Five MLB Hot Starts to Sell

I wrote an article about five players off to hot starts who I am buying into. For that list I chose Miguel Sano, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton, Taijuan Walker, and Carlos Carrasco. These five players are people who I believe to be on the rise from previous seasons for different reasons – from their play styles, to rediscovering things that made that great in the past, to being healthier and stronger, or just getting better.

This list is going to be the other side of the coin. These five players off to a start, but I don’t believe will continue to be anywhere near as good as they have been in 2017. Like the previous article, I don’t expect of any these players to keep up the exact paces they are on, and don’t hold that against them. Most of the people on this list I don’t even believe will hold up to their Steamer rest of season projections.  Here are those five players that I am selling on:

 

Dylan Bundy – Dylan Bundy was a fourth overall draft pick in 2011. In 2012, he dominated in LoA, then A+, then held his own in 3 starts in AA in his age 19 season. He even got the got the call to the MLB in September to pitching 1.2 innings.

Everything looked to be going great for the Baseball America Number 2 prospect until he ran into an injury before the 2013 season. This ended up causing him to need Tommy John Surgery, and he missed the entire 2013 season and most of the 2014 season, as a result.  More injuries surfaced 2015, limiting him to only 22 innings in AA.

Things changed for him by 2016, however. He started in the MLB and didn’t pitch a single inning in the minors. He mostly came out of the the bullpen (22 relief appearances to 14 games started), but he was able to show that he was healthy and ready for the rotation going forward:

2016 – 10-6, 36 G, 14 GS, 109.2 IP, 8.53 K/9, 3.45 BB/9, 1.48 HR/9, 4.02 ERA, 4.70 FIP, 4.61 xFIP

And now in 2017:

2017 – 5-1, 7 G, 7 GS, 45.2 IP, 5.52 K/9, 2.17 BB/9, 0.59 HR/9, 2.17 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 4.66 xFIP

Steamer Projection for the rest of the season:

7-8, 21 G, 21 GS, 121 IP, 7.12 K/9, 3.34 BB/9, 1.56 HR/9, 4.97 ERA, 5.06 FIP

Bobby’s Opinion:

Bundy was a top prospect, and for good reason, but the success he has had so far this year is riding on a far lower HR rate (0.59 HR/9) than he had shown previous in the MLB (1.48 HR/9) and a high strand rate (84.8 LOB%). He is also not striking out anyone (5.52 K/9) nearly at the level he has in the past, or even just last season (8.53 K/9). Unless he makes some big corrections, expect to see his ERA start rising much closer to his FIP, which takes him from All-star level to above average.  I don’t believe he will do as poorly as Steamer projects him to do, but I don’t expect him to have under a 3.50 ERA or 3.75 FIP going forward.

 

Mike Leake – Drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft, Mike Leake not only made the majors the following year in 2010, but he pitched 138.1 innings for the Reds. As the years went on, Leake proved to be a solid innings eater who rarely missed a start. He put up steady, but unspectacular, numbers, averaging a little under 2 fWAR per year. Leake has been one of the better ground ball pitchers since coming into the league, as well as having a great ability to limit walks. In his career, Leake has been unable to strike batters out and limit the HR ball.

2010 – 2016 – 73-64, 1260.1 IP, 6.11 K/9, 2.18 BB/9, 1.10 HR/9, 3.99 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 3.80 xFIP

But now in 2017, the numbers he is putting up are more ace-like than mid-rotation innings eater:

2017 – 4-1, 6 GS, 40.1 IP, 6.02 K/9, 1.56 BB/9, 0.22 HR/9, 1.79 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 3.52 xFIP

Steamer Projection for the rest of the year:

9-9, 25 GS, 150 IP, 6.31 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, 0.99 HR/9, 4.08 ERA, 3.98 FIP

Bobby’s Opinion:

As great as Leake has been in 2017, the biggest differences from years past to this season is that Leake has an insanely low 0.22 HR/9 and a very high LOB% of 82%, which are both much better than his career marks of 1.07 HR/9 and 73.5 LOB%. One thing you could point to for Leake’s success is that he is allowing far less base runners this season than in the past (0.94 WHIP in 2017 compared to 1.27 for his career), but with only 40 innings of sample size that is far more likely to correct as the season goes on. There could be a big change Leake has made to his game to account for this, but the only thing that appears different in his batted ball profile is that his hard hit rate (22.8%) is a little lower this season than his career (29.6%). However, the change to soft contact is only 2 points higher, and his medium contact is up 5 points. Look for Leake to start sliding down the leader-boards as the next couple of months pass.

Eric Thames – Ahhh, one of the biggest stories of the early 2017 season, Eric Thames. He went from flamed-out MLB prospect, to the Japanese League monster hitter, to 2017 MLB breakout player. There are other players (Zimmerman, Judge, Harper, Trout) who have taken some of Thames’ thunder, but he is still right near the top of the leader-boards just mashing away.

