When given information, we naturally try to make sense of it by creating a causal story/narrative, which, if true, would explain our data. Massive amounts of data would be most effective; the averages would be more accurate, the margins of error would be smaller, and the outliers could be more easily identified.

Some downsides to collecting massive amounts of data would be the cost of accumulating it and the time necessary to collect and analyze it. We could make all sorts of fantastic predictive models and outcomes for what happened in baseball last year if we could do so after accumulating all of the data. Fantasy baseball ‘perts are trying to predict what will happen based on what’s likely not enough data, but as much as we can have at a given time.

We’re 10ish days into the season, and there aren’t really stats available that stabilize so early, but that’s not going to stop me from trying to identify what early season standouts are Small Sample Studs, who I think have some staying power, and which ones are Small Sample Spoofers, who I believe we can mostly disregard as “This isn’t really him.” My first thought was to label these guys as SSS and SSS and then claim victory either way, but I will give my verdict as SSStud/SSSpoofer so that the astute readers here (both of you!) can have something to call me out on.

I hear you if you say, “Hoove, we don’t need to be told that good outputs generally follow good inputs; give us something that says ‘buy low’ or ‘expect improvement.’” It’s just *so* early right now where one good game changes everything (see: Harper, Bryce–0-11, then a 3-HR game). Even my exercise can be skewed either way by a couple of good/bad games. Since that’s all we have to work with, that’s what I’ll work with and do my best to give you some actionable nuggets. I won’t focus on a guy like Mookie Betts who is hitting the everloving stuffing out of everything; he’s Mookie! He’s excellent, he’s elite! I’m also not going to focus on a guy who a) nobody was focusing on or b) isn’t contributing positively like Javier Baez, who is leading the major leagues in O-Swing%. (I just realized I’m like the Cal Ripken Jr of Fantasy Baseball Columnists Who Take Gratuitous Shots At Javier Baez–haven’t missed one in a column this year. Can’t stop, won’t stop.) These two guys are doing *exactly* what we expect them to do, so it’s not really worth focusing on here.

One prospect on fantasy owners’ radars this spring was Detroit infielder Colt Keith. Keith didn’t have the hype of a Jackson Chourio, Wyatt Langford, Jackson Holliday, etc, but Keith did sign a nice contract before ever debuting in the bigs and had what seemed like a wide-open 2B spot waiting for him. Keith had never run a K% lower than 19.3%, but he’s showing terrific plate discipline in the early going, with an even 14.3% K%/BB%. Now, the surface stats say he’s batting .083 with a .214 OBP–YUCK. However, his max EV is 107 mph, and he’s got a HardHit% of 40%. Why the disconnect between some really good plate discipline and some pretty decent quality of contact metrics? Easy–the GB% is 70%. He’s never done anything remotely close to that through the minors, and once that normalizes, expect Keith to really assert himself as a quality bat in a Tigers lineup that needs some impact bats. If an owner is getting impatient with Keith and you’ve got a MI need, he’s a great 15-team league target for me right now. I think he’s a good 12-team target as well, but that may be the Detroit homer coming out in me. He’s been a SSSpoofer, but I think the Stud part is coming (relative to draft value).

Giants OF Michael Conforto is blasting the ball so far this season; he’s 2nd overall on the Razzball player rater! His barrel% is top-12 in MLB, and his HardHit% is at 50%. So, he’s healthy and he’s back–buy, buy, buy! Not so fast. While it’s hard to argue with his production so far, I’m calling him a SSSpoofer. To start, his K% is over 31%, the highest of his career, while he’s walking at his lowest rate by 50%–his plate discipline has been putrid. His average Launch Angle (LA) and barrel% are twice as high as he’s ever run, and he’s pulling the ball 20% more (61% overall) than he’s ever pulled it in his career. If you read a previous article of mine, we deduced that pulling the ball high and hard will lead to a ton of power, and so far so good with Conforto…it’s just not a profile he’s ever done in his career so far. If you can, take advantage of whatever early-season power output you’ve gotten from Conforto and offload him to somebody who needs an infusion of power. April Fools!

One of the biggest helium guys this spring was Royals 3B Maikel Garcia. People dreamed of what could be with him, and they have been rewarded, uhh…royally in 2024. Garcia is firmly a SSStud. Garcia’s plate discipline metrics aren’t great, but they’re also dead in line with his MLB career so far, so it’s not like he’s running anything we can look at there as unsustainable. One thing that jumps out at me is his LA of 15.3%; if you’re looking for reasons why he’s hitting with more power, that’s the biggie. His Quality of Contact metrics aren’t a ton better than last year (his max EV and HardHit% are pretty much in line with 2023), but he’s hitting the ball in the air and he’s pulling the ball over 40% of the time (basically my benchmark in my aforementioned article). He’s actually been worse at O-Swing%, so if he can bring that back into career norms, he could even see an uptick. I’d call him a buy, but he’s pretty much hitting on the higher end of what whoever drafted him was hoping for from him, so I don’t think there’s really a window for the buy. I think he’s 100% for real; I just don’t think you can get an actual “deal” for him. But if you need 3B help, buy with confidence.

Some quick-hitters:

  • Michael A. Taylor is a SSSpoofer. He’s 26th overall on the Player Rater but has horrible plate discipline metrics and a 65% GB%. Not that you can really sell, but he’s definitely not a buy.
  • Similar story with Brice Turang, 20th on the Player Rater. Poor plate discipline metrics, he’s below his career norms in batted ball quality, but he’s hitting a few more line drives and has raised his launch angle. He’s propped up by his SBs, which will be there; I just don’t buy he’ll be on base enough.
  • Andres Gimenez is a SSStud–his plate discipline metrics are good but they always are; he isn’t hitting the ball any harder than normal and it can be argued he’s got more in the bat based on previous years’ stats, and he’s increased his HardHit%. He’s 25th on the Player Rater and a buy to me in all leagues.
  • Cubs 3B/OF Christopher Morel is an absolute SSStud! If you place his previous MLB analytics against his 2024 sets, you wouldn’t see much difference in anything he’s doing, outside of one HUGE outlier. Morel has never had a K% less than 31% in the majors, and this year so far it’s…7.7%! I suppose you could say that will regress to the mean for him, but he’s doing almost nothing differently anywhere else. I’m choosing to believe that he’s developing; I don’t think it’ll stay at 7.7%, but I also can see him finding a happy medium and settling at 20%-24%, and for that, he’s an absolute buy. Morel (probably) won’t remain 21st on the Player Rater, but he’s for real.
  • St. Louis is struggling offensively but through no fault of SSStud Brendan Donovan. Similarly to Morel, his profile looks pretty much identical to last year, except he’s trading ground balls for fly balls. When you hit the ball with the same EV but hit it in the air vs on the ground, well…that’s good. Buy Donovan (41st on the Player Rater) with confidence.
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