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10 Baseball Things That Happened In Week 1

Daniel Port shares his top ten observations and thoughts about week one of the MLB season.

Happy Sunday everyone! It may have been a short week, but man oh man did we pack a ton of action into four days. It felt so very good to have real baseball back in our lives; even if the weather isn’t quite cooperating (it’s 31 degrees in Denver as I write this), I can’t shake the feeling that spring is officially here. When I was given the opportunity to write this year’s 10 Things column I jumped at the opportunity. I really really love talking baseball (as everyone around me can attest) and part of what draws me so thoroughly to the sport is that there is always something interesting happening somewhere. Baseball is a weird and wonderful game full of idiosyncrasies, oddities, heroes, and villains. My hope is to be able to provide a space where we can observe these players and events that make this game the sport that we love. At times this column will be used to help us learn something new, celebrate a beloved player, or even from time to time shine a spotlight on the unsung hero that goes unnoticed. I’ll try to keep it fantasy relevant as much as I can, but I hope you can indulge me the occasional cowhide-related rant as well, especially early on in the season. If there is an aspect of fantasy or baseball you’d like to see discussed more here, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments!

 

1. Ichiro in Japan

 

Many incredible words have already been written Ichiro Suzuki, but I couldn’t possibly start this column without talking about Ichiro and what he meant to me as a fan. Simply put he is every single thing that is incredible about baseball. I absolutely got up at 5:30 AM to watch Ichiro take the field one last time in his home country of Japan and it sent chills down my spine watching that crowd chant his name. I honestly felt my chest tighten and tears sting my eyes.

 

 

It was truly larger than life. Watch Yusei Kikuchi hug Ichiro after he exited the game that final time.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDLkhRjgkmY

 

He can’t help but be overcome by the moment and neither could I. Days later I was listening to The Ringer’s Bill Simmons and Mallory Rubin talk about “The Natural” (my favorite baseball movie) and the sentiment they seemingly kept returning to is that baseball is a game of myth and legend. There are names that live on and become something bigger than themselves and the game itself. Ruth, Mantle, Williams, Mays, Suzuki. Those are the names of our legends and Ichiro fits in there among the greats as if he was always there. That feels right.

 

2. Arizona’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

 

The season has barely begun and it has already been a rough season for Arizona Diamondbacks fans. Two short years ago, the D-Backs were in the thick of an exciting playoff chase; now the team is in full-on rebuild mode. Given the perpetual dominance of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the ascendance of the upstart Colorado Rockies, it perhaps could make sense to the Arizona fan base that it was time to start accumulating assets and wait for a chance to make another sustained run at being competitive. Unfortunately that hasn’t quite happened. After trading franchise icon Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals for a mediocre return and letting A.J. Pollock walk in free agency, the Diamondbacks don’t have much to show yet that would inspire hope. As good as the game of baseball has been to us fans, it can sometimes be a cruel mistress. Friday evening, at almost the exact same time, both Goldy and Pollock homered for teams other than the D-Backs. How crazy is that? You couldn’t script a movie with those kind of coincidental events — at least not without every critic talking about how implausible it was. Yet happen it did. It had to be a huge blow to the fans and I will understand their pain when I have to watch Francisco Lindor do the same thing in a few years. It was a sobering reminder that perhaps it’s best to enjoy your favorite stars while you can. Being from Cleveland, I remember seeing people burn LeBron’s jersey when he left the first time. Nearly 10 years later, pretty much the entire city admits that they were wrong to do so. Even as he left again, we find ourselves rooting for Lebron to succeed with the Lakers (blegh). I hope that D-Backs fans are still able to enjoy their favorite players’ careers, even after circumstances beyond their control have left them in places beyond the Arizona desert.

