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.
We'll once again begin with lineup takeaways. As we start getting deeper into the 2022 MLB season, lineup trends will start flying more under the radar, which means that folks who are paying attention can gain an edge.
Takeaways include Sunday's games
CJ Abrams has started 8-of-11 games for the Padres - 6 at SS, 1 in RF, 1 at 2B. He has sat all three times that San Diego has faced lefties.
Spencer Torkelson has sat just once this year, due to rest. In the Tigers' most recent game he hit 6th, which was the first time he has been higher than 7th this season.
Bryson Stott has played all over the infield and started 7-of-10 games for the Phillies. In his most recent start on Saturday, however, he went 0-for-5 with 5 strikeouts.
Speaking of the Phillies, manager Joe Girardi said Sunday that JT Realmuto will continue leading off for now while Bryce Harper bats second and Kyle Schwarber hits fifth.
Bobby Witt Jr. has hit 2nd in every game the Royals have played this season.
Owen Miller has started 7 straight games for the Guardians.
Andrew Vaughn has started just 6-of-9 games for the White Sox.
Jo Adell has started 7-of-10 games for the Angels.
Santiago Espinal has started 8 straight games for the Blue Jays, 7 of which have come at second base over Cavan Biggio. He's a worthwhile add in deeper formats.
April baseball is when we get to see all the changes players made to their skill sets over the offseason. Not only are these developments rarer in-season, but they become tougher to identify in real time.
Perhaps no pitcher increased the abilities of his arsenal more than Luzardo did this past winter.
It was a rough '21 for the former top prospect, who was dealt from Oakland to Miami at exchange for Starling Marte at the trade deadline. At the time, Marte was the clearly superior player, but Luzardo's contract was much longer, so it felt as if the A's were completely giving up on their prized left-hander.
Luzardo's fastball was getting crushed last season, so he started throwing it less upon joining the Marlins. That theme continued is his first start of 2022, but it came with an increase in velocity. His signature curveball was being thrown harder as well, and it helped lead to 12 strikeouts in just 5 innings.
Essentially, Luzardo took his biggest weakness (the fastball) and improved it. He also took his strength (the curve) and made that better too.
As Ben Clemens details in this piece on Fangraphs, Luzardo's windup in his debut was far more athletic/explosive compared to this time last year.
Add in some "messing with timing" tricks (shown below) and there's a lot to be excited about moving forward. Buy high; roster everywhere.
Below is a list of the starting pitchers who have lost the most mph on their fastballs from 2021 to 2022. Of course, it's critical to note that we're dealing with a small sample and a lot of starters have been throwing in cold weather. Just like last week, these situations are only ones to monitor for now.
Stats entering Sunday
Robbie Ray -2.9 mph
Chris Paddack -2.8 mph
Shane Bieber -2.2 mph
Julio Urias -2.2 mph
Cal Quantrill -2.2 mph
*Note that Zack Wheeler's fastball velocity was down 2.4 mph on Sunday.
On the flip side, an increase in velocity should be seen as a very encouraging sign for a pitcher, particularly if that increase is accompanied by a more efficient pitch shape. Aside from spotlights, we'll start diving into meaningful velocity/shape trends in the coming weeks.
Stats entering Sunday
Mitch Keller +2.5 mph
Yu Darvish +2.3 mph
Jesus Luzardo +1.9 mph
Alex Cobb +1.8 mph
Madison Bumgarner +1.3 mph
Max Fried +1 mph
Suzuki entered Sunday with a league-leading 13.0 O-swing% (reach rate), which basically shows that he never chases pitches outside the strike zone. He was known for his plate discipline in Japan and thus far he has backed it up.
Suzuki also entered Sunday ranking 12th in swinging strike rate and had a 99th percentile barrel rate. These are good signs.
He then went 1-for-3 with with a homer and two walks on Sunday. Overall he's batting .400 with a 1.503 OPS and four homers. He has reached base safely multiple times in 7 of the 8 starts he has made.
It was fair to wonder if the 27-year-old would get off to a slow start in a new country with a shortened spring training. That clearly hasn't been the case, though. Suzuki is a must-start player in every format.
As promised, we'll be discussing more hitters this week. It is still very early to draw definitive conclusions overall, but there are certain stats that stabilize rather quickly, which might be able to help us determine the legitimacy of an early breakout.
One of those is O-Swing%, or reach rate, which lets us know how many pitches outside the strike zone a batter is swinging at. Is it everything? No. Luis Roberet and Rafael Devers have two of the highest reach rates in baseball, and it works for them!
But O-Swing% can be predictive in a small sample, and notable year-over-year changes can point to a new approach for a batter. Here are some early-season rates that stand out to me, and why:
Stats entering Sunday
Gavin Lux, 2B/OF, Dodgers (13.6%):
Lux entered Sunday's action trailing just Suzuki in O-Swing%. His career-low before this season was 20.9% in 2019, but his reach rate was above 25% in each of the past two seasons.
This is clearly a big change for the versatile 24-year-old. It has been accompanied by a hot start as well. Lux finished Sunday's game hitting .320 with a 1.015 OPS. The AJ Pollock trade opened up everyday playing time and I'm buying this early success.
Josh Lowe, OF, Rays (19.4%) Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Tigers (20.7%) :
I'm grouping these two rookies together since they're each within the top-20 of the O-Swing% leaderboard. Basically, their low reach rates are reasons to continue buying into them as hitters with compelling upside. They aren't beating themselves despite up-and-down results.
Bobby Witt Jr, SS/3B, Royals (43.5%):
On the flip side is Witt, who has batted just .156 with a 33 K% and a 3 BB%. This reach rate shows that he might be pressing a bit. However, the Royals have hit him second in every game of the year so far, just like they were doing by the end of spring training.
I'm chalking this up to a classic case of a young player trying to do too much. Witt is arguably the top prospect in baseball and his true talent should start taking over once he settles in as a big leaguer. Bench him if you need to, but certainly don't drop or sell low.
Joey Bart, C, Giants (31.7%)
A few days ago Bart's reach rate was just 25.7%, which is a reminder of the sample sizes we're working with here. Still, his current rate is an improvement over the 42.9% mark he put up in 111 PAs in 2020.
Watching his at-bats, Bart simply looks more comfortable. The improvement isn't a huge surprise considering he was a top prospect and the Giants are a player development machine, but his stock had fallen quite a bit in recent years. He's worth rostering in 12-team leagues as long as the O-Swing% doesn't keep creeping up.
We'll close with some unassorted (but interesting) bullet points.
Hunter Greene threw 57 fastballs on Saturday night against the Dodgers. He averaged 100.2 mph on them.
Cardinals infield prospect Nolan Gorman has homered six times in six games following Sunday's blast. He's a name to know as the call-up shouldn't be too long from now.
As The Athletic's Fabian Ardaya points out, Andrew Heaney is throwing a lot more breaking balls with the Dodgers. His two highest-percentage-of-breaking-ball games have been his first two stars in LA. On Sunday he struck out 11 over 6 scoreless frames.
Nestor Cortes struck out a career-high 12 batters on Sunday and also recorded an immaculate inning. Roster in deeper leagues.
Star hitters who have drastically under produced their xWOBA include Luis Robert, Jose Abreu, Jesse Winker, Joey Gallo, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker.
Thanks for reading!