Game of Groans: Slow Starting Hitters — A Review

I continue reviewing my pre-season, and now in-season, articles and this is one of my favorite topics. Even though we know (or should!) that any random two week stretch of performance has little to no predictive value, fantasy owners will never stop allowing results from such a short period cloud their evaluation of a player. The most common time for player evaluation clouding is the beginning of the season, when those are the only stats currently in the book. But the funny thing is, by the end of the season, we typically forgot who those slow starters were, especially if they completely rebounded and ended up earning what we paid for them after all. So let’s take a look back at the slow starting hitters I discussed in Mid-April, and checking in on their stats at that point and over the rest of the season.

Slow Starters
Name HR* R* RBI* SB* AVG* HR** R** RBI** SB** AVG**
Charlie Blackmon 0 5 4 1 0.233 32 107 82 1 0.323
Jesus Aguilar 0 3 5 0 0.143 12 36 45 0 0.250
Joey Votto 1 8 2 0 0.250 14 71 45 5 0.262
Jose Ramirez 0 5 2 3 0.135 23 63 81 21 0.270
Nolan Arenado 0 5 6 1 0.246 41 97 112 2 0.323
Robinson Cano 2 6 6 0 0.182 11 40 33 0 0.269
Travis Shaw 1 3 5 0 0.186 6 19 11 0 0.150
Yasiel Puig 0 0 5 1 0.132 24 76 79 18 0.277
*Stats through April 13
**Stats from April 14 through rest of season

When I posted the slow starters article, the hitters discussed had played in between 11 and 15 games, and recorded between 40 and 67 plate appearances. That’s a small sample size. But because it happened at the beginning of the season, many make a far bigger deal over the results than they should. I highlighted in red the hitters who continued their slow starts and came nowhere near earning the value expected of them over the rest of the season. Ultimately, fantasy owners would have been better off trading these hitters for nearly anything they could get from someone thinking they were buying low. In shallower leagues, dropping these early duds would have been a beneficial decision.

Even with Coors by his side, Charlie Blackmon had failed to homer in his first 14 games, and had swiped just one bag. With a .233 batting average, he was doing nothing positive for fantasy teams. But that proved to just be a blip, as he was his normal self the rest of the way, contributing strongly in four categories. Sadly, the steals are likely gone.

Jesus Aguilar was one of 2018’s most pleasant surprises. Although he didn’t come completely out of nowhere, he enjoyed an extended look for the first time and made the most of it. While I mostly believed in his 2018 performance, I did worry that any sort of extended slump would open the door for Eric Thames to reclaim his starting job back. Thames is a solid enough hitter himself that he shouldn’t be relegated to the bench, so this was a real risk. Aguilar did himself no favors with his slow start, thanks to 0 homers and a putrid sub-.200 BABIP, despite excellent strikeout and walk rates. While he picked it up over the rest of the season before being shipped to Tampa, it wasn’t enough to earn him an every day job again. He might not get another chance.

Up through 2017, age had just been a word for Joey Votto, as he continued his elite offense at 33 years old. Then his power disappeared in 2018, but every other skill remained intact. Was this the first warning sign of impending collapse or just a random down year he would rebound from. Welp, his first two weeks of 2019 gave us an early answer, and it’s not the one we wanted to hear. Not only did Votto’s power fail to rebound, but his strikeout rate also notched a new career high. That’s as good a sign as any that age has finally taken its toll.

It wasn’t just the first two weeks that Jose Ramirez struggled in, he was a disappointment for quite a long stretch, beginning sometime in August in 2018. He eventually did return to form and his overall season numbers provided plenty of value, even if it was below what we all paid for him. Still, if you timed it right, you may have netted a nice profit if you traded for him.

It was hard to believe that an early season slump was a sign that Nolan Arenado would be a best. Not only is he still young, but he has Coors on his side. Arenado’s first 15 games failed to result in a homer, and he was hitting just .246 at the time, despite a sub-10% strikeout rate, which is crazy good. So much for that slump, as he hit 41 homers the rest of the way, while batting .323.

Most of Robinson Cano’s slow start was due to a weak .200 BABIP, which bounced back to .292 over the rest of the season. But injuries and old age ensured that he would remain a bust all season long, as even though his performance improved markedly, it just wasn’t enough.

After bopping 30+ homers over the past two seasons, who would have guessed that Travis Shaw would hit his way out of a job and even get demoted to the minors?! Shaw was suddenly striking out like crazy and eventually the Brewers ran out of patience. He’ll only be heading into his age 30 season, so it will be interesting to see if he gets another shot at a starting job.

Yasiel Puig may have been the most pathetic starter on this entire lost. He had failed to hit a homer or score a run through April 13, and was hitting just .132. Eek. But the rest of the season, the good Puig we all know and love had returned, flashing his power and speed combination for the Reds and then the Indians.

We hoped you liked reading Game of Groans: Slow Starting Hitters — A Review by Mike Podhorzer!

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Traded Gallo for JRam on June 17th. In 160 ABs he went .317, 32R, 12HR, 36RBI and 7SB. Traded him away in early Aug (before he got hurt) for Yuli, Nelly and Morton. I now have a pennant flying outside my house!


Outside your house?