At what point can a "small sample" no longer be regarded as small?
Oh, if only there was a one-size-fits-all answer to that, but as fantasy owners we must face a truth: Every sample is relevant to us, even the most minuscule, because those we absorb from our active players count. It is our requirement to have some sort of reaction, however small.
Simply put, five and a half weeks, or 38 days, or roughly 20 percent of the season, whichever your preferred measure, is enough of a sample for us to judge some starts are more than mere "noise." This week's going-forward rankings adjusts a few notable slow starters accounting for that, but let's not leave them mere "he dropped 54 spots" facts; let's further examine them more closely.
Chris Carter: I've made a major adjustment to his ranking accounting for his early struggles, but in his defense, if I were to assume his 2015-to-date performance was the best indicator of his rest-of-2015 potential, he'd deserve to drop out of my top 250 players. Carter still has pace-the-majors-in-homers power, even if his .147 isolated power is 80 points worse than he had in any of his three extended seasons in the majors (2012-14), and as a three-true-outcomes hitter, he's subject to prolonged slumps as advertised in the preseason. But this is what bothers me about Carter's year to date:
Hard hit average: .128, down from .194 in 2014 and .203 in the second half
Ground ball percentage: 37.7, up from 28.3 in 2014 and 26.0 in the second half
PitchF/X run value versus 2-seamers: minus-2.55 per 100, 0.71 in 2014
PitchF/X run value versus sinkers: minus-4.16 per 100, 0.14 in 2014
Carter's plate discipline, which might be everyone's first assumption, is not the issue: He has a 24.7 percent chase rate that is actually lower than it was last season, and he's not missing all that much more often when he does swing. What seems to be the issue is that opposing pitchers are testing him with pitches down in the zone, and Carter is making weaker contact as a result. It's for that reason I've taken a step backward from my instinct to buy low; there's a chance he won't adjust quickly enough to hit for a 30-plus-homers-over-the-course-of-a-full-year pace.
Carlos Gonzalez: He's a player whom I felt got too much of a free pass for his injury history even when he was performing like a first-rounder. Gonzalez has never played in more than 145 games in a season, a number that's clearly beneath "durable" status, and entering the season he had missed 27.5 percent of scheduled Colorado Rockies games from 2010 to 2014. The big issue, though, was that beginning in mid-2013, Gonzalez began to show a decline in performance as he played at less than 100 percent, his weighted on-base average going from .342 in the second half of 2013, to .322 in 2014's first half, to .255 in 2014's second half and now to .248 in 2015.
More importantly, Gonzalez now has the look of a platoon candidate, with .100/.143/.100 rates (and a .118 wOBA) against left-handers this season, after .241/.256/.379 (.277 wOBA) numbers against them in 2014 that represented a significant decline compared to his earlier years. That's a problem, considering the Rockies have a more-than-adequate right-handed partner in Drew Stubbs, and if Gonzalez can't outperform fellow lefties Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson, he'll be the one sacrificing starts. There's reason to think Gonzalez will improve, but the top 50 overall is no longer in the conversation.
Cody Allen: He might have only one blown save, but Allen has been scored upon in six of his 12 appearances, and most disturbingly, what was a 9.3 percent walk rate in 2014 has ballooned to 15.3 percent to date. He's leaving too many pitches over the plate -- 3 percent more in the strike zone, at that -- especially early in the count; he has already afforded more hits on the first pitch of an at-bat (3) than he did in all of 2014 (2). Allen's velocity is also slightly down, less than 1 mph with his fastball, but his leash probably isn't much longer. Bryan Shaw is the obvious handcuff, but Zach McAllister is a favorite sleeper of mine. Since Sept. 1, 2014, McAllister's first career relief appearance, his fastball has averaged 94.6 mph in relief and he has a 28.1 percent strikeout rate, hints he could possess "closer stuff."
Devin Mesoraco: In the Cincinnati Reds' past 27 games, Mesoraco has pinch hit nine times and served two games as the designated hitter. It's perplexing why the team still has him active if he's incapable of playing a field position, being that even the best pinch hitters over the years typically come to the plate only 75-80 times, a luxury that teams can't afford in today's game of specialized bullpens. Mesoraco's owners are surely rooting for a DL stint that affords him the time to heal and return to a full-time role, even if only for a half-season. Isn't that better than a pinch hitter's role for the (possible) course of the year? He continues to drop in the rankings with his full-season role remaining in question, and is in mixed-league-cut territory already.
