Welcome back to The Cut List. This is our weekly article looking at players who fantasy managers might be considering cutting from their teams and struggling players who need a closer look. We’ll look at players who are worthy of a drop, players who are worth monitoring for replacing, and someone on the hot seat who is worth holding on to… for now.
We’ve officially reached the point of the season where sample sizes are about big enough to assess how a player is truly performing to start the season. Maybe it’s not official but it sure seems like a good spot. Of course, there’s more to it than simply looking at a player’s numbers and determining why they are struggling but we can at least formulate a better understanding of slow starts and issues.
I’m a strong advocate for not making knee-jerk reactions. A bad week or two shouldn’t be a reason to push the panic button and dump someone. As the season progresses, there will be stronger cases to drop underperforming players. If there’s ever someone you want me to take a look at, drop their name on Reddit or reach out to me on Twitter (@Baseball_Jimbo), and maybe you’ll see them included next week. All stats and rostered rates (taken from Yahoo!) are reflective of when this piece was written.
Editor’s Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best MLB Series, NFL Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller!
Worth Dropping and Replacing
Dylan Carlson – OF, St Louis Cardinals – 56% rostered
This one stings as I was high on the Cardinals outfield trio coming into this season and Carlson starting the season as their leadoff hitter only drove home my faith. But things haven’t gone too well for any of the three and Carlson is finding himself dropped to nearly as many waivers as he is on rosters.
Carlson entered May with a .184/.238/.250 slash line with no homers, four RBI, seven runs and one stolen base and found himself hitting in the bottom half of the Cardinals lineup. He is having a solid May, hitting .300/.364/.550 (seven games) and doubling his RBI total to eight following last night’s first home run of the season, but he has started on the bench twice.
Carlson hasn’t been a victim of bad luck, with a .198 xBA (seventh percentile), .260 xSLG (first percentile) and .237 xwOBA (fourth percentile). After posting a solid 9.2% BB% in 2021, Carlson’s 5.7% BB% this year is only in the 30th percentile, contributing to him being moved out of the leadoff spot.
Verdict – I’m encouraged by Carlson’s recent hitting but the underlying numbers and April performances still leave me concerned for the remainder of the season. I don’t see a 20-homer campaign as I hoped in the preseason and without the added bonus of leading off for the Cardinals, he’s droppable in shallower leagues.
German Marquez – SP, Colorado Rockies – 44% rostered
Marquez started the season in excellent fashion, throwing seven innings against the Dodgers and allowing just one run on three hits (no walks) with five strikeouts. And at Coors Field to boot. Since then, things have gone downhill and Marquez currently sports a 6.92 ERA (26.0 IP).
Marquez didn’t get a decision in his opening game and now has an 0-2 W-L record with 19 strikeouts. His 15.7% K% is significantly down on his career 23.5% K% and it ranks in the 17th percentile. The only good news for Marquez is his 5.0% BB% (82nd percentile).
It’s easy to point to Coors Fields as a reason for any Rockies pitchers to struggle and four of his five starts have been at home. But his one road start saw Marquez allow seven runs (four earned) on four hits and a walk, while striking out just one (3.2 IP). In 2021, Marquez had a 3.67 ERA at home (103.0 IP) and 5.38 ERA on the road ( 77.0 IP).
His underlying numbers might seem a bit confusing as Marquez has a 3.60 xFIP, 5.57 xERA and 3.77 SIERA. That’s largely down to the homers of which Marquez has allowed six with a 26.1% HR/FB. Of the 60 qualified pitchers (at least 23.0 IP), that’s the second-highest HR/FB%.
Verdict – Marquez is a streaming option in shallow leagues and isn’t a ‘must-start’ on any roster. The problem is deciding what starts to trust him in. Given he was better at home last year but has struggled in three of his four home starts this year, when exactly can you trust him? He’s become a bit of a crapshoot right now.
Kike Hernandez – 2B/OF, Boston Red Sox – 30% rostered
Hernandez was placed on the Covid-IL Friday but returned on Saturday in what appears to be a false positive test or some other administrative issue. A few days off might have allowed Hernandez to reset things and try to get back to last year’s form.
He’s currently hitting .182/.252/.293 with one homer, 12 RBI, 12 runs and no steals (25 games). A far cry from last year’s .250/.337/.449 slash line, 20 homers, 60 RBI, 84 runs and one stolen base season. And his expected stats aren’t much better.
