Slow Starters: 8 Early Trade Targets, Trade Bait, and Players to be Patient With

It’s almost Opening Day. I AM SO EXCITED ARE YOU EXCITED????

All that energy is as contagious as herpes in a freshman dorm, and sometimes we have to remind ourselves to slow down and not push the panic button in the early going. Sometimes, however, that panic is warranted, and in addition to helping you identify a few slow starters to target in trades or hang on to, I’ll also identify some players who start hot and fizzle out. These will be players you don’t want to buy during their fluke months (cough, April Eric Thames) or that you’ll benefit by selling them high and early.

I use data from FanGraphs for trends and career stats and, per FanGraphs’s data collection, the months of March and April are combined as are the months of September and October. The October numbers do NOT include playoff stats, only regular season games that bleed into October.

Late Bloomers: Trade Targets & Players to be Patient With

Here I’m reviewing five players whose stats show a history of sluggish Aprils and Mays but post big, juicy stat lines in the latter two-thirds of the year.

Note that all players I’m covering today (both the early and late performers) have at least three full MLB-level seasons under their belt. The 1st-vs.-2nd half data trend isn’t as relevant for players with two or fewer professional seasons for reasons that I hope are obvious.

Speaking of obvious…..

Brian Dozier – 2B (MIN)

dozier
(Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Brian Dozier is one of the more well-known “second-half” players, so he’s a great candidate to kick us off and demonstrate what this piece is all about.

Sample Size – 5+ MLB seasons, 851 Games

Career Batting AVG – .251

1st half AVG – .244 w/75 HR (476 games)

2nd half AVG – .259 w/76 HR (371 games)

Worst month – March/April, .221 AVG w/14 HR (109 games)

Best month(s) – June+August, .274/30HR (June) + .275/36HR (Aug)

Bull Dozier has a crystal-clear trend in his career numbers, and you can almost set your watch to it. He’s going to stink it up during the first 6-ish weeks of the season before busting out in June and unleashing a torrid pace of power after the All-Star Break. Note the difference in games played in each half to really see the power differential: before the ASB, Dozier goes deep about every 6-7 games. After the ASB, he’s hitting dingers every 4-5 games.

If you drafted Dozier, don’t panic if he starts the season with a Mendoza-line looking AVG. Obviously you’re not going to drop Dozier, but you should avoid the impulse of trying to trade him away. No reason to sell low, especially when his career stats all-but-guarantee he’s going to get much, much better. Conversely, if you need help at the keystone, reach out to the (hopefully) nervous Dozier owner in your league to test the trade waters. His value will never be lower than early-mid May, and that’s the time to pounce if you want to sneak him away from an impatient owner. He’ll be mashing by the 4th of July, and you’ll be sitting pretty knowing his best months are still ahead of him.

Carlos Santana – 1B (PHI)

The Phillies newly minted first baseman was brought over to provide veteran power in the middle of a young lineup. Santana is being drafted at an average ADP of around 140, and is a top-20 player at his position, with the promise of a big year on a revitalized offense looming large.

While Santana is a good and rosterable player, his splits are significant enough that you’ll want to avoid him in the first half and seek him out in the second.

Sample Size – 7+ MLB seasons, 1,116 Games

Career Batting AVG – .249

1st half AVG – .238 w/88 HR (606 games)

2nd half AVG – .262 w/86 HR (510 games)

Worst month – May, .218 AVG w/1 HR every 8.1 Games

Best month – August .274 AVG w/1 HR every 5.8 Games

Carlos Santana is a big man, and like a boulder rolling down a hill he needs some time to pick up momentum. Santana’s 7 full MLB seasons have shown that he improves his AVG and his power stroke after the first two months of the season, and there’s no reason to think his next 160 games will go much differently than the last 1,100 of them.

Santana’s two worst months for Batting Average and Home Runs per game come in the March/April and May segments of the season. After that, he explodes in June, with his AVG and HR per game rising fast and peaking in July, and keeping that consistency through the end of the season. He experiences a bit of an AVG dip in August, but his mark of .254 is still far better than the April and May results, and his HR-rate is just as good as July’s high watermark.

If you’re a Santana owner, don’t panic when his crappy April devolves into an even crappier May: that’s just his Modus Operandi, and he’ll reward your patience from June onwards. If you’re looking for a power upgrade in May, seek out the owner in your league with Santana and grab him for a fraction of his Rest of Season (ROS) value.

