Week 1 of the 2016 season is officially in the books, and so far we’ve learned … well, not a whole lot. After a rain-and-snow-filled first week saw seven games get postponed, our small sample size got even smaller, making it difficult to discern any meaningful trends this early on. Still, baseball is now a part of our daily lives, which means we should appreciate the little things whenever possible.
We’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Three Up, Three Down — a weekly fantasy baseball rundown that focuses on three players trending up, and three guys heading in the wrong direction. We’ll try to keep this space focused on players who are fantasy relevant — meaning they’re widely owned (or should be) — and give some actionable insights as to how owners should perceive their recent performances. Of course, doing this while the season’s still fresh can be a challenge, so take each bit of analysis with its own personal salt shaker labeled “it’s still early.”
Note: Serious injuries to A.J. Pollock and Kyle Schwarber — two guys drafted in the top 50, on average — have made them ineligible to appear in this space. Here’s to a couple speedy recoveries so we can soon see more plays like this and this.
Average draft position: 211.7Percent owned: 93%
What’s there to say about Story? In his first week of big-league action, the 23-year-old clubbed seven home runs in six games, the most in a six-game span in MLB history. Almost more impressive than the number of dingers he hit was just how far he hit them — the average distance of Story’s four-baggers was over 414 feet, according to ESPN’s home run tracker.
A hot streak like this could easily been written off as dumb luck — some might recall the scorching start by Tigers first baseman Chris Shelton back in 2006, who hit five home runs in his first four games and 10 in the month of April, then hit just six the rest of the way.
But Story definitely deserves to be taken seriously, since this isn’t some out-of-nowhere fringe player we’re dealing with here. This guy was a first-round pick in 2011 and had 70 extra base hits in 130 minor league games in 2015. If you’re lucky enough to have snagged Story late in your draft, there will be a time this season when he struggles, but his at-bats have become must-see events. Owners should ride that wave for the foreseeable future unless someone blows you away with a great trade offer.
2B/SS Starlin Castro, New York Yankees
Average draft position: 187.6Percent owned: 89%
It’d be easy to think of Castro as a has-been. He made back-to-back All-Star teams in 2011-12, then posted sub-.300 on-base percentages in two of the next three seasons before falling out of favor in Chicago and being unceremoniously shipped to the Yankees. The notion that his best days are behind him sounds ludicrous once you realize he’s still only 26 years old.
Castro’s first week in pinstripes couldn’t have gone much better, as he went 9-for-20 with two doubles and two home runs. More importantly, he seems to have carried his new-found approach from the second half of last season into 2016 — his swing is now more closed off and more parallel to the pitcher-catcher line, instead of open and going towards the left side of the infield. If he can maintain this strategy, we could be in store for the Castro of old.
Average draft position: 242.4Percent owned: 19%
After a disastrous first season with the Orioles in 2014, Jimenez actually put together a respectable 2015 season. His walk rate dropped from 5.53 BB/9 in 2014 to 3.33 last season, and he pitched 184 innings for the first time since 2011.
In his first start of the season, Jimenez struck out nine and walked none in seven innings of work against the Minnesota Twins. The lone earned run he surrendered came via a solo home run by Joe Mauer. His ace days are almost surely behind him, but the Orioles should score runs in bunches this year, and Jimenez is available in over 80 percent of leagues. He should be in line for enough wins and strikeouts to warrant a roster spot.
Average draft position: 52.4Percent owned: 97%
The days of Gomez as a 30-30 threat appear to be fading quickly into the rearview mirror. Gomez battled through an injury-riddled 2015 season and was among the year’s most disappointing fantasy players, hitting just 12 home runs and stealing 17 bases with a sub-par 65.3 percent success rate. He was a letdown last year, and after hitting .195 this spring, he’s off to a slow start in 2016.
Gomez has struck out nine times in 21 plate appearances so far, and he was thrown out in his lone steal attempt last week. He’s never been one to draw a ton of walks, and with diminished power and stolen base potential, fantasy owners could be in line for more disappointment from Gomez this season.
Average draft position: 77.0Percent owned: 98%
After Wainwright’s miraculously fast recovery from a torn Achilles tendon last season, he entered 2016 once again as the Cardinals’ ace. In his first two starts of the season, Wainwright threw 11 innings and allowed eight earned runs, with eight walks and just five strikeouts, looking nothing like his old self.
It’s been nearly a year since Wainwright’s started a major league game, so perhaps he’s simply going through an adjustment period before he rediscovers his old form. But at 34, coming off a second lost season due to injury (he missed the 2011 season while recovering form Tommy John surgery) with diminishing velocity, this is a discouraging start to the new year.
Average draft position: 118.0Percent owned: 94%
Last season, his first with the Blue Jays, Martin made his fourth career All-Star team, hitting a career-high 23 home runs. He’s posted a career slash line of .256/.351/.404, robust marks for a catcher, so his ghastly start to this season could be chalked up as a bad week — after all, he got off to a slow start last April and ended up as the No. 2 fantasy catcher on the season.
But man, was it a rough week for Martin. In six games, he had two hits (both singles) in 20 at-bats, with 10 strikeouts and no walks. Despite his career walk rate of 11.5 percent, he’s seen an average of just 3.6 pitches per plate appearance so far. If he tones down the free-swinging approach, he should return to form, but owners should monitor the situation closely. It wouldn’t hurt to add a serviceable backup option like Francisco Cervelli (available in 33 percent of leagues) or Miguel Montero (72 percent) until Martin solves his current issues.