Buying and Selling Cold Starts at Second Base

I previously took a look at hot starts at the keystone, so today let’s do the opposite. Last time, I examined three players who were outside the top 15 in our experts’ preseason rankings. Today, I’ll discuss three guys from inside the top 15, who find themselves scuffling at the plate. Obviously, it’s still early and we’re dealing with small samples across the board, but there’s legitimate reasons to worry in certain cases.

Anthony Rendon (preseason No. 9, current No. 40) – SELL

As I wrote last fall, Rendon’s future value is tough to evaluate, due to his extensive injury history. He’s torn ligaments in his right ankle, which he later broke. He also fractured his left ankle, as well as spraining his left MCL and left oblique. Throw in the strained right shoulder that limited him to DH duties for nearly his entire junior season at Rice, and that is one heck of an injury history for a guy who’s still only 25 years old.

At the time, I wrote the following regarding Rendon’s injuries and potential future production:

The optimist in me looks at the list of ailments above and is thankful that his 2015 injuries were not recurrences of prior issues. The pessimist in me sees a 25-year-old whose legs may not be able to support a lengthy career in professional athletics.

Even without a doomsday scenario like that, it’s easy to see Rendon’s skills deteriorating in the next few years. If he suffers another injury or two, he could be in a steep decline by the time he should be reaching his prime. It’s already clear that certain aspects of his game aren’t what they used to be.

This year, the Nats moved Rendon back from second base to third, possibly having realized that it might not be smart to have a player who has broken both of his ankles playing a position where baserunners come diving at your legs. This is a good thing. What isn’t a good thing is his complete lack of offensive production to this point in 2016.

Through his first 18 games, Rendon’s hitting for near-zero power, with just four extra-base hits (all doubles). He’s attempted one steal, but was caught, making him 1-for-4 on stolen-base attempts since his 17-for-20 season in 2014. According to PITCHf/x data, he’s swinging more than ever (45.2%) — both inside (63.6%) and outside (27.7%) the zone — and whiffing more than ever (6.1%). While a 6.1% SwStr rate is nothing alarming in a vacuum, it’s a 15% jump from last year. He’s also popped out four times, which equals his IFFB total from last year’s 80-game sample.

I came into the year not only concerned about Rendon’s ability to stay on the field, but also worried that his litany of lower-body injuries were sending him into a very premature decline. He’s yet to do anything to lessen those concerns, and I’m staying far, far away. Don’t buy low on Rendon.

Kolten Wong (preseason No. 13, current No. 42) – SELL

In November, Steven Shumansky wrote about Wong, surmising that the 25-year-old ran out of gas last year, which goes a long way toward making sense of Wong’s poor second half. At the time, I agreed with Steven’s analysis, as both the data and the eye test seemed to point in the same direction.

Now that he’s off to a god-awful .208/.286/.208 start through 16 April games, I’m a bit more worried. That’s not to say that I’m particularly concerned about Wong as a player. His sample so far (56 PA) is even smaller than Rendon’s, even though his results are arguably more troubling.

My issue with Wong is the emergence of Aledmys Diaz (.480/.509/.860, 3 HR, 1 SB, 53 PA), and also the possibility that Jedd Gyorko (.289/.341/.658, 4 HR, 41 PA) is returning to form. With Diaz (and a little bit of Ruben Tejada mixed in) manning shortstop, Wong is already losing time at the keystone to Gyorko.

If Diaz and Gyorko — or just one of the two, really — keeps producing offensively, Wong’s playing-time outlook gets hazy in a hurry when Jhonny Peralta returns. Sure, there’s plenty of questions about how Peralta will perform coming off thumb surgery, but with Wong already losing some starts to Gyorko, Peralta’s return can’t be a good thing for Wong.

There’s suddenly quite the battle going on for playing time in the St. Louis middle infield, and it will be interesting to see how long Wong’s leash will be. The fact that Gyorko started over him yesterday — despite the Cards facing a righty — isn’t a good sign.

If given the opportunity, I personally think Wong will turn it around and put up another productive fantasy season. I’m just not sure the Cards are going to give him that chance, as long as he’s being outplayed by his teammates.

Brian Dozier (preseason No. 5, current No. 32) – BUY

Brandon Warne wrote a good piece about Dozier, surmising that his disappointing second half last year was a product of playing through a hip injury, paired with the fact that Dozier is a streaky hitter in the first place. I think there’s a serious buy-low opportunity here, with the 28-year-old off to a seemingly slow start.

To begin — although Dozier finds himself outside the top 30 fantasy second-sackers at present — he hasn’t been that bad. He’s already got three homers and two steals, he’s both walking more and striking out less than last year, etc. Throwing a whole lot of noise into his data is his paltry .193 BABIP, which really has nowhere to go but up.

The BABIP thing is pretty easy to explain: Dozier’s got an insane 51.7% fly-ball rate this month. His hard-hit rate (29.5%) is actually better than last year so far, and he’s still smacking plenty of line drives (21.7%). He’s just not putting the ball on the ground at all, and maybe getting a bit unlucky on those liners too. There’s also run/RBI upside here, as the Twins can’t possibly be this anemic offensively all season.

I think it’s wise to be patient with Dozier, but I can absolutely see why owners could be panicking, as he followed up a second-half swoon with a slow start. He doesn’t have a checkered bill of health like Rendon (Dozier’s averaged 153 games per season in the last three years), or the playing-time concerns of Wong. If your league’s Dozier owner is getting nervous, I would strongly advise taking advantage of the chance to buy low.

We hoped you liked reading Buying and Selling Cold Starts at Second Base by Scott Strandberg!

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Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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I like this series, keep it up!