 

3. It’s too darn cold!

 

Yesterday the Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins game was nearly canceled due to weather conditions. This wasn’t because of rain, or snow. With an expected low temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit, it would have been too freaking cold to play baseball. The game ended up happening, as the temps held up at just over 30 °F, but it got me thinking. Every stadium should have a retractable roof. This may be a controversial take, but I find it odd that we force a decent chunk of the league to play in cold weather conditions that actively hold players back from being able to perform at a high level. Teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers all get to play in warmer weather throughout March and April. Whereas the AL Central and NL Central are going to likely spend at 60% or more of their April games in cold weather. If the stadiums had roofs or another manner of keeping the stadiums warm, we might not be starting off the year putting these teams at a competitive disadvantage. It goes beyond just performance though. The cold weather increases the risk of injury. From a fantasy perspective, anything that could reduce injury risk and increase production is A-OK in my books. Finally, perhaps the most important reason is attendance related: No one wants to go see a game in 40 degree weather in April when the games don’t really matter yet. This feels like a no brainer to me.

 

4. Cheap teams are paying the price for frugal ways

 

Teams that refused to spend have already begun to see karmatic repercussions. The Oakland Athletics are 2-3 and their starters have a FIP of 6.40. The Indians have only scored two runs in through their first two games. The Atlanta Braves bullpen is a disaster through two games. Now obviously a large portion of this is a small sample size and a healthy dose of confirmation bias, but we’re barely getting started and the cheapskate teams are already starting to feel the effects of their penny-pinching ways. It’s insane that the Braves didn’t sign Craig Kimbrel, especially once A.J. Minter went down in Spring Training. You’re telling me that Indians wouldn’t be better suited to weather Lindor’s injury if they had signed Nelson Cruz or Bryce Harper? Dallas Keuchel should be an Athletic. This is not to say that I think you have to spend money to win in baseball, but I think refusing to address your teams shortcomings due to payroll constrictions vastly lowers a team’s margin for error. An injury or a slow start by your essential players can be more easily weathered when you make every effort to improve your team. This is a big deal for fantasy baseball as well. Fantasy doesn’t take place in a vacuum after all. When a team doesn’t invest in itself you end up depending on a lot more luck than should be necessary. I don’t want to draft or start a player going “Man I love his skills, but I need everything to break right on his team or else he’ll still be irrelevant.” I could have faith in a player like Jake Bauers because I had faith in the Indians lineup. With Lindor out and Jose Ramirez struggling to get healthy, that faith dwindles. Same for all Atlanta SPs if I don’t think their bullpen can hold leads. It’s just bad business for everyone.

 

5. We need to fix the catcher position

 

Either we need to add a way to incorporate defense into fantasy or the catcher shouldn’t be a stand-alone position in fantasy. This might be another hot take, but having finally emerged from the 2019 fantasy draft season, I am convinced it is the right call. Three quarters of the league views the catcher position as a defense-first position. In real life, catchers such as Austin Hedges or Roberto Perez are incredibly valuable players, but you couldn’t pay me to roster either of them in fantasy. It forces us into a place where most teams are forced to roster actively harmful fantasy players; it also forces our fantasy discourse into a place where the only discussion we have about catchers is about how awful they are. I think that is an unfair discussion that doesn’t reflect just how valuable a catcher’s contributions are. Perhaps defensive WAR would be the way to go in this situation, as that would also add value to defensive specialists at other positions as well.

 

6. The RP position needs to evolve

 

We’re currently seeing more and more teams change the way that they use their best relief pitchers. They are using them at the most important points throughout the game, rather than saving them for the ninth inning specifically. This has led to a strange situation where, due to most standard leagues counting saves only, we aren’t rostering a team’s best reliever and that seems to fly in the face of the spirit of fantasy baseball. Seranthony Dominguez, Ryan Pressly, and Josh Hader (I know he’s the closer now, but he wasn’t supposed to be) are all as good as their closer counterparts and if they’re being drafted at all it is in the late rounds, mostly as ratio boosters. I think fantasy baseball needs to evolve a bit to encourage that the best players are drafted, not the ones who are given a specific arbitrary role. Incorporating holds into your league settings could be a really great way to start moving in that direction, but I firmly believe that it should become the standard sooner rather than later.

