10 Fantasy Baseball Players to Buy and Sell for Week 7
Well, we're six 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 Jake Arrieta
In Week 6, Jake Arrieta continued to make up for his fairy tale 2015 Cy Young season by being perhaps the unluckiest pitcher in baseball this season. He gave up 13 runs (9 earned) in 9.2 innings over two starts last week, one of which was in Coors. That brought his ERA up to a very uncharacteristic 5.44 on the year.
Despite this, Arrieta's xFIP of 3.69 ranks in the top third of the league's starting pitchers, which gives him the fifth-largest discrepancy between his xFIP and ERA. A quick look at his BABIP against and strand rate -- two of the stats most commonly associated with luck -- offers an explanation for Arrieta's early-season struggles.
His BABIP against of .355 is the fifth worst in the league and is far removed from his career .270 mark. To make matters worse, he has stranded just 60.9% of runners, also the fifth-worst mark in the league and down over 10 percentage points from his career 71.3% mark.
Arrieta probably isn't ever going to bounce back to the Cy Young pitcher we saw in 2015, but he is much better than his base numbers indicate. Most of his underlying numbers are nearly identical to last year's, in which he posted a 3.10 ERA on his way to 18 wins. If his owner is ready to jump ship after a rough first eight starts, be sure to take advantage.
Sell Xander Bogaerts
Xander Bogaerts has been a puzzling player thus far, hitting zero home runs after launching a career-high 21 last season, but making up for it with a .339 batting average that would be a career best. Not many owners are hurting for power these days, so most will gladly trade in a few homers for the additional hits.
The problem is that while his peripherals suggest the power outage might be a trend, the same cannot be said about his inflated batting average. A great tool for finding hitters who are either underperforming or outperforming their talent is xwOBA, or expected wOBA. Expected wOBA uses exit velocity and launch angle to predict what the results of a hitter's swing should have been, independent of fielding.
Among 211 qualified batters, Bogaerts has the fourth-largest discrepancy between his xwOBA and his actual wOBA. His xwOBA suggests that with the way he has been hitting the ball, his wOBA should be nearly 100 points lower. He also has one of the league's highest BABIPs, as his .391 mark ranks 13th among qualified hitters and is 50 points above his career mark.
As far as the power goes, it is important to remember that Bogaerts never hit more than 12 homers in a season prior to last year and his hard-hit rate has hovered around just 30.0% over the last three seasons. He also has just a 32.3% career fly-ball rate, a number which is way down this season, at 20.9%. He has been beating the ball into the ground thus far, with a 58.2% ground-ball rate that is definitely not conducive to hitting home runs. It is quite possible that last year's 21 homers were simply an outlier.
If that is indeed the case, fantasy owners are going to have a very pedestrian asset once his luck normalizes on balls put in play and his batting average falls. Obviously do not just give him away, but field offers and see if anyone is willing to buy in based on last year's production.
Hold Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera has posted a batting average above .310 in 11 of the past 12 seasons, with the one exception being a .292 mark in 2008. Despite that ridiculous level of consistency, some owners may be ready to panic after a slow start. Cabrera's average sits at just .238, along with a wOBA of .304, both of which would be by far the worst marks of his career.
A look at his xwOBA suggests that he is due for some positive regression, though, as only one player has a larger discrepancy between their wOBA and xwOBA than Cabrera's 81-point difference. In fact, Cabrera's xwOBA of .441 is the fifth-highest in the league, right behind the likes of some of the hottest hitters in the game (Freddie Freeman, Ryan Zimmerman, Aaron Judge, and Bryce Harper). His hard-hit rate of 47.9% backs up the idea that nothing has changed for Cabrera at the plate.
If you own Cabrera, be patient. You likely spent a first- or second-round pick on him, so don't let a month and a half cause you to get less value than you invested. The way he is hitting the ball suggests there is definitely a hot streak coming.
Buy Jacob deGrom
Jacob deGrom has always had good stuff, posting a career 9.53 strikeouts per nine innings(K/9), but he has taken it to a new level this season, with a ridiculous 12.39 K/9 through his first eight starts. Only Chris Sale and Danny Salazar boast a higher mark in that category. According to xFIP, he has been one of the league's premier aces, ranking sixth with what would be a career-best 2.86 mark. So, are we to trade away our whole team trying to buy high on deGrom?
Well, you might not have to, as deGrom's ERA sits at 4.07 on the season and 6.35 in three May starts. It's possible that owners may be tired of not receiving quite ace-like performances from him and would be willing to part ways with him at a fair, or even discounted price tag.
Even with the slow start in the ERA department, deGrom's career ERA sits at a sparkling 2.86. If he is able to maintain something close to his elite K/9 and his ERA starts to resemble his xFIP, the result will be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. Try to buy now, while you still can.
Sell Gio Gonzalez
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Gio Gonzalez, who has been outperforming his peripherals to extreme levels this season. Gonzalez's ERA sits at a sparkling 2.47 through eight starts, but his 4.70 xFIP ranks in the bottom third of the league.
An easy explanation for that is his .243 BABIP against (down from a career .296 mark) and 91.4% strand rate (up from a career 73.3% mark). Both scream regression. Another troubling sign is his career-worst 19.4% strikeout rate and 11.9% walk rate. Quite simply, Gonzalez has not pitched anywhere near as well as his ERA would suggest.
