Today's Top 3 Fantasy Baseball Buy Low Candidates

Oh look, somebody's trying to trade Brandon McCarthy? Sucker.

Every year, some players get off to terrible starts. Some, like Dan Uggla or Adam Dunn, are on the downswing of their careers, and are finally showing signs of slippage due to age or diminished skill sets. Some, like Mike Minor last season, make key mechanical adjustments and right their ship.

And some are just victims of a streak of bad luck. Here are three such guys. Thanks to their crappy starts, they should be available in your fantasy league, and you should try buying low on them.

Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes hasn’t exactly shot out of the gate, posting a .212/.282/.462 line in 149 plate appearances. That low average, and by proxy the on-base percentage, is due to a miserable .209 batting average on balls in play. The league average is in the .290 - .300 range, and Cespedes posted a .326 BABIP in his first major league season thanks to plenty of solid contact that resulted in homers and doubles. He’s not a player who will dink-and-dime you to death with singles.

So there’s plenty of reason to expect an uptick in batting average once Cespedes gets some of those 50/50 balls to drop for hits. His power is still there: In fact, his .250 ISO is better than last year’s mark, and he’s already hit nine homers. This indicates he’s still got his power stroke and singles are the only part of his game that’s missing – singles are the hits subject to the most variance.

In a post-Moneyball world, most casual baseball fans recognize the value of a walk (or rather, the value of not making outs). Thus, most baseball fans recognize that a .282 OBP is pretty darn bad. But Cespedes’ low OBP is also a victim of his terrible BABIP. He’s walking at a 8.1 percent rate this year, which is nearly identical to last year’s 8.0 percent. Incidentally, 8.1 percent is the exact league average for 2013, and 8.0 percent was the exact league average for 2012. So Cespedes walks at a league average rate.

You might expect more from a middle-of-the-order power hitter, but he is who he is. What’s important is that he hasn’t stopped walking all of a sudden; that low OBP is due to bad luck on balls in play.

See if you can lowball some sucker in your league for Cespedes, and watch him rebound to 2012 form.

Brandon McCarthy

Brandon McCarthy is a former top prospect and great follow on Twitter who finally put together solid seasons the past two years in Oakland. After a scary line drive to the head ended his season, he signed with Arizona and got off to a rough start. He’s got a 4.74 ERA and is striking out batters at a near career low rate.

But he too has been the victim of bad luck. He’s allowed a .335 average on balls in play, compared to his career rate of .286. His FIP is over a full run lower than his ERA, which implies balls just happen to be falling where his fielders aren’t standing.

McCarthy’s strand rate is 67.0, which is essentially a career low (in 101 innings in 2007, he posted a 66.9 percent strand rate). There is a school of thought that pitchers, with a few exceptions don’t have a whole lot of control over their strand rate. (Relief pitchers, who are used to pitching out of the stretch, are a whole different beast.) The league average strand rate is typically around 72-75 percent. Basically, McCarthy is allowing more runners to score than he has in the past, and he probably doesn’t have a whole lot of control over that.

Don’t expect the same kind of dramatic bounce back as Cespedes, but look for McCarthy to start resembling his 2011-12 form. His last two starts, in which he allowed 10 hits and no runs over 17 innings, are a great sign that he’s back on track.

Matt Cain

Matt Cain took over the role of the Giants’ ace thanks to his incredible year-to-year consistency. But this year he doesn’t resemble the same player. He is the not-so-proud owner of a 5.12 ERA and 4.99 FIP. And his slow start isn’t easily traceable to bad luck on balls in play – his BABIP is a very-low .241, which is actually lower than his already-better-than-average .263 rate.

The source of Cain’s struggles have been home runs – specifically the ones he’s been serving up like eggrolls at an Chinese buffet. So far he’s allowed an incredible 13 homers, after giving up 21 last year and just nine (!!) in 2011. His HR/FB rate, which is 7.2 percent for his career and had never risen above 8.4 percent, has blossomed to an obscene 17.6 percent.

That rate just cannot continue. Cain is still just 29, so he should still be in his physical prime. He has seen some velocity drop on his fastball, but nowhere near as dramatic as that of his teammate Tim Lincecum. Cain’s average fastball velocity is down to 90.8 this year after holding steady at 91.2 the last two years. It is a drop to be sure, but a marginal one. Plus a drop off in velocity for Cain still produces a reasonably fast fastball – it’s not like he’s throwing in the mid 80s all of a sudden.

But it is Cain’s fastball that’s getting crushed. Per Pitch F/X, Cain’s fastball is at -5.8 runs above average, which in technical terms means it’s well below average. This is the first time Cain’s ever had a negative measurement on his fastball – in both 2009 and 2010 he was over 20 runs above average on the pitch.

He has seen a steady decline in the effectiveness since those peak years, but it still has been serviceable. He has matched this decline in effectiveness with a decline in usage of the four-seamer. He has thrown four seam fastballs less frequently in every year since 2008, and is down to 37.3 percent this year, compared to a peak rate of 65.9 percent.

This is not necessarily a bad thing for a pitcher expanding his repertoire, and he has supplemented the four-seamer these last three years with a two-seamer he almost never threw before 2011. Additionally, his reliance on his slider has increased every year since 2010; he’s gone from a 8.9 percent rate then to a robust 26.8 percent rate this year.

All this is to say that yes, Cain’s fastball is losing some heat and yes, he’s throwing it less often but no, it’s not all of a sudden a worthless pitch. There is, to some degree a lack of control over a fly ball once it’s in the air. Obviously not all fly balls are created equal, but given Cain’s extensive track record, there’s no reason to expect him to keep delivering gopher balls signed and sealed. His value is as low as it’s ever been. What better time to try and scoop him up?

Alex Hampl covers the baseball and the Atlanta Braves weekly for numberFire. Contact him at or on Twitter @hampl9.