Early season is a precarious time to manage a Fantasy Baseball team. Every player is starting fresh, which makes it easy to read into what's happening as if it always was and always will be.
But of course, that's not true. There's an ebb and flow to a 162-game season for every individual involved, and so the trick is to reserve judgment until things have had a chance to normalize. How long does that take? Well, there's no magic number, but since people ask for one anyway, I normally say six weeks. More to the point, if a highly regarded player has shown no signs of coming around after six weeks, then we may need to rethink how we regard him.
So here we are, over six weeks in, and some highly regarded players haven't come around yet. What do we do with them? In most cases, dropping isn't going to be the answer, but of course, your mileage may vary. I've assigned each player a droppability rating using this super cool ball indicator ⚾. One ball represents the least droppable and four the most droppable, with additional context provided by the text.
That's right, you may actually have to read a little. But it'll be good for you. Illuminating, even.
It's getting difficult to defend Jose Abreu at this point. He already underwhelmed with the power production last year. We gave him a pass because he still hit for average and the exit velocities were so good, but even that's out the window now. His numbers against fastballs, which were already trending in the wrong direction, have cratered like everything else, and at some point, you have to recognize he's 36 and may simply be running out of steam. It's not a done deal -- because still nothing at this stage of the season is -- but in shallow leagues where first base is fairly interchangeable, it's within reason to move on.
Oh no! The exit velocities are terrible! The blue on the Statcast page is blinding! The sky is falling! Not so much on that last one. This is Alex Bregman, folks, a fascinating little player whose swing is geared to get the maximum possible output from what little raw power he provides. It was true even during the height of the juiced ball era, when he was smacking 30-40 homers a year. Of course, we don't expect that from him now, but we do expect better than ... this. One thing I see is that his chase rate is up, but given how good his strikeout and walk rates are, it's not to a detrimental level. More likely, he's not getting pitches in his wheelhouse and is forcing the issue a bit. It'll correct, and when it does, with the way the ball is carrying this year, he may end up with even better numbers than the past couple years.
I really don't want to have to drop Carlos Correa. For being only 28, he's been around a while, and we've seen enough ups and downs from him over the years to know that the flipside is probably just around the corner. His max exit velocity is still 94th percentile. His plate discipline looks good. His expected stats (.248 xBA, .427 xSLG, .324 xwOBA) are all better than his actual ones. More than likely, he's going to be fine. But I'm a pragmatist. If you play in a shallower league with smallish lineups, it's hard to lug an extra shortstop around, particularly since, in such a league, there are probably more than enough to go around. I'll say it's understandable, albeit not preferable, if he gets squeezed in a league where, say, only 250 players are rostered.
Part of the reason it's easy to sit tight with Nestor Cortes is that things were looking much sunnier for him just a couple weeks ago. After four turns, he had a 3-0 record, 3.09 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 8.5 K/9, numbers which were reminiscent of last year and which serve as a reminder that, even more than six weeks in, the sample is still small enough that just a few starts can turn a pitcher's stat line upside-down. The problem I see for Cortes is that too many of those fly balls that were landing harmlessly in fielders' gloves last season are sailing over the fence now, and it could be a byproduct of the ball carrying better in general this year. Then again, he was also good in 2021. Judging by his 3.90 xERA, Statcast views Cortes as a hard-luck case now, and I'm inclined to agree. A repeat of last year's numbers may have always been too much to ask, but there's still a possibility of a good outcome here.
I may be coming at this one with a certain confirmation bias since Andres Gimenez was one of my preseason bust picks, but I'm thinking the juice may not be worth the squeeze here. Look, you know the constraints of your own league. If you play in one where 350 players are rostered and you have to start a third middle infielder, like in standard Rotisserie, then it's doubtful you're ever going to find one as promising as Gimenez on the waiver wire. He still plays every day, makes contact at a nice rate and runs fast, and good things can result from that. But if you're playing in a shallower Head-to-Head format, take this as your cue that the tightrope walk he navigated last year, delivering premium numbers despite low-quality contact, is unlikely to be repeated.
