Fantasy Baseball: 10 early trends to be optimistic about, starting with Hunter Greene’s fastball

Table of Contents1 Thanks for signing up! 1.1 Keep an eye on your inbox. 2…

I’m off to a rough start in some of my Fantasy Baseball leagues. It happens. In my Tout Wars league, for example, I’m sitting in 10th place after two weeks of action, largely thanks to a pitching staff that has the fourth-best ERA in the league but just hasn’t given me much volume at all – I’m 10th or worse place in strikeouts, innings, and saves-plus-holds in that modified Roto league. Max Fried left a start early with an injury, Blake Snell was a mid-week IL addition, and Raisel Iglesias and Paul Sewald have combined for one save-plus-hold so far. It’s not ideal.

But I’m not panicking. It’s way too early for that, especially when, in the case of guys like Iglesias and Sewald, I have little doubt they’re going to be high-level contributors moving forward. It’s a bump in the road, not a detour – I hope. 

It’s never too early to shore up apparent weaknesses on your roster, of course, but you don’t want to overreact and create a new weakness, either. 

And I certainly don’t want to dwell on the negatives, either. There are plenty of things to be optimistic about with that team, even with the rough start. For example, while I’m certainly wary of Cody Bellinger, he’s hitting the ball much better of late, with a 94.6 mph average exit velocity over the past five games. It’s a small sample size, sure, but everything about the season so far is a small sample size, and given how Bellinger has looked over the past few seasons, you’ll take any positive signs you can get.

It’s far too early to say whether this represents a return to greatness – or even goodness – for Bellinger, but it’s a positive sign. Here are 10 more positive signs from the first two weeks of the season from other players we had some concerns about coming into the season if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic:

Justin Verlander looks like himself

It was fair to question what Verlander would look like after basically not pitching the past two seasons, but it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. He is averaging 94.6 mph with his fastball, identical to what he managed in 2019 – when he was the best pitcher in Fantasy. He’s lost a bit of spin rate, which isn’t unexpected since the first we’re seeing of him since the sticky stuff crackdown, but the pitch has still been pretty effective so far. The slider and curveball have very similar movement profiles and velocity as they did in 2019, and the early results have been very promising – a 33.3% whiff rate with the slider and nine of his 15 strikeouts, while the curveball has a 50% whiff rate. Verlander has 15 strikeouts to three walks in 13 innings in his first two starts with one earned run and nine baserunners allowed. I don’t know if you can expect him to be the best pitcher in Fantasy – and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Astros allow him to throw 100-plus pitches consistently like he used to – but it looks like the optimists were right. I’m happy to number myself among them. 

Hunter Greene looks like an outlier

Greene is probably the hardest throwing starting pitcher in major-league history. That might sound like a big claim so early in Greene’s career, but he’s coming off a start Friday in which he averaged 100.2 mph on 57 fastballs, 39 of which were thrown over 100 mph. That’s the most ever recorded in a single start, with Jacob deGrom (33, on June 5, 2021) the only other player to have thrown more than 29 pitches over 100 mph in a single start. That fastball is the start of the show, and he got 13 of his 16 swinging strikes with it in Friday’s start (and a 39.6% whiff rate through two starts overall), but it would be unfair to call him a one-trick pony; his slider has a 47.1% whiff rate, too. Greene has had trouble keeping the ball in the yard in the early going, and that was an issue for him at Triple-A in 2021, as well, so that’s something to watch out for. But this is a rare skill set, and it makes him a must-roster player in my eyes. 

Christian Yelich is still hitting the ball very hard

In fact, his 75% hard-hit rate so far is the highest in baseball. Yelich’s critics would point to a lack of home runs as evidence that it doesn’t matter, and it’s true that he is still hitting the ball on the ground too much, with an average launch angle of just 1 degree. However, Yelich has also had a 408-foot double and a 398-foot double, so things could look very different if he hadn’t hit those balls to the deepest part of straight away center field. We’ve seen Yelich fix his groundball issues in the past, so I have faith he’ll be able to do it again, and the primary thing I wanted to see from him early this season was a sign that his back was fine after his lingering issues last season. His quality of contact metrics and 86th percentile sprint speed give me a reason to believe. 