Mookie Betts – OF (BOS)

Mookie-Betts
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Mookie Betts went off the board at an average position of 7.8 this year, so it’s not like this is someone you’ll find on the waiver-wire or trade for a song, but Mookie rides the struggle bus pretty hard to start the season, and April or May could be your best shot at prying him away from his owner at a bargain price.

Sample Size – 3+ MLB seasons, 508 Games

Career Batting AVG – .292

1st half AVG – .283 w/45 HR (268 games)

2nd half AVG – .302 w/33 HR (239 games)

Worst month – March/April, .263 AVG/ 1HR every 8.5 Games

Best month(s) – August+Sept/Oct, .304/ 1HR every 5.9 Games (Aug) + .319/ 1HR every 7.7 Games (Sep/Oct)

While Mookie’s 1st and 2nd half splits aren’t horrendously different, there’s a substantial disparity between the batting averages, and the monthly breakdown is even more telling. Betts essentially gets better each month: his worst stats across the board, both for AVG and power/counting stats, come at the start of the season. His batting average rises each subsequent month with one outlier: .263 (Mar/Apr), .271 (May), .303 (Jun), .279 (Jul), .304 (Aug), .319 (Sep).

If you’re seeing what I’m seeing, I think the trend speaks for itself: Mookie is a slow starter. His worst stats are posted after he takes a break from the action: in April when the season starts and he’s shaking off the rust, and dipping back down in July after the All-Star Break. Coincidentally (or not?), Mookie’s worst career months are also those in which he’s played the fewest games.

Simply put, Mookie gets better the more he plays, and luckily for us March/April is when he’s played the least, is the most rusty, and his worst month. Betts will never be less valuable than the start of the season, and if you’re an owner you need to hold tight and wait for the good times to roll. If you’re in need of OF help and you have a nice trade chip, do your best to snag Mookie while his value is lowest in the early outset of the year.

Jake Arrieta – SP (PHI)

Jake Arrieta is a new acquisition by the Phillies, but he’s an experienced veteran with significant fantasy value. Arrieta is ranked as the 23rd best pitcher and 90th overall player by the folks at Pitcher List, and he’s a staple of top-25 SP lists all over the fantasy world. Arrieta made a big leap after moving from Baltimore to the Windy City, where he had a career renaissance. Now he’s considered a borderline-ace, and when we look at his career stats and what he’s achieved it’s easy to see why:

Sample Size – 8 MLB seasons, 191 Games Started

Career ERA – 3.57

ERA since joining Cubs (4 seasons/119 Starts) – 2.67

1st half ERA – 3.94

2nd half ERA – 3.07

Worst month – May, 4.14 ERA

Best month – Sep/Oct, 2.68 ERA

Arrieta presents an even more hopeful trend for second half owners beyond what the simple stats above show: over his career, Arrieta has lowered his monthly ERA every month from June to the end of the regular season. With May representing his worst monthly ERA, he has shown the ability to turn the ship around in June, where his ERA decreases to 3.89 and continues to tumble each month until hitting the low point of 2.68 in September and October.

If Arrieta gets off to a rough start, or when he shits the bed in May, don’t panic! His career trends tell us that he’ll get right back on the horse and that he should pitch better and better as the season approaches the All-Star Break and beyond. Look to buy him low in late May or early June and reap the rewards of history.

Jose Abreu – 1B (CHI)

Abreu is a strong fantasy asset, consistently ranking in the top 5-8 of his position and getting drafted in the 3rd or 4th round of most drafts. It’s for good reason, as he offers the rare combination of 30+ HR power and .300+ AVG discipline. Basically, the dude can rake.

However, there’s a trend to his mashing, and savvy owners can use that to their advantage when looking to trade for him:

Sample Size – 4 MLB seasons, 614 Games

Career Batting AVG – .301

1st half AVG – .289 w/70 HR (335 games)

2nd half AVG – .315 w/54 HR (279 games)

Worst month(s) – March/April + May, .266 AVG w/20 HR (Mar/Apr) + .270 AVG w/19 HR (May)

Best month – August .330 AVG w/23 HR

First you might notice that the power is always there. And it really is. For those of you who drafted Abreu, rejoice that even when he’s slumping he’ll still be hitting dongs for you. His HR-rate per month and the number of HR’s he’s hit each month over his career are nearly identical, but the stat that really jumps out is his batting average.