Gunnar Henderson is just 21 years old and hadn't set foot in the majors until last August. With the Orioles looking like surefire contenders for once, not a single person would blame them for hitting the eject button and letting him marinate more in the minors. And so part of me, the reasonable part, thinks we should just follow their lead and stick with him until they decide it's not working. But then another part of me, the practical part, thinks he's unusable right now. It's another situation where you have to weigh whether a lottery ticket is a worthy use of a roster spot. Just keep in mind that Bobby Witt was hitting .215 as late as June 7 last year and went on to deliver the sort of numbers that put him in the first-round conversation this year. It shouldn't surprise anyone if Henderson's rookie season plays out much the same way. He still has all the attributes of the top prospect in baseball, making hard contact when he does put bat to ball and ranking among the league leaders in walk rate.
I actually see a lot of reason for optimism here despite Lance Lynn entering the week with the worst ERA among qualifiers. For one thing, the stuff is still playing. His 12.7 percent swinging-strike rate is the second-best of his career, and his 26.9 percent strikeout rate is the third-best. Likewise, his 3.86 xFIP is basically what it always is. Sure, he's 36, but these aren't telltale signs of old guy is old. It's also worth noting that we've already seen him perform the sort of about-face we're looking for here. Just last year, he had a 6.42 ERA after his first nine starts (one more than he's made now) and then a 2.43 ERA over his next 12. One variable I can't account for is the effect of the pitch clock. Lynn is having to work faster than he's used to, taking five fewer seconds between pitches on average, and it may be impacting a bigger guy like him more than others. Shoot, the same, could be true for Manoah, though his time between pitches hasn't changed as much from a year ago. Still, it's only a theory -- and one too flimsy to act on, in most cases.
A player like Manny Machado is deserving of the utmost patience. His track record is unimpeachable, he's still in his prime at age 30, and a peak under the hood would suggest that nothing has gone all that wrong. Sure, his average exit velocity is down a little, and he's taking a few too many pitches in the zone while swinging a few too many out of it. But these are more likely symptoms rather than causes. Besides, you probably drafted him to be your best or second-best player, so to dump him now would be to consign yourself to defeat.
It's been a disaster -- there's no way around it. What started with an inflated walk rate, suggesting Alek Manoah was maybe just missing his spots, has escalated to a full-blown meltdown, his whiff rate also collapsing to turn every start into a barrage of baserunners. If you're looking for reasons for optimism in the data, you won't find it. But he's only 25. He had known nothing but success in the majors until this year, placing third in AL Cy Young voting last year. One of the stupid things about projecting baseball performance is that the smallest little adjustments -- many that go unreported, even -- can change everything, and so as quickly as Manoah lost it, he could gain it back. I can't guarantee he'll pull out of this tailspin, and I'd certainly bench him until he did. But however long the Blue Jays give him to right things, I will, too. The potential rewards in this pitching-starved environment are too great.
Schwarber came closer than anyone to hanging with Aaron Judge in the home run column last year, but since it came with a .218 batting average, the hope was he would be even better this year. He was often cited as a potential beneficiary of the shift ban, and we had seen him hit as high as .266 in the past. So far, though, not so good. The batting average has only gotten worse, and the home run pace isn't where we want it to be either. I will note, though, that through May 15 last year, Schwarber's stat line was almost exactly the same: .189 with nine home runs. I'll also note that his Statcast readings were even worse then than they are now, particularly average exit velocity (89.8 vs. 91.4 mph). There's no evidence of diminished skills here, so I think it's just a case of the dude being due for a hot streak. We can probably rule out a .266 batting average for Schwarber, but I'm still treating him like a top-15 outfielder and would recommend you do the same.
Four more real quick ...
Alejandro Kirk's Statcast readings are dreadful so far, and we could debate how much it really matters. But it's kind of a moot point given how little he's playing now, getting a lesser share than Danny Jansen behind the plate and almost no time at DH. That's reason enough to move on in one-catcher leagues.
Starling Marte is slowing down at age 34 -- like, literally, his sprint speed is in the 40th percentile -- but it hasn't impacted his aptitude for stolen bases. So really, it's just a question of whether he can rebound as a hitter, and the batting average has been climbing lately. It probably comes down to whether you play in a three-outfielder or five-outfielder league and with points or categories scoring.
Aaron Nola isn't missing bats at his usual rate and has seen his velocity lag as well. These are legitimate concerns, but he's still an efficient strike-thrower who you most likely drafted to be your ace, meaning it'll take more of a collapse than we've seen so far for you to consider turning the page on him.
George Springer's propensity for injury isn't likely to change at age 33, but there are no other indicators of decline. He's been a touch aggressive, maybe, which, with his high contact rate, has led to weaker contact on average, but his max exit velocity is still 98th percentile. Expect him to get hot soon.