By Matt Cott, Matthew Schwimmer & Moe Koltun of Roto Analysis
We’re at a point in the fantasy season where it’s too early to get a read on most of the players. Slumps and spikes happen all year long, and the fact that one of those randomly occurred at the beginning of the season usually won’t shift a player’s value too much. However, there exists a small faction of players who have shown such a dramatic shift – either by blowing it out of the water or under-performing radically – that their values have already changed greatly since draft day. Today, we’re going to focus on six of those players: three who seem like new improved versions of themselves, and three who look significantly worse.
Paul Maholm, Braves SP
Maholm is a pretty ugly name to say, and until the trade deadline of 2012 his fantasy value was similarly ugly. Something about him seems to be intrinsically mediocre to fantasy owners, but it’s time to shake those preconceptions: Maholm is here to stay. Something has just clicked in Atlanta and he looks like a whole new pitcher. After being traded last season he settled in with a K/9 of 7.7 and a BB/9 of 2.5. Those rates compare with guys like Mat Latos and Anibal Sanchez’s 2012 seasons. Pretty solid company if you ask me. Through 3 starts in 2013, Maholm has continued this success with a K rate of 8.9 and a BB rate of 2.2. He has added a slow curve to his pitching arsenal that seems to mess with hitter’s timing and really help set up the rest of his pitches. While I doubt the strikeouts can remain at that elite rate and his ERA will clearly rise from 0.00, he is on a great team with solid numbers across the board and deserves to rise from his relative obscurity before the season to a strong fantasy option.
Carl Crawford, Dodgers OF
HE’S BACK! Man, I really, really missed Good Carl Crawford. Good Carl Crawford is so much fun to watch—he works pitchers, gets on base, hits doubles, steals bases and even hits a homer here and there. His statistical results so far are nice, but the best part about Crawford’s resurgence is that his plate discipline completely supports it to continue (obviously not to this level): in his entire career, Crawford has never swung against less than 49.3% of pitches against him, and has a career 52.8% swing percentage. This year, Crawford is swinging at only 40.8% of pitches against him. He is cognizant of his diminishing skills, and because of that is swinging less and being choosier with his pitch selection. Additionally, Crawford’s contact rates are actually lower than his career norms this season, but his Contact In The Zone Percentage (Zone%) has bounced back slightly from the putrid 43-44% levels it was at from 2010-2012. Crawford may not be back to that top 2 player rater threat he used to be, but he is certainly useful and will likely finish as a top 30 outfielder.
Jeremy Guthrie, Royals SP
Most people considered Guthrie to be completely worthless after starting last season in Colorado. In fact, Guthrie was rarely drafted in fantasy leagues heading into this year, but it’s time to start taking notice of the veteran. Last season, after being dealt to Kansas City, Guthrie fired over 90 innings with an ERA of 3.16. He also benefited from throwing strikes more consistently and walking only 1.88/9. His control has carried into this year and he’s even improved to walking only 1.42 batters per nine innings so far in this very early season. In addition, in two of his three starts, he has shown a surprising ability to strikeout more hitters then ever before thanks to his reliance on his slider. It’s becoming safe to expect a 3.50 ERA or lower from Guthrie with a decent amount of wins and strikeouts. While he won’t be anchoring your staff, he can certainly be an important contributor.
Josh Hamilton, Angels OF
The consensus 2nd rounder had an absolutely monster year on the surface in 2012. 43 homers? 128 RBIs? While hitting .285? Yes please. Past those stats though there were several reasons for concern. Hamilton struck out at the highest rate of his career (25.5%) after only being over 20% once before in his career. Early in 2013, that rate has remained high and is actually up to 29.3%. Another bad sign was his home run to fly ball rate. He had a 25.6% rate last year compared to a 19.3% career average. That was a sign of power regressing and plate discipline diminishing – two terrible indicators for a guy you rely on for power as an early draft pick. While Hamilton has displayed a few good trends this year, like hitting the most line drives of his career, there are enough downward signs that his value is spiraling towards a mid-tier outfielder in Los Angeles.
Jason Kipnis, Indians 2B
“Kipnasty” set the world on fire last April when he reached the majors and most tried to ignore his less then stellar second half performance. However, scouting reports throughout the minor leagues never showed Kipnis to have the potential he displayed in his first few weeks in the big leagues. While he’s certainly not going to hit under the Mendoza line all season, Kipnis is not the sure-fire stud and top-5 second baseman that many people assumed he was coming into the season. Currently, he’s struggling to make the necessary adjustments and only hitting 13.6% of his batted balls for line drives, as well as chasing a lot of pitches. He’s actually chasing so many pitches that he’s currently making contact with fewer than 70% of his swings. Look for Mike Aviles to slowly start to take away a game or so a week from Kipnis until he makes the necessary adjustments to his game to become the .280 hitter with power and speed we one day hope to see.
Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees OF
I love Ichiro, you love Ichiro, we all love Ichiro. He’s one of the most uniquely gifted players of this generation, and it is a shame to see the level that his skills have been diminished too. These stats have been produced in an extremely small sample, so they must be taken with a grain of salt, but Ichiro’s Line Drive rate is currently horrendous (9.7% in 2013 vs a 20.5% career rate) and his In Field Fly Ball rate is even worse (25.0% this year vs 10.7% career rate). That combination is completely deadly to a hitter of Ichiro’s caliber, and he is also making contact at a career-low rate, which is something that stabilizes pretty early in the season. I’d sell low on Ichiro if I could, but if you can’t garner any value on the trade market, I’d hang on to him and hope that maybe there’s a little of that early 2000’s magic left in the tank for a stretch at some point this season.
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Tweet @RotoAnalysis and be sure to follow Moe @MoeProblems and Matt @KidCotti21. Check out their work on RotoAnalysis.com, as well as The RotoAnalysis Fantasy Sports Podcast.