Tuma's Take: Week 5 (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

May 9th 2022

Brendan Tuma

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.

Lineup Takeaways

Notes are entering Monday.

  • Juan Yepez has started and hit 5th in all 5 games since joining the Cardinals.

  • Tyler O'Neill hit 3rd in each of his first 22 starts but has hit 4th or 6th in each of the past 4.

  • Salvador Perez has started, not appeared in, but STARTED 200 of the Royals' past 202 games.

  • Whit Merrifield hit 1st or 2nd in each of his first 21 starts of the season. He has hit 5th or 6th in each of his past 4.

  • Shohei Ohtani has started 28 of the Angels' first 30 games this year despite the ridiculous two-way workload he takes on.

  • The Phillies continue to tinker with their lineup. The most recent development involves Kyle Schwarber leading off (again) with Alec Bohm batting 2nd.

  • Jose Miranda has hit between 2nd and 6th in 6 of his 7 starts.

  • Royce Lewis has hit 7th, 9th, and 7th in his 3 starts for the Twins.

  • Alek Thomas hit 8th in his MLB debut Sunday.

  • Jarren Duran hit leadoff for the Red Sox in the one game he was called up for. It's something to remember for later this season.

Spotlight: George Kirby, SP, Mariners

Seattle's first-round pick from 2019 has officially bypassed Triple-A, jumping to the majors after 11 career starts at Double-A.

Kirby entered the season as one of the best pitchers in the minors, and he has yet to disappoint. In 5 starts (24 2/3 IP) at Double-A he posted a 1.82 ERA with a 32:5 K:BB. Then he lit up the Rays in Sunday's MLB debut, striking out 7 over 6 scoreless frames while allowing just 4 hits and zero walks.

The 24-year-old relied on his fastball against Tampa Bay, throwing it 59% of the time and generating 13 of his 15 whiffs with the offering. He averaged 95.8 mph with the four-seamer and maxed out at 97.9. Kirby also mixed in his slider, changeup, and curve. He's known to possess a legitimate four-pitch mix.

The background on Kirby is that he was an elite "control" pitcher coming out college. His "stuff" took a huge jump forward following the pandemic shutdown period, which combined with the aforementioned 80-grade control established him as one of the premier pitching prospects in the minors.

Through one start it seems as if the transition to the big leagues will be a smooth one. In redraft leagues he's as close to a "must add" as we could see this summer.

Struggling Bats

Offense is down. In particular, home runs are down. We think a big reason why is the combined effect of deadened baseballs and the installation of humidors around MLB. April is always the worst month for offense, though. It's going to get better from here.

Consider 2021, which environmentally speaking was an extreme shock to the system coming off the Juiced Ball Era. April 2021 featured a .283 batting average on balls in play and a .157 ISO. From May 1st through the end of the season we saw a .293 BABIP and a .169 ISO.

In April 2022 league-wide BABIP was .282 with a .137 ISO. Things are worse right now power-wise compared to last spring, but the point is that offense always improves as the weather gets warmer. The good news for all of our fantasy teams with struggling bats is that May has arrived, and with it the promise of more offense.

In general, for most high-end hitters who are struggling I'm giving it until Memorial Day before panicking or adjusting my preseason expectations too much. But I'll still share some thoughts on how individual strugglers are looking right now.

Marcus Semien, 2B/SS, Rangers

Semien entered 2022 as baseball's leader in fWAR since 2019. He also had two top-3 MVP finishes during that time. A pair of monstrous seasons ('19 and '21) will do that for you, but the disappointing 2020 was still in the back of our minds in draft season.

He was seen by many as an easy early-round "bust" choice. Through mid-May that has held up as Semien is batting .184/.252/.243. Yikes. After becoming the 5th second baseman in MLB history to pop 40+ homers last year (45 to be exact), he has yet to hit a round-tripper in 2022.

Semien is chasing pitches out of the strike zone far more than he ever has (33.2% in 2022, 25.9% for his career). Is he feeling the pressure to live up to his 7-year, $175 million free agent contract? It's possible. It's also worth noting his two big years came during the rabbit ball season (2019) and then a campaign with the Jays featuring an awfully favorable offensive environment.

Until that O-swing% normalizes this isn't one to blame solely on the 2022 offensive landscape. It's fair to bench Semien for the time being.

Ketel Marte, 2B/OF, Diamondbacks

Marte has picked it up over the past week (ironically once the calendar flipped to May). The 28-year-old enters Week 5 riding an 8-game hitting streak that has increased his batting average from .135 to .206.

However, his O-swing% and SwStr% are both spiking based on career norms while his max exit velocity has yet to reach previous single-season highs. What should we trust more then? A month's worth of data or a week's worth of improvement?

