When a player has a poor start to the season, it can be very difficult to properly rate him in fantasy. Even when he starts to play to his previously established career standards, that one bad month can drag down his season totals for the rest of the year. While it is important to not overrate the most recent month’s production in lieu of the bad month in April, when that recent month matches a player’s track record, it is pretty clear which is the anomaly. Here are a handful of players who suffered from poor starts this season and have heated up with the weather.
Last 30 days: .312 AVG, 4 HR, 16 R, 12 RBI, 3 SB
For the season, Jason Heyward’s numbers are eerily similar to last season’s. As of Wednesday, he owned an identical .254 batting average to what he had in 2013. He is stealing bases again, but his power, strikeout, and walk rates are very similar to those from a year ago. That makes it easy to overlook how well Heyward has had to play in the last month to simply return to last year’s levels.
In April, Heyward hit .206/.296/.314 with two home runs. He was terrible offensively. Since, he has performed up to expectations. That includes a .288 average, five home runs and five steals. Over the last 30 days, Heyward has been the No. 15 outfield on ESPN’s Player Rater. Expect that top 20 performance to continue.
Last 30 days: .329 AVG, 6 HR, 20 R, 17 RBI, 1 SB
His seven home runs since the start of May stand out more, but Davis’ improved plate discipline will be the key to sustained fantasy relevance. In April, Davis walked one time in 105 plate appearances. That doesn’t even seem possible. Since, he has walked 10 times in 129 plate appearances. That 7.8 percent walk rate is only 0.4 percent short of the league average in 2014. It is a remarkable turnaround, and one that could allow Davis to realize his preseason sleeper potential. He won’t continue to be a top 10 outfield like he has been over the last month, but top 40 is possible.
Last 30 days: 2-2, 2.60 ERA, 6.2 K/9, 1.6 BB/9
John Lackey won four of his six starts in April, but he allowed six runs in each of his other two starts. Fortunately for Lackey owners, neither of those starts were characteristic performances. In the first, he allowed four home runs at Yankee Stadium. He has allowed only two home runs in 10 starts since. In the second, he walked four batters. He has walked only 10 batters in nine starts since. Lackey accumulates strikeouts because of the volume of innings he pitches, and he has become one of the best command pitchers in baseball. His 1.85 walks per nine are 13th in baseball among qualified starters since the start of 2013. He should continue to be a top 40 starter.
Last 30 days: 1-4, 3.90 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
Jake Odorizzi has had little help from his slumping Rays this season. In fact, Odorizzi has allowed between one and four runs in eight starts this season and has yet to record a win in one of them. His only two wins this season were six-inning shutouts.
Whether or not his team puts it together, Odorizzi certainly has. After his April with a 6.85 ERA, Odorizzi has had a 3.70 ERA in the month and a half since. In addition, Odorizzi has increased his strikeout rate from 8.4 per nine in April to 11.8 per nine since. Over the last 30 days, only Clayton Kershaw, Edwin Jackson, and Yu Darvish have a higher strikeout per nine among qualified starters. Meanwhile, Odorizzi is only owned in six percent of Yahoo leagues. Pick him up if he’s available in your league.
Last 30 days: 0-0, 2.13 ERA, 12.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 7 SV
Ernesto Frieri allowed nine runs in 10.2 innings in April. For a reliever, there is no way to recover from that. He could allow nine more runs the rest of the season and his ERA would fall to only 2.70 assuming 60 total innings pitched. That poor start has hidden the fact that Frieri is enjoying the best year of his career by xFIP (2.91). Frieri has always been wild, but his 2.25 walk rate would be a walk and two thirds per nine better than his previous career best. Frieri has also overcome his brief demotion about a month ago to save seven games in the last 30 days, tied for eighth best in baseball. He is back to being a trustworthy top 15 closer.
Last 30 days: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 0.0 BB/9, 6 SV
Qualls had a rocky start in his audition as the Astros closer thanks to three runs and a walk-off loss courtesy of Oakland in his second save opportunity of the season. That was on April 19. Since, he has pitched to 59 batters over 18 appearances and hasn’t allowed a run. Obviously that scoreless streak won’t persist, but the saves should. He has seven over that stretch, and the Astros have won 18 of the last 29 games. Only the Blue Jays and Giants have had a better record since May 11.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt