Who are the players thus far who are standing out to us? Who is far exceeding our expectations? Who is leaving us with that pit in our stomach saying, “I knew I shouldn’t have gone to the well one too many times”? Well, I am going to help you navigate some of these players so that you can make the right roster decisions in this early part of the season.
There is nothing that separates the successful fantasy baseball owner from the trigger happy one quite like those slash lines in the first two weeks. It is tough not to see a hot start and get excited, or disappointed, but sometimes you need to just be patient one way or the other. There is something extra sexy when a player goes on a hot streak to begin the season because it is directly reflected in their overall stats in a more eye catching way than that July hot streak that may be bringing a player out of prior mediocrity. I would always urge you to use both the eye test - watch the player play. How do their at bats or starts look? You cannot survive just off box scores alone if you want to be successful, but also look at those peripheral stats that are abundantly available in our beautiful sport.
Now let’s dive into some of the names that have been hitting us with all the feels this season. Will they keep it up, knock it off, or are they really who we thought they were?
Ty France (First Base, Seattle Mariners)
I think we need look no further for our first candidate than in the Pacific Northwest. With the embarrassment of prospects, the trades they made, and the free agency acquisitions; Ty France may not be the first player that comes to mind when you think about these new age Mariners. He should be high up on your list though. Through the conclusion of the second week of the season, he leads the M’s in all offensive categories except doubles, walks and OBP. Given some of the names on that roster that is impressive. Now, it is not realistic to expect him to continue to try to be the next .400 hitter like he is right now, but it is extremely realistic to expect him to have a near or over .300 average by the end of the year. Excluding his rookie season of 69 games in 2019, he has hit .291 or better over his past 211 games with both the Padres and Mariners between 2020 and 2022. He has not had consistent playing time but has continued to put up solid triple slash line of .288/.360/.454 over his career thus far.
While it looks like his batting average, and therefore runs scored production and even RBI’s, could be sustainable I tend to pump the breaks a bit with the power output. Currently on pace for 51 home runs this year, I don’t think that anyone expects this pace to be sustainable. He is almost right at league average for barrel rate with an average exit velocity and hard hit rate. Despite my expectation that his power numbers will normalize a bit, his career .814 OPS is nothing to sneeze at. That coupled with his walk rate increasing the past two seasons while his K rate declined over that same time period definitely shows a different approach at the plate. Currently his K and Walk rate are almost each at 10%. If that pace can be kept, there is no reason not to buy in on this guy nestled in a good lineup. Lastly, he has largely been fastball hitter so far in his career, but this year France is actually hitting better against breaking balls. That is another example of an improvement in his approach at the plate. With him being owned in almost 100% of leagues and his trade stock at an all-time high, you may have missed your chance. Those of you who own him though should have a big smile on your face - I think he should stay.
Bo Bichette (Shortstop, Toronto Blue Jays)
After seeing the young phenom do virtually nothing but succeed to this point in his career, we are seeing a 180 so far this early season. 2022 has been a far cry from his first All-Star appearance and Top 15 MVP voting performance last year. Should we be concerned that this year is going to continue? I don’t think that he is going to finish the season with these paltry numbers. His expected batting average and hard hit rate both remain above league average in the 68th percentile for both metrics. This tells me that his numbers have to normalize at some point. What does cause me some concern, however, are his walk and strike out rates to this point in the season. His K-rate is up to 28.8%, up from 19.9% last year. My concern stems from the fact that a majority of his K’s are coming on fastballs coupled with a high whiff rate of 34.4%. That is a little concerning considering the fact that he feasted on fastballs last year.
But wait! There’s some room for hope - that aforementioned hard hit rate is buoyed by an 87.5% hard hit rate against fastballs so far in 2022. His K rate is a career high and his Walk rate is at a career low right now. Reading into all of these stats a little more, I just truly see a young superstar that is pressing a little bit. Those Blue Jays showed us what they are capable of last year and now there is some added pressure to realize that potential. That coupled with a good ol’ fashioned slump to begin the season, and I think that is what has provided us with this version of Bo. If I am an owner of his, I am riding this wave out and am just excited to have him in my lineup when his hot streak begins - I just think this version of Bo should go.
Seiya Suzuki (Outfielder, Chicago Cubs)
Most baseball fans are aware of the list of players that have left the Japanese baseball leagues to come to the MLB. Those fans are also aware that the list of successful hitters is a much shorter list. Ultimately it can be completed by three players at this point: Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Shohei Ohtani. Well I think it is already safe to say that you can add Seiya to that list. He is poised to have an MLB rookie season that will potentially dwarf the ROY season that the reigning MVP experienced just a few years ago. Suzuki is without a doubt tearing the absolute cover off the ball right now. His barrel rate, which is just over 21%, and his walk rate of 20.6% are bonkers two weeks into an MLB career. Now, I know he has had a very successful career to this point, but what he is doing while changing from Japanese ball to Major League ball makes it extremely impressive. Look no further than the eye test in one of his at bats - you'll see someone so unbelievably comfortable in that batters box. It is really a thing of beauty to watch.
While he is striking out a decent amount, it is not due to chasing. His chase rate is very near the best in baseball right now, so that coupled with the walk rate shows me this guy knows how to have a professional at bat night in and night out. It is too bad that he didn’t get to play with the core that Chicago traded away - that would be a pretty scary lineup to have to go against. I am generally the first person to raise an eyebrow at someone who puts a lot of stock in 2 weeks in a baseball season, but I am ready to crown his ass. Seiya is the real deal. I think his numbers may drop a bit once pitchers feed him more junk, as he has proven to destroy fastballs early on, but he is here to stay.
Miguel Sano (First Base, Minnesota Twins)
This one may be a little self-serving as a Twins fan, but I think Sano deserves a break. It is easy to look at a batting average of .083 and make the determination that the player is trash. Even easier to look and see that he is striking out at almost a 30% clip and tie that together with a player who has made a career of striking out. We’re better than that though, and that is why we are here. Let’s peel back the layers on this moldy onion and see what lies inside. It is actually a player that is waiting to bust out. Look back no further than last season. He was on an extremely underperforming Twins team and still managed to piece together a 30 HR season and a respectable .778 OPS despite 183 K’s. Obviously he is a better Roto asset due to the K volume, but still viable numbers. When we look at his numbers thusfar this season, the peripheral statistics do not support an .083 batting average or a .370 OPS. He is barreling up a lot of balls and is sending almost all of them out screaming. His average exit velocity of 93.2 MPH puts him at top 15 in the league to date and his barrel rate has him in the top 15%. Those two stats alone tell you that the .083 batting average is certainly a mirage. When you consider that Sano is actually striking out at the lowest clip of his career and is walking at 13.8% rate, the highest of his career, it shows that he is putting forth quality at bats. He is also not chasing balls - Sano is currently in the top 10% in the league in chase rate.
What is killing Sano this season is his propensity for whiffing on strikes. If you throw him an off-speed or breaking ball in a 2 strike count right now, those fans might as well put the K up on that railing before the ball hits the mitt. He is doing better against fastballs, but he is missing those in the zone too. Nonetheless, hitting is contagious, but so is bad hitting. Unless you are named Byron Buxton or Luis Arraez and play for the Twins, you have not been hitting well. He has always been a streaky hitter, but once this lineup gets some swagger to it, I think he will be one of the key pieces in that bottom half of the lineup. Again, definitely someone to consider more in a Roto league, but I think he is poised for a good season this year and is obviously available in many leagues in the scrap heap. I know this version will go far away. If your bench is deep enough I definitely think he is worth rostering.