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.
Notes entering Monday
Seiya Suzuki has hit 2nd for the Cubs in six straight games.
The Phillies have twice mixed up their lineup this season, but they're settling into a Segura-Hoskins-Harper-Castellanos-Realmuto-Schwarber top 6.
Alec Bohm has started 5 straight games at third base. Bryson Stott hasn't started since that streak began.
Trevor Story has hit leadoff for the Red Sox in 4 straight games.
Jazz Chisholm has hit leadoff for the Marlins in 4 straight.
Bobby Witt Jr. hit 2nd or 3rd in each of the Royals' first 10 games. He has hit 7th in their past 4 contests.
Joc Pederson has hit cleanup for the Giants in all but one game against right-handers. During that one game he hit leadoff.
Josh Donaldson hit leadoff for the Yankees in 5 of their first 7 games, but he hasn't done so since.
Lindor has started 17 games so far and has hits in all but three of them. It has been a remarkably consistent start to the year for the $340 million man. Overall he's hitting .313/.406/.563, which is good for a 186 wRC+. He also has 4 homers, 3 steals, and 24 runs + RBI.
Digging into his profile, the two metrics that jump out are a career-high pull rate (46.3%) and a career-low swinging strike rate (6.3%). Everything else looks to be in line with career norms.
This tells me that he's likely benefitting from a new approach at the plate. We know Lindor wasn't right mechanically in his first season with the Mets, and that he adjusted his stance mid-way through 2021. That can be difficult to pull off in a market like New York. Clearly, though, he has found a solution.
It's also worth pointing out that Lindor had a .248 BABIP last summer, which was the 7th lowest mark in baseball. He was due for positive regression. Through 17 games he's even over performing a bit (.426 wOBA compared to .378 xwOBA).
Based on where he was drafted and the current state of offense in MLB (it's grim), there's a case to be made for Lindor as one of the best picks that was made during draft season. He now has some likely regression coming from the other direction, but if the approach change sticks it won't be an issue. I think he'd be a 3rd round pick if we were redrafting.
This is a huge deal for what to expect around baseball this year. I did a full post on it that can be found by clicking here.
In summary, the ball is very likely deadened as MLB's league-wide home run to fly ball ratio has dipped dramatically in 2022. Here's a visual display of what's going on:
If this sticks throughout the year then we'll continue to see an increase in the number of middle class starting pitchers. High-end hitters are becoming the most scarce resource in fantasy baseball. If able, trade pitchers for hitters over the next few weeks.
Bieber's fastball velocity was the story of his first few starts. Three outings into the season and he's averaging 90.6 mph on the heater, which is down from 92.8 mph in 2021. It's notable since he missed almost half of last season with a shoulder strain.
However, Bieber has found ways to remain effective. Through 16 innings he has a 2.25 ERA, a 2.95 xFIP, and a 16:3 K:BB ratio.
The key to the success appears to be throwing his slider more, up to a career-high 36.7% usage rate in 2022. We also know that Bieber has always had great control, and it isn't as if he was ever a high-velocity arm to begin with.
This version of Bieber can absolutely perform as a strong fantasy pitcher while changing speeds, hitting his spots, and increasing the usage of his best pitch. The margin for error is a lot smaller now, though. Hitters might also catch on to this new scouting report.
Week 1 velocity concerns aren't as fierce right now. Still, he's a "sell" candidate if you can receive draft day value in return, especially if it's for a hitter.
I posted the above video on Friday morning. Mookie then went on to have a more productive weekend, homering twice on Friday and reaching base three times on Sunday. Of course, there was also a 4 strikeout game mixed in on Saturday.
The homers were badly needed as Betts entered the weekend with zero barrels in 2022. He's now at 1 while his hard-hit rate (27.5%) is well down from his career norm (27.5%).
Betts isn't chasing at all (20.1 O-Swing%), but his swinging strike rate is also an outlier from his career-rate (7.3% to 5.2%).
All of these numbers tell me that Mookie's plate discipline isn't an issue, but he's struggling more than ever to make contact. When he does make contact, he's hitting it a lower clip than ever before.
Is last year's hip injury, which he never got surgery for, still bothering him? His sprint speed is in the bottom 16th percentile of the league right now. It was 53rd percentile last season and was mostly in the 70s, 80s before that. Here's a look:
Perhaps he hasn't turned on the jets yet, it's early. It's becoming easy to tell ourselves a story here, though.
The two homers this weekend were nice, and as long as he keeps playing he'll pile up counting stats in an All-Star Dodgers lineup. I'd personally be trying to use those homers to sell high, however, especially if you can get draft day value. Kyle Tucker or Bryce Harper are fellow first-rounders I'd flip him for.
Note that Baseball Savant is likely going to make an adjustment soon to better reflect the offensive environment in 2022. These "expected stats" still matter now, but things could change once the Statcast info is more reliable.
Notable Over Performing Hitters (wOBA vs xwOBA)
Noteworthy Under Performing Hitters (wOBA vs xwOBA)
This doesn't mean to sell every hitter on the first list and buy everyone on the second, but these are the outliers based on the early-season sample we have. It's important to be aware of these names, and to contextualize their current value/performance.
JD Martinez has the 12th worst hard-hit rate (per swing) in the majors.
Joe Ryan's slider usage is on the rise, and it's working.
Hunter Greene's fastball velocity over his first 3 starts: 99.8 mph, 100.2 mph, and .... 95.8 mph.
37-year-old Justin Turner has a career-worst chase rate and a career-worst swinging strike rate. He also has a career-worst hard-hit rate. These are three of the stats that stabilize quickly for hitters.
Tylor Megill's fastball velocity over his first 4 starts: 96.2 mph, 96.9 mph, 94.8 mph (uh oh), and... back up to 95.8 mph.
Andrew Vaughn had a 10% swinging strike rate in 2021. He is at 6% so far in 2022.
Christian Yelich ranks first in hard-hit rate per batted ball event.
Joey Bart wasn't chasing at all to begin the year, but things have started to slip. He's up to 21 strikeouts in 43 PAs.
Jorge Lopez has earned all four saves for the Orioles this season. Over his past five appearances he has a 11:0 K:BB in 6 2/3 frames.
Seiya Suzuki's home run distribution is beautiful: