Is one week enough to trust trends?



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One week does not a season make.

One week does, however, provide us relevant glances at player developments, changes that might absolutely matter in the long run.

We preach so often on these pages, and across the industry, to be patient with your preseason investments. That remains true. It’s foolish to shake the foundation of your fantasy baseball roster within the season’s first few weeks (many, this columnist included, would claim that remains true all the way into the month of May).

That said, things change in the baseball world every single day, and if you’re not watching the games, taking notes, planning ahead and perhaps even reacting with changes to your roster — when applicable — you’re probably missing out on opportunities that your competition will exploit.

Here’s what has most stood out — for fantasy purposes — through the season’s first six days (plus those two early games in South Korea):

The return of the 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner?

Through two starts, no pitcher in baseball has been better than Cleveland Guardians ace Shane Bieber. He has more scoreless innings (12) than anyone in baseball, his 20 strikeouts pace the majors, and both his 49 fantasy points scored and 0.7 FanGraphs WAR trail only Mookie Betts (65, 1.4) among all players.

Naysayers will respond that Bieber’s schedule has been incredibly soft, with road starts against Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners offenses that both rank among the majors’ bottom seven in terms of runs per game, team wOBA and strikeout rate — with both of those outings coming at those teams’ pitching-friendly home ballparks.

Bieber’s starts, however, represent just 11% of Oakland and Seattle’s collective numbers to date — the very definition of having small seasonal samples — and even a quick glance at either outing reveals a pitcher on a clear rebound path. Additionally, speaking to the matchups, part of the mark of an elite baseball player is his ability to dominate the opponents he should be expected to dominate.

Bieber’s average four-seam fastball velocity was 92.0 mph in his two starts. While shy of his 2020 peak (94.1 mph), it was up from the 91.3 he averaged in the previous two seasons. His slider, meanwhile, generated a 64% whiff rate and was responsible for nine of his 20 K’s. Piling that on the promising reports he generated throughout spring training, and it appears that his work at Driveline during the offseason has helped him recapture part of his peak form.

Certainly the changes, especially in light of his offseason work and historical desire to make the necessary adjustments with which to improve, matter in Bieber’s case. He’s bound to regress — that’s a mathematical fact — and he might not even have an ERA below 3.00 from this point forward. Still, he looks like an “at least one K per frame” starter once more, which is a big deal after his decline in the category in 2023.

Bieber was a top-15 fantasy-point scorer among starting pitchers in 2022. It’s best to regard him as close to that once more.

The bold, base-stealing Brewers

In Pat Murphy’s first full-season opportunity to manage, he has shown a markedly greater penchant for the stolen base than when he served in an interim capacity for the San Diego Padres in 2015. Back then, his Padres actually ran noticeably less often — just 6.2% of the team’s opportunities to steal second base — than they did under Bud Black (9.2%) to begin that season.

This year’s Brewers, at least judging by their MLB-leading spring totals of 45 successful stolen bases and 61 chances taken, as well as 11 steals (tied for the lead) on 12 chances through their first four regular-season games, are shaping up as one of the most aggressive teams on the basepaths.

Murphy’s Brewers have attempted a steal of second base on 21.7% of their opportunities, third-most in the majors — behind only Dave Martinez’s Nationals (24.2%) and David Bell’s Reds (22.0%). They’ve also stolen third base 5.6% of the time, fourth-most — behind Kevin Cash’s Rays (9.4%) the Reds (8.3%) and Rob Thomson’s Phillies (6.7%).

Brice Turang has a whopping, major league-leading six steals on as many opportunities, and five different Brewers have successfully stolen at least one base. Cite the small-sample caveat if you wish, but Murphy appears to recognize the need for creativity on a team that isn’t loaded with high-priced superstars, and the team does have as many as five regulars who might place among the league leaders in Statcast’s sprint speed: Turang, Jackson Chourio, Sal Frelick, Christian Yelich and Joey Ortiz (in the order I’d project them to finish in the category).

For those of you in rotisserie leagues, take these Brewers seriously.

A pair of White Sox pitchers with fantasy relevance?

Few fantasy managers had any interest in Chicago White Sox players in the preseason, and with good reason, considering the team’s rebuilding efforts and probability of a 100-loss season. Only four members of the White Sox, Luis Robert Jr. (96.2%), Eloy Jimenez (43.4%), Andrew Benintendi (24.7%) and Andrew Vaughn (16.6%) were rostered in even 10% of ESPN leagues as of Opening Day.

However, it’s a pair of pitchers who stood out during the opening week, both of whom swapped roles this season. Garrett Crochet, a reliever entering this year, has made a pair of outstanding starts, while Michael Kopech, a starter until late in 2023, has surfaced as the team’s prospective closer. Crochet, in fact, set a franchise record by striking out 16 batters over his first two career starts.

Digging into the numbers, Crochet’s 97.0-mph average four-seam fastball velocity stands out, a number that’s within range of where it was when he was selected by the team in the first round of the 2020 draft, and the average spin rate on his slider has never been higher. Kopech, meanwhile, has averaged 98.0 mph with his four-seamer, easily his highest thus far in five big-league seasons, and his slider has generated a 50% whiff rate (albeit on only 14 thrown).

With both pitchers displaying some of their best raw stuff, they need to be on the fantasy radar, and both warrant pickups in all but the shallowest leagues.

One full-season concern: With the White Sox’s pitching depth as thin as it is, and both youngsters having had extensive injury histories, both Crochet and Kopech might be better first-half players than those you can trust over 162 games. Get on board now, but consider cashing in their chips come June or July, as they’ll likely face either workload caps or perhaps deal with late-year fatigue.



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