Hernandez has a .217 xBA, .361 xSLG and .287 xwOBA, all of which rank in 21st percentile or worse. Expected stats aren’t the be-all-and-end-all but his 29.3% HardHit% (12th percentile) is by far the lowest of his career and his 87.9 MPH average exit velocity is also on track to be a career-low.
Verdict – I’ve not written off Hernandez yet but Jarren Duran has been hitting well at Triple-A and could get called up for a prolonged stay. Given the struggles of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Alex Verdugo, this outfield could use a spark and with Duran lurking, we could see a change sooner rather than later. Hernandez might find himself on the bench more frequently if that does happen.
Hold For Now
Charlie Morton – SP, Atlanta Braves – 89% rostered
Morton is on course for his worst season in over a decade. Through five starts (23.2 IP), he’s sporting a 6.85 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 1-3 W-L record and 18 strikeouts with a 15.8% K% (also on course to be the worst of his career). After a look at his numbers, this appears to be a straightforward diagnosis.
Simply put, Morton’s curveball has been completely ineffective. And for someone who throws his curveball as often as Morton does, that’s a real problem. The below table shows how his curveball is fairing this year compared to previous seasons.
The curveball numbers in the shortened 2020 season, when Morton had a 4.74 ERA (38.0 IP), are the most comparable to this year. Morton had a sub-3.50 ERA in the three other seasons. His curveball spin currently rate ranks in the 98th percentile so that doesn’t appear to be an issue.
Whether the new balls are impacting Morton’s ability to throw the curveball as effectively, or it’s a lingering issue from his leg injury, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Morton does figure things out and gets back to form.
I probably won’t be starting him right now and if the struggles are still there at the end of the month, I’d be looking to move on. But for now, his track record of success warrants rostering him for the time being.
Nelson Cruz – Util, Washington Nationals – 76% rostered
As the saying goes; “Father Time remains undefeated”. And we may be seeing that right now with Cruz. At 41-years-old, he’s defied the odds for longer than most but his start to 2022 is following the same trend to his 2021 campaign. One of decline.
Through 26 games (113 plate appearances), Cruz has three homers, 14 RBI, 12 runs and no steals while hitting .150/.232/.240. Last night was Cruz’s first home run since April 21st. He also struck out four times.
Needless to say, that slash line will be a career-worst if it maintains. Given his sprint speed is in the ninth percentile, it might not come as a surprise that those homers are his only extra-base hits as legging out doubles and triples isn’t really in his arsenal.
Cruz still has the ability to hit the ball hard, with his 112.7 MPH maximum exit velocity ranking in the 92nd percentile. But doing it regularly is a problem, as Cruz’s average exit velocity is in the 49th percentile and HardHit% in the 54th percentile.
Cruz’s 19.5% K% is the lowest since 2010, despite his swing rates being similar to previous seasons. And his expected numbers do offer hope. Cruz has a .247 xBA, .426 xSLG and .324 xwOBA (.207 wOBA) all of which rank between the 42nd and 46th percentile.
Following his trade to the Rays last year, Cruz hit .226/.283/.442 in Tampa Bay (55 games), after hitting .294/.370/.537 (85 games) with the Twins. Last year may have been a glimpse into the future with the veteran finally showing signs of slowing down.
It looks like 40+ homer seasons are gone and a .250+ batting average is a thing of the past too. But if his luck does turn around, Cruz could still provide some fantasy value.
In shallower leagues, having flexibility in the DH spot of your fantasy lineup isn’t as important but the fact Cruz is clogging that up and not contributing much in the way of stats means he is someone I’d be fine dropping in shallow leagues. Depending on who you replace him with of course. In deep leagues, I’d be more willing to see if he can defy Father Time for just a few more months.
Justin Turner – 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers – 76% rostered
Another struggling veteran, Turner is currently hitting .180/.235/.258 with one homer, 12 RBI, nine runs and no steals (24 games). At 37-years-old, it would be easy to put this down to Father Time claiming another victim but this is coming on the back of one of his best seasons in the Majors.
In 2021, Turner set a career-high in runs (87), had the second-most RBI (87) in any season and tied his career-high homers (27). Turner also matched the most games he’s played in a season, with 151 last year. The addition of the universal DH should be a benefit to Turner in allowing him regular rest from the infield and he’s split his 24 games played evenly between third base and being the DH.