Abreu only hits under .300 in March/April and May. Literally that’s it. From June to the postseason he’s an absolute machine, hitting at a clip of at least .308 with a peak of .330 in August. As a bonus, his BB-rate (and thus OBP) increases every month from May to October.

Abreu’s consistent ability to provide power will keep his value up, and he is never going to start so slowly that he gets sold for peanuts. However, his slow-to-start batting average and OBP might have some owners wondering if he was worth the high price tag they paid in the draft. If you’re one of those owners, hang tight: he will rebound and post better stats every month once summer starts. If you’re not, you should be able to grab him in a trade for far less than his actual value. Look to grab him in mid-May and pay for his basement, then enjoy his ceiling in June and beyond.

Fast Starters: Sell ’em High, Don’t Buy

These are three players who start off with tantalizing Aprils/Mays and slide back into mediocrity before the All-Star Break.

Take advantage of these hot bats/arms in the early going if you drafted them or see them on your wire, and look to trade them away for a hefty return if you can get anyone to bite. Just don’t sell the farm to get them on your team, because these three guys are going nowhere but down.

Yasiel Puig – OF (LAD)

puig.jpg
Don’t you wish you were that bat? Yeah, me neither (Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images)

Like another young talent who I recently covered, Yasiel Puig is as frustrating as he is tantalizing. The man has speed, power, and the ability to get on base while hitting in the heart of a stacked Dodger lineup. Every year we keep telling ourselves “this is his year, it has to be” while crying ourselves to sleep.

Sample Size – 4+ MLB seasons, 587 Games

Career Batting AVG – .281

1st half AVG – .288 w/47 HR (326 games)

2nd half AVG – .272 w/38 HR (258 games)

Worst month(s) – March/April + Sept/October, .257 AVG w/12 HR (Mar/Apr) + .264 AVG w/17 HR (Sep/Oct)

Best month – May + June, .289 AVG w/1 HR every 5.3 Games (May), .324 AVG w/1 HR every 7.4 Games (June)

While Puig is undoubtedly talented and worthy of a roster spot in most leagues, most of his value is delivered on the front-end, and savvy managers would be wise to squeeze him for that sweet, sweet Puig juice in the early going and then ship him off before the All-Star Break.

Like Abreu, Puig’s power is fairly consistent and doesn’t follow the trend of his AVG, but that AVG can get real scary real fast. Once he peaks in June with a sterling .324 AVG, he nosedives for the remainder of the season, dropping to .276 in July and watching his AVG fall in each subsequent month.

It’s worth noting that Puig has pretty terrible Aprils in addition to the latter months, as he posts his career-worst AVG in the month of April. However, if you can stomach a month of sub-.250 AVG, he’ll still hit 4-6 HR for you in April, and then reward you with an explosion of hits, walks, homers, and all-around great play in May and June.

Once he starts heating up, snatch him off the waiver wire and enjoy the production. If you already have him, be sure to try and sell him for a big haul in June when he’s peaking and doing his best impression of a top-10 OF. Just don’t try and buy him when you see the breakout: it’s doomed to be fleeting.

 

Adam Jones – OF (BAL)

Jones has been around for, like, ever. He made his MLB debut in 2006, back when high schoolers were lucky to have flip phones and no one knew what Rick Rolling was. Simpler times.

While the world has changed since then, Adam Jones has not. He’s basically hit .280 with 26-30 HR every year, and you can probably count on a similar stat line in 2018.

HOWEVER, as with the other men on this list, it’s not about how much Jones produces, but when. If you can grab him at the right time he will provide excellent value. If he’s still on your roster after the All-Star Game you might be doing something wrong.

Sample Size – a lot of MLB seasons, 1,541 Games

Career Batting AVG – .278

1st half AVG – .285 w/1 HR every 5.9 Games (.471 SLG)

2nd half AVG – .267 w/1 HR every 6.2 Games (.445 SLG)

Worst month – Sept/October, .256 AVG w/1 HR every 7 Games (.419 SLG)

Best month(s) – June, .287 AVG w/1 HR every 4.9 Games

Jones is a hot starter, no doubt about it. While his best all-around numbers typically peak in June as noted above, Jones posts his best AVG in April (.291) and puts up the majority of his HR and power numbers between March and July, making him a prime trading chip just around the All-Star Break.

