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Time to Panic?
Michael Ryan,

As the third weekend of the season approaches people may be starting to panic over slow starts from their top draft picks. Every year there are top players who come out of the gates struggling leading everyone to speculate on which players are legit and which are flukes.

First things first, I am a strong advocate of not panicking on players whom you take with your early picks. If you did your homework then you likely spent several months researching the players you drafted, so trust your research and exercise some patience with your top picks.

Three weeks is still a very small sample size and all players go through their slumps; they just happen to get magnified at the beginning of the season when every at-bat or inning pitched has a high impact on the players’ overall numbers.

While panicking and dumping off your top picks can be disastrous towards your chances of a championship this season, completely ignoring your team’s weaknesses can be just as bad so you need to be aware of any slow starts or holes you may have and monitor the situation.

I tend to look at a player’s historical data, his health, and any other intangibles that could help explain why he may be struggling.

Historical Statistics

The first thing I look for is historical data for that player: Does he normally start the year off cold? Is he a streaky player prone to long slumps? The longer the track record you have to look at with a player the more accurately you can assess whether this is just a slump or possibly something more.

One struggling first rounder that I am looking at is Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who, despite a five game hitting streak, is batting just .169 with one homer and (most alarmingly) no stolen bases on the year. I am not worried about Rollins, however. He has had about a half dozen strong and pretty consistent seasons in which he has put up very good fantasy numbers.

Another thing I look at is that throughout his career April has been his worst month in terms of batting average, OPS, and stolen bases. In fact, Jimmy has had almost twice as many stolen bases in the other five months than in April. If you own him sit tight; the steals, runs, and average will come. If you’re looking to upgrade at a weak position, it can’t hurt to see if that owner is ready to send the 2007 NL MVP packing at a discounted price, it won’t last long.

Health Issues

After looking over the player’s track record from previous years, I like to try to find if there is any underlying health or mechanical issue that could be causing that player to struggle.

The first thing I look to find is if that player is coming off of an injury that may be still causing discomfort and inhibiting a full recovery, or has possibly pushed back their training schedule. The next thing I look for is to see if there is any news about a possible hidden injury or mechanical issues that have been reported or looked into by the team.

One struggling slugger that has been the subject of much debate is Boston designated hitter David Ortiz. “Big Papi” started the season hitting just .158 through the first 10 games with only one extra base hit (a double) and still has yet to homer.

Ortiz struggled in 2008 while battling a wrist injury for most of the year. While he says that the wrist feels fine now, those kind of injuries have plagued power hitters in the past, taking a longer than usual amount of time for the power to fully rebound. Also as an aging, out of shape slugger, Ortiz hasn’t exactly been an Iron Man the past couple seasons, missing time due to injury.

Over the past weekend, Ortiz’s hitting coach Dave Magadan stated that a large part of Papi’s struggles have been due to a mechanical issue with his swing, causing him to start his swing too late and maintains that he has had no issues with his wrist.

While you have to remain cautiously optimistic whenever a player or his coach claim that they have “solved” the issue, thus far it appears to be working for Big Papi. He has seven hits in the five games since and while has yet to homer, four of those hits have been for extra bases and he has been hitting with power to the opposite field (including missing a homer on the Green Monster by a couple feet), a sign that the old Big Papi is coming around.

We most likely will never see the 40+ homer power of Ortiz’s heyday but 30/110/.280 is still not out of the question for him, especially in that lineup.

Intangibles While prior statistics and health are the two main things I look for with a struggling player, there are other factors to look into that can’t be explained just using numbers and science. These often don’t provide as clear of a picture for why the player may be struggling and there could be hundreds of factors in play. For all the statistics and science involved, baseball is a very unpredictable sport, especially in the short term.

While I am by no means a professional scout, one thing I like to do when one of my players is struggling is to watch them play whenever possible. The more you watch the more you can see how the player looks when he is locked in and his tendencies either at the plate or on the mound. I look to see if they are swinging at bad pitches or having trouble locating the ball.

Another thing is that younger players are likely still developing and adjusting to the major leagues and are much more prone to go through longer slumps. Players like Geovany Soto, Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Chris Iannetta, and Jay Bruce, all whom are in only their first or second full seasons in the big leagues, still require time to fully adjust and settle in before they start raking like you expected.

A third factor that could be aiding a slow start could be a new team and league for the player. It often takes players, even the most established stars, a little time to settle in to their new environment and opponents. The three biggest offseason moves were Matt Holliday to Oakland and C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira to the Yankees. All three have been off to slow starts but should rebound nicely as the season goes on.

Inconclusive Conclusion

Baseball is a complicated game that is difficult to predict in the long run (remember when Detroit was the preseason World Series favorite heading in to 2008? How’d that work out?) and impossible to predict in the short run. The best we can do is use the info that we are given and make our best assessments from there.

I preach patience, especially with studs who have been there and done that in the past. There are hundreds of factors that could be affecting a given player’s production and we haven’t even discussed one of the biggest factors: luck.

Unless you are able to dig up legitimate information about why that player will continue to disappoint, stick by your guys and see if you can help the other guys out by taking their struggling stars off their hands.

As I’ve said many times before, baseball is a long season, don’t throw it away in the first couple weeks.

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