.275/.320 with just 6 runs, 1 home run, 7 RBI, and 1 stolen base. Not exactly what you’re hoping for from a high draft pick.
Let’s talk about expectations.
Machado was excellent last year. He delivered 100 runs, 32 home runs, 102 RBI, and 9 stolen bases while hitting .298/.366/.531. It was definitely one of the best seasons of his career, although slightly unsustainable.
Last year, Machado started swinging more than ever before. He chased more pitches outside the zone and inside the zone, and his whiff rate went up with it. Not surprisingly, his strikeout rate jumped from 15.9% to 20.7%. All of that was well hidden by a .337 BABIP that was well outside his career norm.
So far this season, he’s swinging and missing at even more pitches while the BABIP has normalized back down to .304. He’s simply not hitting the ball as hard as we’re used to seeing. Fastballs have been his major issue as he’s hitting just .194 against them.
Verdict: Patience. There’s a good chance you’re not going to get the Manny you had last year, but that was always going to be the case. A lot of what he did last season was unsustainable based on his long-established track record. That being said, most of Machado’s issues so far just come down to timing. His max EV is still among the best in the game and when he starts catching up with the pitches, his home runs and his batting average will rise.
Blake Snell, SP, San Diego Padres
I swear I’m not trying to pick on the Padres, despite featuring two of them this week and also resisting the urge to add a struggling Juan Soto into the mix. That being said, Snell is a former Cy Young winner who has enamored many fantasy managers with his moments of greatness over the years. But I doubt there are too many enamored with his performance so far this season.
Through his first four starts, Snell is 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, and 21 strikeouts in 18 innings of work.
In the past, Snell has found the most success striking players out with his slider and curveball. In his Cy Young season, those were his putaway pitches around 60% of the time and his best moments since then have heavily featured those two pitches.
But that has not been the case early on this year. His slider usage is down from 25% to 17% and the curveball is down a few ticks too. In their place, he’s thrown more fastballs with a .404 batting average against.
Without his breaking pitches, Snell’s fastball is looking more like a beachball.
Verdict: Patience. It’s not like Snell simply forgot that his slider is the key to his success. More likely, he just does not have command of it yet. He clearly is trying to compensate. Last night in his best start of the year, Snell shockingly threw 28% changeups. Replacing his breaking pitches for offspeed is not a long-term path to success, but Snell might just be buying time until his slider is ready to go.
José Abreu, 1B, Houston Astros
Abreu’s power took a big step back last year with just 15 home runs after establishing himself as a consistent 30-home run hitter. With a .304 batting average, still elite EVs, and a move to the Houston Astros, there seemed to be little cause for concern.
But through the first three weeks of the season, Abreu is hitting .253/.291/.293 with 4 runs, 7 RBI, and no home runs. He has just three extra-base hits. More than that, all of his metrics have completely tanked. The hard hits are gone, the strikeouts are up, and the walks are down.
Verdict: Patience. I bet you thought I was going to say panic. But this is actually not uncommon for Abreu. I hoped a move to a warmer climate might get his engines revving a little quicker this season, but apparently not. He’s a career .251/.322/.419 hitter in April. His OPS tends to jump by 100 or more points as the summer approaches. If he’s still struggling in June, then you can panic.
Aaron Nola, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Like Snell with his slider, Nola’s best pitch is still getting locked in. For Nola, it’s the curveball. It’s a pitch he typically throws about 25-30% of the time but is responsible for the majority of his outs. It’s a pretty elite weapon. It’s not quite at the level of Corbin Burnes, who has a 50% whiff rate with his curveball, but Nola will still get about a 40% whiff rate.
When everything is going right, Nola can dominate, but he just does not have the raw fastball velocity to get by when things are off. That’s often why owning Nola can be such a roller coaster.
Verdict: Patience. Nola’s curveball has a .318 batting average against right now, which is about 100+ points higher than normal. I’ve often avoided Nola in fantasy drafts due to his up-and-down nature, but even I would look to buy low if possible. It’s highly unlikely that Nola’s best pitch has suddenly become his worst. He’ll figure it out.