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When is a knee-jerk move justified?

"The season is a marathon, not a sprint." That was easier to believe back when the majority of fantasy leagues were AL- or NL-only, with limited or no reserve. Today, however, the overwhelming majority of gameplay is mixed AL/NL, with a much deeper player pool. The temptation to give up on an early underachiever puts patience to the test.

Long time fantasy players who cut their teeth in AL and NL-only leagues had no choice but to wait it out. In those formats, non-drafted players are all reserves or nondescript relievers. Practicing patience essentially means not selling low.

The argument for making knee-jerk moves? If I don't, someone else will. Mixed league players don't have patience hard-coded into their competitive DNA; it's a burn and churn mentality. Forget analytics, it's a what have you done for me lately landscape. If you play the game the way, you'll land the occasional Adolis Garcia, but your team will also suffer from perceived hot players falling into slumps.

The conflict between patience and urgency is particularly difficult to resolve this year due to the unusual runup to this season. It's unclear how much work players did during the lockout, followed by an abbreviated spring training. Pitchers aren't stretched out. Hitters may not have seen enough plate appearances to fine tune their timing. Then there are ancillary factors, such as MLB continuing the crackdown on preventing grip enhancement and humidors used in all 30 parks.

Information overload and social media contribute to analysis paralysis. Metrics for everything are posted on Twitter. A star player can't sneeze without a .gif going viral.

Fortunately, some of the new metrics -- combined with common sense -- help make small sample evaluation more meaningful. When assessing disappointing early-season performances, watch for these yellow flags:

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CHANGE IN ROLE

This is the most basic factor to monitor. Is the player playing less than expected? Through most of the spring, Jonathan Villar was assumed to be the Cubs' primary third baseman and a prolific source of stolen bases. But once the games counted, Jason Heyward morphed from odd man out to regular centerfielder, setting in motion a domino effect that pushed Villar to a reserve role.

Has the player fallen in the batting order? Akil Baddoo appeared to be slated to hit leadoff, albeit in a platoon role. Thus far, he's been relegated to the nine-hole.

This is not to say Villar won't eventually find everyday action or Baddoo won't move up in the lineup, but there are more productive options in the short term. If the fantasy league has a sufficient reserve roster, then stashing the under-producers makes sense. Dropping is justified in a league with limited bench spots.

DROP IN VELOCITY AND/OR SPIN RATE

These are among the most discussed elements of early season performances. The information is readily available and shared on social media. It's really a bit of a Catch-22. Velocity and spin are integral to a pitcher's performance, and a decrease is a harbinger for impending injury. Yet there are many logical reasons why a pitcher's velocity or spin may be down after one or two starts. Pitchers' velocity and spin rates have been down early for the past 140 years. We just didn't see a bevy of Tweets about it for the first 135 or so.

Julio Urias and Robbie Ray are two of the more prominent pitchers whose numbers have been concerning. As of this writing, Urias has thrown only two innings in Coors Field, but his velocity was down 6 mph. That's significant. Ray's first two starts occurred in inclement (cold and rainy) weather.

Perhaps the grandson's (played by Fred Savage) words to his grandfather (played by Peter Falk) in The Princess Bride say it best: "I wasn't nervous. Maybe I was a little bit concerned, but that's not the same thing."

QUALITY OF CONTACT

This applies to both batters and pitchers. Often, in small samples, a struggling batter is stinging the ball, but just not getting the commensurate results. Similarly, a pitcher may have induced a bunch of soft contact, with unfavorable outcomes. This type of information is now readily accessible on Statcast.

Carlos Santana (above) isn't the most fantasy relevant batter, but he's a great example of a player who's been shafted over a small sample. Through six games, Santana has fanned just once while stinging six balls over 95 mph, three of which eclipsed triple digits. He has notched just one hit, a double with a 95.7 mph exit velocity. Talk about some black magic.

This type of under the hood analysis is useful in unearthing players due for a turnaround. Good things will happen to batters making frequent and hard contact.

EXCESSIVE STRIKEOUTS

This is a more than an excuse to bring up Cody Bellinger and Spenser Torkelson, both of whom hit their first home runs of the season recently (Torkelson's was the first of his career, of course). Slumps are often due to an unlucky stretch (like Santana's) or the result of facing a string of solid pitching. An inordinate number of strikeouts in a short time often signifies that a batter is in a rut. Reserving a hitter (if possible) until his contact picks up is a viable tactic.

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