MLB Opening Day 2024: Initial fantasy baseball thoughts

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

We spent most of spring talking about the glamour teams in baseball.

Good lord, the Dodgers are loaded. Oh my, look at that ridiculous Braves lineup. How did the Rangers find two awesome rookies like that? And how do the Orioles keep crushing in the draft? It all looks like appointment television to me.

But there's a flip side to all this. Some MLB clubs have little to no hope in 2024, even on Opening Day, the ultimate moment 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 were projected to lose more than 100 games this year. The White Sox and Nationals were pegged for 90 or more losses. The Angels and Royals have such slim playoff hopes, you have to squint to see them.

And on Thursday's Opening Day, confirmation bias or not, the six teams projected to be the lousiest in baseball this year — well, they all looked lousy.

Colorado gets the first call after getting dumped 16-1 at Arizona. The Diamondbacks scored 14 of those runs in the third inning, a bottomless-cup rally that didn't even feature a home run. Some of the hits were rockets; some were well-placed bloops and seeing-eye hits. But nobody in Arizona was having trouble making contact.

This wasn't a baseball game; it was a comic strip from Peanuts. And good grief, 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 at Baltimore. Leadoff man Anthony Rendon, baseball's Bartleby, 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 Trout finally becomes a trade topic?

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

The White Sox and Royals did fine on the mound, but you need to score, too. Chicago had just three hits against the Tigers, with no runs. Maikel Garcia had a leadoff homer for the Royals, but they never threatened again.

The Nationals scored two late runs but were never competitive in an 8-2 loss at Cincinnati. Better days are 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 to one day. Baseball's regular season is all about the long haul, about letting data collect and stabilize. All of these mediocre teams could bounce back and roll in Game 2. Even the worst clubs in baseball are going to win some of the time.

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

Did you draft any of them for your fantasy teams?

Let's also be fair; several of baseball's good teams and players had major roles in making the non-contenders look bad. Corbin Burnes, the AL's Cy Young favorite, struck out 11. Shane Bieber, who prepared at Driveline this winter, also whiffed 11. The Diamondbacks are fresh off a World Series run. Tarik Skubal continued his bagel parade from late last season, freezing the White Sox. Cincinnati's fun lineup is going to throttle a lot of teams this year, especially at home.

Still, why run uphill when you don't have to? Fantasy managers need to know where the soft landings are. We're going to attack Colorado pitching all year. We're going to stream against most of the AL Central lineups, and the Athletics and Angels out west. There's a bounce in your step when you see Washington on the schedule.

Closing time

The Detroit win was punctuated by Jason Foley, who recorded the last two outs. Alex Lange, last year's stopper, wasn't used. Lange had a spotty year in 2023, while Foley had a solid if unspectacular one; I figured Foley could threaten for this job at some point in 2024. I didn't expect a change so soon, and maybe there's more to the story. But manager AJ Hinch is a sharp guy, and the Tigers figure they can steal the AL Central this year. Foley is an excellent speculation add; even after active trading over the last day, he's still rostered in just 19% of Yahoo leagues.

The Rangers are fresh off a championship and have designs on going back to the World Series. But the back of the bullpen is a concern. Jose Leclerc blew a save Thursday, and it was a white-knuckle ride — two walks, one wild pitch. This comes on the heels of 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's an interesting spec play here, though 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 my preferred fantasy target for the moment, but there's 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 positive stuff: 21 homers, 24 steals, Gold Glove Award. Volpe also drew 52 walks. Not bad for someone in his age-22 season.

Volpe's average shouldn't be taken at face value, either. According to Statcast metrics, he deserved 21 additional points in batting average. You don't make an All-Star team batting .230 (his data-expected average), but he's still a kid. The arrow is pointed up.

And let's appreciate what Volpe did in the opener at Houston. The Astros served Volpe 17 pitches out of the strike zone, and the sophomore swung at one of them. Spit, spit, spit. Wait for your pitch. The one time Volpe did swing outside the zone, it went for a hit.

Volpe begins the year in New York's No. 6 slot, but I can't see him moving lower than that. And if he eventually moves to the leadoff or No. 2 position, I won't be surprised. If your draft hasn't run yet, I want you to target Volpe. His Yahoo ADP over the past week was a reasonable 123.3.

Settle in for the Cruz versus De La Cruz battle

As colleague Jake Mintz pointed out this week, Elly De La Cruz and Oneil Cruz are going to be linked for their entire careers. Same division, similar names. They're both enormous, modern shortstops from the Dominican, blessed with plus power and capable of ridiculous highlights. Of course, there will be bumps in the road at times, swing-and-misses, adjustments needed. De La Cruz batted under .200 in the second half last year, while Cruz lost most of the season due to injury.

So it was fun to see both of them fill the box score Thursday. De La Cruz had a hit and a walk, stole a base, scored twice. Cruz casually struck an opposite-field homer in Miami. Of course, they combined for five strikeouts, and that part of the game might never evaporate, even as they mature and improve. But I look forward to watching this battle the rest of the decade.

If your draft hasn't happened yet, Cruz looks like the better Yahoo value. De La Cruz carried a 31.1 ADP over the 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 fun pick.

This game is supposed to be fun, isn't it? Does anyone remember laughter?