Fantasy Season So Far: NL Surprises, Trends, and Expectationsby John Keller April 23, 2021 1 comment
We all know the dangers of small sample sizes. As the MLB season moves towards the 20-game mark, it is not enough to make definitive evaluations for fantasy purposes. We can, however, make some judgments on playing time and speculate on player performance.
Time to take a quick look at teams and players in the National League that stood out, either positively or negatively, while trying to make some determinations for the rest of the fantasy season.
The Braves have gotten off to a poor start but I doubt that continues. They are too well rounded and can beat you with their offense or their pitching.
Marcell Ozuna has started out slowly. Expect him to pick it up a bit but don’t assume he’ll be as elite as he was in the 2020 season.
The big unknown here is Huascar Ynoa. I’m in about 15 different fantasy leagues and he was drafted in none of those. He looked excellent until his latest start against the Cubs when he was hit hard. Strange pitch mix that game for Ynoa. I am confident that he will be competent throughout the year – don’t be afraid to pick him up.
Not much to get excited about here but the one player I’ll highlight is Eduardo Escobar. He’s been very productive so far (six home runs, eight walks) and let’s remember that this is a player that hit 35 home runs and had 118 runs batted in during his breakout season of 2019.
On the pitching side, Taylor Widener has pitched better than expected but that will not continue. His minor league numbers don’t support what he’s currently doing.
The Cubbies got off to a historically bad start offensively and somehow are only a couple games below .500 at the time of this writing. Going into the season, their offense would have seemed to be their strength and pitching was their weakness.
Javier Baez has 31 strikeouts in 60 at bats. Yikes! He’s a player who produces better than his underlying numbers would suggest but after the 2020 season, we should all be worried about him moving forward.
Joc Pederson and Ian Happ were players most of us were excited about (especially after Pederson’s scorching Spring Training) but have been dreadful thus far. Buy into Happ, let others take the chance on Pederson.
On the pitching side, Kyle Hendricks is a traditional slow starter so don’t panic with him. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Craig Kimbrel. Closers around the league are so hard to get a handle on that you could definitely do worse than Chicago’s late-inning arm.
The Reds lineup has a lot of interesting bats. Joey Votto seems to have changed his approach and the power uptick may be legit. Nicholas Castellanos has put his strange 2020 season behind him. Trade for him in your various leagues. Jesse Winker generally hits leadoff. If he can stay healthy, you could do a lot worse as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Eugenio Suarez is hitting below .200 but they may just be the norm for him at this point. At least he’s gained shortstop eligibility.
Wade Miley has had a wonderful start – don’t believe it. Sonny Gray is back to bolster the rotation. Luis Castillo should be the ace but hasn’t performed that way yet. If you haven’t noticed what Tyler Mahle has turned into, it’s time to pay attention. He seems to be a legit strikeout pitcher now.
Ryan McMahon has led the way for the offense and his fly ball rate points to the home run totals staying strong.
Buy into Raimel Tapia. He missed time but when healthy he’s generally the leadoff hitter and will contribute in a variety of ways.
Josh Fuentes has gotten quite a bit of playing time and is eligible at first and third base. Not very productive yet but he plays his home games in Coors and therefore is intriguing.
You don’t need to be told to avoid Colorado pitchers. Austin Gomber has been competitive and German Marquez is the ace here but you hold your breath if they are in your lineup and pitching at home. Jon Gray has been lights out and might be a worthy gamble on the waiver wire.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Things we can be sure of: water is wet, it will get dark tonight, and the Dodgers are elite. They are 14 – 4 without getting much from studs Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger so don’t expect them to regress.
Justin Turner is a nice hitter but don’t expect the power numbers to stay so strong as the year continues. What the heck is Zach McKinstry? Nice story so far but don’t give up too much for him – too many other second base options for him to continue to get such regular playing time.
The worst WHIP of the Dodgers five starting pitchers is 1.11. They are a nightmare for opposing lineups.
Kenley Jansen was a closer who many people stayed away from in drafts but lately he looks nasty, his pitches are moving, and his fastball is in the mid-90s. There are other viable closers on this team but Jansen will get lots of save opportunities given that Los Angeles will probably win 110 games. Pursue him if a competing owner is willing to put him on the trade block.
A couple players stand out. Starling Marte was doing a bit of everything before fracturing a rib. He’ll be out a while, decimating this lineup.
Jazz Chisholm has been a pleasant surprise. He has quite a bit of potential but there’s too much swing and miss currently – don’t buy into him at this point.
Trevor Rogers was a hot commodity as Spring Training went on and he’s lived up to the hype. A strikeout rate of 12.7/nine innings should get your attention.