Before his incredible 2017, Thames struggled to do much in the MLB:

2011 – 2012- .250/.296/.431, 96 wRC+, 21 HR, 36 2B, 8 3B in 684 PA

And of course his monster start to 2017:

2017 – .331/.436/.737, 196 wRC+, 13 HR, 9 2B in 140 PA

Steamer Projection for the rest of the season:

106 G, 460 PA, .275/.358/.522, 128 wRC+, 25 HR, 21 2B

Bobby’s Opinion:

Eric Thames has absolutely smashed since returning to the MLB. There is no denying that. However, one thing that is interesting to see is in only seven games, EIGHT!!! of Thames 13 HR have been against the Reds. His numbers against them is .440/.576/1.400 8 HR 11/25 14 R 13 RBI. The Reds, by the way, are 26th in fWAR for pitching.

Of course that still leaves other teams that he has pounded on, but if you take out the Reds, Thames’ numbers look great, but not as monstrous:

28-for-93, 5 HR, 9 2B and about .301/.387/.559

Of course, as mentioned before, that is still great. What I am worried about is can he keep up this kind of hitting over the course of a full season as pitchers get more and more looks at him and video to watch and find out his weaknesses? Also when is the last time someone came from Japan and had this kind of an impact on offense for a whole season? Ichiro is the only one that comes to mind, and he was a HOF talent to begin with. I’m just not sure I agree with Steamer’s projection for the rest of the year, and I don’t believe he will break an .825 OPS going forward this year, let alone an .880 OPS.

 

Zack Cozart – Zack Cozart has always been a light-hitting, good fielding SS for the Reds since he came up in 2011, and took over the starting job in 2012. Cozart does have a little pop in his bat, 3 times hitting double digit home runs, up to 16 last season even. But his glove has always been where he shines, 4 times producing 13 or higher defensive runs on Fangraphs value charts. He is actually fourth in the MLB since 2012 in defensive runs for a shortstop.

However, because of his inability to hit, he is 10th shortstop fWAR in that time with 10.9. What this means is that he has been an average player overall. This season has been quite different from his past seasons though:

2011 – 2016 – .246/.289/.385, 80 wRC+, 58 HR, 119 2B, 15 3B with 69 Defensive Runs and 9.9 fWAR

Now the amazing season he is having in 2017:

2017 – .356/.444/.596, 169 wRC+, 2 HR, 11 2B, 4 3B in 124 PA with 4.3 Defensive Runs and 1.7 fWAR

Steamer Projection for the rest of the season:

99 G, 418 PA, .251/.312/.402, 10 HR, 20 2B, 4 3B with 8.7 Defensive Runs and a 1.6 fWAR

Bobby’s Opinion:

As fun as it is watching a perennially light-hitting shortstop start smashing the ball, everything we have seen from him in his MLB career tells us that this is an outlier rather than a change in play style. Although he has almost tripled his BB rate (14.5 BB% in 2017, 5.7 BB% career), his K Rate is right where it has been (17.7% in 2017, 16.4 K% career), he’s hitting the ball on the ground (39.3 GB% in 2017, 43.8 GB% career) and in the air (21.4 LD% in 2017, 19 LD% career then 39.3 FB% in 2017, 37.2 FB% career) the same as he always has. It would be great to see an excellent fielding shortstop make this kind of leap, but it doesn’t seem as though it will last.

 

Mark Reynolds – If there is one thing that Mark Reynolds can do well, it is hit the ball very hard and very far. In his career, Mark Reynolds has 263 HR. He has once hit 44 HR, and three times hit 30+ HR. The power is there and it is apparent. However, he has also struck out 200+ times 3 times, with 196 another time. Reynolds appears to be the current day Adam Dunn based on his huge power, ability to work a walk, and large number of strikeouts he amasses each year.

Despite the big time power, Reynolds has had problems hitting as well as sticking with one team, playing with 5 teams from 2013-2016, hitting:

2013 – 2016 – .232/.316/.409, 94 wRC+, 70 HR, 68 2B in 1810 PA.

In 2017 something seems to have changed:

2017 – .339/.411/.669, 163 wRC+, 12 HR, 5 2B in 141 PA

Steamer Projection for the rest of the season:

88 G, 358 PA, .266/.348/.476, 102 wRC+, 16 HR, and 16 2B

Bobby’s Opinion:

Reynolds has always had big time power, so a month and a half of mashing is nothing new for him. But he is hitting .100 points over his career batting average, and .070 points over his career OBP on top of the .220 points on his career slugging percentage. Of course, it’s not even about buying his crazy start. For me, it’s about buying the rest of season Steamer Projection, which I just don’t see. Reynolds has been a bad overall MLB player since the start of 2011, and a bad MLB hitter since the start of the 2013 season.

He isn’t also is hitting the ball on the ground more this season (47.4 GB%) than his career (37.8 GB%), as well as hitting less fly balls (30.5 FB%) to his career (44.2 FB%). His line drive rate (22.1%) is a little higher than his career rate (18%), but not enough to matter much. He has lowered his K% this season (21.3 K%) from his career average (30.8 K%), but with everything considered, he just is not a great candidate to continue hitting well going forward.