Grab a snack or two, or be like Chris Paddack and order a pizza — there is a lot of information to take in. This week, we asked the Touts:
Is there anything in particular you are monitoring the first few weeks of the season?
Brad Johnson (Patreon/BaseballATeam, @BaseballATeam): I prefer to focus on stats with immediate meaning. Controversial, huh? Common examples include pitcher velocity, max exit velocity for hitters, running speed, and other similar metrics which are more of a physical measurement than a statistical exercise. Beyond that, I’m looking for potentially erroneous narratives. For example, we were fed a line about Vladito raising his launch angle over the offseason. So far, it checks out!
Jason Collette (Rotowire, @jasoncollette): The early indicators on homers are pointing toward more drag on the baseball this year. While exit velo and HH% are up, distance is down and we’re seeing homers hit at a rate not seen since the 2018 season out of the gate. Through five games, we’re at a homer ever 34.2 plate appearances whereas that number has been 31.3 and 30.0 each of the past two seasons. Only 2018 (35.2) and 2017 (34.4) got off to slower starts with home runs.
Jennifer Piacenti (Fantasy Alarm, @jenpiacenti): I am monitoring pitcher use in general. Not only relievers, but starters, too. Since my league has IP as a category, I am interested in how deep into games managers are letting their starters go. Will there be more innings limits? I’m curious if middle relievers will be used more than ever this year, and if they could have some value.
Anthony Aniano (Rotoballer, @AAnianoFantasy): Early this season I am keeping a close eye on inning limits. Seeing starters go only 3-4 innings may become more of a norm than people would realize and thus make multi-inning relievers more valubale in fantasy baseball.
Alex Fast (Pitcher List, @AlexFast8): I’m usually pretty pitcher oriented so I’ll be taking a look at things that stabilize pretty quickly like pitch movement/a new pitch. For example, the FB that Wheeler showcased in his first start showcased both additional rise and run and while he isn’t someone you can pick up off the waiver wire, it’s good to know where to look. It’s really difficult to say based off of one or two starts what a pitcher is going to focus on or if they’re going to make changes to utilization but Lance McCullers Jr. threw his new slider 30+ times in his first start. Are any waiver wire guys throwing new pitches? Are they throwing them more frequently than anticipated? If so, could be a potential add. Lastly: CSW. Becomes reliable around 5 starts but if you want to know who is making strides, check out their CSW’s.
Scott Engel (Rotoballer, @scotteTheKing): Seeing who is saving games is natural, so I am looking at starting pitching. Who is showing eartly signs of breaking out and may have a new arsenal or refined mechanics? There could be some interesting early adds.
Perry Van Hook (Mastersball, @): I agree with those who are watching pitching usage. This year in particular starter usage and tendencies of the clubs towards that. Alex Cora said the Red Sox are “taking care of their guys (starters) so they will have them available later in the season
Ray Flowers (Elite Fantasy, @BaseballGuys): I will be focusing on trying to convince people that they should trust the research that they put in the last four months instead of believing that 28 at-bats, or 12 innings pitched, should drastically change the outlook on players. It is amazing to me, bordering on baffling, how once games start folks seem to forget everything they spent all that time prepping for as they grasp for every shinny toy available to them on waivers. This is a prime time of year to flip those hot starting players for the players that will actually carry you to titles in 2021.
Rudy Gamble (Razzball, @RudyGamble): For hitters, I’m focused on playing time and batting order. For starting pitchers, velocity and general stats (K, BB). For relievers, I’m focused on velo and role. But most of my early season decisions are through the lens of “this upcoming week” and thus my Razzball weekly projections and a player’s value plays a major role for me. My ideal is finding guys that work for the week and then I may hold onto for a while if they do well and their weekly values are above water.
Justin Mason (Friends with Fantasy Benefits, Fangraphs, Fantasy Alarm, @JustinMasonFWFB): To be quite honest, I’m mostly just enjoying games. I’ll look at lineups and bullpen usage, but we have been without baseball for so long, I just enjoy it being back
Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): I am looking at K%, K-BB%, HR/9, RP usage, injury indicators with pitchers. With bats, I am looking at platoons and multi-position to see if there are more ways to get someone into lineups. I am looking at current IL players for news of when they return and how that affects current rosters. I am always looking at schedule and how to maximize matchups (or try to do that). I am also looking at FAAB bids by my competitors–who is aggressive, who is holding back for later. Finally, I am looking at my own roster constructions and seeing where I have projected outages and then combing through other rosters to make trades (in the 3/6 leagues where trades are an additional way to change the talent mix) and perhaps not wait through some of these early season hot streaks to create more balance where I need it.
Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): Closers, of course. Watching for changes in batting orders, especially those 1-8, 8-1 switcheroos. I’m interested in pitchers with new effective pitches, velo changes, and/or mix changes, but I have to get that from fantasy sites because I don’t have time to do the legwork myself.
Ariel Cohen (CBS Sports, @ATCNY): Closers, of course. Watching for changes in batting orders, especially those 1-8, 8-1 switcheroos. I’m interested in pitchers with new effective pitches, velo changes, and/or mix changes, but I have to get that from fantasy sites because I don’t have time to do the legwork myself.
Frank Stampfl (Fantasy Pros, @Roto_Frank): For hitters I’ve noticed I’m paying closer attention to former star players who had down seasons last year for reasons we couldn’t really quantify. Most notable are J.D. Martinez, Christian Yelich, and Javier Baez. So far Martinez is performing the best of the bunch. Along with lineup placement for hitters, I like to pay attention to plate discipline early on. For pitchers, I like to focus on pitch usage and velocity. Is a starting pitcher using a new pitch or just using a pitch more or less than they have in the past? Which pitchers are throwing harder than last season? If a particular pitcher’s velocity is down, is it due to weather?
Eric Cross (Fantrax, @EricCross04): There are several things I look at early in the season. For hitters, it mostly has to do with plate approach, exit velocity, and any potential lineup shake-ups. For pitchers, I monitor bullpen situations, strikeout and walk rates, and any pitch mix changes. Whether that’s adding/subtracting a pitch, altering usage, or added/lost velocity.
Brent Hershey (Baseball HQ, @BrentHQ): I’m making a more concerted effort here early in the season to actually go back and watch pitcher’s outings — often relievers that I may not have seen before — via MLB.tv. Having a visuall of how these pitchers work their way through their innings — that their pitches look like, mechanics, etc — gives me another piece of info to go along with the numbers. And I realize not everyone has access to MLB.tv to watch an entire inning or several innings, but even searching for highlights of a pitcher on MLB.com can be helpful and provide some more information that could drive fantasy roster decisionmaking. Also, great point by Ray Flowers above on trusting your own off-season and draft-day evaluations, and resisting the temptation to jump on the teeny samples.
Michael A. Stein (Fantasy Judgment, @FantasyJudgment): I am keeping an eye on pitching moreso than hitting. While offense will probably trend downwards compared to the past few seasons due to changes to the baseball, it will not be as volatile as pitching for a variety of factors. No one has any concrete answers on how pitchers will be used due to coming off a truncated season. Starters are tending to go even fewer innings, middle relievers are being used longer than normal, and closers change seemingly on a daily basis. MLB teams are starting to use their best relievers in the most critical parts of a game, even it is not in the 9th inning. Health is always a concern for pitchers, but even moreso in 2021. The lack of a DH in the National League also subjects pitchers to more risk of injury. The key is to have sufficient depth and handcuff options because pitching, overall, is completely unpredictable right now.
CJ Kaltenbach (Elite Fantasy, @TheSeigeDFS): The biggest thing I’m keeping an eye on is the starting pitching usage. With all the early off-days I’m not too worried about hitting usage yet. So far It appears teams were telling the truth about limiting starters usage which will make wins harder to find than ever.
Steve Gardner (USAToday Fantasy Sports, @SteveAGardner): Nothing unusual. Batting orders, bullpen usage are always worth watching, especially early. Maybe guys playing different positions. This season, it’ll be interesting to see if there really is a difference in expected fly-ball distance with the “new” baseballs, but that will likely take some time to figure out.
Fred Zinkie (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @FredZinkieMLB): I’m watching bullpen usage a lot. I’m trying not to get carried away with batting orders or hot/cold starts. I’m looking at pitcher velo a lot. Mostly I’m crossing my fingers each night that my players stay healthy. That’s more important than anything in April.
Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): I’m watching starting pitchers whose velocity was confirmed to be up by Statcast or supposedly up according to articles and tweets. Now that the season has begun, are their fastball velocities still higher than last season? If yes, I’m buying. If no, my pre-season opinion/projection would remain unchanged.
Jock Thompson (Baseball HQ, @JOCKatHQ): Didn’t play fantasy in 2020; just watching baseball took a toll. Dropped the ball early on draft-and-hold basics—like not benching my Utility DH-only Nelson Cruz as the Twins were scheduled to play Milwaukee. So feeling stupid, but now focusing on schedules, bad pitching staffs, injuries, spring weather.
Charlie Wiegert (CDM Sports, @GFFantasySports): playing time and linuep spot. it seems some teams are still moving a lot of guys around, so watching for platoon situations and where in the batting order guys are playing. such as, sad to see miles straw at the bottom of the Astros lineup. it hurts his value!
