MLB Opening Day 2024: Early Fantasy Baseball Thoughts

By | March 29, 2024

Anthony Volpe #11 of the New York Yankees
Is Anthony Volpe destined for great fantasy stuff? (Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images)

We’ve spent most of the spring talking about baseball’s glamor teams.

Good lord, the Dodgers are loaded. Oh my, look at that ridiculous Braves lineup. How did the Rangers find such great rookies? And how do the Orioles continue to crush in the draft? It all seems like appointment television to me.

But all this also has a downside. Some MLB clubs have little to no hope in 2024, even on Opening Day, the ultimate time for optimism.

[It’s not too late: Join or create a Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league for the 2024 MLB season]

The Rockies and A’s are projected to lose more than 100 games this year. The White Sox and Nationals were tied for 90 or more losses. The Angels and Royals have so little hope for the playoffs, you have to squint to see them.

And on Thursday’s opening day, bias or not, the six teams predicted to be the worst teams in baseball this year — well, they all looked bad.

Colorado gets the first mention after being dumped 16-1 on Arizona. The Diamondbacks scored 14 of those runs in the third inning, an abysmal cup barrage that didn’t even include a home run. Some hits were missiles, some hits were well-placed bloops and blind hits. But no one in Arizona had any trouble making contact.

This wasn’t a baseball game, it was a Peanuts comic strip. And my goodness, this wasn’t even a Coors Field thing. Colorado was on the road.

The Angels enjoyed a first-inning homer from Mike Trout, but that was the only highlight in an 11-3 loss in Baltimore. Lead man Anthony Rendon, Bartleby baseball player, opened the year 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a fielding error. Somehow, the Angels never had a winning record in the six-year era of Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and this year’s model looks worse. Is this the summer that trout finally becomes a trading topic?

I feel sorry for the baseball fans of Oakland; they deserve better. The Athletics offense yielded four hits and zero runs against Cleveland, walking one against just 13 strikeouts. Where are Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill when you need them?

The White Sox and Royals did well on the mound, but you also have to score. Chicago had only three hits against the Tigers, no points. Maikel Garcia had a leadoff homer for the Royals, but they never threatened again.

The Nationals scored two late points but were never competitive in an 8-2 loss in Cincinnati. Better days lie ahead for CJ Abrams and Lane Thomas, but they combined to go 0-for-8 with four strikeouts.

As fantasy players and baseball analysts, we know better than to overreact one day. The regular baseball season is all about the long term, about collecting and stabilizing data. All of these mediocre teams could bounce back and roll in Game 2. Even the worst baseball clubs will win some of the time.

Then again, there’s a reason why the Rockies, Nationals, Athletics and White Sox all have microscopic playoff chances of 2% or less. Sometimes bad is bad. And look at some of those Opening Day starting pitchers: Kyle Freeland, Patrick Sandoval, Josiah Gray, Alex Wood.

Have you drafted one for your fantasy teams?

Let’s also be honest: some good baseball teams and players played a major role in making the non-contenders look bad. Corbin Burnes, the AL’s Cy Young favorite, struck out 11. Shane Bieber, who prepped at Driveline this winter, also had 11 batters. The Diamondbacks are fresh off a World Series run. Tarik Skubal continued his bagel parade from late last season and froze the White Sox. Cincinnati’s fun lineup will confuse a lot of teams this year, especially at home.

But why run uphill if you don’t have to? Fantasy managers need to know where the soft landings are happening. We’re going to attack Colorado’s pitching all year long. We’ll be streaming against most of the AL Central lineups and the Athletics and Angels out west. There’s a shock in your step when you see Washington on the schedule.

Closing time

  • The victory in Detroit was punctuated by Jason Foley, who recorded the final two outs. Alex Lange, last year’s stopper, was not used. Lange had a spotty year last year, while Foley had a solid, if unspectacular, year; I thought Foley could be a threat for this job sometime in 2024. I didn’t expect a change so quickly, and maybe there’s more to it. But manager AJ Hinch is a sharp guy and the Tigers think they can steal the AL Central this year. Foley is an excellent speculation add; even after active trading over the past day, he’s still in just 19% of Yahoo leagues.

  • The Rangers are fresh off a championship and have plans to return to the World Series. But the back end of the bullpen is a concern. Jose Leclerc blew a save on Thursday and it was a nail-biting ride: two walks, one wild pitch. This comes after a messy spring (5.06 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) and heck, an erratic career. David Robertson worked the 10th inning and got the win, dodging two walks of his own. He plays an interesting role here, although he also turns 39 in two weeks. Josh Sborz and Kirby Yates pitched scoreless innings prior to Leclerc’s appearance – there’s no shortage of candidates. All my ex-closers live in Texas. Robertson is currently my favorite fantasy target, but there is a wide net to cast.

Anthony Volpe is going places

It’s easy to get tripped up by Volpe’s .209 average last year, but that misses the point. Let’s appreciate the positives: 21 home runs, 24 steals, Gold Glove Award. Volpe also walked 52 batters. Not bad for someone in his age-22 season.

Volpe’s average should also not be taken at face value. According to Statcast stats, he earned 21 more points in batting average. You don’t make an All-Star team hitting .230 (his data expected average), but he’s still a kid. The arrow points upwards.

And let’s also appreciate what Volpe did in the opener in Houston. The Astros served Volpe 17 pitches outside the strike zone, and the second year only waved at one of them. Spit, spit, spit. Wait for your pitch. And hey, the only time Volpe swung outside the zone, it was a hit.

Volpe starts the year in sixth place in New York, but I don’t see him going any lower than that. And if he eventually trickles down to the leadoff or No. 2 position, I won’t be surprised. If your concept hasn’t been implemented yet, I want you to focus on Volpe. His Yahoo ADP was a reasonable 123.3 last week.

Get ready for the battle between Cruz and De La Cruz

As colleague Jake Mintz noted this week, Elly De La Cruz and Oneil Cruz will be linked throughout their careers. Same division, similar names. They’re both huge modern shortstops from the Dominican Republic, blessed with plus power and capable of ridiculous highs. Of course, there will be occasional bumps in the road, swings and misses, and adjustments are needed. De La Cruz hit under .200 last year, while Cruz lost most of the season due to injury.

So it was fun to see them both fill the box score on Thursday. De La Cruz had a single and a walk, stole a base and scored twice. Cruz patted nonchalantly an opposite-field home run in Miami. Of course, they combined for five strikeouts and that part of the game may never go away even as they mature and improve. But I look forward to watching this mano-a-mano battle for the rest of the decade.

If your draft isn’t done yet, Cruz seems like the better Yahoo value. De La Cruz had an ADP of 31.1 last week, while Cruz was three rounds cheaper at 65.3. But you can decide what value means and what these guys are worth to you. Sometimes you have to click on the nice choice.

This game should be fun, right? Does anyone remember the laughter?

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