This article is part of our Oak's Corner series.
Earlier this week on Twitter, I acknowledged that although there may be some recency bias, the number of injuries – especially to players drafted in the first 10 rounds or so – seems elevated early this season, especially the longer-term ones. I already have teams with multiple players with the dreaded red cross next to them, but while it can be frustrating, especially this early, try not get down and manage around it. The injuries du jour seem to be to the oblique and guys getting hit in the hand/wrist/elbow by pitches, but hopefully we can get those out of the way early and have a healthier summer.
The Week That Was
I think most people who read this column or listen to the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Podcast I record Sunday nights with Jeff Erickson know that I love Oakland A's third baseman Matt Chapman. Some of that comes from watching him play defense every day at the hot corner, but he also has started on fire with the bat in 2018. Chapman already has 11 runs and 11 RBI to go with four big flies over his first 13 games of the year. The biggest positive I've seen from him in the early going has been the limiting of his strikeouts. We all know it's still early (I could say that for every player we discuss in April), but Chapman has struck out only 10 times in his first 55 at-bats, good for a 18.2 percent strikeout rate, which is exactly 10 percent down from last year.
We knew Chapman's power looked legit last year after his callup, as he hit 14 homers in 84 MLB games after showing strong power numbers in the minors. He also sported a nice 36 percent hard hit rate to go with a lot of fly balls to further enforce that the home runs were definitely coming. The issue coming into 2018 clearly was going to be his average due to all the empty at-bats due to the big strikeout numbers, an issue he also had in the minors. That history of striking out in the minors makes me think the current rate will definitely go up as the year progresses, but any improvement in that arena while he still hits the ball hard (elite 48.7 percent hard hit rate so far) could give Chapman a chance at a full breakout in 2018. He's moving up in the A's lineup against lefties, and he should make a permanent move up against righties soon, as he's been the best hitter on the team so far. The future and the present are bright for the young Chapman. There's no way to make a decent trade for Chapman right now, but in any keeper league, I'd try to make a move for him as soon as he hits his first slump of the year.
Apparently, Eric Thames is a fan of hitting in April. After mashing 11 homers in the first month of 2017, Thames has started off in a similar manner with five homersin his first 12 games. Much like Chapman, Thames had strikeout issues in 2017, fanning in 29.6 percent of his at-bats, leading to a .247 batting average that put a damper on his 31 homers. So far through 44 plate appearances, Thames is striking out less (22.7 percent), as he's looking to ensure that he'll be in the lineups against all righties, which was questionable during the spring with the Brewers' glut of outfielders pushing Ryan Braun to some starts at first base.
Thames has no issue hitting the ball hard, as he currently sports a 46.4 percent hard hit rate, up from his great 2017 rate of 41.5 percent. Thames also has shown a huge propensity to pull the ball as he leads all of MLB so far this season with a 64.3 percent pull rate. His hard rate combined with that tendency to pull the ball and his 46 percent fly ball rate is a formula for a lot of home runs, and if he can keep up the strikeout gains, he becomes a very interesting bat in a nice park with a good lineup. His draft price fell during the spring due to playing time concerns, but if he can avoid the lower body issues that caused him to miss time and break down in 2017, he's rapidly on his way to becoming one of the better draft steals in 2018.
As it became clear that Lewis Brinson would be the starting center fielder for the Marlins this season, he became more popular in drafts as the season approached. Brinson had a four-hit game in the second game of the season, which added to the buzz a bit, but it has been an extreme struggle since then, including a current hitless streak over his last seven games and 25 at-bats. In the course of those struggles, he has ceded his leadoff spot he had in week one of the season and has been hitting in the bottom half of the lineup this week. Brinson is a very highly regarded prospect acquired by the Marlins in the off-season deal for Christian Yelich after moving to the Brewers in 2016 in exchange for Jonathan Lucroy.
