I have waited far too long for this opening week to not be excited about the return of baseball. Yet there is a part of me that wants to fast-forward at least a couple of weeks. That’s the analyst part of me talking. In just a couple of days, we have already had some notable, surprising performances, but from an analytical perspective, there is not much I can conclude from them. I still need more data.
If you are in a shallow league or one with an ample number of reserve spots, there may be not much cost to dropping a player you drafted in order to make room for someone who has been impressive early on. In most cases, though, it’s too early to drop a healthy player from your roster. After all, you drafted them for a reason, and they deserve a chance to show they can deliver what you were hoping to get from them.
With the exceptions of picking up two-start pitchers or replacing injured players, I am not making adds or drops just yet. What I can do is put players on my watch list. If they continue perform well over the next week or two, then I can think about making a move. Hopefully, I won’t be too late, but that’s the potential cost of giving your current players an extended look.
Already, there are three starting pitchers I am looking to add in 12-team mixed leagues. Each of these three is already starting to draw interest in those formats, so I am definitely risking getting shut out. I just want to see a little more from each of them. Here is what I’m looking for.
Kendall Graveman, Athletics: Graveman turned some heads with his 2017 debut performance against the Angels. He owns a career 14.7 percent strikeout rate, but he notched seven Ks in six innings on Monday. Graveman was even more dependent on his sinker than normal, throwing it for 87 of his 104 pitches. Of those 87 sinkers, 13 resulted in a swing-and-miss. Graveman had never induced as many as 10 sinker whiffs in a start before.
According to PitchFX data, Graveman got more horizontal and vertical movement on his sinker in this start than he typically had over the last two seasons. Over his next start or two, I’ll be looking to see if Graveman gets similar movement — and similar results — with his bread-and-butter pitch.
Daniel Norris, Tigers: Norris proved to be a good bat-misser last season, but he didn’t make progress on his ground ball rate and, consequently, his home run rate. Over 23 2/3 innings in spring training, Norris posted a 1.61 ground out-to-air out (GO/AO) ratio with one home run allowed. By comparison, he owns an 0.80 GO/AO over his major league career.
There are no spring PitchFX data available for Norris, so it’s not clear how he achieved this spike in his ground ball rate. When Norris takes on the White Sox on Thursday, I’ll be looking at his ground ball rate, along with any signs of a change in his arsenal, pitch movement or spin rate.
Blake Snell, Rays: My interest in Snell has more to do with his 2016 results rather than his performance in spring training this year. Snell, like Norris, is a flyball pitcher, and in Tampa Bay, he had the benefit of a strong defensive outfield. Yet somehow, Snell allowed a bloated .174 BABIP on flies last season. Not only did he have the defensive support of Kevin Kiermaier, Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza, but he had the fourth-lowest hard contact rate on flyballs (28.9 percent) of any starting pitcher (min. 20 IP on flyballs).
I’ll be looking for Snell’s BABIP regression, but I’ll also be keeping an eye on his walk rate, which needs to fall from last season’s mark of 12. 7 percent.
Will matchups make Graveman, Norris or Snell worth a pickup for Week 2? Sign up for the weekly Matchup Report to find out, and to get ahead of the curve on other potential starts and sits!
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, MLB.com.
Photo credit: By NickB149 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.