 

7. We need to change how SBs work

 

Most major league teams have started doing the math and realize that, when you factor in the cost of a failed attempt and the skill of the opposing catcher, often times trying to steal second base can lower your chance of scoring; it’s better to simply remain at first and let the hitter at the plate swing away. This has led to teams stealing fewer bases than ever, which has created a world in which once again we have a category that is dominated by a select few men not among the sport’s best players. Billy Hamilton is not a good MLB hitter (although he is great if you consider defensive WAR…) yet because of steals we’ll always be forced to roster a player who is not one of the best players in baseball. My solution? SB+2B as a new category. Who cares how you got to second base, let’s start measuring how often a player is able end up on second base by his own accord. Suddenly sluggers like Alex Bregman and Freddie Freeman become great options in this category, alongside the elite speed guys. The real value is the boost it gives to gap-to-gap power hitters such as Eduardo Escobar, Nick Markakis, or Kevin Pillar, all players who put up elite numbers in this category last year.

 

8. Scherzer vs. deGrom

 

Wow this was really fun to watch. It was like Kobe versus Lebron out there with the young usurper for the throne coming after the best of the best. From the very moment Max Scherzer struck out Brandon Nimmo on three straight whiffs on unhittable fastballs straight down the pipe, I knew we were in for a treat. Jacob deGrom may not have matched him in intensity, but he certainly matched him in skill and execution. If you didn’t catch it the first time around, go back and watch it — I promise it’s well worth your time if you are a fan of pitching. It’s kinda nuts that it may have been the most exciting matchup of the season and it was on Opening Day! Whoo boy did it deliver. Take note MLB: This how you should be opening up every season from here on out.

 

9. Pitchers successfully adding new pitches

 

Every spring training we read about pitchers adding new pitches (thanks to Jason Collette’s Annual Pitch Tracker it’s easier than ever!) and one of my favorite things to do in the first few weeks is check in on these new pitches and see how they’ve fared (if the pitcher ended up incorporating them). A few have already produced some interesting results. Trevor Bauer‘s new changeup was spectacular in his first start of the season, as he threw it 22 times and induced seven whiffs with the new pitch. Trevor Richards got rid of his slider in favor of a new cutter and through one start it had pretty great results against the Rockies, racking up nearly a full point of pVAL in one single start! Ross Stripling added a sinker and got similarly solid results. Joey Lucchesi found positive results with his new cutter. These are just examples of pitchers finding early good results with new pitches and there are many more who haven’t made their first starts yet. We’ll check back in on a few more that I’m keeping my eye on next week.

 

10. German Marquez looks legit

 

To say German Marquez is a polarizing figure in the fantasy world would be an understatement. It seemingly felt for most of the draft season that every fantasy writer seemed to think Marquez is either a Cy Young winner or out of the league this year with nowhere in between. I remember watching Marquez mop the floor with my beloved Indians in spring training and his stuff looked simply unhittable. That trend seemingly continued in Marquez’s first start as he looked electric against the Marlins. He put up a 15% SwStr while striking out seven batters over six innings pitched. Sure it was the Marlins, and sure it wasn’t in Coors, but Marquez looked more dominant than ever. I’m willing to bet dollars over doughnuts that Marquez repeats as an ace this year and continues to improve. No I don’t know what that saying means either, but my Grandmother used to say it all the time when she was sure about something and I’m pretty sure about Marquez being awesome in 2019.

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

Daniel Port

Daniel is a Fantasy Baseball writer, Brewer, and Theatrical Technician, located in Denver, Colorado. A lifelong fan of baseball and the Cleveland Indians since before Albert Belle tried to murder Fernando Vina, he used to tell his Mom he loved her using Sammy Sosa's home run salute, has a perfectly reasonable amount of love for Joey Votto and believes everything in life should be announced using bat flips. If you want to talk baseball, beer, or really anything at all you can find him on twitter at @DanielJPort !

3 responses to “10 Baseball Things That Happened In Week 1”

  1. Nate says:

    Fwiw, i think the league I run has the best stat categories possible for mainstream fantasy baseball h2h in 2019:

    R-HR-RBI-SO-SB-OBP
    IP-QS-ERA-WHIP-K/9-SV+HLD

    This format solves a lot of the inherent problems in traditional 5×5.

  2. James says:

    Great stuff, especially the thoughts on a new Catcher Scoring Category. I like it and we have 30 catchers in ACTIVE roster slots in our League going into our 34th consecutive season.

    • Nate says:

      Including fielding percentage or the like for a catcher is a seriously great idea. Too bad it’s impossible to do.

      Fantasy baseball is at its best when it mimics real baseball as much as possible, and values everything accordingly. The rub is actualizing this…

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