10 Fantasy Baseball Players to Buy and Sell for Week 5
Well, we're four weeks in, which is one of the most important parts of the fantasy baseball season. Are hot starts legitimate signs of breakout performances? Are cold starts just a result of a small sample size, or are they warning signs?
For the most part, it's too early to overreact. However, you will find several owners ready to push the panic button already.
Perhaps you're one of these owners -- it happens to the best of us. If you're not sure whether you should hold or fold on a player, that's why we're here.
The following 10 players have seen a perceived change in their fantasy stock, and we'll attempt to decipher which ones warrant taking action on this early. Some may seem premature, but that is the goal -- to be ahead of the rest of your league.
Buy Carlos Correa
The addition of shortstop eligibility to Manny Machado and Trea Turner has turned shortstop into a very top-heavy position. With Carlos Correa not taking the huge leap forward most expected last year and starting 2017 off slow, some might be tempted to make a move. However, a look at the peripherals surrounding his base numbers suggest there is little reason for concern. He's been quite unlucky at the plate, and as we saw with Machado last week, it doesn't take long for a hitter of Correa's caliber to heat up.
While the early results may not show it, Correa has been hitting the ball about as well as any shortstop this season. His 18th-ranked hard-hit rate on the year (45.3%) trails only Corey Seager (53.5%) and Machado (51.5%). Over the past two weeks, his hard-hit rate of 52% ranks 11th in the league, per FanGraphs. In addition to building on his hard-hit rate for the second consecutive season, Correa has lowered his ground-ball rate and increased his fly-ball rate. Considering he is hitting the ball harder while putting it in the air more often, it would make sense for his 8.0% home-run-to-fly-ball rate to normalize to something more in line with his career 18.6% mark.
Hold Felix Hernandez
Following an injury-riddled and disappointing season last year, Felix Hernandez opened 2017 in similar fashion. Is it time to throw the white flag on King Felix in his age-31 season? Well, while this certainly hasn't been an encouraging start, there may yet be reason to cling to hope.
For starters, the results from Hernandez's tests have been encouraging thus far, so we should see him back sooner rather than later.
As far as his ugly 4.73 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, there is reason to believe he was actually pitching much better than last year prior to his injury. His 3.28 xFIP would be the best mark he put up since 2014 and is actually a top-20 mark among starters at the moment. A big reason for the discrepancy between the two appears to be his inflated .388 BABIP against, which is far higher than his career .295 mark and is the second highest among all starting pitchers.
A big struggle for Hernandez last year was his career-high 9.9% walk rate, which he had appeared to be making strides forward in this season. He has a 2.5% walk rate through 26.2 innings, which would have been the best mark of his career.
This is not to say he is going to return to vintage King Felix, but rather that he was pitching much better than his numbers indicated. With the injury on top of his early-season struggles, nobody is going to give you fair value for Hernandez anyway. Even if your league doesn't afford you the luxury of DL slots, hold onto him in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Buy Rougned Odor
Rougned Odor's first month of the season has been a swing and a miss (sorry), as he has a batting average south of the Mendoza line. While a cold month in the middle of the season wouldn't be much cause for concern for a streaky hitter such as Odor, the timing offers us a chance to buy low on the hard-hitting second baseman.
Like Correa, Odor has had extremely bad luck on balls put in play, posting the league's 11th lowest BABIP (.208). Among players with a BABIP as low as Odor, none have a hard-hit rate as high as his 36.8%, which would mark his fourth straight season of improvement in that regard. He's also cut down on his ground-ball rate (36.8%) and increased his fly-ball rate (52.6%), yet his home-run-to-fly-ball rate of 10.0% would be his lowest mark in three years.
Odor proved to be one of the most valuable second baseman in fantasy last year, clubbing 33 homers and stealing 14 bases, all while posting a respectable .271 batting average. He should bounce back soon and is a terrific buy-low target.
Sell Ervin Santana
Ervin Santana just refuses to pitch to the level his underlying numbers suggest he should, posting an 0.77 ERA through five starts. While it is frustrating for the analytics-driven crowd, it presents a perfect opportunity to sell high.
It is obvious to say that his first-ranked .129 BABIP against and absurd 99.0% strand rate are not sustainable, but just how far off-base are Santana's numbers? Well, a good place to start would be his xFIP of 4.08 and SIERA of 4.16, both of which rank just outside the top-50 of starting pitchers. Santana proved last year that he could pitch below his peripherals, posting a 3.38 ERA in spite of a 4.21 xFIP. That type of production is likely a lot more reasonable to expect in 2017 than anything near the numbers he has been putting up.
If you are a Santana owner and can find someone in your league who views his April as a step forward in his age-34 season and not just a month of extraordinarily good luck from a solid, but unspectacular pitcher, take advantage -- regression is coming.
Add Jedd Gyorko
Jedd Gyorko was an incredibly useful option on a game-to-game basis last season, launching 30 home runs in just 438 plate appearances. That was the problem, though -- he didn't see the field enough to be trusted in season-long leagues despite multi-position eligibility.
However, following a .120 start at the plate and an illness that sent him to the DL, Jhonny Peralta was removed as the St. Louis Cardinals starting third baseman, opening up regular playing time for Gyorko. He responded to the opportunity by hitting .440 with an .880 slugging percentage in 28 plate appearances. Gyorko has also built on the 34.8% hard-hit rate and 40.3% fly-ball rate that helped him accumulate 30 long balls last year, posting a 38.5% hard-hit rate and 43.6% fly-ball rate thus far.