Prior to a late callup in 2017, Brinson tore up Triple-A to the tune of a .331/.400.562 line with 13 homers and 11 steals in only 76 games. The majors callup was for only 21 games, but it didn't go well and he posted a .106 average in 55 plate appearances. The big issue so far in his small major league sample has been the strikeouts. After striking out in the minors about 20 percent of the time in 2016 and 18.2 percent in 2017, he has struck out an enormous 31.2 percent of the time in his first 109 plate appearances in MLB. In six years, his minor league K rate numbers improved as he matured, and one would think the same will occur in the majors, but his propensity to get punched out so far in MLB is a concern. As a fantasy owner, a major issue (aside from the zero homers and steals he has provided so far!) is how patient the Marlins will be with him through his slump. The fact that they're a rebuilding team helps, as they don't necessarily have to get someone in there who's producing, but one has to wonder how long they wait before giving him a break, either from the lineup or in Triple-A. As a Brinson owner in a couple of spots, I'm worried and won't buy him low right now in redraft leagues, but in keeper leagues, it's a perfect time to grab the highly coveted and skilled prospect at maybe his lowest price.
Prior to a rough sixth inning on Tuesday night against the Giants, Patrick Corbin had been nearly perfect through his first three outings of the season. Even with the three runs allowed in that inning (it could have been worse, as the inning ended with Andrew McCutchen thrown out at home on a nice throw by Jarrod Dyson), Corbin is having an exceptional start to the season with a 2.45 ERA through his first 18.1 innings. After a rough first half in 2017, Corbin really came on in the second half, posting a 3.26 ERA in 88.1 post-break innings. The wildest number in his 2018 profile is the strikeout rate, which currently sits at an obscene 14.24 K/9 and is coupled with a walk rate under 2.00 BB/9. The K rate clearly is elevated over a small set of starts, but it's a good sign that the bump he took from 2016 to 2017 from 7.57 K/9 to 8.45 K/9 is here to stay and may get higher.
The home runs are an issue for Corbin, as even with the great start, he already has surrendered two in his 18.1 innings, and he allowed more than 1.00 per nine innings in the past two seasons, although it's still up in the air whether the Chase Field humidor will impact that. Much has been talked about Corbin's slider usage, which is significant, as he has thrown it 46.8 percent of the time so far this year, easily the highest of his career. He has been using just that and his fastball exclusively, only mixing in 3.9 percent curveballs and 0.7 percent change-ups. It will be interesting to see whether teams start to adjust for this pitch mix and sit more on his slider, and whether Corbin's arm holds up if he continues to spin all those sliders up there. I've watched all three of Corbin's starts, and I love what I see. I'm still a buyer on him, even at the new higher price.
Franchy Cordero: RotoWire's Clay Link and James Anderson love Franchy and were super excited to see him get called up to the Padres this week. By the way, the Link/Anderson Prospect Podcast on RotoWire on Thursdays is the absolute best listen in the industry regarding prospects and is a must for anyone in a keeper league or any competitive deep league. Cordero is likely to be a popular add this week where available, especially after he homered in his first game. It's tough to find outfielders in deep leagues so far this year, so he couldn't have come along at a better time. All the quotes from the Padres seem to indicate that they want him to play regularly for now and they regularly comment on how "toolsy" the 23-year-old is.
Cordero spent most of 2017 in Triple-A where he hit .326 with 17 homers and 15 stolen bases in only 93 games. However, before you get too excited about the .326, make sure to note that it came along with an absurd .431 BABIP. Cordero appeared in 30 games for the Friars in 2017, and while the numbers didn't impress with a .228 average and only thee homers, I noted that he hit the ball hard with a 38.8 percent hard hit rate. The issue for Cordero will be strikeouts, as they have been an issue for him in the minors (28.2 percent in 93 Triple-A games in 2017) and even more so in the majors (44.7 percent in 31 MLB games). Cordero is fast, and a Fangraphs article from earlier this year noted that of 450 players in 2017 with at least 30 balls in play, Cordero ranked seventh in sprint speed. With the strikeout issue, Cordero likely will have slumps and inconsistency, but he has a solid skill set and should provide counting cats and be fun to watch even if he struggles with batting average. I plan to bid on him across the board. The only thing pumping the brakes a bit is that Wil Myers and Manuel Margot are scheduled to be back later this month, and Cordero could encounter a playing-time squeeze, although if he looks good, one would think Jose Pirela won't stand in his way in left field.
Nick Pivetta: Pivetta has been electric to start the year in his three starts, compiling a 2.70 ERA across 16.2 innings. His 10.26 K/9 rate is a nice bump up from last year, but even more impressive is that he has walked only two batters. Walks were a big issue for Pivetta in 2017; he had a 3.86 BB/9 rate. He also allowed way too many homers; 25 of them in 133 innings. Pivetta was called up in 2017 after 32 dominant innings in Triple-A to start the year, but he was brutal in the big leagues with a 6.02 ERA, He also ran into some less than ideal luck with a .332 BABIP, 67.1 percent strand rate and a 18.2 percent HR/FB rate.
