Fantasy Baseball: 10 early trends to be optimistic about, starting with Hunter Greene’s fastball

I got off to a rocky start in some of my fantasy baseball leagues. It happens. In my Tout Wars league, for example, I’m sitting 10th after two weeks, thanks largely to a pitching rod that has the 4th best ERA in the league, but hasn’t given me much volume at all – I’m 10th or worse on strikeouts, innings, and saves-plus-holds in this modified Roto league. Max Fried left an early start with an injury, Blake Snell joined IL midweek, and Raisel Iglesias and Paul Sewald have combined save-plus-holds so far. It’s not ideal.

But I’m not panicking. It’s far too early for that, especially when in the case of the likes of Iglesias and Sewald, I have little doubt that they will be high-quality contributors who will continue to develop. It’s a bump, not a detour – I hope.

Of course, it’s never too early to fix obvious weaknesses in your squad, but you also don’t want to overreact and create a new weakness.

And I don’t want to dwell on the negative either. With this team, despite the rocky start, there are many things to be optimistic about. While I’m certainly wary of Cody Bellinger, for example, he’s been hitting the ball a lot better lately, with an average exit speed of 94.6 mph over the past five games. It’s a small sample size for sure, but everything about the season so far is a small sample size, and given how Bellinger has looked over the past few seasons, you’ll take any positive signs you can get.

It’s far too early to say if this will mean a return to greatness — or even goodness — for Bellinger, but it’s a positive sign. Here are 10 more positive signs from the first two weeks of the season from other players that we had some concerns about heading into the season if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic:

Justin Verlander looks like himself

It was fair to ask how Verlander would look after basically not playing for the past two seasons, but it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s averaging 94.6 mph with his fastball, identical to what he did in 2019 – when he was the top pitcher in Fantasy. He’s lost a bit of spin rate, which isn’t unexpected since we’re seeing him for the first time since the sticky crackdown, but the playfield has still been pretty effective so far. The Slider and Curveball have very similar movement profiles and speeds as in 2019, and early results have been very promising – a 33.3% whiff rate with the Slider and nine of his 15 strikeouts, while the Curveball has a 50% whiff rate. Verlander has 15 strikeouts to three walks in 13 innings with one earned run and nine baserunners allowed in his first two starts. I don’t know if you can expect that from him that best pitcher in fantasy – and it will be interesting to see if the Astros allow him to consistently throw 100+ pitches like he used to – but it looks like the optimists are right. I’m happy to count myself among them.

Hunter Greene looks like a runaway

Greene is probably the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in major league history. That might sound like a big claim this early in Greene’s career, but he does have a starting Friday when he averaged 100.2 mph on 57 fastballs, 39 of which were thrown over 100 mph. That’s the highest number ever measured in a single start, with Jacob deGrom (33, on June 5, 2021) being the only other player to throw more than 29 pitches over 100 mph in a single start. This fastball is the start of the show, and he scored 13 of his 16 sweeping shots on Friday’s start (and a 39.6% breath rate over two starts overall), but it would be unfair to call him a one-trick pony ; his slider also has a touch rate of 47.1%. Greene struggled to keep the ball in the court early on and that was also a problem for him in 2021 at Triple-A so that’s something to watch out for. But that’s a rare skillset, and it makes him a must-roster player in my eyes.

Christian Yelich still hits the ball very hard

In fact, his batting average of 75% to date is the highest in baseball. Yelich’s critics would point to a lack of home runs as proof that it doesn’t matter, and it’s true that he still hits the ground too many times, with an average launch angle of just 1 degree. However, Yelich also had a 408-foot double and a 398-foot double, so things could have been very different if he hadn’t hit those balls straight into the deepest part of midfield. We’ve seen Yelich fix his groundball issues in the past so I’m confident he’ll do it again and the number one thing I wanted to see from him earlier this season was a sign of his Back after his fine was ongoing problems last season. His quality of contact metrics and sprint speed in the 86th percentile gives me reason to believe.