Peralta will be back from the DL soon, so keep an eye on Gyorko's playing time, but it is hard to envision St. Louis benching him. He's still available in over 40% of ESPN leagues, which is way too many for a player eligible at second base, shortstop, and third base who has 36 homers over his last 162 games.
Sell Jeremy Hellickson
There are several standouts among the top-10 starting pitchers in ERA through the first month of the season, but perhaps none seem more out of place than Jeremy Hellickson's 1.80 mark. Hellickson's 5.28 xFIP is an entire point higher than the next-highest pitcher in the top-10 of ERA and screams that there is regression coming.
His .196 BABIP against makes him one of just six starting pitchers with a mark below .200 and his 86.2% strand rate is among the league's 15 highest. He also has the lowest strikeout rate (9.6%) among 104 qualified starting pitchers, as he has punched out only 11 batters in 30 innings. Hellickson has also done a terrible job of limiting contact -- opponents have made contact 84.3% of the time against him, which ranks in the bottom-10 of qualified starting pitchers and would be a career-worst mark.
Buy Lance McCullers
On the complete other end of the spectrum, we find Lance McCullers. Despite coming in tied with that Clayton Kershaw guy for seventh among starting pitchers in xFIP (2.71), McCullers sports a quite pedestrian 4.34 ERA through five starts. He ranks in the top 15 in both strikeout rate (29%) and ground-ball rate (55.4%), as well as the bottom 15 in contact rate (73.1%) and is one of just two pitchers who can say that (Luis Severino, the owner of the league's second-lowest SIERA, being the other). Missing bats and inducing ground balls is a recipe to success, and it is just a matter of time until the recipe yields the expected results.
His unfortunate BABIP (.342) and home-run-to-fly-ball rate (22.2%) should normalize soon enough for the underlying numbers should shine through. If you're a McCullers owner, wait it out. If you are not, send out some buy-low offers while you still can -- he has two starts this week!
Sell Avisail Garcia
Avisail Garcia has been one of the real surprises this season, posting a .368 batting average, belting 5 home runs while piling up 15 runs scored and 20 RBI already. At the age of 25, it is possible that he is just enjoying a breakout performance, but with career highs of 13 home runs, 66 runs scored and 59 RBI, it is fair to wonder whether this is sustainable.
A quick look at the league leaderboard for BABIP shows that perhaps no hitter has been luckier than Garcia, whose .443 BABIP is the third-highest in the league. His 31.8% hard-hit rate pales in comparison to the names ahead of him. He also has the third-most infield hits in the league, as he has posted an unsustainable 19.4% infield hit rate. These numbers all suggest that Garcia is nowhere near the elite-level hitter he has appeared to be.
To make matters worse, Garcia's early success has led to a troubling lack of plate discipline for the already free-swinging hitter. He is swinging at a league-high 58.6% of the pitches he sees, including 38.5% of pitches outside of the zone (bottom 20 in the league). He's made contact on just 72.9% of his swings while he boasts the league's sixth-highest swinging-strike rate (15.9%).
It is easy to ignore the whiffs when nearly half of the balls he puts in play go for hits, but when that number begins to normalize, Garcia's swing-happy approach is going to be hard to stomach as a fantasy owner. If you can get an owner in your league to buy into his scorching-hot start, sell him high.
Buy Jeff Samardzija
Jeff Samardzija's 0-4 start with a 6.32 ERA might have you wondering if he should even be owned, let alone someone you go out of your way to target in trades. While the frustration with his early start is understandable, it is important to keep in mind that only one other pitcher (Adam Wainwright) has a larger discrepancy between their ERA and xFIP than Samardzija thus far. Samardzija's 3.41 xFIP is in the top 30 of starting pitchers and suggests there is some positive regression headed his way soon.
His 60.1% strand rate ranks in the bottom five among starting pitchers and his .321 BABIP against is among the 20 highest marks, while 23.1% of the fly balls opponents have hit have left the yard (ninth-highest mark among starters).
It is also worth noting that he has faced some very difficult matchups thus far, as four of his five starts have come against the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. He's pitched quite well in the perfectly crafted fly-ball pitcher park he calls home, posting a respectable 3.92 ERA in three starts at AT&T Park.
With some better luck going forward, as well as some more favorable matchups, Samardzija should soon resemble the pitcher who posted a 3.81 ERA and useful strikeout totals last season. If you're in one of the 33.9% owners ESPN leagues in which he isn't on a roster, be sure to add him. If not, see if his owner is ready to give up on him.
Sell Cesar Hernandez
Cesar Hernandez has been one of fantasy's most useful middle infielders through the first month, posting a .323 batting average with 4 homers, 20 runs, and 10 RBI. He has career highs of 6 homers and 39 RBI, so the 28-homer and 70-RBI pace he is on is clearly an aberration. His 10th-ranked .409 BABIP also seems like a clear outlier, but he does have a career BABIP of .356, so it is possible that the speedster is just an exception to the rule. Either way, it will come down from a .400-plus mark, as will his .323 batting average.
Outside of the high BABIP and an extraordinarily bloated 23.5% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, nothing about Hernandez's hot start really sticks out. His 25.7% hard-hit rate is actually down from last year, he's still hitting nearly half of his balls (49.3%) on the ground, his contact rate (76.6%) is the lowest it has been since 2014, and his swinging-strike rate (10.3%) is the highest it has been since then.
If you can cash in on Hernandez's early returns, do so. He could be a useful asset in roto leagues for those looking for batting average, runs and stolen bases, but he is not going to come close to maintaining the pace he is at right now.