Baseball is a grind — and the fantasy version of the game is no different. And because it's a grind, baseball features streaks. Hitters can get hot at the plate, seemingly seeing beach balls thrown at them. Pitchers can get hot on the mound, too. And of course, both can get freezing cold.
In this space, we'll take a weekly look at who's hot and who's not — and whether you should believe in the streak.
(Editor's note: All stats derived before game action on Sunday, May 2)
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
We have been waiting for this for a long, long time.
Buxton has been on a rampage since the season started, hitting safely in his first 10 games and then going 13-for-36 in his next nine. This all amounts to an incredible .408/.447/.859 slash line with eight home runs (tied for second-most in baseball) and three stolen bases (he stole just two in all of 2020, 39 games).
So, what can we glean from this? Has baseball's once-upon-a-time top prospect finally come into his own at age 27? Or is this just an early season blur (kind of like the blur that forms when Buxton runs)?
Well, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that Buxton's current BABIP is a lofty .438 — a far cry from his career mark of .318. He's been experiencing extremely favorable batted-ball luck; that's actually an understatement — his HR/FB currently stands at an incredible 42.1%. Expect that to regress closer to the mean (his career mark is 14.5%) sooner rather than later.
All that said, there are some signs of hope for a career year. For one, Buxton isn't striking out as much nor is he walking as little as usual. And, even though his home-run percentages are beyond his norm, his fly-ball percentage is actually lower than what we've come to expect. His medium-contact percentage is also way lower than his career mark, so maybe a lot of those fly-ball home runs he's hitting now end up turning into fly-ball singles and doubles — and with Buxton's speed, any hit can turn into an extra-base one very quickly.
The biggest sign of hope, however, is probably the one most don't think about: We've never seen a fully healthy Buxton play a full season. So, those career numbers I threw out a bit ago? They don't tell a full story of what Buxton is capable of. Fantasy managers wary of his injury history are in their rights to put him up on the trade block and see what package they can get (and it should rightly be a heavy one).
But those who like to live dangerously (or who are at the top of the standings and can afford the risk) should hold on and see where this goes, even when regression in Buxton's power production eventually hits.
For just regular fans of baseball — please, please PLEASE just let him stay healthy.
Jesus Aguilar, 1B/OF, Miami Marlins
The Marlins might be 23rd in runs scored and 27th in homers, but that's definitely NOT thanks to Jesus Aguilar, who is currently third in total RBIs. The 30-year-old is on a heater of late too, hitting safely in eight straight games. He's been supremely clutch as well, delivering 12 RBIs in those eight contests.
Whenever a hitter you don't expect to be going off starts going off, it's always good to check on his BABIP to see how Lady Luck has been treating them when the ball leaves their bat. Well, to the delight of Aguilar managers, his BABIP actually hasn't been all that great — just .279 — so there could be more goodies to come. Where one might raise an eyebrow is Aguilar's elevated walk rate and his lowered strikeout rate; both are career-good marks for him. With that said, his plate-discipline percentages for this season are all relatively reflective of his career marks so, while it might be hard to believe, Aguilar is just plain being smarter and more patient in the batter's box.
Yeah, he might start striking out a bit more as pitchers learn how to handle him and as the season goes along. Even with this eventual regression, statcast still gives him an expected batting average of .279 — and an expected slugging of .511.
All this — and Aguilar was drafted as the second-to-last first baseman in Yahoo leagues.
Jared Walsh, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani might grab all the headlines out of Anaheim (deservedly so), but Jared Walsh has been doing his fair share of work to help maintain the Angels offense among some of the most dangerous in the league.
Fantasy fans clamored for Walsh to be the Halos' everyday first baseman in the offseason, and it seems like we've gotten our wish. Walsh has been lighting it up — first, he hit safely in eight straight, and he's followed that up with an 11-for-19 barrage in his last five games. He's top-10 in batting average for the season, helped undoubtedly by a .403 BABIP, but he's actually striking out more than last season. So, while there could be regression en route, it might just result in less eventful at-bats, as opposed to negative, strikeout-heavy ones.
With a current batting average of .360 and an xBA of .299, fantasy managers look set to enjoy the spoils of Walsh hitting in the heart of LA's potent lineup for the majority of the season.
How's Gerrit Cole doing?
He's doing good.
If possible, I normally try to keep the hot streak section to players who aren't that obvious, but good gawud, Gerrit Cole is on a heater right now. Double-digit strikeouts in three straight six-plus-inning starts. Four straight starts with a WHIP under 1.00.
New York teams might not be scoring that much right now, but man, do they possess an embarrassment of ace-riches in Cole and Jacob deGrom.
And speaking of Yankees ...
Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
If I would’ve told you pre-draft season that the most fantasy-viable catcher on the Yankees through one month would be Kyle Higashioka, would you have believed me?
Well, that's the reality we're living in, as Sanchez — who looked like he was about to have a great year when the season first started — is currently dwelling in a brutal stretch. He is just 2-for-his-last-27 with no home runs. His BB/K ratio is actually a career-best 0.69, but his power numbers are down across the board.
Look, Sanchez is not going to hit .190 all season. He will experience positive regression in the power department, especially as the weather gets warmer in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, his advanced metrics don't paint an amazing picture of that regression either. Statcast has him with a measly .384 xSLG% — at this rate, fantasy managers have to hope he gets, at the very least, to 20 homers.
To make matters worse, Higashioka seems to have earned the spot of Cole's personal catcher, limiting Sanchez's playing time.
Maybe you have a leaguemate who is hurting at the catcher position. Or maybe you have a Yankee homer in there, or someone who thinks highly of Sanchez and believes he will turn it around. Whatever the case, wait for a multi-hit or homer-game from Sanchez — it could be the right time to see what you can get for him on the trade market.
Matt Chapman, 3B, Oakland A's
Strikeouts have always been a problem for the otherwise extremely talented Chapman, but man, has he had a rough go of it, even while the A’s have been firing on all cylinders in the early season. Chapman is striking out at a rate nearly as bad as his career-worst 35.5% from 2020, when he slashed .232/.276/.535.
The ugly Ks have carried over into 2021, but in his defense, he is walking more than he ever has in his career. Unfortunately, that plate patience hasn't led to many homers or runs scored. His hard-hit percentage is a putrid 24.8. Expect some positive regression in power but, sadly, it doesn't look likely that Chapman's average will level out enough for fantasy managers to feel content this year.
Tommy Pham, OF, San Diego Padres
Tommy Pham is off to a tough start to the season, and that start looks even worse when you consider he was drafted on average before the likes of the aforementioned Buxton, Alex Verdugo, and Michael Brantley.
After starting off the season in some favorable lineup positions on the potent Padres, Pham hit seventh in their most recent game against the Giants. He's yet to hit a home run this season, and he's missed time with a calf issue, as well. His current slash line stands at .188/.321/.203.
But never fear — if we're to follow the theme of batted-ball luck, good times are ahead for Pham. His BABIP is a low .241, well under his career .330 mark. He's walking more and striking out less than 2020, too — we always like that. Statcast also paints a rosy picture of his future prospects, giving him a .264 xBA and a .483 xSLG (that's lightyears away from his current numbers).
His HR/FB is a ridiculous 0.0% while his other power percentages remain in line with his career marks. Oh yeah — the homers are set to arrive in bunches for Pham.