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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Fantasy Baseball April Recap

Performance reviews through the first month of the season to determine which players may be over or under performing.

Written by: Jake Floriolli

[Source:Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays]

The first month of the baseball season has come to an end and fantasy managers worldwide are left wondering if their player is just off to a slow start or if they should try to trade them now while they still hold value.

In times past it may have been difficult to determine the reasons why a player may be over or underperforming… and it still is! But now with the additions of batted ball data and pitching metrics, we are at least able to infer what may be happening.

So by analyzing both pitching and metrics through Statcast, let’s take a look at which April performances you should believe and which performances are unsustainable.

*Stats current through April 29th*

1. Shane McClanahan, TB, SP: 1-1, 2.45 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 31:5 K:BB

A popular breakout candidate this draft season, Shane McClanahan has been proving his believers right so far in 2022. With a sub-2.50 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP, fantasy managers could not be more pleased with the month that McClanahan just posted. In addition to the standout ratios, McClanahan is also striking out batters with a 36% K% and absurd 58% Whiff percentage with his changeup. Looking below, you can also see that McClanahan is doing almost everything right by keeping the ball on the ground and throwing strikes. Now his 25th percentile average exit velocity is not the best, but hey, it is a whole lot better than last season when he ranked in the 2nd percentile in the same metric! Run, don't walk, to make a “buy high” offer to the manager with Shane McClanahan in your league.

Verdict: Sustainable, Attempt to Acquire.

2. Kyle Tucker, HOU, OF: .208/.266/.403 with 6 R, 15 RBI, 4 HR, 2 SB

Kyle Tucker was selected in the first round of fantasy drafts just a few weeks ago, but now, four weeks later, fantasy managers are caught wondering when they might finally start to get 1st round production. It has been a rough start for Tucker this season which is eerily similar to his 2021 season, but will Tucker turn things around in 2022 like he did last season? The underlying metrics certainly seem to think so. Tucker is not hitting the ball particularly hard so far, but regardless, his xBA is over .300 with an expected slugging percentage ranking in the top 10% of hitters. Tucker’s xWOBA is also higher right now than it was last season. Do not believe that this slow start is indicative of things to come. Go try to buy low as you might be able to acquire Tucker for less than first-round value.

Verdict: Unsustainable, Attempt to Acquire.

3. Marcus Stroman, SP, CHC: 0-3, 6.98 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 17:6 K:BB

Now with the Chicago Cubs, Marcus Stroman has had an abysmal start to the 2022 season with a nearly 7.00 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. Nothing has been going right for Stroman so far this season, but is his lack of success warranted? His underlying statistics would suggest so. As you can see below, Stroman ranks horribly in almost every Statcast metric with career-worst marks in exit velocity, xWOBA, and hard-hit percentage. Unless Stroman makes substantial and tangible changes to his game, there is no reason to believe that Stroman will be able to return to fantasy relevance. Sell for anything you can or drop him if you are unable to find a taker.

Verdict: Sustainable, Attempt to Move.

4. Taylor Ward, LAA, OF: .404/.517/.830 with 14 R, 13 RBI, 5 HR, 1 SB

Time to talk about a member of the Los Angeles Angels and surprisingly enough, it is not Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani. Outfielder Taylor Ward has come out of nowhere to compete with the aforementioned big dogs for the title of best hitter in Anaheim, California. In April, Ward had more walks than strikeouts to go along with his eye-popping .404/.517/.830 slash line. And as if that was not impressive enough, just look at Ward’s Statcast rankings below. There is nothing lucky going on with Ward’s production this season. Now you should not expect a .400 batting average or .500 on-base percentage, but a real breakout seems to be happening before our eyes. Try to get Taylor Ward if you can, but I doubt his current manager is looking to move him right now.

Verdict: Sustainable, Attempt to Acquire.

5. Bailey Ober, MIN, SP: 1-1, 2.75 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 16:5 K:BB

Bailey Ober finds himself on this list of early-season standouts due to his current 2.75 ERA and low walk rate. However, is he really becoming a reliable starter before our eyes? The data would not suggest so. With an xWOBA nearly .100 points worse than his actual wOBA and Statcast metrics all ranking in the 20th percentile or worse among pitchers, Ober appears to be a prime candidate for regression. And even if Ober does manage to sustain this hot start, don’t expect his strikeout numbers to ever be a strength. If you can, I would try to trade Ober for any sort of equivalent value before his ERA begins to level off.

Verdict: Unsustainable, Attempt to Move.

