Hot out of the gate

It’s April, and that means a lot of surprising names atop the young season’s value rankings. In this column, I’m going to focus on four players off to hot starts and select two who I’m buying into and two who I am not. When I say I’m buying into a player, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m buying into his current level performance, just that I think he’ll prove to have been mispriced in the preseason.

Similarly, for those I don’t buy, I’m not implying the player will be a bust, just that I see no reason to adjust preseason expectations for the player in light of him having a hot start.

Hot starts I’m buying

Dexter Fowler
Fowler wasn’t too far from breaking out last year. He put up double digit homers and steals and a .389 OBP. Having hit in the lower third of the lineup in roughly a quarter of his games, that stellar OBP translated into only 72 runs. When hitting in the one-two slots, where he is locked into in 2013, Fowler scored runs at a clip of roughly 90 per 162.

At age 27, Fowler should be entering his prime and I expected an increase in power—his SLG has increased each year of his career. Coming into the season, Yahoo ranked Fowler as their 52nd best outfield-eligible player, but by the end of the season, I predict he will be more of a top-30 outfielder and top-100 player.

Shin-Soo Choo
Since he was pre-ranked by Yahoo at 77 and 23rd among outfielders, I can’t say Choo was disrespected coming into the season. At his peak in 2009/2010, Choo was a legitimate five-category asset and a top-50 player. Hitting leadoff this season, it will be hard for him to put up above average RBIs, so he may now be more of a four-category player.

But he is still set up with a good chance to have the most valuable fantasy season of his career. Playing his home games in the Cincinnati will boost his home run totals, and hitting atop a very good Reds lineup should position him and his career .383 OBP to score more than 100 runs, a milestone reached by only 12 players in 2012. If he remains healthy, Choo could finish as a top-15 outfielder and a top 40 overall value.

Hot starts I’m not buying

Chris Davis
I don’t have anything against Chris Davis. I think he is a fine fantasy first baseman with a pretty well-defined skill set. I don’t think his scorching start is a complete anomaly; the man did hit 33 homers last year. But this column is about trying to determine whether players are likely to produce well beyond preseason expectations, and I don’t see enough evidence from Davis to indicate this to be the case—and certainly not from today forward, as we’ve most likely already seen his best week of the season.

In a very small 2013 sample size, he is striking out less often and walking more frequently. But, over his career he’s struck out in almost 31 pdercent of his plate appearances and walked in only 6 percent. I need to see the trend of this first week continue for a while longer before I anoint him a changed man and reevaluate his ceiling. I’d say to trade him now if you can, after having already reaped three weeks’ worth of production in one.

Justin Masterson
Masterson has previously tempted fans to think he’s capable of taking the leap from just a guy into a legitimate mound asset. To kick of 2013, he’s been teasing fans again, but I’m not buying it. While he has struck out a batter per inning, he’s also walked seven in 13 frames—control has traditionally been one of Masterson’s problems.

Further, looking into the PITCHf/x data, he doesn’t seem to be doing anything particularly differently than that which has produced mediocrity in years past. The biggest difference from previous years is that he is throwing his slider a bit more and getting good results. It remains to be seen whether its efficacy can be maintained if hitters adjust and look for it a bit more. In a standard 12-team mixed league, I predict Masterson will spend time on a number of different teams as well as on the waiver wire in the course of the season.

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