Giancarlo Stanton is coming off a down year in which he batted just .249 and has never reached 90 RBI or scored 80 runs in a season. A career .267 hitter who doesn’t steal bases and has missed 85 games over the past two years, it was easy to be skeptical about making Stanton an early fantasy pick in 2014, especially with him once again slated to hit in what projected to be one of the worst offenses in baseball (not to mention in a park that has suppressed homers by 31 percent since its inception two seasons ago, making it by far the stingiest in all of baseball). Of course, there’s also a lot to like about Stanton, who’s one season removed from hitting 37 homers over just 123 games as a 22 year old. He’s one of the 10 youngest players ever to reach 100 career home runs, and even during 2013’s disappointing season, the average true distance of his 24 homers (413.8 feet) was the third longest in baseball (Mike Trout finished first at 419.6 feet). Stanton also crushed this baseball 484 feet earlier this week, so he has the type of power that no stadium can hold back. Moreover, while the Marlins early hitting is likely to regress some, they are clearly going to be a much improved lineup compared to last year, when they finished scoring by far the fewest runs in MLB (they currently rank fourth). In fact, Stanton had more RBI through six games this season than he did all of April last year. It’s crazy to come to any conclusions this early, but Stanton’s K% is way down (16.7 compared to his career 28.4), and K rate stabilizes quickly (usually around just 60 plate appearances), so maybe there’s something to this. Stanton is 24 years old and a truly monstrous season could be in store.
Brutal news for Josh Hamilton, who will miss 6-8 weeks after suffering a complete tear of his UCL in his thumb. It’s bad enough sliding into first base is clearly slower than running through the bag, but the fact it also causes injuries (like this one) should lead to team’s banning the practice altogether. This injury is especially rough for Hamilton owners since the slugger was off to such a promising start at the plate. After a disappointing campaign during his first year with the Angels last season, when he finished with career lows in BA (.250) and OBP (.307) with his second-lowest slugging (.432), Hamilton had a 1.286 OPS to start 2014. He’s been a streaky hitter in the past, so it’s easy to chalk up the hot start to small sample size noise, but it’s how Hamilton has done it that was so promising. Over his previous three years, his O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) were 41.0, 45.4 and 41.2, respectively. Through eight games this year, it was 27.6%, so he was being as patient as any time throughout his career. This is especially impressive since pitchers had caught onto Hamilton’s free-swinging ways, throwing him the second fewest percentage of balls inside the strike zone this season among all hitters (Freddie Freeman has seen the fewest). Again, it was a small sample, but Hamilton had fundamentally changed his approach, and the early results were highly encouraging. Unfortunately, now fantasy owners have to wait up to two months to see if the gains return and can be sustainable.
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Quick Hits: It’s too bad about Matt Moore’s latest elbow injury. He claims it isn’t as serious as last year’s (which sidelined him for more than a month), but with an upcoming visit to Dr. James Andrews, fantasy owners should prepare for the worst. Once arguably the game’s No. 1 pitching prospect, Moore’s career trajectory has been going in the wrong direction for a while now. In fact, his average fastball velocity, K%, SwStr%, O-Swing% and Swing% have all decreased every season he’s been in the majors. That’s not ideal…Paul Goldschmidt’s career line vs. Tim Lincecum is now up to .522/.538/1.348. That’s a 1.886 OPS, including six home runs over 23 at bats…It’s insane B.J. Upton has batted second in Atlanta’s lineup every game he’s played so far this season. After posting a .184/.268/.289 line last year, he’s at .138/.138/.172 so far in 2014 with a 13:0 K:BB ratio. Upton’s 23.2 SwStr% is the highest among all hitters in baseball as well. If he must remain in the lineup, it’s probably best not to hit him in the spot most studies suggest the team’s best hitter should occupy…I must admit, I would have recommended selling Ryan Braun for 75-80 cents on the dollar before his three-homer game Tuesday. Maybe his thumb injury won’t be too debilitating after all…Ryan Zimmerman has hit successfully while playing through this same shoulder injury before (including so far this year), but if this throw is any indication, he’s going to have to move to first base sooner than expected…Kenley Jansen was already one of the toughest pitchers to hit in all of baseball, and if his increased velocity is here to stay, it’s going to be unfair to National League hitters. A cutter with that movement at that speed is simply unhittable.