6. Andrew Vaughn, CWS, OF: .283/.367/.566 with 5 R, 12 RBI, 4 HR, 0 SB

Andrew Vaughn came into 2022 being a little overlooked after being so heavily touted as a breakout before 2021. Despite still playing in a limited role, Vaughn has shown us that his hype was well warranted. So far in 2022, Vaughn sports a dazzling slash line of .283/.367/.566 with four homers in just 16 games. Albeit a small sample size, Vaughn is also striking out less often and is absolutely crushing the ball with a hard-hit percentage in the 96th percentile. Given the recent injury to teammate Eloy Jimenez, it is plausible that Vaughn starts to see more consistent playing time. With Statcast expected statistics that are off the charts and the possibility of regular at bats, Andrew Vaughns’ value might be about to skyrocket. Trade for him as soon as you can.

Verdict: Sustainable, Attempt to Acquire.

7. Chris Paddack, MIN, SP: 0-2, 3.68 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 13:1 K:BB

Former highly touted pitching prospect Chris Paddack now finds himself as a member of the Minnesota Twins rotation. On the surface, it appears that some of Paddack’s 2021 struggles have followed him to Minneapolis this season as he sports a 3.68 ERA and less than one strikeout per inning. However, Paddack seems to be changing his arsenal usage as his fastball usage percentage has dropped 7% from 2021 to 2022, which may be beneficial as Paddack's fastball was not particularly effective last season. Despite the middling surface-level statistics, Paddack appears to be developing into an interesting fantasy option as he sports a 2.14 xERA and 1.70 FIP. The strikeouts need to become more prevalent if Paddack wants to truly break out, but he certainly has the potential. Keep an eye on Paddack moving forward and look to acquire him if you can if he begins to string together a few good starts.

Verdict: Unsustainable, Attempt to Acquire.

8. Marcus Semien, TEX, 2B: .165/.236/.228 with 10 R, 6 RBI, 0 HR, 2 SB

Marcus Semien destroyed baseballs for 6 months last season when he hit 45 home runs with the Toronto Blue Jays. Now a member of the Texas Rangers, 2022 is not going well for the former 3rd place AL MVP finisher. With a batting average below .200 and 0 homers so far, Semien is producing nowhere close to what fantasy managers had hoped. But unfortunately for Semien, his batted ball data does not provide much hope. With an average exit velocity of 85.7 MPH and barrel percentage nearly half of what it was last season, Semien does not look like he will easily be able to turn around this rough start. If Semien does manage to hit .250 with 25 home runs, he will still be a huge fantasy disappointment this season. My advice would be to try and trade him as soon as you can to recover value while you still can.

Verdict: Sustainable, Attempt to Move.

9. J.T. Realmuto, PHI, C: .274/.321/.370 with 13 R, 3 RBI, 1 HR, 3 SB

The near-unanimous number one catcher in fantasy drafts, J.T. Realmuto, has been off to a good start with a .274 average and three stolen bases in the month of April. However, there are some concerning metrics as well. Most notably, Realmuto has 21 strikeouts to just FIVE walks and not even a .400 slugging percentage. In addition, Realmuto’s average exit velocity and barrels per plate appearance are both currently at career-low marks. With a current BABIP of .373, expect Realmuto’s slash line to drop when the number begins to drop back down toward his career average of .319. It’s hard to improve at the catcher position in fantasy baseball, but if you can turn Realmuto into Will Smith, I would do so in a heartbeat.

Verdict: Unsustainable, Attempt to Move.

10. Tyler Mahle, CIN, SP: 1-3, 6.45 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 24:11 K:BB

Tyler Mahle was a relatively popular sleeper in fantasy baseball drafts this off-season, however, he has been off to a rough start this season with a 6.45 ERA and 1.66 WHIP with more combined earned runs and walks than strikeouts. At first glance, it is clear from a mile away that Mahle has been at least a little bit unlucky with both a career-high BABIP and career-low LOB%, both of which should stabilize throughout the season. Additionally, Mahle’s Statcast data gives reason for optimism as his xWOBA is currently lower than it was last season when he finished with a 3.75 ERA. Mahle’s average exit velocity is up a little bit on the year, but with a barrel percentage, expected slugging, and hard-hit percentage all in the 75th percentile or better, Mahle should turn things around sooner rather than later.

Verdict: Unsustainable, Attempt to Acquire.

Statistical and Visual References: Baseball Savant, NFBC, Fangraphs, Twitter.