As we wake up on April 20th, we have to remember that most MLB players have completed about 18 or 19 games of their season. That amounts to about 11% of their entire fantasy year. I, for one, would not want my boss judging my performance for the year on February 7th or whatever. Fortunately, we aren’t deciding whether or not these guys’ kids are going to be able to have money to eat next week. We just need to decide if their virtual avatars and stats will represent my Team Fukodome in some random fantasy league.
That doesn’t mean I don’t care more about those teams than life itself, however. Because of that, I’m certainly watching some guys based on the first 20 days of the season. Here is who I have my eyes on that are rising and falling in my personal ranks.
Patrick Wisdom, 3B, Chicago Cubs
After a .207/.298/.426 slash line in 134 games in 2022, Patrick Wisdom was essentially sent to the fantasy morgue. He did hit 25 home runs and drive in 66 runs, but all of his rate stats and his power dropped perilously after hitting .231/.305/.518 in 2021. In the month of March, Wisdom’s average ADP in NFBC leagues was a horrific 562.5, behind such superstars as Luis Campusano and Rodolfo Castro. Fast forward three weeks and Patrick Wisdom leads all of MLB in homers, is slashing .289/.339/.754, and is ninth among all hitters on the Razzball Player Rater.
The question we must now ask ourselves is how sustainable do we project this power surge to be. The answer might actually surprise you.
Patrick Wisdom’s BABIP (.267) is actually well below league average (.298). He is only hitting 2.5% more flyballs than last year (51.4% compared to 48.9%), and his exit velocity and barrel rate are the highest they have ever been. But the most important thing for Wisdom is his strikeout rate is starting to come down. After striking out 40% of the time in 2021 an 34% of the time in 2022, he is down to “only” 30% so far in 2023. That number still needs to improve, but it has allowed his contact rate to soar up almost eight percent this season.
The problem is he is not universally rostered. So you either got him yourself or you’re going to likely pay $1.50 on the dollar to acquire him. We just have to understand we may have all been wrong about acquiring Patrick Wisdom, who is making everyone else look stupid for not drafting him.
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Seattle Mariners
Is this version of Jarred Kelenic we have seen through three weeks just the multiversal, bizarro version of last season’s Kelenic or is this a totally new hitter we are dealing with? Last season, Kelenic was very, very bad, but he was also very, very unlucky. His BABIP was a comically low .167. His HR/FB rate was just 13% even though he hit 52% of his batted balls in the air. This season, he has been extremely lucky. His BABIP is .382, his HR/FB is 33.3% even though he is only hitting flyballs 31.6% of the time.
Which version is the real Jarred Kelenic? As we always say, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Kelenic is most assuredly not hitting 40 dingers with 30 steals (his current pace), but almost anything would be an improvement over what we got in the major leagues in 2021 and 2022. The buy-in price in your league is likely soaring right now, but if there is any kind of discount remaining in a keeper-style league, this is a player to target.
Sonny Gray, SP, Minnesota Twins
As absolutely everyone predicted, there are three pitchers who have an ERA under 1.00 and a strikeout rate of more than 10 K/9 over the first three weeks. Those pitchers are Gerrit Cole, Shohei Ohtani, and…Sonny Gray. Apart from a mediocre 3.7 BB/9, Gray has been absolutely masterful through four starts. He’s not facing all cupcakes either. Three of his starts have come against the Astros, White Sox, and Red Sox and he allowed those teams to score a total of two runs against him. And after striking out just one Kansas City batter in his first start, his next three have given us 25 punchouts.
This isn’t looking like just some dumb luck, either. His BABIP (.298) is exactly league average, and his flyball rate is actually the highest of his career. He isn’t close to approaching his career ground ball rate (51.4%) as he is at just 35.7% so far in 2023. The best reason I can find for the success? His slider is currently sitting three miles per hour higher this year than it did last year. He is using it 16% of the time currently, and it’s starting to creep closer to 20%. If he can harness that pitch as a weapon to add to his fastball and wicked curve, it might be lights out for the rest of the league.
Masataka Yoshida, OF, Boston Red Sox
Yoshida getting a day of rest on Wednesday seems like a good day to highlight just what kind of major slump he is in presently. Yoshida’s last hit came back on April 10th and it was his only hit in his last 26 plate appearances compared to four strikeouts and a lot of ground balls to the right side. Yoshida’s ISO on the season is now .083 and his offensive output has been saved only by a healthy 13.8% walk rate.
The problem, as mentioned above, is the ungodly 67.4% groundball rate through his first 13 games. Yoshida has always been a pull-hitter dating back to his playing days in Japan. So far in MLB, 80% of his batted balls have been from straightaway to the pulled right side, which can be fine if he is barreling the ball and getting some launch on it. But Yoshida is only the 13th percentile in barrel rate and sixth percentile for average exit velocity.
Learning curves and sample size and all those asterisks aside, Yoshida has plenty of time and pedigree to get this thing switched around, but he is much more Nori Aoki than Ichiro Suzuki where we sit today.
MJ Melendez, C/OF, Kansas City Royals
Coming into the 2023 fantasy baseball season, Melendez was always seen as the poor man’s Daulton Varsho. Both had the unicorn C/OF designation which meant you were likely getting more plate appearances than your normal catcher not named Salvador Perez. But right now, Melendez looks like the Dollar General to Varsho’s Fortnum and Mason through three weeks. Melendez is slashing only .150/.257/.267 with one home run and a 35.7% strikeout rate.
Basically, Melendez’s plate discipline has had too much Kansas City BBQ, because every bit of it looks gross. His chase rate is up 10%, his zone contact rate is down 12%, and his whiff rate is up an astonishing 16 percentage points. But, unlike Yoshida, Melendez can point to a lot of red on his Baseball Savant page. His average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage are both 98th percentile and he is in the 80th percentile for expected slugging percentage. So there are signs of life here, but Melendez must stop pressing and start trying to score every run for the hapless Royals.
Lance Lynn, SP, Chicago White Sox
I guess we should cut Lance Lynn a little bit of slack. He is old, he was hurt half of last season, and the offense around him is already filling a medical ward. But as we are cutting him some slack, we might need to be thinking about if we can cut him from our fantasy rosters. Is that realistic? Likely not, but he deserves some bench time until he can prove that the rest of his performance can match the gaudy strikeout rates he is pumping out so far.
His 11.81 K/9 is the highest of his career (by a lot a lot), but so is his ERA (7.59 through four starts). He looked strong in his first outing of the year against the Astros, but the wheels have fallen off since then, allowing 16 earned runs in his last 15.2 innings. Both his fastball and his sinker have lost more than a mile per hour since last year and his fastball is down two miles per hour since 2021. That pitch specifically is what has let him down so far in 2023. In the past four years, his fastball has ended the season anywhere between -6 to -32 runs below average. So far in 2023, that pitch is six runs above average.
Time to turn it around? Certainly, but he isn’t sniffing my starting lineups next week.