Before we get too excited about Pivetta's two gems in the last week, note that they were home games against the Marlins and Reds, two offenses that we will likely target for most of the season. He's scheduled to start twice next week and should be a popular add in many leagues due to his last two starts. This week, he'll get the Braves in Atlanta and then a home start against the Pirates. While the first start is a bit scary on paper, the second is a nice matchup on paper. I watched Pivetta's last two starts and came away impressed. This pickup one is risky (hey, just look at his 2017 line!), but I'm bidding on him if he's available in 15-teamers and also grabbing him in any 12-teamer where I need a stream or an injury replacement. He has some upside, and while the risk is real, he could be a guy you end up holding past just the two-step.
A Closer Look
Saves have been rough on me the first couple of weeks, especially in the NFBC Main Event, as my RP2 is Arodys Vizcaino who has yet to register a save. While Jeurys Familia seems to log a save every night as the Mets never lose, Aroldis Chapman, Vizcaino, Ken Giles and Hector Neris have combined for three total saves between them. Saves are the one category I try not to panic about early, as they often tend to come in bunches for closers and, also, I hope to find closers during the season on waivers. But, you also don't want to get too far behind and have to chase the whole second half, so it's a fine line between having some patience early on but knowing when to act and trade for some saves before it's too late.
Speaking of Hector Neris, he has been a bit of a mess to start the season with a 7.71 ERA over his first 4.2 innings of the season, with a blown save in his last outing on Wednesday and an ugly loss in his first outing during which he allowed three earned runs in less than an inning. I thought that I'd be worried about Neris' being able to get the job done, but a closer look shows that Neris has actually been pretty solid aside from the three-run bomb he allowed to Nick Markakis. Neris has managed to strike out six batters already, while only walking one, and there is little doubt that his .384 BABIP is going to come down and his 53.6 percent strand rate is going to go up. This is still theguy who posted a 3.01 ERA in 74.2 innings in 2017 while striking out more than 10.0 batters per nine. This is good time to play up Neris' struggles in the first two weeks and try and acquire him on the cheap.
Series of the Weekend
Diamondbacks at Dodgers. A series can be only so big in the middle of April, but this one feels pretty significant, as the Dodgers have sputtered early on to a 4-7 record and have only scored 39 runs so far in those 11 games. The Diamondbacks have started on fire, compiling a 9-3 record while allowing the second fewest runs in the National League. These teams could be battling in September for the NL West crown, and I'm sure the Dodgers don't want to fall too far behind early, especially with a head-to-head series this weekend in Los Angeles. The Dodgers finally seemed to be gaining a bit of momentum with back to back wins, but then Alex Wood imploded on Wednesday as the A's (really, the A's!) put a 16 spot on them.
The pitching matchups set up as really juicy, topped off by a fantastic matchup on Sunday with Clayton Kershaw facing Zack Godley. Kershaw doesn't have a win in his first three starts, but he has been his usual fantastic self with a 1.89 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 19 innings. His run support has been meager to say the absolute least, with the Dodgers plating a total of four runs in his three outings. We talked about Godley a bunch here last year and he has picked right back up and is balling in 2018. In his two starts so far this season, he's gone seven innings each, allowed only one run total while surrendering only one walk. Sunday promises to be a much-watch game with these two guys on the mound.
The D'Backs are top-10 in runs scored in the early going even with their anchor, Paul Goldschmidt, scuffling the start the year. Goldy is hitting only .190 through his first 42 at-bats, but has still walked 11 times to put his OBP at .370. When Goldy gets it going, and if A.J. Pollock can stay on the field (the real question on this offense), this offense has a pretty significant upside. As noted above, the Dodgers offense has yet to get going, as three of their best hitters in 2017, Corey Seager, Yasiel Puig and Chris Taylor all hitting under .220 with only two homers between them. I don't think anyone in L.A. is worried about the Dodgers quite yet, but if Arizona can come into Dodgers Stadium and win this series, it may be a wakeup call for the reigning NL Champs.