Yimi Garcia has taken over the closer role and has had a nice run of saves (4) and wins (2). He’s the poster child of the wait-on-closers at your draft crew.
Travis Shaw has been productive thus far, but expect him to regress. His best years are in the past and he’s striking out a ton.
Keston Hiura looks lost. Combined with his poor 2020, it’s time to be very worried.
Corbin Burnes would be the Cy Young winner at this point. He’s given up a grand total of one run in 24 innings, has piled up a ridiculous 40 strikeouts (with zero walks by the way), and has a microscopic 0.33 WHIP. Brandon Woodruff pales in comparison to those stats but has been pretty spectacular himself. Freddy Peralta’s stature rose as Spring Training drew to a close and he’s been dominant in his three starts. None of these three can keep up this pace all year but they are two are legit aces (Burnes and Woodruff) and the only thing that will hold Peralta down in the fact that his innings will be a bit limited so enjoy their presence in your rotation.
New York Mets
Thanks to a myriad of issues, they’ve only played a dozen games thus far.
Brandon Nimmo has been on fire. He has some talent but will come down to earth.
Jacob deGrom has been…well, Jacob deGrom, and as usual the Mets can’t score for him. The most pleasant surprise has been Marcus Stroman. Three starts into the season he has a sub 1.00 ERA and WHIP. The lack of strikeouts is fairly normal for Stroman. He’s solid but not spectacular, expect him to take a step back from his current pace.
Bryce Harper has lived up to his lofty salary thus far. He looks locked-in. Wouldn’t be a shock if he made an MVP run this year.
Andrew McCutchen has started slow, and at his age he may not turn it around to any substantial extent.
Aaron Nola’s start on Sunday was exceptional but we expect him to be an ace so no huge surprise there.
Take look at this lineup and rotation. It’s shocking they are almost at .500 even this early in the season.
If you can name two starting pitchers in this rotation, you probably have season tickets to PNC Park. If you try hard enough, maybe you could see JT Brubaker being an above-average pitcher but he won’t continue his sterling beginning to the season.
Obviously not a lot to get excited about here in fantasy, and I would expect them to be one of the worst teams over the last 140 plus games.
San Diego Padres
2020 stud Dinelson Lamet lasted two innings of his 2021 debut. Tommy John surgery looks likely. While unfortunate, it’s not surprising and probably not debilitating for the Padres. Think about picking up Ryan Weathers as his spot in the rotation becomes more secure. MacKenzie Gore is waiting in the wings but he’s already on your radar.
Fernando Tatis made a shockingly quick return from his shoulder injury. Apparently it’s manageable but it definitely isn’t cured. He’s had to change his swing to protect the arm. He’s a stud but don’t expect the fantasy stats from his 2020 season.
While San Diego is full of young, exciting talent, old standbys Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer have carried the load offensively. They may be boring and they won’t carry your team but they are solid. Tommy Pham has struggled out of the gate but his underlying numbers suggest he’ll improve.
San Francisco Giants
How is this team 11 – 7? There isn’t one player that’s a must have on the Giants’ roster and their most desirable player in drafts (Mike Yastrzemski) is hitting below .200 with just three RBI. Buster Posey has four home runs (all solo, accounting for all his RBI) but don’t expect more than 15 all year.
Kevin Gausman has had a nice start to his season and he’s reliable though certainly not an anchor of your staff. The bright spot on the pitching staff is Jake McGee. He’ll get you 30 saves if you can manage to acquire him.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are a team who get contributions from a variety of places and seem to be able to plug relative unknowns into their lineup without much drop off. Dylan Carlson hasn’t put up crazy stats yet but looks enticing with his skills. Good things are coming for him.
The pitching staff is similar to the offense in that they get important innings from a variety of places. Carlos Martinez had a better last start but it’s been a rough stretch for him going back to 2020 and he isn’t missing many bats. Alex Reyes has three saves and has yet to give up a run. Keep in mind he was the top pitching prospect in baseball in the not-too-distant past.
Juan Soto hit the IR but it apparently isn’t serious. Don’t panic. Trea Turner is a true five category contributor and seems to make an impact every game. Victor Robles can be ignored – he just does isn’t an impact hitter and hitting at the bottom end of the lineup makes his situation worse. Kyle Schwarber has been awful so far but he’s a better hitter than this, don’t give up on him. On the other hand, Josh Bell may not be in the top 25 first baseman in baseball.
There were concerns that Max Scherzer was declining into mediocrity after a less than impactful 2020 but he seems to be back to top tier ace status. Patrick Corbin was dreadful up until his most recent start. His velocity is down and he’s not striking guys out. Don’t expect much of a rebound.
Follow John Keller on Twitter @johnkeller2009
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