Turner has posted similar numbers at DH and third base so it doesn’t seem to be a factor in his struggles at the plate. But a comparison of his Statcast profiles from last year to this shows us he’s definitely got some struggles with the bat right now.
Turner’s problems appear to be caused by his approach. The below table compares his swing rates since joining the Dodgers (2014) with this year’s numbers. Swing% is the rate at which pitches are swung at with O-swing% referring to pitches outside the strike zone being swung at and Z-swing% being pitches inside the strike zone being swung at.
Simply put, Turner is swinging at more pitches and making less contact with ones outside the strike zone. That will explain his 20.4% K% (a career-high) and 7.1% BB% (lowest since joining the Dodgers) so far this year.
Turner has been too good a hitter throughout his career to not figure things out so I’m willing to be a bit more patient. But in shallow leagues, his main offering is better than normal runs and RBI.
His struggles are seeing him slip down the batting order which will limit those making him a viable drop candidate in shallower leagues and that could extend to deeper leagues if he doesn’t turn things around soon.
On the Hot Seat
Tyler O’Neill – OF, St Louis Cardinals – 95% rostered
The second Cardinals outfielder to make the list this week but this one came with more promise and with an ADP of ~49, at a much greater draft-day cost. After hitting 34 homers with 15 steals in 134 games last year, it was easy to see why O’Neill was being drafted inside the top-50.
But he hasn’t really got going yet and is sporting a .206/.277/.330 slash line with two homers, 19 RBI, 14 runs and three steals. The batting average is disappointing but only 14 players have two or more homers and steals, with 12+ runs and 15+ RBI. And only seven qualify as outfielders in fantasy.
So O’Neill is contributing across the other categories and is tied-14th overall in RBI. Starling Marte (20) is the only outfielder with more RBI than O’Neill.
In more positive news, his May has been going much better than April did. This month, O’Neill is hitting .250/.300/.500 with one homer, seven RBI, four runs and no stolen bases. Four of his seven hits have been for extra bases.
In even more positive news, O’Neill’s 29.7 MPH average spring speed ranks in the 98th percentile. While speed doesn’t equal steals, it’s still a good thing and should keep him green-lighted on the bases. Oh, and all of O’Neill’s expected stats are better than his actual stats, as shown below.
While last year’s 34 homers and 15 steals might not be repeated (and we still don’t know the exact impact the ball and humidors are having on power numbers), a 20/20 season is still very much in play. O’Neill’s 13.4% Barrel% is in the 88th percentile and his speed remains in elite territory so there’s no reason to believe he can’t have a 20/20 year.
There’s nothing to suggest O’Neill should be dropped in any league size and if anything, he’s still a ‘buy-low’ candidate, although the last few games may have closed that window of opportunity. Providing the average gets somewhere near .250 by season’s end, O’Neill will likely finish as a top-20 outfielder in fantasy.
The Reddit Requests
Here are some names from the readers following last weekend’s post on Reddit. If there is anyone who you want to include here on next week’s Cut List, drop their names on the Reddit thread and there’s a good chance they will feature.
Marcus Semien – 2B/SS, Texas Rangers – 97% rostered
Semien finished third in the AL MVP voting last year. That’s not something we’ll be seeing repeated this year unless there’s a dramatic turnaround.
Semien is still searching for his first home run with the Rangers and is hitting just .179/.252/.242 with eight RBI, 11 runs and two stolen bases (24 games). Early season struggles aren’t a new thing for Semien. Last year, he had a .211/.290/.368 slash line at the end of April before having the best year of his career. April was the only month he didn’t post a wRC+ over 100 in 2021.
I’ve alluded to this before, but moving to a new team, new surroundings, new climate etc isn’t straightforward and it’s no different for professional athletes. Although it’s not something we can quantify, it’s worth taking into consideration and being more patient with players who have put up excellent numbers in the past but might be off to slow starts.
Due to postponements, the Rangers haven’t played since Wednesday and the extra days off might help Semien. He enters Sunday’s doubleheader with the Yankees after back-to-back multi-hit games to begin the week so the corner might have already been turned.
Jorge Polanco – 2B/SS, Minnesota Twins – 93% rostered
Speaking of middle infielders who aren’t a stranger to slow starts, Polanco is having one of his own. Again.
