Three Observations: Poor Offense, Losers, Gainers

With most teams only through their opening series, we’re not in any position to be making wide-sweeping arguments about the 2014 season. And just like fans across the country overvalue the first week of the season, many fantasy owners place too much stock in their early-season performance. Sure, it counts, but it’s tough to stay patient when your team is stuck in the cellar after the first few games, especially if you’re a Cliff Lee owner and saw him implode on Opening Day or if you bought into the Khris Davis hype and have yet t0 see him get on base in 2014.

But while we’re unable to say much about the season as a whole, I have three observations about the first handful of games that hopefully provide a kernel of insight.

(1) Do not fret about early-season offensive woes. You’re not alone.

In all four of my leagues, my position players have been rather underwhelming across the board. It’s been frustrating to follow the box scores and watch various games, only to see my guys fly out to the warning track, roll over on one to the shortstop, or strikeout in a prime RBI opportunity. Naturally, it has led me to scouring the waiver wire, even if I’m not in position to change much about my lineup at this point.

This likely describes many of you, though. Why? Because offense has been difficult to come by this week. It’s obviously been a week — so I’m not attempting to argue offense will remain down throughout the remainder of the season — but owners should understand that their early-season struggles are not unique. Take a look at offensive numbers from this week compared to seasonal numbers the past few years.

2010 .257 .325 .403 .145 8.5% 18.5%
2011 .255 .321 .399 .144 8.1% 18.6%
2012 .255 .319 .405 .151 8.0% 19.8%
2013 .253 .318 .396 .143 7.9% 19.9%
2014 .236 .309 .363 .127 8.9% 21.7%

The table illustrates what many fantasy owners have likely experience this week: fewer hits, less power, and more strikeouts. It hasn’t been pretty, but the numbers suggest the majority of fantasy owners are in the same boat. Of course, some owners will have hit the lottery early in the season and have an early lead. However, everything will even out in the end and more guys will start hitting. Stay patient.

(2) Although we should expect velocity to increase throughout the season, several pitchers have continued disturbing trends of velocity loss.

I’ll fully admit that it is dangerous to put too much stock in a single start or a pair of relief outings. When those outings feature significant velocity loss and that has been a noticeable trend over the past few years, though, fantasy owners would be wise to take notice.

Ubaldo Jimenez surprised many by dominating the second half last year, posting a 1.82 ERA over his last 84.0 innings. His strikeout rate increased, his walk rate decreased, and his home run rate dropped drastically. Some took that stretch of performance to be a harbinger for things to come in 2014. In his first start, however, Jimenez showed the red flags that have surrounded him the past couple years have only become a deeper shade of crimson. The velocity loss is just a huge problem:

Year FBv
2010 96.1
2011 93.5
2012 92.5
2013 91.7
2014 90.1

We’re not talking about a small velocity decrease with Ubaldo. I cannot convince myself to buy on the right-hander, even if he finds some success this month. It’s not a profile I like at all.

Other, but certainly not all, guys with continued velocity loss: Jonathan Papelbon, Scott Feldman (though his profile can seemingly deal with such velocity loss), Erasmo Ramirez, Joe Nathan, Matt Moore, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, and CC Sabathia. In addition, watch Scott Kazmir early this year, as he unexpectedly increased velocity to 92.5 mph in 2013 but came out throwing only 90.0 mph in his first start.

Again, we are speaking about one start or a couple relief appearances. This isn’t attempting to argue these pitchers will necessarily experience decreased velocity throughout the entire year. However, without identifying velocity decliners early, we won’t be able to track whether their velocity improves over the next couple months.

(3) Conversely, some pitchers have added velocity this season and could be guys to target on the trading block, if their sustained velocity increase proves sustainable.

I will list a handful of guys who have thrown harder this year than in previous years, but perhaps the most striking example in the first week has been right-hander Brandon McCarthy. His career-high fastball velocity came in 2011 with the Oakland Athletics and was 90.9 mph. In his first start this year, however, McCarthy was averaging 93.1 mph with his fastball. That’s a massive jump from his career high and a 2.3 mph jump from a year ago.

Just, ya know, friendly advice: keep an eye on that.

Some other pitchers who I’ve noticed increased their velocity from previous years: Ricky Nolasco, Michael Wacha, Johnny Cueto, Chris Tillman, Tony Cingrani, and Jorge De La Rosa.

We hoped you liked reading Three Observations: Poor Offense, Losers, Gainers by J.P. Breen!

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

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how bout masterson for velocity loss? his sinker averaged 88.5 mph in his first start after sitting at 91+ the last 2 years. granted the game was in oakland and could have been rather cold