Also helping Gonzalez's case is the fact that there have been a crazy amount of injuries to starting pitchers to begin this season, so many fantasy owners are in desperate need of help at the position. Sell him now while he is at the peak of his value.
Buy Kendrys Morales
There was some sleeper hype surrounding Kendrys Morales heading into the year as a key part of a potentially stacked Toronto Blue Jays lineup. Well, that has certainly not panned out as expected, as Toronto has been one of the worst offenses in baseball. However, there's still a slight glimmer of hope that the version of Morales we envisioned heading into the season could still be a thing, as Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin should be back within the month and would provide much more lineup protection than is currently offered to Toronto's cleanup hitter.
There is also reason to believe that even if Toronto's lineup struggles all year, Morales should post stronger numbers over the course of the season than he has thus far. For starters, the career .297 BABIP hitter has posted a .263 mark that would be the second worst of his career. He also has the sixth-largest difference in his xwOBA and wOBA, as his xwOBA suggests he should have a wOBA of .386.
His hard-hit rate of 40.6% is right in line with last season's career-best 41.1% mark, and it is only a matter of time until some more of his hard-hit balls find holes and drop for hits. He is an excellent buy-low candidate.
Sell Ervin Santana
Just when it appeared Ervin Santana's good luck had run out following a six-run shelling against the Boston Red Sox, he was able to dance around seven base runners in a five-walk performance to shut out the Cleveland Indians. His ERA now sits at 1.50, thanks to a league-low .128 BABIP and ludicrous 98.4% strand rate that is the highest in the league by a wide margin. Like, what?! He can't keep doing this, right? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!
The answer is no; Santana cannot continue to elude his peripherals the way he has thus far. Variance may allow him to continue to post better numbers than his peripherals suggest he should, but we have never seen a pitcher post a BABIP that low or strand rate that high over the course of a full season.
His pedestrian 9.9% strikeout-to-walk-rate and 4.48 xFIP back up the idea that Santana is not any different of a pitcher than in years past, so it is fair to assume that regression is coming soon. This isn't to say that he can't still be a usable fantasy asset over the remainder of the season, but rather that you should try to sell him based on the numbers he has put up thus far.
Sell Keon Broxton
Keon Broxton received a lot of hype heading into this season and he hasn't disappointed, with four homers and nine stolen bases, to go along with a decent .270 batting average. While he certainly has talent, there's almost no way that he can maintain that batting average with the way he strikes out. A bloated .419 BABIP, the third-highest in the league, has helped him to ignore a 36.9% strikeout rate, but once his BABIP drops, his batting average could get ugly in a hurry. His contact rate (64.4%) is the fifth worst in the league and is just a further indicator of a low batting average.
In addition to striking out a ridiculous clip, Broxton has rarely drawn walks this season, posting just a 6.6% walk rate. When his BABIP drops to a more realistic number, fantasy owners will be left with a low on-base player who is a liability in points leagues due to the strikeouts. It is plausible that a drop in BABIP will cause his stolen bases to be capped as well, as it is difficult to steal bases without first getting on base.
Don't just give Broxton away, because he is an exciting talent. Just keep in mind that he profiles as more of a low .200s hitter than the .270 hitter he has been thus far.
Buy Jeff Samardzija
There may not be a more frustrating pitcher for analytic-driven analysis than Jeff Samardzija. The lanky right-hander has a 5.26 ERA through eight starts, yet everything about his underlying numbers points towards an ace-level pitcher. His 2.76 xFIP is the fourth best in the league and gives him the largest discrepancy between ERA and xFIP of any pitcher. His 24.1% strikeout-to-walk-rate is the fourth-best mark for any starting pitcher.
So, what gives? Well, Samarzija ranks near the top of the league in some other categories, too. His .343 BABIP is the 12th-worst mark in the Majors, while his 59.4% strand rate is the third worst. He's also already faced four of the 10 best teams against right-handed pitching and pitched a game in Coors.
He's probably not going to put up the numbers that his peripherals would suggest he should, but he should definitely pitch more like the pitcher who put up a 3.81 ERA last year than the guy sporting a 5.26 mark thus far. See if his owner is ready to cut bait in your league.
Sell Javier Baez
There may not be a more overrated player in fantasy baseball than Javier Baez. To avoid the subjectivity that comes with that type of a statement, lets look at some numbers.
Baez is owned in 73.9% of ESPN leagues, despite being a part-time player. Thanks to a slew of injuries to the Chicago Cubs position players, Baez has seen more consistent playing time lately, but what has he done with it? Well, aside from posting a horrific .274 on-base percentage, Baez has struck out 26.1% of the time and hit nearly half (47.5%) of his balls into the dirt. He has just a 29.3% hard-hit rate, which is right in line with his career mark.
Baez also has the third-worst contact rate (63.6%) in the Majors, along with the league's worst swinging-strike rate (20.4%). He's swung at an astounding 46.1% pitches outside the zone, which is the second-highest rate in the league, making contact on just 47.3% of those swings.
Why are we convinced that even if Baez was guaranteed a full-time role that he would do anything with it? He has some power, but has never hit more than 14 homers in the Majors, he's not a huge threat on the basepaths, and his approach at the plate is clearly flawed. So, he is going to be a liability in the batting average and strikeout departments.
If you are one of the 73.9% of ESPN players that own Baez, see if you can get someone in your league to buy in on the hypothetical upside, because nothing we have seen from him at the Major League level indicates that he is more than a replacement-level player on offense.