2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Jorge Mateo Has One of the Hottest Starts Ever

by Ryan Kirksey
2021 MiLB Prospect Notes 8-12-21

Welcome to 2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Jorge Mateo Has One of the Hottest Starts Ever!

When you were drafting for the 2023 Fantasy Baseball season, did you select Jorge Mateo as your team's shortstop? Likely not. In fact, unless you play in a league with 14 or more teams, you didn't select him as your Middle Infielder either.

In drafts that took place in March in NFBC leagues, Mateo's average draft position was 267 and he was the 26th shortstop taken. Disrespect after leading the American League in steals last season? Perhaps. And Mateo is apparently out to prove all of us wrong with his historic start to the season.

With Mateo and the Baltimore Orioles scoring runs and stealing bases like it's the early 1990s, what should we expect from the young shortstop this season? And is he worth an everyday role on your roster? Let's dive into the hot start and find out.

2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Jorge Mateo

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Mateo Gave Us a Preview in 2022

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For the context of the 2022 fantasy baseball season, Mateo was already a base-stealing savant. His 35 steals led the American League, but the rest of his fantasy production left a lot to be desired. He slashed just .221/.267/.379. Mateo had just 13 home runs and 50 RBI. But the good news was he stayed healthy (150 games played). That led to a marked improvement in the second half of 2022.

Mateo's first-half slash line was a paltry .205/.258/.353. After a couple of months, he may have even been on many drop lists. His second half wouldn't be mistaken for an MVP-caliber season, but it was at or above league-average in all categories: .241/.279/.412.

His strikeouts dropped from 93 in the first half to just 54 in the second half. And he had more RBI in 70 fewer plate appearances. The primary reason for the mild second-half surge was in his overall contact rate and his contact rate within the zone. Here is the seasonal movement on both of those, courtesy of FanGraphs.

A Tale Of Two Halves?

Just about all of the first half for Mateo was spent below average in both contact rate and zone contact rate. But those both improved tremendously starting in mid-July and led to his strikeout rate plummeting, a higher on-base percentage, and more time spent on base. Has he carried these gains into the start of the 2023 fantasy baseball season? It certainly appears so.

Just like the rest of the team and the rest of the offense, Mateo improved in the second half. Now it appears their offense is even more lethal than in 2022. The Orioles have scored 25 runs in four games (eighth in MLB). And their on-base percentage is a robust .389 - second in baseball so far. A big part of that surge has been Jorge Mateo.

Mateo's Hot Start to 2023 is One of the Best in History

There have already been plenty of things written about how the Baltimore Orioles are turning the 2023 fantasy baseball season into their own personal track meet. After back-to-back games with five steals to start the season, they became just the fourth team in history to accomplish that feat. In the Orioles' first four games, Mateo sat once. He amassed a .300 average, three hits, two walks, and four steals in just three games.

According to Baseball Reference, Mateo is just the fourth player since 1990 to accomplish each of those numbers in their first three games of a season.

If you add in the home run Mateo hit last night, he stands alone as the only player with that level of on-base ability, speed, and power in at least the last 35 years. In fact, you would have to go all the way back to Eric Davis's epic 1987 fantasy season to find a player who amassed the same stats Jorge Mateo has in his first 27 innings of play this year.

It is, of course, VERY early. But Mateo's walk rate, average, slugging percentage, and ISO are all way up to start the year. So far, he has hit only 25% of his balls in play on the ground, which was a problem when he was over 38% over the last two seasons. He can overcome some of that with this out-of-this-world speed, but balls in the air and in the gaps are what will eventually fuel more success for Mateo and grant him more opportunity to steal bases.

What Can We Expect For The Rest of the Season?

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I asked a long-time fantasy baseball friend of mine what he thought the odds were that Mateo could steal 100 bases this season. We settled on 5% for three primary reasons. It has not been done since Vince Coleman in 1987 (109 steals); Mateo already is not playing every game; and just the overwhelming variables working against him to reach a number that large.

But could Mateo realistically steal 75 or 80 bases this year? I certainly think that's reasonable to assume. He already has the green light every time he gets on base, so the only thing stopping him from reaching a massive number this year would be health or an apocalyptic slump that keeps him off base.

Knowing what we know through the first four days of the season, where would Mateo be drafted today? Certainly somewhere inside the top-200 picks and more likely somewhere closer to 100 than 200.

Mateo certainly has holes in his swing. He doesn't hit for a lot of power (traditionally), and he has a career 5% walk rate. Can all those things improve in his age-28 season? Absolutely, but if Mateo keeps hitting seventh, eighth, and ninth in the lineup we may get some nice numbers in average and steals. But the runs, RBI, and home runs need to have some dampened expectations.

But as it stands through the first weekend of play, if there is one guy who is going to be the first to reach 70 steals since Jacoby Ellsbury did it in 2009, that player would be Jorge Mateo.

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