In my daily column, I’ll occasionally mention a specific player does/does not pass the eye test. When I say a player passes the eye test, it means I’ve watched him play and he “looks” like a fantasy stud. If I say someone does not pass the test, I’ve identified some worrisome factor.
In other words, I believe scouting has value in fantasy baseball. Unfortunately, I am not a scout. Nor am I a quant. I have a little of both skill sets due to my playing career through college, intense training program, thousands of hours of baseball watched, and academic background in Economics and basic Statistics. So it makes sense for me to try to combine both skill sets to better my fantasy rosters.
Through one month of play, we have our usual group of surprise performers. Here are five who have passed my eye test. If I don’t mention a player, it might be because I haven’t seen much of him. For example, I think I’ve seen Charlie Blackmon play a handful of times this year, and by “seen,” I mean he was on a muted four panel screen. So I have no scouting opinion to share about him.
Jesse Chavez: Coming off yet another great start, Jesse Chavez has a 1.89 ERA, 2.63 FIP, and 2.69 xFIP. Half his balls in play have been on the ground due to liberal usage of his sinker and cutter. His whiff rate stands at 9.1 percent while his strikeout and walk rates combine for an elite 5.13 K/BB. While Chavez has never shown an elite walk rate in the majors, he’s kept minor leaguers off the bases his entire career. It looks like the 30-year-old has finally put it all together.
When I watch Chavez, his command and control really stand out. With a five pitch mix, he has something for every occasion, and he knows how to hit his spots. ZiPS and Steamer project an ERA around 4.00 for the remainder of the season, I’m comfortable aiming at a 3.20 ERA. I do think he’ll strike out fewer batters, but I think he can sustain the rest of his game.
Anthony Rendon: I was planning to write about Rendon before he went all kinds of 4-for-4 yesterday. This is a guy who’s going to be a top fantasy pick for as long as he remains healthy. His swing can generate pop to all fields. A good comp isn’t coming to mind, but he’s kind of like a right-handed Joey Votto without the insane plate discipline. His swing is ideal to go with any pitch. If he focused on pulling the ball, he might hit more home runs, but the current version of Rendon profiles to be a high BABIP guy who can hit .290 to .330 in a give season.
To date, he’s whiffing just 5.7 percent of the time with a 33.7 percent ground ball rate. His .228 ISO is liable to regress, or so the statistically inclined part of me say. Watching him play, I can easily buy a .200-.250 ISO. It wouldn’t surprise me if he leads the league in doubles this season. He’s at 10 already.
Oh, here’s a spray chart from this season. Remember, he’s a righty.
Josh Donaldson: If anyone was doubting Donaldson heading into the season, he’s probably put your doubts to rest. He’s hitting for more power than ever before, thanks in part to some juicy matchups. The rest of his skill set has held steady, although he’s not hitting many line drives in the early going. Once his line drive rate increases from 12 to 20 percent, we should see his BABIP jump back into the .330 range.
Visually, Donaldson is one of the most imposing hitters in the league. In no way is he as good as Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout, but he has the same presence at the plate. You can watch him settle into the box and see this is a guy can hit. And then he swings and it’s so, so sweet.
Like Rendon, Donaldson can use all of the field, although he’s much more pull oriented with his ground balls.
Ervin Santana: With a start against the Marlins, perhaps today isn’t the best time to tout Santana. With the way Miami has mashed Braves starters, I could be mere hours away from looking silly.
Or how about real analysis. Santana has been snotting on the competition. He’s refusing to walk batters, nor are they allowed to put the ball in play. A full 29.3 percent of hitters have drawn “Go to bench. Go directly to bench. Do not pass first base. Do not collect 1.000 OBP.” His new changeup is filthtastic and it’s really opened things up for his other pitches. Check out these numbers:
The sinker is being beaten into the ground on over 80 percent of balls in play. The change and slider are being whiffed about half the time. Some regression has to occur; these are Cy Young quality numbers. Visually, Santana knows exactly what he’s doing on the hill. He’s hitting his spots like a stud, and he’s remained one step ahead of the hitter. As teams get a better read on the changeup, he might need to work a little harder for his success. For the time being, expect more grounders and strikeouts.
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