Fantasy Baseball: Here's why it's not too early to focus on walks and strikeouts

Early-season analysis can be a pesky thing for baseball and fantasy baseball. We know the samples to trust are the big samples, but we also know if we don't ask proactively — and make intelligent guesses — about new players and themes and directions, we'll get beaten by the teams that don't play afraid.

In other words, waiting for proof is a dead strategy in any competitive league.

This is where walks and strikeouts are your best friend. No, a K/BB rate to this point isn't reliable, but it is a stat that stabilizes fairly quickly. We're not that far from it having some significance. So let's consider some possible leads from the water of baseball stats.

—Maybe it's difficult to get giddy over Miguel Vargas so far, given that he has driven in only one run and doesn't have a homer. He hasn't started every game, and he has yet to slot higher than sixth in the Dodgers lineup.

That said, he is 3-for-8, which is lovely, and what really sings are his nine walks against three strikeouts. It's virtually impossible for any player with more walks than strikeouts to be a below-average offensive player, and with Vargas rocking this significant a ratio, it's likely that he's going to be a useful player all year.

Nolan Gorman knocked a couple of early homers and was flashed on some adorable sell-high lists, as if there's a gaggle of opponents pounding on your door and demanding a Gorman trade. But let's consider some of the plus aspects of Gorman.

He was a first-round draft pick in his class. He was ranked between 28 and 34 on the three major scouting boards before last season. And while last year's .226/.300/.421 slash, posted in 89 MLB games, doesn't feed the cat, he did hit 14 homers in 283 at-bats.

Last year's K/BB ratio was a mess, admittedly. But this year, it has been tidy, with five walks against six strikeouts. That's a minor reduction in his strikeout rate and a major improvement in his walk rate, which was good last year, besides. Maybe the Cardinals' voodoo magic will work again.

—I realize one-trick ponies can be difficult to roster in mixed leagues, but we still need a Myles Straw conversation. His one trick is a pretty good one in the stolen-base boom of 2023 — the Cleveland outfielder has already stolen five bases. And when you mix six walks to an 8-for-22 start, we're looking at a funky .364/.517/.409 slash through a week of play.

Given that he swiped 21 bags in 22 attempts last year, his upside this season is screaming for some additional fantasy support. He's rostered in a mere 15% of Yahoo leagues.

—Not everything can be sunshine and lollipops. Will Benson's fun spring quickly ran out of gas — he not only is hitless in 12 at-bats but also has struck out nine times (with zero walks). The Reds' roster is deep enough that it doesn't need Benson.

Eduardo Escobar better not look behind — Brett Baty might be gaining on him. Baty had an injury scare Tuesday when he tweaked his thumb, but the initial reports weren't too worrisome. Baty had a smashing spring and a good start at Triple-A, while Escobar is 2-for-20 with seven whiffs (and one walk). This could be a cliff season for the 34-year-old. I still expect Baty (and Francisco Alvarez) to make an impact with the 2023 Mets. It's nice to be sitting on upside chips like that.

—I grant you that prospect development is never guaranteed to be linear, but it's been frustrating to watch Jarred Kelenic struggle in his early career. He's off to a 3-for-15 push, with one walk and seven whiffs. Other than a stolen base, he's done just about zero to help fantasy teams. The Mariners made the playoffs last year and think they can win the AL West; the leash on Kelenic is likely to be short.

—The K/BB game is also worth a look on the mound, and it's especially useful looking for those fire-breathing middle relievers who can massage our ratios. I usually wait maybe another week before I start scooping up some of them, but early names to consider are Adbert Alzolay of the Cubs (eight strikeouts, no walks over 4.2 innings) and Steven Wilson of the Padres (seven whiffs, no walks, 3.1 innings).

The oldest stat in the book is your reliable navigation tool.