Fantasy Baseball Stats: Using a Bad Start to Your Advantage

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Do you know who these fantasy baseball stats belonged to in 2013?

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Not exactly a big mystery, those belonged to Mike Trout, who finished second on ESPN’s 2013 Player Rater to Miguel Cabrera.

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Certainly, the rest of the season showed that it would have been a bad idea to give up on Mike Trout after a shaky month of April. But to be fair, not many people were really doing that. Similarly, you didn’t see many people giving up on Miguel Cabrera after a bad start this year. On a much smaller scale, you didn’t see people giving up on guys like Hunter Pence after a bad start. Generally speaking, fantasy players trust that established stars — who by their age still have at least a few good years left — will put up their numbers at the end of the year.

But let’s play the same game, only in reverse. These stats belonged to a real pitcher after not only April of 2013, but April and May.

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Those numbers belonged to Jose Fernandez. The strikeout numbers were solid and the rest of the numbers weren’t terrible, but based on those numbers, it certainly would have been justifiable for a fantasy owner to unload Fernandez, right? Remember, Fernandez didn’t even turn 21 until the end of July and while he was highly touted, his 2013 production was far from a sure thing.

But giving up on Fernandez would have meant losing out on this June-September line:

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That’s really the true point, here. Fernandez’s final four months were so much better than his first two that trading him wouldn’t have only meant missing out on his great final line, but missing out on the final four months that allowed him to have those numbers despite a good, but not great, first two months.

Let’s say you entered the 2014 drafts thinking that Matt Kemp was really going to turn it around this year and be the force he was throughout 2011 and then into 2012 before getting hurt. The first month of 2014 has not been overly kind to him and really, you’re not going to find any advanced metrics that would say otherwise.

When you’re looking at a guy like Kemp, or really any struggling player, you have to ask yourself a few questions.

  1. Is he in serious danger of losing playing time? That’s where the internet is a wonderful resource. You can find that kind of information out on any big name player within a matter of a few minutes.
  2. Is he playing with a significant injury that will either cause missed time or dramatically hindered play? Ditto.

If either of those two answers is yes, then you really should consider parting ways with that player. But if it appears to be nothing more than a player in a slump, then it’s a different question. Is this person going to stay this bad?

Let’s take Kemp’s batting average for example. At the end of play on April 25, he was at 12-for-60, which works out to a cool .200. For the sake of argument, let’s say that Matt Kemp will finish 2014 with 515 at-bats. This is the kind of production we could be looking at for the rest of the year.

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Remember, Kemp was never healthy in 2013 and he still managed a .270 average. His start to 2014 has been bad, but you’d have to work really hard to convince me that he can’t at least return to that in 2014, which would mean around .280 from this point on.

This is really just expanding on the idea of buying low. I know that some players are struggling and even some guys who aren’t bad overall are kind of lacking in a few key areas (Robinson Cano in home runs, for example).

But the fact of the matter is that what they did in April is over. If the slow starters are going to come anywhere near matching their preseason projections, it means that you want to keep these guys around, not the other way around. It oversimplifies things to simply say that a player is due and leave it at that but there is something to be said for looking at the past and saying, “He’s never played this bad before, he’ll come out of it.” If that’s just being “due”, then so be it.

At the end of play on April 25, Cano had 1 home run, which works out to a pace of less than 10. I’m sorry, I don’t think Cano will struggle that much. Maybe he’s not a real threat to hit 30 (just don’t rule it out), but even getting around 20 will mean good things for the rest of the season. Similarly, if he had 10 home runs by the end of April, I’d be expecting a drop, as I don’t think anyone is hitting 60 this year.

When a slow starter does start to get on the pace that you expected him to be at when you drafted him, he’s a guy you want on your team. If you’ve already withstood a bad start, then like your slow starting player, your fantasy team is also due.


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