Seiya Suzuki does everything right

Suzuki advertised everything and more. He ranks in the 87th percentile for average exit speed and the 89th percentile for maximum exit speed, a pretty good sign that power is transferring to a guy who hit 38 homers last season in Japan. However, he has also displayed a rather amazing eye on the plate, swinging on just 9.6% of pitches thrown from the strike zone, a 98th percentile rate; He also missed just 17% of his swings, putting him in the 85th percentile for breath rate. Oh, and he has a 91st percentile sprint speed, so there should be some steals as well. I don’t expect Suzuki to push elite production any further, but Suzuki has come a long way in answering questions about whether he would translate to the majors.

Carlos Carrasco also looks like himself

Carrasco’s 2021 was completely derailed by injuries starting in the spring, but he’s been healthy this offseason, looking good in the spring and excellent in the early days with a 33.3% strikeout rate and just one run earned in his first two starts . His fastball speed has dropped about 1 mph since 2020, his last healthy season, and he’s given up loud contact with it at times, but his secondary pitches have been pretty excellent across the board, with his changeup accounting for seven of his 13 strikeouts. The puffs weren’t quite there on the slider — 30.4% puff rate versus a mark of 35.4% in 2020 and 44.8% in 2019 — but given all we’ve seen, I’m concerned no worries. It’s still fair to have concerns over whether Carrasco will last the full season after last year’s struggles, but he’s looking as good as one could hope for right now.

Andrew Vaughn does everything right too

Eventually, Vaughn will force the White Sox to just play him every day, and from what we’ve seen so far, we should be very excited about that opportunity. As a prospect, Vaughn was touted as a rare potential source of plus-power without strike concerns, and that’s what he’s looked like so far, with a 16% strike rate, a well-below-average breath rate, and borderline-elite quality contact metrics — he owns in the top 10% of the expected wOBA, with a very strong average exit speed of 92.2 mph. Vaughn has started six of Chicago’s first nine games – three of six against righties – but I want him on my list if he does deserved everyday role.

Luis Severino has redesigned himself in an interesting way

I went into detail last Friday about Severino’s new approach, which is one of the more interesting early storylines in baseball. In a lot of ways he looks like the same guy he’s always been through two starts – he gets a few swings and misses and strikeouts and his speed is more or less what it was before the elbow and shoulder problems his effectively wiped out the 2019-2021 season. However, he’s leaning more than ever on his transition and has traded in most of his sliders for harder cutters. The slider has historically been Severino’s best pitch, his go-to spot on two-strike counts to keep hitters out of the way. So it will be interesting to see if he gets more confident as the season progresses – if he can still capitalize on that while remaining confident in the move he could be as good as ever.

Jo Adell crushes the ball

Adell is swinging and missing a ton and hasn’t even played every day so I really, really need a reason to be optimistic here. He was one of my favorite players to draft this season at a massive discount, but his 45.2% strikeout rate and 62.5% contact rate are among the worst in baseball. However, his average exit speed is 95.2 mph and his maximum exit speed is in the 86th percentile, and he also ranks in the 99th percentile in terms of sprint speed. He also had two doubles hit at least 388 feet in addition to his two homers. Adell is showing off the elite tools, but he needs to step up his approach significantly if he wants to earn more game time.

Andrew Heaney’s new pitch looks like a difference maker

Scott White wrote about Heaney’s impressive start in Monday’s Waiver Wire column, but the Dodgers appear to have helped unlock Heaney’s potential with the introduction of a new, harder ball. Last season he was a 59.4% fastball guy and throws it less than half the time, with his new sweep slider being used 48.1% of the time so far – with a monstrous breath rate of 51.1%. Heaney has only been a two-pitch pitcher so far, and we’ll see if he needs the switch more as the season progresses, but with a fastball that’s always been a pretty solid swing-and-miss pitch that Slider has so far enough.

Joey Bart shows special power potential

Bart flopped on his first taste of the majors of 2020, hitting 41 times in 111 record appearances, and he’s still hitting way, way too much so far – 50% of the time during his first 26 record appearances, to be exact. But when he makes contact, he crushes the ball and ranks in the 97th percentile among all players with an average exit speed of 96.1 mph, while his maximum exit speed of 111.4 mph ranks in the 91st percentile. Bart needs to reduce strikeouts to a more manageable level to remain a viable fantasy option, but he’s showing the benefits of being a must in two-catcher leagues even if he’s out 30% of the time.

Leave a Comment