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fantasy baseball

Fantasy baseball rule No. 1 – don’t panic

In “The Waste Land”, T.S. Elliot famously wrote, “April is the cruelest month”. Perhaps he was referring to fantasy baseball. Slow starters, overachievers, underachievers…what’s a player to do? More importantly, what should a fantasy player NOT do?

Rule #1: Do Not Panic

There are established players – the Yankees’ own Matt HollidayMark Trumbo, Carlos Beltran, Manny Machado, Edwin Encarnacion, and Todd Frazier in the American League, and Carlos Correa, Matt Carpenter, Anthony Rendon, Adrian Gonzalez, and Dexter Fowler in the National League – that have gotten off to slow starts in the first month of the season. I repeat, the first month of the season. There should be no reason for you to panic and make a trade, etc., on these players. That being said, there are some key things to look for going forward.

The No-Brainers

If you’re thinking of cutting or trading the Orioles’ Machado (as of this writing, the owner of a .188/.288/.362 split) because of his slow start, you shouldn’t be playing fantasy baseball. If you’re in a head-to-head league where you can bench a player, then it makes sense to sit the third baseman here and there…at least until he gets his bat going. The same can be said for Correa, the Astros’ outstanding shortstop, who owns a .605 OPS and has no stolen bases.

The Big Contract

After eight seasons in Toronto, Encarnacion bolted for Cleveland and a three-year deal that guarantees him $60MM. It’s not unusual for a player to press when he lands in a new city and often feels the self-imposed pressure to be a star night in and night out.

You might have run into this problem, albeit on a smaller scale, if you play in a softball league. Think about the games where your softball team is shorthanded and you check around to see if someone can get another body. One of the guys says he has a friend, Jim we’ll call him, who is great. He hits the ball a mile every time up. First at-bat in the game, Jim pops up in the infield. The second time around he grounds out to third. He blasts a solo home run his next time up before hitting a weak fly out in his last at-bat. I’ve seen it happen a million times. Now imagine you’re a professional getting paid $20MM a season. The pressure is a million (or $20MM) times greater than what your beer league softballer feels.

In his final season with the Blue Jays, Encarnacion tied his personal best of 42 home runs and set new career-high watermarks in RBI (127) and strikeouts (138). The second figure is a little troubling. It was just the second time in Encarnacion’s 12-year career that he struck out more than 100 times. The other time occurred in 2008 but he struck out just 102 times. Last year, he averaged a strikeout every 4.53 at-bats. This year it’s only every 2.56 at-bats. The hope is that this isn’t a trend where Encarnacion is sacrificing contact for home runs. But, he should still be good for a 30 HR-100+ RBI season. He’s a keeper.

Trumbo returned to the Orioles after not finding a favorable deal on the free agent market. He too received a three-year deal, that includes deferred payments and totals around $37MM. The Orioles’ outfielder led the American League with a career-high 47 home runs while also setting personal bests in RBI (108) and OPS (.850).

So far, Trumbo has homered once in 74 at-bats and has produced a .527 OPS. Trumbo hasn’t been the most consistent hitter in his career, which is now in its eighth season. Two years ago, he hit just two home runs in April and finished with 22 on the season. A slumping Machado doesn’t help Trumbo either, and vice-versa. Trumbo will get his home runs, but just how many he hits remains to be seen. If someone offers you big return for him, you might want to think about swinging a deal.

Jimmy Key, what is he, like 45?

With ESPN cutting 100 jobs on Wednesday, we have to pay homage to a classic commercial ESPN ran years ago in which a high school student was drafted to work on Sportscenter. You can see it here.

In all seriousness, when a player approaches the ripe old age of 40 and starts the season slowly, you can’t help but wonder if “this is it.” Beltran, who turned 40 on April 24th, is in his 20th season in the big leagues.

