Tuma's Take: Week 1 (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

Apr 11th 2022

Brendan Tuma

We're back.

Major League Baseball resumed play last Thursday, kicking off a six-month marathon that will take us from the promise of springtime, through the dog days of summer, and finally into the sobering reality of fall.

This column will be posted on Underdog Network every Monday throughout the 2022 season. The goal is to shed insight on the latest happenings within the sport, which can hopefully be of interest to season-long fantasy enthusiasts, DFS players, bettors, and analytically-minded fans.

Conversation is always encouraged. I can be reached on Twitter @toomuchtuma. Now let's dive in.

Note that the first few editions of Tuma's Take could skew heavily towards pitching insights. This is due to the sample size we're working with. Don't worry, hitting fiends. Your time will come.

Lineup Notes

  • The Padres have played four games total. Ha-seong Kim has started at shortstop in both games versus a lefty while CJ Abrams has started both games versus righties. This looks like a legitimate platoon right now.

  • The Phillies have played three games. Bryson Stott started both games versus righties while Alec Bohm started the lone contest against a lefty.

  • Josh Lowe has started all three games the Rays have played, including against a lefty.

  • Cody Bellinger hit eighth against a lefty and seventh versus two right-handers. He started all three games for the Dodgers this weekend.

  • Julio Rodriguez has played center field while batting seventh in all three games for the Mariners so far.

  • Spencer Torkelson has played first base while batting eighth in all three games for the Tigers so far.

  • Gleyber Torres sat on Opening Day but has since started two straight games.

  • Meanwhile, DJ LeMahieu started the first two games of the season but sat on Sunday night.

  • Kyle Tucker has hit sixth in four straight games to open the season. Ugh.

  • Akil Baddoo hit seventh, ninth, and then didn't play in Sunday's series finale. This is particularly concerning since every game was against a righty.

  • Brendan Rodgers has hit third for the Rockies in all three games this season.

  • Jo Adell has started just 2-of-4 games this season. Manager Joe Maddon said before Taylor Ward's injury that Adell and Brandon Marsh would platoon in left field. Ugh.

  • Steven Kwan hit second for the Guardians in their past two games. He also started on Opening Day. He's 8-for-10 with zero strikeouts to begin the year. Note that he didn't strike out in 34 spring training plate appearances, either.

Spotlight: Logan Gilbert, SP, Mariners

Gilbert had a productive rookie season. Among pitchers who threw at least 110 innings he finished 14th in K/BB, 27th in MLB in K-BB% and ranked 17th in BB%.

A big part of his success comes from the elite extension and vertical movement he's able to generate. Essentially, the groundwork was laid for him to take a step forward in 2022.

Luckily for bullish for fantasy managers, his first start was successful.

The 24-year-old allowed one run on three hits and a walk over five innings pitched. He struck out seven and improved as the game moved along, notably admitting afterwards that he was too fastball-dominant early on.

This is exciting because it seems as if his goal of improving his secondaries is paying off.

Look at the far right column. The velocity on his secondaries is up, which is fantastic to see. This will help his pitches look the same and tunnel correctly.

As a rookie Gilbert established that his fastball is a legit weapon. If he now has the off-speed pitches to supplement it? Well I'd say a breakout could be on the horizon.

Velocity Notes

It's so important to state that there have been just four days of regular season baseball, April is typically the coldest month we're dealing with, and we're coming off a shortened spring.

With those caveats in mind, here are some velocities that stood out to me this past weekend.

  1. Shohei Ohtani's four-seam fastball averaged 97.8 mph on Opening Day. He averaged 95.6 mph in 2021.

  2. Tylor Megill's fastball averaged 96.1 mph on Opening Day. He averaged 94.6 mph in 2021.

  3. Max Fried' fastball averaged 95.3 mph on Opening Day. He averaged 94 mph in 2021.

Next, here is a list of pitchers whose velocities were noticeably down during baseball's opening weekend. However, there are just too many factors for me to draw any conclusions from such a small sample size.

Until further notified, these are just situations to monitor:

  1. Shane Bieber

  2. Julio Urias

  3. Robbie Ray

  4. Eduardo Rodriguez

  5. Walker Buehler

  6. Sonny Gray

  7. Josiah Gray

  8. Ryan Pressly

"Stuff" Notes

No, this section isn't for talking about random stuff. We're talking about "stuff" as in pitching arsenals.

I think "stuff" models are going to lead the next big wave of fantasy baseball analysis. For example, Baseball Savant has completely changed how we analyze the game. Before that it was FIP and other ERA predictors.

I'll dive more into specifics another time, but for now there are four things to know about pitching/"stuff" models:

1. They track the physical properties of pitches in order to help us understand what makes a pitch "good." (For a more elaborate introduction, read Eno Sarris, the creator of Stuff+).

2. These models can help us discover what the eye test can't. For example, a low 90s fastball with excellent ride could be more effective than an upper 90s fastball that comes in straight. Velocity isn't everything.

3. Pitching models, such as Sarris', become reliable predictors very quickly.

4. Spencer Strider and Jhoan Duran are the random/unknown/who-the-heck-is-THIS-guy names to know about right now.

We'll start with Strider, who looked absolutely electric on Opening Day. The 23-year-old came out of the bullpen to throw two perfect innings while striking out five. A fourth-round pick from the 2020 draft, Strider moved all the way from Low-A to the bigs last season. Thursday's performance was great, but is he going to be valuable for fantasy?