While he did defy career trends by posting a solid second-half AVG in 2017, his Sept/Oct woes continued as he failed to hit a single HR despite starting just as many games in that span as August and July, indicating the 2nd half power drain is still relevant here.

The short version is that Jones starts off great in the AVG department and then finds his power stroke early summer, and keeps it until early/mid August. After that, he’s not going to provide much value. Be sure you’re not trading for him then, and if he’s already on your squad, look to move him before the clock strikes August and regression knocks on his door to sap his value.

Dallas Keuchel – SP (HOU)

dallas-keuchel-game-1-alcs
(Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Dallas Keuchel is a stud. He’s going at an ADP of 60th overall and ranks as a top-20 Starting Pitcher. He’s got a Cy Young trophy that’s just 3 seasons old and plays for the world champion Astros, ensuring that he retains plenty of value in Wins leagues as well as QS (though he only recorded 18 QS last year, he only started 23 games).

BUT he’s also a man with two faces: the sexy first half face, and the ugly second half one. Not that I’m superficial….(if anything I envy his beard)….but yeah, I don’t want him on my team after the All-Star Break, and here’s why:

Sample Size – 5+ MLB seasons, 149 Games Started

Career ERA – 3.65

1st half ERA – 3.29

2nd half ERA – 4.13

Worst month – July, 5.08 ERA

Best month(s) – Mar/Apr, 2.38 ERA + June, 2.86 ERA

Here’s some bonus stats for you: during Keuchel’s Cy Young season in 2015, his worst monthly ERA….was July at a mark of 3.71.

And his best month during his Cy Young chase? …..yep, March/April with an absurd 0.73 ERA.

So this isn’t just a few fluke seasons: even when he’s at his best, Keuchel seems to follow this trend:

March/April: Absolute domination.

May: Weirdly regresses a bit. Career ERA is 2nd worst in May (July is worst) with a mark of 3.89

June: Bounces back with a friggin vengeance, second-best monthly ERA at 2.86

July: I’d say shits the bed but this is a rare instance of that phrase not quite doing justice to just how far he slips…is he hanging out with Jason Pierre-Paul and playing with fireworks? Hungover from too much patriotic partying? Does he not do well in the heat (can’t imagine that’s the case with a name like Dallas and a guy working in Texas). Nervous about the All-Star Break and seeing his wife again?? I don’t know why, but I do know he sucks in July whether he’s having his best or worst season. You don’t want him in July.

August thru October: Nearly identical career monthly ERAs of 3.86 and 3.87 in the last stretch of the year allow him to regain value after he settles down rebounds from whatever demons make him pitch so poorly in July.

So, the short recap is that Dallas is otherworldly dominant in March/April before wobbling a bit in May, then he goes back to All-Star form and coasts through June: end of June or early July is when you want to trade him away. His value will never be higher after his hot start, and any lingering questions from his mediocre May will (appear to) be put to rest by his sterling June numbers. Unload him from your roster before he ruins your July, and you’ll be able to live with the fact that while he bounces back for a solid August and September, he still won’t regain his early season form.

Similarly, for those who don’t own Dallas, look to pick him up for cheap in late July/early August: you should not pay a premium for him, because his August/Sept/Oct numbers will not be as good as his peak value, but nervous owners who suffer through his horrific July will be eager to listen to trades. Look to steal him cheap towards the end of his slump, just don’t overpay.

The Beer: Wookus – Imperial Black IPA (Firestone Walker)

 

leo-urus-wookus.jpg

I guess I’m on a Firestone Walker kick since this is the second one in a row I’ve reviewed, although this beer couldn’t be more different from the Nitro Stout I talked about last week.

Wookus is the latest offering in the Leo v. Ursus series of Double/Imperial IPAs from the California-based brewers at Firestone Walker. Wookus is a robust Black IPA clocking in at a hefty 8.2% ABV and a surprisingly high bitterness level for a Black IPA at 75 IBUs.

The beer pours dark and malty with a nice head of foam, and the taste follows the visual profile. Rich roasty malts combine with a bitter, heavy hop profile to create an extremely weird but unique chocolate-y hoppy flavor. It just works, don’t ask how.

The body is what I can only describe as “bittersmooth” (can I patent that word?) due to its big IPA bitterness levels and silky-smooth malt bill. Rather than toeing the line between two styles, Wookus seems to smash them together in an improbably delicious Imperial IPA.

Drink it, be weirded out by it, and enjoy it. Til’ next time!

Cheers!

-Josh

 

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