Five Hot MLB Starts to Buy

Every year in the MLB, there are hot starts from players who are able to keep them up, and hot starts by players who are not. Last season we had hitters like Dexter Fowler, Jackie Bradley Jr, Daniel Murphy, Robinson Cano, then pitchers like Michael Fulmer, Aaron Sanchez, Johnny Cueto, Kyle Hendricks and others start off hot into the early months of the season. Most of them were able to sustain their play for much of the whole season. These are the types of players I am thinking about while writing this article.

I have selected five players who have gotten off to a very hot start and that I believe can have continued success going forward in the 2017 season. When I say I buy into a player I do not believe they will necessarily (or in most cases at all) keep putting up MVP numbers, but that they will still provide all-star level production. I have tried to stay away from established superstars like Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, and others at such a high level to avoid this being list of 5 including Trout, Kershaw, Harper, Sale, and Goldschmidt. Without further introduction:

 

Miguel Sano – Since he signed, Miguel Sano has been a big deal. He smashed his way through the minors, never hitting for less than a 131 wRC+, which was his first pro season. After that, he never hit for less than a 145 wRC+ at any level in the minors in a season.

In two seasons prior to 2017, Sano flashed his huge potential, but hadn’t reached it quite yet. In 2015 and 2016, Sano hit:

2015 – 2016 – .249/.346/.489, 124 wRC+ with 43 HR and 39 2B in 830 PA.

This season, Sano has hit:

2017 – .304/.441/.667, 198 wRC+ with 9 HR and 6 2B in 127 PA.

Steamer Projection for the rest of the season:

114 G, 495 PA, .250/.351/.503, 126 wRC+, 27 HR, 20 2B

Bobby’s Opinion:

This is the Sano that Twins, fans of excellent hitting in general, have been patiently waiting for since 2010. This is a guy who strikes out a ton (35.4 K%), but also has great discipline (13.8 BB%) and clubs the ball when he makes contact. Get used to seeing Sano near the top of the batting leader-boards, he will be here a while.

 

Jay Bruce – Jay Bruce is an interesting player. He was a first round draft pick for the Reds back in 2005, and lived up to the draft position for many years. From 2008 until 2013 Bruce produced over 17 fWAR for the Reds, mostly through his above average offense. However, after 2 straight very bad seasons for Bruce in 2014 and 2015, he was traded to the Mets halfway through 2016. Here is his overall line for the Reds and Mets last season:

2016 – .250/.309/.506, 111 wRC+, 33 HR, 27 2B, in 539 PA.

And now in 2017:

2017 – .283/.364/.591, 152 wRC+, 10 HR, 9 2B in 143 PA.

Steamer Projection for the rest of the season:

97 G, 409 PA, .239/.310/.454, 18 HR, 20 2B

Bobby’s Opinion:

Bruce has always shown good potential with the bat, showing 4 straight season of better than a 115 wRC+ from 2010 to 2013. He seems to jumping on the “Get the ball in the air!” bandwagon that many other MLB players are trying to do. Bruce’s GB% is at 24.8 this season, compared to 37.9 for his career. As well his FB% is sitting at 53.5, much higher than the 42.2 he has for his career. If Bruce can continue these trends, I will buy into an All-Star level season from him.

 

Justin Upton – Speaking of 2005 first round draft picks, Justin Upton was the first overall pick of that draft. Upton shot right through the Dbacks minor leagues and played 43 games in the MLB by the end of the 2007 season. After that season his bat came to life in the majors and by the end of 2012 he had hit .278/.357/.475 with a 117 wRC+ with almost 18 fWAR with the Dbacks. After that season he was traded to the Braves for 2 good seasons worth 6.9 fWAR and hitting .267/.348/.478 with a 131 wRC+.  From there he was traded to the 2015 pre-season winning Padres, hitting .251/.336/.454 and a 119 wRC+, worth 3.5 fWAR. It was still a good season, but sliding just a bit downward.

From there he signed a huge free agent deal with the Tigers worth 132.8 million over 6 years. With such a big deal you might think Upton would be at least as good as he was the season previously with the Padres, but Upton slumped for over 2/3 of the 2016 season and ended up hitting:

2016 – .246/.310/.465, 105 wRC+, 31 HR, 28 2B in 626 PA.

Now in 2017 he is hitting:

2017- .262/.377/.515, 146 wRC+, 7 HR, 5 2B in 122 PA.