It depends on your league settings. In H2H categories leagues where weekly ratios play an important role, Strider can be employed as a super-RP right now. He has less value in traditional roto at the moment. It remains to be seen what the Braves are going to do with him, but he would become an immediate pickup everywhere if given a chance to start later this summer.

Then Duran made his Twins debut on Friday. He gave up a couple of hits to start his first inning, threw a horrendous wild pitch, and then struck out the side. The 24-year-old then returned for a second inning of relief and recorded another K.

My reaction:

Duran was limited to just 16 innings in 2021, so there's even less of a chance that Minnesota uses him as a starter this season. He has a higher probability than Strider of becoming a closer, however. Still, the most likely outcome is that the Twins deploy him as a multi-inning relief weapon. Similar to Strider, he's a must-have in H2H categories formats where ratios are king.

So yeah, I'm up to nearly 10 paragraphs on two former nobodies who are unlikely to have fantasy value in most leagues this year. Great work, Tuma!

Here's the thing, though - Sarris was on these guys before they made their debuts. That's because his Stuff+ model was utilized in a lot of spring training parks. And remember, these models don't need huge sample sizes to become relevant.

The biggest lesson here is that new metrics are going to creep into our fantasy baseball space time and time again. Be ready for this, conduct your own research, and embrace them if they prove to be useful. We'll now return to our regular scheduled, possibly more relevant, opening weekend takeaways.

Closer Notes

Monitoring closers can be maddening. I personally believe that we, the fantasy baseball community, spend too much time chasing the saves that just happened and not enough time trying to be early on the next batch of saves.

That being said, here are some closer situations that stood out to me this weekend:

  • Anthony Bender gave up a solo homer and blew the save in Friday's game against the Giants. Don Mattingly went right back to him on Saturday, however, and Bender converted. We'll see what happens when Dylan Floro returns from the IL, but Bender's "stuff" is legit.

  • Tony Santillan got the save for the Reds in their first win of the year. Art Warren earned the save on Sunday. I lean Warren here.

  • Brooks Raley recorded a one-out save for the Rays on Opening Day. Ignore that. Andrew Kittredge earned a save on Saturday. He's the preferred option in this bullpen.

  • Tyler Duffey blew the Twins' first save opportunity of the season. Jorge Alcala or Emilio Pagan could be next in line. It could also be Duffey again.

  • Drew Steckenrider and Diego Castillo each have saves for the Mariners. Shrug emoji.

  • David Robertson earned a save on Opening Day for the Cubs. Do with this what you will.

  • Taylor Rogers recorded two saves for the Padres this past weekend. He's their guy.

  • Daniel Bard picked up the save for the Rockies on Saturday. I like him moving forward in that bullpen.

  • Camilo Doval blew a save for the Giants on Friday. Dominic Leone was given the save chance on Sunday and converted. My hunch is that this is a legit committee between Doval, Tyler Rogers, and Jake McGee. Ignore Leone for now.

  • Jake Diekman earned the save for the Red Sox on Sunday night. He's probably worth an add, but I'm not convinced he's suddenly "the guy" for them in every ninth inning opportunity.

  • Tanner Rainey earned the save for Washington on Sunday. If you're desperate..

Spotlight: Kyle Wright, SP, Braves

The 2017 No. 5 overall pick out of Vanderbilt, Wright's career wasn't going as planned as recently as 7 months ago. Then, suddenly, he became a World Series hero by tossing 4 2/3 frames out of the bullpen in Game 4. It was the third longest World Series relief appearance in the Wild Card era, trailing just Nathan Eovaldi and Madison Bumgarner.

I mentally filed it away, but whatever, October baseball is weird.

On Saturday, though, Wright's name kept popping up on my Twitter timeline. 6 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, and a 6:1 K:BB versus the Reds? Pretty, pretty good.

Taking a peak under the hood, Wright threw both his sinker and curve over 40% of the time in this start, which was interesting because historically that hasn't been the case.

When we're trying to gauge the legitimacy of a breakthrough in a small sample size, we want to see if there was either a change in that pitcher's "stuff"/velocity, or if there was a pitch mix change. Basically, we want a tangible reason.

I went back to Wright's World Series performance and noticed he also heavily utilized his sinker/curve combo in that appearance. So maybe we're onto something.

Wright's velocity isn't overpowering and there are questions as to what his true upside can be when using just two pitches. However, Wright finally seems to be figuring out who he is as a major league arm. I'm trying to add him for cheap wherever possible.

Final Takeaways

  • Gerrit Cole threw 28 fastballs on Opening Day. He induced zero whiffs on them. He was also uncharacteristically throwing them low in the zone. Something to watch.

  • As David Adler notes, Max Scherzer didn't generate any whiffs on his four-seamer in his first start of 2022. The last time this happened to Mad Max was 2010.

  • In 2021 Robbie Ray had just two starts with 4+ walks. He allowed four free passes on Opening Day.

  • Four days into the season there have been just 13 quality starts across the league. Fun!

  • Jeremy Pena should be rostered everywhere.