Last year, Polanco entered May with a .207/.268/.287 slash line before ending the year hitting .269/.323/.503 with 33 homers, 98 RBI, 97 runs and 11 stolen bases. After last night’s 3-for-4 performance, which included a home run and a double, Polanco now has three homers, 15 RBI, 11 runs and no steals while hitting .232/.325/.384 on the year.
Polanco’s first two homers couldn’t have come from more different at-bats. One, from a 72 MPH curveball while batting rightie. The other, hit batting leftie and from a 95 MPH fastball. Last night’s home run came batting leftie off of a curveball.
It’s got the making of a familiar story this year as in seven May games, Polanco is hitting .370/.400/.593 with one homer, seven RBI and three runs having hit safely in every game. That’s after having a .181/.298/.306 line in April. Polanco appears to be warming up at the plate so I’m sticking with him in all formats.
Tyler Mahle – SP, Cincinnati Reds – 73% rostered
The Reds are a mess right now. That isn’t news to anyone. And while they’re playing so badly, Mahle’s own struggles are causing concern among fantasy managers. Through six starts, Mahle has a 1-4 W-L record, 7.01 ERA, 1.71 WHIP and 26 strikeouts (25.2 IP).
Mahle’s biggest issue right now is the number of walks he’s allowing. The 14 free passes he’s afforded rank as tied ninth-most in baseball and his 11.7% BB% ranks in the 22nd percentile. Mahle has only allowed one home run and has a 2.9% HR/FB, otherwise, his ERA could be north of ten.
His underlying numbers aren’t bad at all. Mahle has a 3.71 xERA, 4.50 xFIP and 4.41 SIERA, all considerably better than his ERA. I expect Mahle to get the walks in check and that ERA to come down, making him a serviceable starting pitcher in all but the shallowest of leagues. Just don’t expect many wins.
Joey Votto – 1B, Cincinnati Reds – 52% rostered
We’ve reached the part of The Cut List where it’s time for a little story. This is the story of Johnny Blotto.
Johnny has worked at the same company for many years, moving up the ranks so he’s a well-established employee within his company. While the company has had some ups and downs, there have been plenty of good times and they’ve competed with some of the bigger companies in the area.
This year, the company’s owner decided it was time to scale back everything, replacing established employees with novices who need to learn the trade and cheaper personnel who don’t have the same level of skill as Johnny and his long-standing colleagues.
While Johnny is one of the few who stays with the company, his performance at work also begins to decline. A general malaise surrounds the company but the owner isn’t bothered as, despite less revenue, he’s saved money in wages which was his ultimate goal.
Maybe the company can grow with the new staff in the years to come and be better than ever. Only time will tell. But for now, although Johnny still turns up on time and works a full shift, his performances haven’t been the same and he has an uncertain future.
Johnny being synonymous with the company is keeping him around but it would probably be best for all involved if he moved on and tried to see if he can regain his previous performances with a new company. One that actually wants to succeed and do well.
If you haven’t worked it out, Johnny Blotto is Joey Votto.
I’m not writing Votto off just yet but can fully justify dropping him in most leagues. I do expect something of a mini resurgence but I’m not banking on it and certainly not starting him in fantasy right now.
Avisail Garcia – OF, Miami Marlins – 44% rostered
Garcia set a career-high in home runs with 29 last year while with the Brewers (135 games). Hopes were high for regular playing time this year after he signed with the Marlins and while that has been the case, the production hasn’t matched.
In 24 games, Garcia has one homer, four RBI, five runs and two steals, while hitting .176/.211/.242. Most appearances have come as the Marlins number five-hitter and the Marlins rank 18th in runs scored (109) so it’s not like he hasn’t had opportunities to improve those counting stats.
Garcia does have the tied-seventh hardest-hit ball in play this year (116.8 MPH) so can clobber the ball. But his average exit velocity is in the 45th percentile as he doesn’t do it anywhere near consistently enough. Nor is he making regular contact, with a 38.1% Whiff%, which is in the third percentile.
While the 31.6% K% (12th percentile) is a career-high, his 2.1% BB% is a career-low and ranks in the fourth percentile. In summary, Garcia isn’t making much contact. When he does, it’s not normally solid contact although he can hit it as hard as anyone. Just not often.
For fantasy, Garcia is replaceable in shallower leagues where the outfield player pool tends to be deeper than other positions. I still think 15-18 homers is in play with a ~.240 average, so in deeper leagues, Garcia is still a viable option. But if things don’t improve by the end of May, that will likely change also.
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