Steamer Projections for the rest of the season:

116 G, 480 PA, .258/.342/.472, 117 wRC+, 22 HR, 21 2B

Bobby’s Opinion:

Upton has always been a good hitter, but has really only ever had one great season (2011 season, 141 wRC+ 6.3 fWAR). The thing is though, that Upton has always been incredibly talented, and he is surrounded in that Tigers lineup with good hitters who can help protect him. Also, going back to his 2016 season, from 8/20 on Upton hit .309/.397/.765 with a 205 wRC+, 18 HR and 8 2B to end the season. Something obviously clicked for him, because since then he’s hit .289/.388/.657 with a 179 wRC+, 25 HR and 13 2B in 278 PA. I believe he could be in for the best or second best year of his career.

 

Taijuan Walker – Taijuan Walker has so far, been one of the only even semi-successful first round draft picks of the last 12 years  for the Seattle Mariners. In his 350+ innings pitched for the Mariners, his big potential has shown through with an above average K rate (8.12 K/9) and a good BB rate (2.50 BB/9), but has struggled with the home run ball (1.36 HR/9). Even so, the Mariners traded Walker in a deal that brought back Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger, two players who have done very well this in 2017 for the Mariners.

But even with the good things he has shown in the MLB, he has still been mostly potential due to his high HR rate hurting his overall numbers. Some things seemed to have changed going from 2013-2016 to 2017, however:

2013 – 2016 – 62 GS, 22-22, 357 IP, 8.12 K/9, 2.50 BB/9, 1.36 HR/9, 4.18 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 4.00 xFIP

2017 – 7 GS, 3-2, 40 IP, 9.00 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 0.90 HR/9, 3.83 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 3.86 xFIP

Steamer Projection the rest of the season:

7-8, 21 G, 21 GS, 8.45 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 1.19 HR/9, 4.15 ERA, 4.07 FIP

Bobby’s Opinion:

The big concern for Walker in his career has obviously been his alarming HR rate. The thing about that is that, outside of his 2014 AAA stint (1.60 HR/9) in the minors, he never allowed higher than a 0.85 HR/9 at any level. Even though he now plays in a park in Arizona that does not help with home runs, I believe the more innings he throws the more his career HR rate will go down. This will help him make the jump from middle of the rotation pitcher to a legit number 2 starter.

 

Carlos Carrasco – Before Carlos Carrasco even made the major leagues, high expectations were put on him when he was traded (2009) in a deal for 2008 AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee.  In 2010, Carrasco had a good year in AAA, and was rewarded with 7 starts in Cleveland with good results. He spent much of 2011 in the MLB rotation as well, this time with mixed results until he needed Tommy John Surgery, which kept him out until the middle of 2013. It took until 2014, however, for Carrasco to find real success in the MLB, partly as a RP, partly as a SP that year.

He has found some real success from 2014-2016, but never having started more than 30 games or pitching more than 183 innings. Here is how Carrasco has pitched since 2014:

2014 – 2016 – 33-27, 85 G, 69 GS, 464 IP, 9.81 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, 0.89 HR/9, 3.22 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 2.87 xFIP

And now in 2017:

2017 – 4-2 7 G 7 GS 48.1 IP 8.57 K/9 1.49 BB/9 0.93 HR/9 1.86 ERA 3.02 FIP 2.95 xFIP

Steamer Projection for the rest of the season:

11-7 25 GS 153 IP 9.24 K/9 2.29 BB/9 0.95 HR/9 3.38 ERA 3.32 FIP

Bobby’s Opinion:

Carrasco has been talked about for two years now as someone who can be at the top of a rotation as a real impact starting pitcher, but it seems the thing that has held him back has been his inability to thus far pitch deep into games. For 2015, he averaged 6.1 innings per start. In 2016, he averaged 5.84 innings per start. So far in 2017, he has averaged 6.86 innings per start. At this pace for an assumed 32 starts, that would put him just under 220 innings pitched. Even if you go with a more conservative path that Steamer has for him, he will still be around about 200 IP. Innings really is the last hurdle for Carrasco to overcome in order to be mentioned in the same category as Bumgarner, Price, Strasburg, despite having pitched just as well as them since 2014.

Five Hot MLB Starts to Sell

Bobby Down, Baseline Times MLB Contributor