Is It Legit? 4/23/24: Arcia, Westburg, Blackburn, and Winker

How much stock can we put in these four hot starts?

Four weeks into the season statistics and data are becoming a whole lot more meaningful. The hot starts that have continued are starting to look more like legitimate breakouts and the extended slumps are getting scarier by the minute. Let’s dive into four players who have impressed in the early going to see if they’re worth a waiver pickup or to target in a trade.


Orlando Arcia, SS, Atlanta Braves

Arcia sits near the bottom of a lineup full of All-Star bats. He’s one of the few places opposing pitchers probably feel like they can really attack the Braves’ star-studded offense, but he’s actually been one of the most productive hitters in Atlanta so far this season. Through 80 plate appearances, Arcia’s slashing .329/.363/.479, good for a .368 wOBA and 130 wRC+, both top-1o marks among MLB shortstops.

A real quick look at Arcia’s player page tells you that a lot of the results are due to his sky-high BABIP. It’s sitting at .377 right now, well above his .291 career average. That’ll inevitably come down, but there are a few other important things to note.

Arcia’s made meaningful changes to his approach at the plate, swinging much more often than we’re accustomed to seeing. After two straight years swinging below the league-average rate, he’s become much more aggressive at the dish swinging at 52% of pitches, a rate in the 79th percentile of hitters. That aggression has allowed Arcia to make more contact and cut his strikeout rate for the second straight year. It’s fallen from 21.8% to 19.1% and now to 16.3%. Unfortunately, his walk rate has similarly dipped during that stretch and it’s currently at just 5%.

Not only is Arcia making more contact, but he’s also making generally better contact. He’s both getting the ball in the air and pulling it more often. That sounds like a recipe for success, but he isn’t hitting the ball particularly well. His barrel rate of 3.2% is less than half of what it was last year and his flyball exit velocity is down to the 30th percentile of batters. Put it all together and Arcia has only gone deep once.

Verdict: Not legit. Arcia’s BABIP is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. There are some legit improvements in his profile but they’ve come with corresponding concerning trends. All together it’s a mixed bag that I don’t have much interest in outside of NL-only leagues. He could be a sneaky daily fantasy play, especially because it looks like he’ll move up the lineup against lefty starters while Albies is on the IL.


Jordan Westburg, 2B/3B, Baltimore Orioles

It’s easy to overlook Westburg amidst the incredible depth of young talent the Orioles currently have pushing for MLB playing time. I was interested in the utility infielder from a talent perspective during draft season, but was concerned he wouldn’t be able to find consistent enough playing time to make him a worthwhile fantasy asset. I’ve been happily proven wrong.

Westburg is killing it so far this year, slashing .333/.392/.639 with 5 HR, 14 R, 18 RBI, and 3 SB while playing nearly every single day. Check out his impressively red player page:

I’d like to draw your attention to those incredible contact quality metrics – his 41.3% IPA% is 4th best in the sport and his 43% HC% is the 5th best in baseball. Despite the hard contact being so high, he’s not enjoying an absurdly high BABIP which is encouraging. It’s at .373 and will come down, but that’s not a mark high enough to be outlandish.

The very evident hole in Westburg’s profile is his plate discipline. You can see it clearly in the one blue bar above. He only swings a league-average amount, but his third-percentile whiff rate means he misses often. That means pitchers have been able to attack him without actually targeting the strike zone–only 40.8% of pitches he sees are in the zone–but he hasn’t been able to translate that into a strong walk rate. His 61.6% contact rate is just 5th percentile and it leads me to think that the strikeout rate improvement we’ve seen from him in the early going won’t stick.

One of Westburg’s biggest struggles in his 228 plate appearance debut last year was hitting offspeed pitches. It’s early so it’s an especially small sample looking at individual pitch types, but Westburg has made massive strides against those offspeed offerings. He’s cut his whiff rate against them by about 17 points and raised his EV against those pitches by nearly 7 MPH.

Verdict: Legit. Westburg is hitting the baseball incredibly well right now and there aren’t many reasons to think his contact quality is going to suddenly drop off. I do have concerns about his plate discipline. Making so little contact makes me think he’ll be prone to some rough stretches throughout the season when he gets in a funk, but overall the strong contract metrics outline a player worth rostering in pretty much every fantasy format.


Paul Blackburn, SP, Oakland Athletics

Blackburn’s one of the season’s biggest surprises so far. The 30-year-old righty didn’t allow an earned run until his fourth start of the season and currently sports a 2-0 record with a 1.08 ERA and 1.00 WHIP through 25 innings pitched.

Although the surface-level numbers look enticing, not a lot seems to have changed under the hood for Oakland’s makeshift ace. His strikeout rate of 18.6% is right in line with career norms and is actually a step back from his 22.4% punchout rate he posted alongside a 4.43 ERA and 1.54 WHIP last year. He has bumped up his SwStr% to a career-best 11.4%, but it’s not a massive enough jump to expect a real surge in performance.

The two quick things we can check to see if he’s been “lucky” or not don’t look great. He’s allowed just a .239 BABIP so far and has been able to strand 88% of baserunners. Both of those numbers are much better than the league average.

There are a few positive changes to note in Blackburn’s profile. He’s continued the four-year trend of throwing his sinker less often which is a great choice. The pitch has been routinely hammered and is in just the 7th percentile of sinkers according to PLV. Blackburn’s down to tossing it 11.6% of the time as opposed to its peak usage of 43.8% in 2020.

In light of throwing the sinker, he’s nearly doubled his changeup usage. Tossing the pitch at a 20% clip seems to compliment his cutter and four-seamer much better than the sinker did. The changeup has a 21.9% CSW% so far but was sitting at 28.7% and 32.7% the previous two years, so there’s still room for it to get better results. On the plus side, hitters are not making any kind of solid contact against the offspeed offering – it has an 18.8% ICR and a 75% groundball rate, both of which are 85th+ percentile. PLV grades the pitch as just average among MLB changeups, but swapping out a really bad sinker for an average changeup is going to pay dividends.

Blackburn’s velocity is up just a tick across most of the rest of his offerings which is nice to see even though he still sits in the low 90s with his fastballs. Both Stuff+ and PitchingBot grade Blackburn’s stuff as the best it’s ever been. Don’t get too excited about that though. For Blackburn, that means his pitches are grading out at about league average after years of being subpar.

Verdict: Not Legit Enough. Blackburn clearly won’t keep up the minuscule ERA much longer. It’s largely due to a mixture of good luck and a very kind early season schedule – he’s seen CLE, @DET, WSN, and STL so far. I do like him featuring his changeup more often and am encouraged by the better stuff grades, but the improvements aren’t huge. It likely means that Blackburn can be bumped up a hair in how you see him. He’s still not worth a roster spot in most formats, but you can consider streaming him in good matchups, especially in quality starts leagues since the A’s are happy to let him go deep if he’s throwing well.



Jesse Winker, OF, Washington Nationals

Winker broke out in a huge way back in 2021 with a .305/.394/.556 slash line, 24 HR, 77 R, and 71 RBI. Three years later Winker has cycled through three teams and battled nonstop injuries. He’s finally settled into a starting role with the Nationals and has been hitting as well as we’ve seen since he left Cincinnati.

Through 77 plate appearances, Winker is posting elite numbers: a .328/.439/.507 slash line with 2 HR, 13 R, 9 RBI, and 2 SB. Let’s start with the obvious caveat: Winker’s .400 BABIP is unsustainable. In his peak 2021 season, he posted a .324 BABIP, so even if he’s really back to hitting at his best, it’s going to fall nearly 100 points.

Encouragingly, Winker’s been hitting the ball much better than we’ve seen from him in the last two years. His barrel rate (9.6%) and ICR (46.2%) are the best we’ve seen from him since his breakout campaign. His batted ball profile is also about what we saw from him in 2021 with a 46.2% groundball rate and 25% flyball rate. You’d like to see him put more balls in the air, but on the plus side, when he is hitting flyballs, he’s hitting them really well. His 90.1 mph FB EV is 75th percentile among hitters and his best number since the shortened 2020 season.

When Winker really started making a name for himself, his calling card was his strong plate discipline numbers. His career 0.72 BB/K ratio is the 19th-best mark among all hitters since his 2017 debut season. After really struggling in that regard in his limited run in Milwaukee last year, Winker’s back to his typical self with a 19.5% strikeout rate to a 12.2% walk rate this year.

It’s almost entirely a factor of the new stolen base landscape across baseball, but it’s worth mentioning that Winker’s already swiped two bags. He’d never stolen more than one in an entire season before 2024, so while he’s probably not really going to make a difference there, early returns indicate he’s not going to be a complete zero either.

Verdict: Legit. This is a hard call to make. I was ready to write off Winker after such a dismal showing last year, but the early returns here are reminiscent of the great times we had rostering him in 2021. His underlying numbers are encouraging and he’s going to play as much as he can handle for a bad Nationals team before likely getting dealt at the deadline. I’m picking up Winker in 12-team leagues and deeper at this point. An injury could derail this fun ride quickly, but for now, I’m at least jumping on and hoping that both this strong start and his health hold out throughout the season.

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Mark Steubinger

Mark loves everything talking and writing about baseball - from every fantasy league format you can imagine to the unending greatness of Mike Trout. Mark has a degree in Sports Communication from Bradley University and works in radio production. He lives in central Illinois where his TV is permanently tuned to Chicago Cubs games.

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