I'm ultimately less worried about Marte than I am about Semien. Of course, the cost to acquire Marte was far cheaper this spring.

Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays

The 2020 postseason phenom "got it done" for fantasy purposes in his follow-up act, hitting .274 while going 20/20 at the plate. There were concerning signs entering '22, though, including a .363 BABIP that was 5th highest in MLB and the 2nd largest wOBA-xwOBA difference among qualified bats.

Arozarena's already-bad GB% has reached catastrophic levels in 2022. His 60.5% ground ball rate is the second highest in the bigs, which is the major reason why he has yet to homer. The saving grace for Randy has been the 4 stolen bases (on 6 attempts), so he's still running. Therefore, he's still worth starting while he gets his batted-ball profile sorted out.

Tyler O'Neill, OF, Cardinals

O'Neill's offensive profile can be summed up as "hitting balls hard, striking out a lot, and a surprising amount of speed." He's always been a volatile player and therefore his cold stretches have an easy fallback explanation.

To an extent, his start 2022 feels like nothing more than one of those cold streaks. O'Neill isn't chasing or whiffing more than usual, and his max exit velocity is reasonably close to last season. It seems as if the league is throwing him more breaking stuff (sliders and curves) so far, so perhaps he needs to make that adjustment.

If-and-when a hot streak comes, it could be fierce. We just saw this with Franmil Reyes. It's likely best to keep O'Neill plugged into lineups for now.

Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Royals

It was fair to question Merrifield's overall effectiveness as a hitter in recent seasons. His wRC+ has dropped from 119 in 2018 to 110, 106, and then 91 in 2021. Through 25 games in 2022 it's at....1 (not a typo), which means he's been 100% worse than league average.

I didn't even realize he was performing this poorly until writing this section, because in the back of my mind was "well, he needs to stay in starting lineups for those precious, precious stolen bases."

And...that's probably still the case? His swinging strike rate is up but his K% is fine and there doesn't appear to be anything else overly alarming about his profile, other than the surface level stats, of course. He's hitting more fly balls this season and should probably stop that. I'm buying low in roto leagues where steals are everything.

Max Muncy, 1B/2B, Dodgers

Here's one where I'm just not worried. Muncy is batting .138 with a .150 ISO, but the batting eye remains tremendous (100th percentile BB%).

If there was any reason for concern it would be that Muncy is flat-out swinging less than usual (32.9% in 2022, 37.8% for his career). Is this because the Dodgers are generally ahead of the curve when it comes to league-wide edges? Or is he hiding that elbow injury from the end of 2021?

If it's the latter then opposing pitchers haven't caught on, or else they'd be pounding him in the zone. The barrel% is right in line with where it usually is. I expect Muncy to fully heat up once the warmer weather arrives.

Trent Grisham, OF, Padres

I'm like 5 hours past my target time for releasing this blog so I'm cutting to the chase with this one -- I don't think Grisham is very good. Outside of a really strong barrel rate in the shortened 2020 he has never really hit the ball with authority.

Grisham's eye at the plate is fantastic -- he's posting a top-5 (lowest) chase rate for the second straight year at the time of this writing. His batted-ball profile continues to look weak, though. The Padres are giving him less starts as their leadoff hitter as of late. He should improve once league-wide offense does as a whole, but Grisham isn't a must-roster player in shallower fantasy formats.

Final Takeaways

  • Mike Trout is still the best baseball player in the world.

  • Juan Soto has 6 homers and 8 RBI. He's amazing, but the counting stats in a dreadful Washington lineup might not end up being worth the top-3 overall selection Soto was taken as.

  • Willy Adames is closing in on a full season's worth of playing time with the Brewers. In 539 PAs he has hit .272/.358/.517 (136 wRC+) with 28 homers and 5 stolen bases.

  • Ronald Acuna has played in just 9 games but already has 4 stolen bases, which is tied for 11th in MLB.

  • Julio Rodriguez still leads baseball in stolen bases. He's up to 10.

  • Top 5 MLB batting average leaders: Manny Machado, Taylor Ward, Eric Hosmer, Andrew Benintendi, and Josh Bell. Alrighty then.

  • The Minnesota Twins are currently getting killed by injuries, but their pitching staff has quietly compiled the 4th best ERA in the majors.

  • Julio Urias continues getting strong results despite his fastball velocity dropping from 94.1 mph in 2021 to 92.3 mph in 2022. His K% has decreased while his BB% has increased from last season, though.

  • Matt Brash is transitioning to relief work for the remainder of 2022.

  • Given all the prospect buzz this week I think it's a good time to stash Max Meyer for free.

  • If you're interested in further content, especially when it comes to prospects, relief pitchers, and other baseball topics, you can sign up for my Substack newsletter for free.