The early part of any baseball season is the toughest on fantasy managers in the internet age. The up-to-the-second standings send many into a panic when they see their team in last place a week into the season. The desire to tinker often leads to bad decisions. As of now, the Seattle Mariners stand alone with the most games played at 13 which is exactly eight percent of their season.
You wouldn’t trade Aaron Rodgers after five quarters of football just as you wouldn’t trade Kevin Durant after six and a half games of basketball, so you shouldn’t be considering any rash moves with your fantasy baseball stars after 13 games. After all, this time last week saw Robinson Cano with a 330 OPS and exactly two days later he had a 1028 thanks to a pair of huge games, but you better believe I got more than one tweet in that first week asking if I was concerned.
If you are a chronic tinkerer, relegate the movement to the backend of your roster. If you tracked your last five or six picks in any draft from the beginning of the season until the end, you would find a lot of turnover in those spots. It makes sense as that is where you are taking fliers on younger guys who may or may not pan out, banged up vets whose price has dropped because of injury, underperformance, or both, and just plain old roster fillers who have jobs penciled in for April 1st, but no guarantees for June 1st let alone October 1st.
Some of these late round picks are already off to great starts causing you a lot of pain as you strain to reach over and pat yourself on the back. Don’t worry, I do it, too. It feels great when your 22nd round pick flies out of the gate hitting .400 with three homers and a 1250 OPS. Obviously that level of production won’t last, but for some the tumble will be massive and that is why you should simply rent, not buy.
In standard mixed leagues (10- and 12-teamers), it is fine to ride the hot hand with these guys, but don’t get burned and start thinking they’re something more.
Jed Lowrie (OAK, SS)
Expectations have been high for the former Boston farmhand for years, but he has continued to disappoint. He is hitting .386/.460/.727 with three homers and eight RBIs through 11 games this year, but we’ve seen this before from Lowrie. His career 878 OPS in April is his best month by far and his only month over 800 OPS. Back in 2011 he had a 962 OPS in the first month, but just a 608 in 67 games the rest of the way. And that leads to other issue with Lowrie: health.
His next 100-game season will be his first. He has six DL stints in the last four years, including a pair last year. He has intriguing pop which is only enhanced by his playing a scarce position with the potential for more (has 1B, 2B, and 3B experience), but he is now into the sixth year of a career that just hasn’t been able to get off the ground. The Oakland Magic (they seem to get the best out of everybody) aside, history says this is a losing bet in the long-term.
Coco Crisp (OAK, OF)
Lowrie’s teammate isn’t quite as risky a proposition because he has found a way to put up enough production in limited time that he is often worth the gamble. Despite registering more than 120 games played just twice in the last seven seasons, Crisp has stolen fewer than 20 bases just once including 32 or more each of the last three seasons with game counts of 75, 136, and 120 on the button. He is off to a brilliant start this year with his usually awesome speed (4 SB) accompanied by an odd, but intriguing power surge (also 4 HR). Alas, the first cracks are already shining through as he suffered a strained groin on Friday night causing him to miss Saturday’s game. You’re not going to pull in a first round talent via trade just because he has a 1095 OPS with across-the-board production so far, but you should be able to get more than you paid at the draft table plus some peace of mind with a lowered injury risk.
John Buck (NYM, C)
Yo Mike Piazza Jr., what have you done with John Buck? Buck has been good for double-digit homer totals throughout his career only twice finishing with fewer than 11 bombs (9 and 8 in 2008-2009). In fact, following those two seasons, he popped a career-high 20 and hit for a .281 average while making the All-Star team as well. He even had a 10-game surge on par with what we’ve seen so far in 2013.
From April 29th through May 8th of 2010 he hit .382/.400/1.088 with seven homers, 12 RBIs, and 10 runs scored. He even did pretty well the rest of the way hitting .293/.324/.461 with 12 HR, 48 RBI, and 41 R in 90 games which is than useful for a #2 catcher, but that is the absolute upper-end of what you should expect with something far worse being the highest probability outcome. If someone will give you even the worst #1 catcher (so either the 10th or 12th ranked guy depending on your league), you should take it in a heartbeat.
Mark Reynolds (CLE, 1B)
Reynolds is one of the streakiest guys in baseball. Remember last year when he hit nine homers in nine games from August 31st through September 8th? He had 17 RBIs and a filthy .364/.447/1.182 line in 38 plate appearances doing most of the damage in a pair of series against the Yankees as the O’s took four out of six. In fact, his current tear isn’t even that hot by comparison as it is really just a power surge (.257/.289/.743). He hit his fifth home run on Saturday with five RBIs pushing his total to 13. He even threw in a stolen base just for good measure.
If he is still on the wire in your 10-team league, I’m not sure I would even bother at this point as you’ve missed the bulk of the surge. However, if you do have him in rostered in both 10- and 12-team leagues, I would be inclined to outright cut him after his first three or four game 0-fer streak. In fact, pick up Alfonso Soriano for him. Sori is prone to similar streaks and once that first home run comes, you know a surge is on the way. He went 3-for-4 on Saturday. Perhaps that is a little tremor signifying the torrent of power to come. He took 30 games to hit his first homer last year, but then hit 12 in his next 24.
Travis Hafner (NYY, DH)
Pronk is in the perfect environment for his game as that rightfield porch in Yankee Stadium will serve him well when he is playing. The problem is that “when he is playing” portion as he makes Lowrie look like Cal Ripken Jr. over the last five years. Hafner has played more than 95 games just once with a high of 118 in 2010. His talent isn’t in question, even at 36 years old, as he hit to a 117 OPS+ in that time with a 162-game average 23 HR/81 RBI in that time, but it is seemingly “when” not “if” for injuries with him.
He has seven DL stints since 2008 covering his body from shoulder to foot to back to oblique to knee. I think he is going to be their Eric Chavez this year where they get the most out of him when he plays, but even Chavez only logged 313 plate appearances for the Yankees last year. Even Hafner’s .303/.410/.576 start isn’t enough to merit a roster spot in a shallow mixed league when he is only going to platoon vs. righties and likely miss time sooner than later. Rest assured, I would never wish an injury on anyone, but we are dealing with probabilities in this game and betting on even 400 plate appearances is awfully optimistic.