Glenn Colton (Fantasy Alarm, @GlennColton1): This year is so different that many others. That said, the key is not to overreact. I am watching who is closing, who is playing everyday, who seems to have discovered a new pitch, skill or role, etc. I am also trying extra hard this year not to change my view of a player, formed after months of study, after just days of games!
Shelly Verougstraete (Dynasty Guru, @ShellyV_643): For pitchers I’m focusing in on starting pitchers velo and pitch mix changes as well as bullpen usage. The whole closer role is in flux with so many teams and hopefully some roles are determined within the next few weeks. For hitters, I’m really looking at lineups, roles, and platoons. There are a bunch NL lineups, the Mets and Dodgers come to mind, that I am focusing on. I was a big fan of Dom Smith and Will Smith but without the DH, their usage will sadly be limited.
Alex Chamberlain (Rotographs, @DolphHauldhagen): Statcast and the ball. It’s becoming increasingly clear the ball is bouncier but has more drag, resulting in higher EVs without the corresponding improvements in production. This might lead analysts to expect improved production by virtue of many hitters–perhaps most hitters–improving their average and maximum EVs. Because Statcast routinely uses historical evidence to establish its “xStats,” it’s entirely possible that a hitter’s xwOBA (or, on the flip side of the coin, a pitcher’s xERA) will overvalue the EVs he is generating in 2021. I think this is probably a big reason why you don’t see 2021 data yet on any players’ Statcast pages–the Statcast folks need to recalibrate the xwOBA (and related) models. In fact we all need to recalibrate our mental benchmarks for EV. At this point this feels like the only trend worth monitoring until there’s some clarity; even something helping in small sample like max EV is rendered inert if it can’t be compared apples-to-apple with previous years. Everything else is too noisy, even pitch-level metrics like plate discipine and pitch usage. (New pitches are always interesting, though!)
James Anderson (Rotowire, @RealJRAnderson): It’s this time of year when I hate myself for being in so many leagues. Generally, I’m not focused on performance, I’m mostly focused on usage, be it a reliever competing for high-leverage opportunities or a position player competing for at-bats against same-handed pitching.
Greg Jewett (Fantasy Alarm, @gjewett9): Due to covering relievers, what feels like full-time, the usage patterns, closer chaos and how many innings relievers continue to log early on. Plus, entering game action on Tuesday, there’s been 34 saves but 13 could have been by relievers not on many active rosters. While it seems like saves may be on the rise, if one-third happened without being on fantasy rosters, could fewer saves place higher in leagues? Market inefficiency exists when chasing saves, especially if they continue to aggregate in fluid situations. Also, discerning how the baseball continues producing high exit velocities but reduced distance aligns slightly with the intended effects put forth in the KBO limiting flight by increasing draft resistance.
Nick Pollack (Pitcher List, @PitcherList): New pitches and their velocities! We can get a quick sense of a pitcher searching for improvements out of the gate. Jordan Montgomery throwing his cutter, Lance McCullers Jr. with a new slider, and Carlos Rodon showcasing 95+ mph velocity after sitting sub 94 mph across his career. It can be hard in the reverse (i.e. pitchers throwing softer than usual) as many may need a few more outings to ramp up. Keep watch of the individual pitches and it can go a long way grabbing an arm who will pay off for months.
Peter Kreutzer (Ask Rotoman, Fantasy Baseball Guide, @kroyte): Every day I look for the way my fringy guys are being used. My drafts are done, so it’s all about figuring out how what happened today is possibly affecting what I expected would happen going in. (I did not anticipate a Brad Hand Covid problem, but, ya know, fomites. He’s well named.) The other thing is remembering which guy is on which team. It’s not all there yet. Ronald Acuna two homers today? Yeah, I rated him highly. But do I have any shares? I have to check. I do! On the other hand, did I settle for Tyler Naquin after getting squeezed on Justin Williams in last week’s Tout NL FAAB run? Yes I did. I’m okay with that.
Lou Blasi (Fantistics, @LouBlasi): Most early, I am paying attention to how managers are handling their bullpens and I am looking at pitchers who dealt with injury issues last year. I’m watching their velo, their pitch deployment, and if they are beating hitters. Kluber is an example. In his first start, his pitch deployment was pretty similar to his prime years with just a little more offspeed than prior years. But his velo was off considerably. I was thinking he’d rely on his FB less. Hopefully, his velo will tick up as we go here, and he had a healthy CSW%. It’s one start so you don’t dig in too deep on conclusions, but I got no warm and fuzzies from start #1. I have also seen what looks like a lot of noise in terms of identifying offspeed pitches for starters, so I am taking deployment percentages with a grain of salt. With young kids, I am watching how they seem to be handling the majors and whether they seem overwhelmed or not. MLB hitters sometimes struggle early so I am not panicking on slow starts for batters. Finally, more and more rosters in the majors have platoon elements and emphasize position versatility, so I am looking at how managers of these teams are handling playing time.