Quick Hits Part Deux: A.J. Pollock has gone from Arizona’s leadoff hitter on Opening Day to potential fourth outfielder when Cody Ross returns in the span of less than two weeks, which seems like a bit of an overreaction. Expect the Diamondbacks’ OF situation to remain fluid…Let’s hope James Paxton’s lat injury doesn’t prove serious, because he looked like one of the more interesting SPs to pick up early on. The lefty was averaging 94.8 mph with his fastball while recording a 30.2 K% and 13.8 SwStr% with a 2.14 GB/FB ratio. Monitor his health closely…Speaking of interesting past pitching prospects, Trevor Bauer’s increased spring velocity looks here to stay, and he was impressive during his start against the Padres on Wednesday. It doesn’t appear he has a spot in Cleveland’s rotation right now (he was called upon Wednesday thanks to a double header), but Bauer is a former No. 3 overall pick with nasty stuff and a lot of potential if he has truly figured it out. Keep your eye on him…How in the world is this not a catch? I’m not a big fan of the redefining of this old rule…Here’s a news flash, almost all reviews happen because the play in question was close, so if umpires are just going to use the “inconclusive” excuse constantly, then why have replays at all? With the benefit of slow motion, he sure looked out to me…Regardless of the aforementioned shaky call in the ninth inning of the A’s game, Jim Johnson has been terrible this season, so despite the big one-year contract, don’t be surprised if Oakland makes a closing change, although that leaves fantasy owners scrambling for three other viable options in Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle.
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Quick Hits Part Tres: After a brutally slow start by Billy Hamilton (forget his poor start at the plate, fantasy owners also have to be concerned about Brandon Phillips batting second. Not only is he extremely impatient, but Phillips actually sacrifice bunted Monday after Hamilton led off the game with a double), he rewarded patient fantasy owners with a big game Wednesday, including a stretch in which he singled, stole second without a throw from Yadier Molina, tagged to third on a short fly ball, and then scored on possibly the shortest sac fly you’ll ever see…Charlie Blackmon isn’t going to keep hitting .471 but the hot start is key since it secures his role as Colorado’s main starter in centerfield and leadoff hitter, as Corey Dickerson was sent down to Triple-A. Drew Stubbs will start against left-handers, but Blackmon is the predominant part of the platoon, making him an enticing fantasy option with Coors Field on his side…Chris Colabello has been one of the bigger surprises in the early going, tied for the American league lead with 11 RBI. He’s going to cool off eventually, but he hit .352 with 24 homers over 338 at bats in Triple-A last year and appears to be Minnesota’s new cleanup hitter, which means he’ll get plenty of RBI opportunities with Joe Mauer and his career .405 OBP hitting two spots ahead of him…It’s clear last year’s tumor scare affected Melky Cabrera’s production more than the team let on, and don’t forget, he’s one season removed from leading the National League with a .347 batting average (admittedly with the help of PEDs). His four early homers are something of a fluke, but Cabrera is plenty capable of batting .300 and scoring 100+ runs while hitting atop a potent Blue Jays lineup. He’s not necessarily a sell-high candidate, as Cabrera could easily go down as one of the bigger OF bargains of 2014.
I really liked the season premiere of “Game Of Thrones,” but I’d like to recommend a lesser watched show “Inside Amy Schumer.” This week’s episode was pretty much a home run. It’s definitely one of the best comedies on TV right now.
Song of the Week: Big Data – “Dangerous.”
Longread of the Week: The Murders At The Lake. (This is highly recommended)
Quick Hits Part Four: Fantasy owners have to be excited about Yordano Ventura, who actually reached 103 mph during his impressive outing Tuesday. I hate to be a buzz kill, but few if any pitchers can stay healthy consistently throwing at that speed, so let’s hope he trades some of that velocity for improving his secondary offerings. But man, what a heater…Here’s Sonny Gray catching a lineout that ricocheted off first base…Yovani Gallardo somehow held the Red Sox scoreless over 6.2 innings in Fenway Park on Sunday despite producing zero swing and misses. I liked Gallardo as a bounce back candidate this season, and the no runs allowed over his first two starts has been nice, but his velocity remains down (90.7 mph), and here are his SwStr% from 2011-2014: 9.0, 7.8, 6.9, 3.5. That’s not exactly encouraging…Koji Uehara has allowed just one run over his last 42.0 innings with a 55:1 K:BB ratio. That’s pretty good…Run, don’t walk to pick up Nathan Eovaldi if he’s still available in your league. His average fastball velocity last season (96.2 mph) would have led all starters had he qualified, and he’s opened this year with a 14:1 K:BB ratio over 13.0 innings. Eovaldi pitches in baseball’s toughest park to hit homers and in arguably the league’s worst hitting division, so he looks like a serious candidate to break out in a big way in 2014.