Jimmy Rollins: The signs of decline were already present, as his strikeout rate has risen in every year since 2010, and his 17.6 percent line drive rate would represent his worst in any season for which FanGraphs has available data (since 2002). Still, Rollins' complete offensive collapse is unusual, as he's speedy enough to leg out the occasional grounder and his plate discipline hasn't regressed. Most of the cause for his decline in the rankings is his age (36) and the possibility that further struggles could earn him a permanent No. 7 or 8 spot in the Los Angeles Dodgers' lineup, the latter potentially capping his stolen base upside. He might be the one of these five with whom I'm most inclined to remain patient, but his ranking does reveal some long-term concern.
It has been quite the season for rookies, with six of Christopher Crawford's preseason top 50 fantasy prospects that had yet to debut in the majors having arrived in the bigs, rookies occupying the Nos. 30 (Devon Travis) and 37 (Joc Pederson) spots on our Player Rater, and Kris Bryant, Crawford's top yet-to-debut prospect, placing 137th and rising on said Player Rater.
Rookies were in the news during the past week, with three enjoying healthy jumps in the going-forward rankings:
Noah Syndergaard: He made his major league debut on Tuesday, filling in for the injured Dillon Gee, and while Syndergaard's stat line wasn't eye-popping -- his final Game Score was a mere 46 -- his performance indeed was. He flashed a four-seam fastball that regularly ranged between 96-98 mph, along with a good curveball and slider and a passable changeup. It was certainly enough to assure him the New York Mets' fifth-starter job for as long as Gee is sidelined, and probably longer than that, though in fantasy terms, he has some work to do in terms of control and his fastball, when hitters are prepared for it, is going to travel a long way. Syndergaard's fantasy value is certainly greater in dynasty than redraft formats, but as a pitcher in baseball's weakest-hitting division and with one of the better pitchers' environments as his home, he has the potential to crack the top 60 starters going forward. More? No, not yet.
Carlos Rodon: He and Syndergaard shared another trait besides making their first big league starts within the past week; they both walked four batters in their starts, though Rodon did so while facing two fewer batters (24, compared to 26 for Syndergaard). Examining their skills, though, Rodon is the more worrisome pitcher in that department, as he had walked at least 9 percent of the batters he faced at every pro stop to date, and he has a 12.9 percent walk rate overall as a pro. He has a great slider that could make him one of the best strikeout sources among the 2015 rookie class, but Rodon's WHIP is likely to be a problem, especially as a member of the American League and specifically the Central, which has the hefty-hitting Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals. His prospects of a regular rotation spot for the entire remainder of the year might be better than Syndergaard's -- the Chicago White Sox have John Danks and Hector Noesi as their fourth and fifth starters, neither of whom is as effective a pitcher right now as a healthy Gee -- but he's also the one in the more hitting-friendly environment. From a rankings standpoint, I'd rather take the safer skill set (Syndergaard) over the more stable role.
Maikel Franco: Don't look at that Tuesday Triple-A Lehigh Valley lineup, seeing Franco and Cody Asche in there, and assume the Philadelphia Phillies were misleading us; Franco is expected to arrive in the majors this weekend, taking over third base while Asche spends some time in the minors adapting to a move to left field. Franco should provide the Phillies with the power punch they so desperately need and, frankly, he'll instantly become the team's best right-handed bat upon his promotion. Though he's a free swinger who could whiff greater than 20 percent of the time, his power is often underestimated, evidenced by his .210 isolated power in the minors since the beginning of 2013. At the very least, he should be able to contribute Rotisserie numbers somewhat like Trevor Plouffe's.
New ESPN position eligibility
The following players added new position eligibility within the past week. As a reminder, position players need to appear 10 times at a new position to gain in-season eligibility, while pitchers need to make three starts to earn starting-pitching eligibility or five relief appearances to earn relief-pitching eligibility.
Enrique Burgos (RP), Christian Colon (SS), David DeJesus (OF), Cesar Hernandez (2B), Elian Herrera (2B), Aaron Hill (3B), Michael Lorenzen (SP), Daniel Murphy (3B), Jordan Pacheco (C), Yohan Pino (RP), Darin Ruf (OF), Yasmany Tomas (3B)
The following players are within two games of earning new eligibility, with their total games played noted at the listed position: Jonathan Herrera (SS, 9 games), Jung Ho Kang (3B, 8 games), Yangervis Solarte (1B, 8 games).
Going-forward rankings: Week 6
Listed below are my updated, going-forward rankings. These are based upon an ESPN standard league of 10 teams and Rotisserie 5x5 scoring. Click here to see these rankings sorted by position.