Larry Schechter (Winning Fantasy Baseball, @LarrySchechter): I’m watching closers. The season started with many unsettled situations and many Fantasy Baseball players making assumptions…No…Jordan Romano was not absolutely the Toronto closer…but some people drafted like he was…and no, neither is Matt Barnes…it’s still to be seen if it might be Ottavino instead…and several other bullpens…just look at KC and Jesse Hahn got the last save. LMFAO
Toby Guevin (BatFlipCrazy Podcast, @batflipcrazy): I look at different things for hitters and pitchers. For hitters, it’s changes in opportunity or role. A move up or down the lineup or access to playing time as a result of injury can have a big impact on player values. For pitchers, I look for tangible changes like increased velocity or a pitch mix change, whether changing their approach with existing pitches or adding a new one. I also focus a lot on underlying skills as opposed to results. If a pitcher has a rough outing, but shows increased velocity and a higher swinging strike rate I keep a close eye, just like a player who has good results but poor underlying metrics and a velocity dip I might be less interested in.
Andy Behrens (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @andybehrens): Lemme tell you what I *don’t* have to monitor in the opening weeks, because my Tout league happens to have excellent scoring settings: Saves. My mixed league uses saves+holds and it’s an absolute delight. I didn’t have to spring into action when Jesse Hahn made a surprise appearance in the ninth. I don’t have to convince myself that just maybe Baltimore’s closer can survive at 75 mph. Instead, all I need to do is collect a few bankable, talented late-inning relievers and let ’em go to work. I cannot recommend saves+holds enough, people. Rid yourselves of the tyranny of SVs.
Ron Shandler (RonShandler.com, @RonShandler): I have nothing to add to the above, but even in the first week, I am thankful I am in a few leagues that use Saves-plus-Holds and don’t have to get into bidding wars for Julian Merryweather. But at the same time, I am lamenting all the lost wins in leagues that are using innings pitched. I am impossible to please.
Chris Towers (CBS Fantasy Sports, @CTowersCBS): Production hardly matters to me at this point in the season, so it’s more about trying to identify which things can be meaningful this early. Roles are chief among them — who is getting save opportunities, who is consistently sitting against certain types of pitchers, who is batting leadoff, etc. But obviously also stuff on a pitch level like velocity, spin rate, and new additions to arsenals that could prove to make a significant difference. And, with the likes of Akil Baddoo and Yermin Mercedes, I’m looking for signs that their underlying skill sets are MLB quality — Baddoo’s hard-hit rate and max exit velo of 107.9 mph are a great start, especially.
Adam Ronis (Fantasy Alarm, @AdamRonis): I am looking at pitchers with added velocity, new pitches and pitch mix. I am also looking at how manager are utilizing pitchers in the bullpen to try and potentially get a jump on a cheap reliever that could work their way into saves at some point.
Scott Swanay (FantasyBaseballSherpa, @fantasy_sherpa): For hitters it’s primarily playing time and position in the batting order. For pitchers I’m curious to see how starting pitchers compare with the start of the 2019 season with respect to innings pitched, batters faced, pitches thrown, etc. to see if fears of lighter workloads this year have merit. For individual pitchers off to very good/bad starts, looking for changes in velocity, pitch mix, etc., that might give clues as to whether their early-season performances are blips or trends.
Mike Sheets (ESPN, @MikeASheets): I’m looking at playing time and lineup position more than I’m looking at stats. The first couple weeks of the season, we get insight into who is being platooned and who is playing every day. We’re seeing who is batting near the top of the order, and who is near the bottom. Victor Robles batting leadoff for the Nationals is a big deal. The fact that a guy like Nick Madrigal is batting ninth most of the time also matters. Of course, it’s fun to watch a relative unknown like Yermin Mercedes light the world on fire, but what’s most important to me is that, for right now anyway, he’s playing almost every day and is batting in the heart of the White Sox’s batting order.
Zach Steinhorn (CreativeSports2, @zachsteinhorn): Bullpen roles have always been my primary focus in the first few weeks but it seems like this is now impossible to get a read on with only a handful of clear-cut closers and not too many defined next-in-line options. I’ll continue to monitor this closely but I have a feeling that the saves hunt will be more frustrating than ever in 2021. I’m also looking at playing time, especially at the catcher position, as it’s good to know if your catcher is the guy playing two out of three games or one out of three games. If it’s the latter, it might already be time to make a change.