There is a certain reliability to baseball. Sure, the game goes through “eras” when pitchers dominate or hitters begin to crush the ball. But we as viewers and fans know what we’re getting: 27 outs (sometimes more) to decide a winner. The pitchers pitch; the batters swing. If a day gets rained out, they make it up later. It’s consistent.
Human beings aren’t like that. Fantasy baseball wouldn’t be any fun if they were. Players are streaky; they go through slumps, a la Chris Davis, and aces like Tim Lincecum disappear from the game as quickly as they ascended. It happens outside the game too. As adults, we’re expected to present a level of consistency: to show up to work on time, to pick up our kids, to pay our mortgages. But it’s not always as easy as all that, is it?
We go through slumps too. Sometimes they last days, sometimes months and years, or a lifetime. I’ve struggled with depression since I was a teenager. And the more open I’ve been about it, the more I’ve come to realize how prevalent it is. People don’t speak up about it, because there’s an association with weakness, like those who struggle aren’t strong enough to be part of the normal. I promise this article will be about baseball, as there’s much to discuss from the first quarter of the season, but I urge you to check on the people in your life, to say something when you see a hitch in their swing or when they’re tipping their pitches. Baseball euphemisms aside, simply reaching out could save someone.
Now let’s talk baseball…
We knew this might happen. Last season, the Tampa Bay Rays became the first team to use bullpen pitchers as “openers” to start games. The basic concept is that hard-throwing relievers start the game and neutralize some of the opposing teams better hitters, potentially making it an easier go for the “starter,” who becomes essentially a long reliever. The idea has taken off this season. The Giants, Rangers, and Tigers are just a few of the teams that have given the strategy a shot. And, frankly, it makes sense. Managers are more wary of pitch counts and innings limits than ever, and the strategy allows for more conservative usage of certain pitchers.
From a fantasy perspective, these openers are causing problems. The volatility of wins as a category led many people to switch their leagues to count quality starts instead. The problem is, a pitcher can’t register a quality start if he doesn’t start the game, and even if he could, those second pitchers tend not to pitch as far into games as they would as a true starter. This may cause a renaissance for the way fantasy baseball is played; we may see people adopting new, more comprehensive stats to capture performance. Of course, many of us rely on certain platforms to keep track of scoring, and those large companies always seem to run a little behind the times.
Early Surprises and Slow Starters
If you had the Twins jumping out to a commanding lead in the AL Central, then kudos to you. They’ve been smashing the cover off the ball behind reliable contributions across the board. Jorge Polanco, Eddie Rosario and Mitch Garver (RIP) are among the many real-life and fantasy contributors, along with a pitching staff that has been more serviceable than expected. No one is shocked that the Astros have the best record in baseball, but George Springer‘s start has shocked many. He leads the AL in runs, dingers, and RBI while mashing .320/.400/.651. If you snagged him in the fourth or fifth round, you’re grinning like a fool.
The Boston Red Sox looked hungover from the World Series, and started with a sub-.500 April, but have since bounced back. There was mass panic as Chris Sale came out of spring training throwing 91 mph while getting knocked around, but of course that was overblown, and he’s shown his dominance once again. Superstars Jose Ramirez and Bryce Harper have come out of the gate sluggish to say the least, much to the frustration of the fantasy owners who spent first-round picks on them. Ramirez has still shown speed on the basepaths, and Harper is benefiting from the Phillies lineup, but neither has proved worthy of their draft picks. Even the prodigal son, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., has started his much-awaited MLB career slowly, though a double-dinger evening in San Francisco may have turned the tide.
Also, the Marlins have 10 wins in 41 games. That’s not good.
For all the early-season groaning about the CBA preventing young players’ ascent to the big leagues (the rules are stupid), it feels like we’re seeing a historic surge in young players getting the call. Just this week, we’ve seen highly touted prospects Austin Riley, Oscar Mercado, and Brendan Rodgers get brought up. This came after the promotion and subsequent demotion of future studs Carter Kieboom and Nate Lowe. Despite the hit to your FAAB budget, the influx of youngins brings a new excitement to the game as we watch the next generation budding in front of our eyes.
The game looks to be in good hands (barring a labor stoppage), as we’ve seen prospects like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto turn into studs before they can legally drink. I think baseball fans and fantasy baseball fanatics alike hope that the next CBA will allow players to see big league action sooner, so we get more time to watch elite young athletes plant their flag.
Cody and Joey
As a Giants fan, it pains me to say this, but Cody Bellinger is doing scary things. As of this writing, he’s slashing a disgusting .401/.481/.770 and is an early threat for the Triple Crown. The power was always there for Bellinger, but he isn’t supposed to be quite the complete hitter he’s been. Before we crown him the next Ted Williams, let’s acknowledge that his average comes along with an absurd .400 BABIP, but he’s cut his K rate nearly in half while showing more patience at the plate. He’s pulling the ball more than ever, but that’s also come with a big uptick in hard contact from 40% last season to 53% this year. He’s been the MVP of the fantasy season, and may carry that title through the end of the year.
Another lefty with a hefty swing has been Joey Gallo, who is taking out his hatred of baseballs with every swing of the bat. He’s still striking out at the same clip (35%), but his already elite walk rate has jumped up even higher to 19%, and his hard contact is up to a ridiculous 60%. He’s also done a better job minimizing his soft contact, dropping that number below 10% for the first time in his career. For a player whose career average has hovered around the Mendoza Line, his .269/.411/.654 line is an owner’s dream. Detractors will point to his elevated BABIP, but of course it’ll be elevated when he’s hitting the ball as hard as he is. He may not maintain the average, but if he can hit .240 with sustained massive power, he’s going to be a great asset for the Rangers and fantasy owners alike.
That’s it for now. A quarter of the 2019 season is in the books, but there’s plenty of the Great American Pastime left to enjoy. If your favorite team or fantasy team is struggling, just remember that the season, much like life, still goes on.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The MHA website offers a great deal of resources for those who need them.
(Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire)