Opening Day is finally here! Let's take a look at some of the fantasy questions we hope are answered during the first month of the season.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsKirby Lee
Will the 2016 batting power surge carry over to 2017?
It’s well documented that 2016 had a massive amount of home runs – there were 701 more home runs hit in ’16 than ’15 – so it will be interesting to see if that carries over to the start of this season. Whether this was an anomaly or a developing trend will have a fantasy baseball ripple effect in April and throughout the rest of the year. Players working to become household names (Yasmany Tomas, anyone?) may have 30 homers and pitchers with plenty of past success may struggle. By the end of the month we could know which way things are going.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
Who will be this year’s breakout fantasy star?
Last year baseball fans were treated to breakout stretches from the likes of Gary Sanchez (C-2, .299/.376/.657 with 20 homers in 53 games for the Yankees), Dansby Swanson (SS-15, .302/.361/.442 in 38 games with Braves), and Trevor Story (SS-5, 27 HR and 72 RBI in just 97 games). Are Robert Gsellman (SP-76) and Andrew Benintendi (OF-27) poised to seize their big league opportunities? Let’s keep an eye on younger guys who’ve earned the chance to start the season in the majors.
Getty ImagesAdam Hunger
Which players will benefit the most from their new teams?
Will Chris Sale’s (SP-5) upgrade to the far superior Boston Red Sox allow him to flourish? After all, Sale was 17-10 with Chicago, a 3.34 ERA, and a HR/FB rate that actually decreased from 12.5% to 11.9% last year. Is Edwin Encarnacion (1B-6, 35+ home runs in four of the last five seasons) primed to take advantage of a lineup loaded with guys who have speed and get on base? The early returns from the offseason moves will be fascinating.
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox
Can breakout stars repeat their 2016 their success?
As I mentioned above, there were several breakout performances from young players last year. Though he wasn't a rookie, I'm most interested to see how a guy like Cleveland's Jose Ramirez responds after a huge season in which he raised his batting average nearly 100 points (.219 to .312). The next step is to see if these players' fantasy impact will translate to 2017. Baseball history is littered with guys who’ve had breakout stretches, only to come back to earth soon thereafter (see: Puig, Yasiel). If last year’s breakout stars come out of the gate with a strong April, it will go a long way in cementing their fantasy value.
Getty ImagesJayne Kamin-Oncea
Will pitchers throw to Bryce Harper this season?
The Nationals’ star was fourth in the league last season drawing 108 walks, and saw his batting average plummet from .330 to .243. It shouldn’t take long to figure out whether he’ll see anything to hit or if he’ll continue to get the same treatment he did last season. Harper crushed the ball all spring with slashing .310/.423/793 with eight homers and 16 RBI. It’s clear Harper has all of the abilities (as I write this, he hit another Opening Day tater) that made him the 2015 MVP. The major variable will be if pitchers want to take the risk of putting anything over the plate for him to see.
Getty ImagesThearon W. Henderson
Will Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz pick up where they left off?
Ageless wonders Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz both had amazing 2016 seasons. Beltre hammered 32 homers with 104 RBI to the tune of a .300 batting average, while Cruz hit 43 dingers with 105 RBI and maintained a .915 OPS. Beltre (who will begin the season on the 10-day DL) and Cruz are 37 and 36, respectively. The start of the season should give fantasy owners some indication of how these two elder statesman will perform for the rest of the season. For comparison, Cruz has hit .280+ in three of the last four Aprils, while Beltre has started a little slower hitting a high of .280 in 2016 only.
Will there be a World Series hangover in Chicago?
The Cubs had one of the most fantasy friendly rosters in the majors last season with heavy hitters like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and arms like Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta – but where do they go after ending a 108-year drought? I just wouldn’t be surprised if their historic run (and subsequent party) led to slight fantasy regression in 2017. In the case of Bryant this could mean production in the neighborhood of 28 HR and 90 RBI as opposed to the heights of 39 HR and 102 RBI he had in 2016.
APNam Y. Huh
Which of the preseason fantasy sleepers will actually produce on the field?
Will Robbie Ray cut down on the home runs (15.5% HR/FB in 2016 up from 7.3 in ’15)? Will Taijuan Walker’s spring success (3.29 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings pitched) carry over to the regular season? Can Keon Broxton keep up his Cactus League pace of .317/.386/.556 once the real games start? These are the types of questions the first month of the season should provide answers to.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY SporIsaiah J. Downing
Which injury will have the greatest early season impact?
Big names like Ian Desmond, Adrian Beltre, David Price, and J.D. Martinez will all sit out the beginning of the regular season with a variety of injuries. Will missing the start of the season throw these players off for a couple weeks upon their return? For the entire first half? Something to consider fantasy-wise, especially right when the player returns.
Can injured stars start strong?
Several players had their 2016 cut short by injuries. For fantasy purposes, you may want to monitor guys like Mike Moustakas (torn ACL) or Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome) until they’ve shown they’re fully capable of playing full time.
Can struggling pitchers right the ship?
There were several high profile pitchers who struggled in 2016. Guys like Dallas Keuchel, Zack Greinke, Chris Archer, and Sonny Gray all had down years. A fast start in April will tell us a lot about where they are this year. Gray is slotted to start the season on the DL and Greinke had a nondescript Opening Day, but time will tell if these hurlers will be able to regain their ace status in 2017. On a similar note the ever-turning carousel of closers around the league will also be worth watching in terms of players bouncing back from rough seasons.