After a poor first season with the Yankees in 2014, Beltran had a resurgence the last two years with them. When the Yankees sent Beltran to Texas at last year’s trade deadline, he had hit 22 home runs, driven in 64 runs in 99 games, and owned a .304/.344/.546 split. He struggled in his first month with Texas and looked like perhaps he was running out of gas, but he rebounded with a strong September.

However, 2017 has been another story as Beltran has stumbled out of the gate as a Houston Astro. So far, he has produced a .638 OPS with a pair of home runs and seven RBI. The reason for hope? Beltran only managed to put together a .710 OPS last April with four home runs and nine RBI.

Watchful waiting is the recommendation here. If Beltran continues to not produce in May, it may be time to part ways with him.

The Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista is in the same boat as Beltran, but injuries may be the bigger issue rather than age. Last season, Bautista was limited to 116 games and hit only 22 home runs. The free agent re-signed for one year after he found the market wasn’t conducive to a big contract. (He also saw that his teammate Encarnacion could only come up with a three-year deal).

Things are no better this season. Bautista has barely made contact (28 Ks in 76 at-bats) and has only one home run. His batting average on balls in play is .208, after last season’s .255. While the 36-year old could still hit 30 home runs, he could hurt you in a number of other categories.

Bench him if you can. If he gets on a hot streak, trade him while you can. His downward performance appears to be a trend rather than a momentary aberration.

Rule #1A – Can I trust this guy?

Even harder decisions have to be made concerning players that you don’t know too much about. A case in point is Seattle’s Taylor Motter and Chicago’s Matt Davidson.

How Seattle met your Motter? In a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Mariners acquired Motter and Richie Shaffer last November for minor leaguers Dalton Kelly, Andrew Kittredge, and Dylan Thompson. Basically, it was a trade that went under the radar, just as Motter’s career has gone thus far. Undrafted out of high school, Motter attended Coastal Carolina University and was selected in the 17th round of the 2011 amateur draft by Tampa Bay.

He made his Major League debut with the Rays in 2016 and hit an unimpressive .188 in 80 at-bats. Flash forward to this season and a new team. Motter, now a 27-year old rookie, took advantage of an injury to shortstop Jean Segura. He’s hit five home runs, five doubles, has driven in 13 runs and slugged a very impressive .625.

Segura recently returned from the disabled list, but third baseman Kyle Seager has missed some time with a sore hip, which has provided more at-bats for Motter. So far this season, Motter has played shortstop, first base, third base, and left field. If he continues to hit the way he has, manager Scott Servais won’t have any choice but to find a spot in the lineup for him.

You can either hang on to Motter and enjoy the ride or deal him now while he has tremendous value.

Davidson took another path to the Major Leagues with his current team, the Chicago White Sox. He was selected (out of Yucapai (CA) High School) by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round (35th overall) of the 2009 draft. Four years later, he made his Major League debut and saw action in 31 games.

His numbers were a mixed bag – he struck out 24 times in 76 at-bats but walked 10 times. He hit only .232, but he slugged .533. He also had three home runs, 12 RBI, and six doubles. The Diamondbacks used him to acquire reliever Addison Reed from the White Sox that Winter. And then he fell off everyone’s radar.

It looked like Davidson’s dream of being a Major Leaguer were gone after he put together back-to-back awful years (355 total strikeouts) at Triple-A. But, a decent 2016 season in the minors got him a one-game appearance in the Majors.

Some Spring Training injuries helped Davidson make the White Sox roster this year and he’s taken advantage of the time. The strikeouts remain, but Davidson has produced when given the chance. Through 13 games, he had four home runs, two doubles, a triple, 14 RBI and a 1.070 OPS.

Though Frazier is back from a bout with the flu, Davidson will still see playing time if Jose Abreu’s hip flexor tendon injury is worse than feared. But, those at-bats will disappear eventually, especially if Leury Garcia continues to swing a hot bat. Deal Davidson while you can.

So, there you have it. Unless someone wants to overwhelm you in a deal, show patience in April. And, what’s Rule #2 in fantasy baseball? See Rule #1.