Seiya Suzuki is doing everything right

Suzuki has been everything advertised and more. He ranks in the 87th percentile in average exit velocity and 89th percentile in max exit velo, a pretty good sign that the power is translating for a guy who hit 38 homers in his last season in Japan. However, he has also shown a pretty astounding eye at the plate, swinging at just 9.6% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, a 98th-percentile rate; he’s also missed on just 17% of his swings, ranking in the 85th percentile in whiff rate. Oh, and he’s got a 91st percentile sprint speed, so there should be some steals coming, too. I don’t expect Suzuki to maintain elite production moving forward, but Suzuki has gone a long way toward answering questions about whether he would translate to the majors. 

Carlos Carrasco looks like himself, too

Carrasco’s 2021 was completely derailed by injuries starting the spring, but he was healthy this offseason, looked good in spring, and has been excellent in the early going with a 33.3% strikeout rate and just one earned run allowed in his first two starts. His fastball velocity is down about 1 mph from 2020, his last healthy season and he’s given up some loud contact with it at times, but his secondary pitches have been pretty excellent across the board, with his changeup accounting for seven of his 13 strikeouts. The whiffs haven’t quite been there on the slider – 30.4% whiff rate vs. a 35.4% mark in 2020 and 44.8% mark in 2019 – but given everything else we’ve seen, I’m not concerned about that. It’s still fair to have concerns about whether Carrasco will make it through the full season after last year’s struggles, but he looks about as good as you could hope right now. 

Andrew Vaughn is doing everything right, too

At some point, Vaughn is going to force the White Sox to just play him every day, and what we’ve seen so far should make us very excited about that possibility. As a prospect, Vaughn was touted as a rare potential source of plus power without strikeout concerns, and that’s what he’s looked like so far, with a 16% strikeout rate, well below-average whiff rate, and borderline elite quality of contact metrics – he ranks in the top 10% in expected wOBA, with a very strong 92.2 mph average exit velocity. Vaughn has started six of Chicago’s first nine games – three of six against right-handed pitchers – but I want him on my roster in case he does earn that everyday role. 

Luis Severino has remade himself in interesting ways

I went in depth on Severino’s new approach last Friday, which is one of the more interesting early storylines in baseball. In a lot of ways, he looks like the same guy he’s always been through two starts – he’s getting a bunch of swings and misses and strikeouts and his velocity is more or less where it was prior to the elbow and shoulder woes that effectively erased his 2019 through 2021 seasons. However, he’s leaning on his changeup more than ever and has traded most of his sliders for harder cutters. The slider has historically been Severino’s best pitch, his go-to in two-strike counts to put hitters away, so it’ll be interesting to see if he grows more confident in it as the season goes on – if he can still utilize that while remaining confident in the changeup, he could be as good as ever. 

Jo Adell is crushing the ball

Adell is swinging and missing a ton and hasn’t even been playing every day, so this is one where I really, really need a reason to be optimistic. He was one of my favorite players to draft this season at a massively deflated price, but his 45.2% strikeout rate and 62.5% contact rate rank among the worst in baseball. However, his average exit velocity is 95.2 mph and his max exit velocity is in the 86th percentile, and he ranks in the 99th percentile in sprint speed, too. Plus, he’s had two doubles hit at least 388 feet, in addition to his two homers. Adell is showing the elite tools, but he needs to improve his approach significantly if he’s going to earn more playing time.

Andrew Heaney’s new pitch looks like a difference maker 

Scott White wrote about Heaney’s impressive start in Monday’s waiver-wire column, but the Dodgers have seemingly helped unlock Heaney’s potential with the introduction of a new, harder breaking ball. He’s gone from being a 59.4% fastball usage guy last season to throwing it less than half the time, with his new sweeping slider being used 48.1% of the time so far – with a monstrous 51.1% whiff rate. Heaney’s been just a two-pitch pitcher so far, and we’ll see if he ends up needing the changeup more as the season goes on, but with a fastball that has always been a pretty solid swing-and-miss pitch, the slider has been enough so far. 

Joey Bart is showing special power potential

Bart flopped in his first taste of the majors in 2020, striking out 41 times in 111 plate appearances, and he’s still striking out way, way too much so far – 50% of the time through his first 26 plate appearances, to be exact. But when he’s making contact, he’s crushing the ball, ranking in the 97th percentile among all players with a 96.1 mph average exit velocity, while his max exit velocity of 111.4 mph is in the 91st percentile. Bart will need to cut the strikeouts to more manageable levels to remain a viable Fantasy option, but he’s showing the upside to be a must-start player in two-catcher leagues even if he strikes out 30% of the time.