Fantasy Baseball: 3 Things We Learned in Week 1

Welcome back to the 3 Things We Learned Series for the 2022 MLB season!

This weekly piece will look at the trends, patterns, and interesting statistical touchpoints of the MLB season in order to help you make actionable fantasy decisions.

Baseball fans love their stats. We devour them, dissect them, and build our fantasy rosters around them. Each week of the 2022 baseball season, we will be gifted with another statistical sample size of pitches, plate appearances, and playing time. Knowing it often takes hundreds or even thousands of pitches or batted-ball events for trends to normalize, how should fantasy managers adjust to the ebbs and flows of weekly player performance?

Each week during this season, this piece will look at trends that have emerged over the past week and determine if it is signal or noise moving forward. What is prescriptive in helping build winning fantasy teams and what can be ignored as small sample size noise? Hopefully, we can make sense of what has just happened to help us make smarter roster and free agent budget decisions.

Let's take a look at some of the data from the first scoring period of the 2022 MLB fantasy baseball season.

The Bullpens, They Are a Committee

In the early days of this 2022 MLB season, there have been 26 saves in the first four days. That in and of itself is not newsworthy, but what does cause fantasy managers' ears to perk up is just how those saves have been distributed in the early going.

Much heartache and consternation were felt during draft season concerning who would end up as certain teams' closers and how many squads would have full-blown committees. After the first weekend of games, there is some clarity to roles we knew were established, but we are scratching our heads just as much as before the season started about other bullpens.

Consider the breakdown of the 26 saves seen so far this season:

Total Saves 26
Closers with 1 Save 20
Closers with 2 Saves 3
Teams with 2 Saves 7
Teams with 2+ Save Opportunities 11
Teams with 2 Pitchers With a Save 4

As you can see in the save tallies for the first weekend, of the 26 saves accumulated thus far, just three pitchers were able to lock down a save twice. That's only about one-fourth as many teams that had two save opportunities in the first weekend (11). In fact, if you compare the teams that have two saves (7) with the teams that have two save opportunities (11), you will find that all four that didn't convert both their saves tried two different pitchers in the ninth this weekend (Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, and Boston Red Sox). If you look at a team like the Colorado Rockies, they have two different pitchers with a save so far (Daniel Bard and Ty Blach) and the arm who everyone thought was the presumed closer (Alex Colome) has a blown save.

Teams that we feared to be in a committee are proving to be just that in the early going. Closer by committee candidates like the Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Avalanche, and Seattle Mariners all feature multiple pitchers with at least one save, breaking fantasy managers' hearts along the way.

This is a problem that isn't going away, folks. Despite a couple of elite closers getting contract extensions recently (Ryan Pressly and Emmanuel Clase), the closer looks to be on the path to extinction in the years to come. To that, I say two things. First, switch your leagues to a Saves+Holds league. There are plenty of more options available in those circumstances, and most leagues will allow you to weigh saves more heavily if you prefer to do that. Second, just embrace it. The volatility among bullpen situations isn't ending soon; it's here. Learn to read the tea leaves and play the matchups if you are in desperate need of saves this season.

The Phillies Are For Real

Granted it was a three-game series against the sure-to-be-lowly Oakland Athletics, but the new-look Philadelphia Phillies look absolutely dominant on both sides of the ball after the opening weekend. After spending $196 million on Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to fortify the offense and Corey Knebel and Brad Hand to revamp the bullpen, the early returns on their investments look very promising.

The pitching trio of Aaron Nola, Kyle Gibson, and Zach Eflin were quite effective this weekend. Through the first set of games, the Phillies' starters rank third in strikeouts, eighth in strikeouts, and allowed the third-fewest walks of any team. And we haven't even seen 2021 Cy-Young runner-up Zack Wheeler or Ranger Suarez and his 1.36 ERA over 106 innings last year.

Predictably, the bats have been just as potent. Despite not being one of the eight teams to play four games this weekend, the Phillies rank sixth in home runs, 14th in runs scored, eighth in walk rate, and sixth in slugging. The big five of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Castellanos, and Schwarber are all universally rostered in fantasy leagues, but there is still value to be had in this lineup.

Jean Segura (who his second, sixth, and seventh last weekend) is only 67% rostered in Yahoo leagues as of Monday morning. Stud prospect Bryson Stott (17% rostered) played two out of the three game (which is likely to be the case until Didi Gregorius is hurt or traded), and had two hits, an RBI, and a run in seven plate appearances.

When an offense is predicted to be this powerful -- only the Dodgers and Braves are projected to score more runs per game in the National League, per FanGraphs -- it becomes a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats situation. More runs mean more plate appearances and RBI opportunities for the down-the-lineup players. Segura and Stott are just two guys who should be on the radar of every fantasy manager playing in 12- to 15-team formats.

Add: Steven Kwan

Steven Kwan (16% rostered in Yahoo leagues) - It took just one game for trendy sleeper outfielder Steven Kwan to move from batting seventh to second in the Cleveland Guardians' lineup. After going 1-for-2 with two walks in his debut, Kwan was vaulted up to second in the batting order and proceeded to go 7-for-8 with four runs, a walk, and one but by pitch. How much longer will an .857 on-base percentage last? Probably just until his next game, but the Guardians clearly see something in his hitting profile and want to maximize his number of times to the plate.

Kwan is not someone to pick up expecting to get you massive power and speed totals. Maybe he will give eight homers and eight steals this year if everything breaks the right way, but he is a contact master who does not swing and miss very often. He should be able to provide plenty of batting average and runs if he sticks in the two-spot. His plate discipline from all levels of the minor leagues really stands out, especially his swinging strike rate (SwStr%), which decreased at every level.

Minors Level BB% K% SwStr% OBP
Rookie-Ball18.0% 6.0% 8.3% 0.480
Low-A 14.3% 14.3% 5.4% 0.429
High-A 9.8% 9..4% 3.5% 0.353
Double-A 10.0% 10.4% 2.6% 0.411
Triple-A11.7% 6.7% 2.7% 0.398

Assuming he stays in the second position all year behind contact-and-steals master Myles Straw and in front of on-base machine Jose Ramirez and slugger Franmil Reyes, Kwan should have no problem delivering a batting average around .285 with a healthy dose of RBI and runs scored. Most projection systems right now peg him with an average between .275-.280, 60 runs scored, and 40-50 RBI. Give me the over on all of those if he plays almost every day and bats second. His roster percenetage of 16% in Yahoo leagues won't last long, so jump on him if you can in daily leagues.