Max’s Players to Pick Up/Trade Targets:
Nick Kingham, SP/RP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Nick Kingham is going to be the first name on nearly every single waiver wire adds article this week because he made his long-awaited MLB debut on Sunday and absolutely dominated: 98 pitches (14 swinging strikes and 72 total strikes!), 7 IP, 9 strikeouts, 1 hit, and no walks. His swinging strike rate of 14.3 would be 10th in all of baseball if qualified (which Kingham has obviously not done yet).
Kingham was on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects prior to the 2014 and 2015 seasons but underwent Tommy John surgery during the 2015 season and has been working his way back since then. Once considered a top prospect, Kingham is now seen as more of a lottery ticket. Despite that, the Pirates hurler has flat-out dominated at AAA and has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. It is currently unclear as to whether Kingham will stick in the rotation after his stellar debut or whether the Pirates will move him to the bullpen, but he is traveling with the team on the upcoming road trip, which bodes well for the 26-year-old righty.
Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Hernandez, like Kingham, was once a top prospect but has lost his luster over the past few seasons. The 25-year-old outfielder was never a top-100 prospect, but he possessed enough power and speed during his MiLB career to land a spot in Houston’s top 30 prospects prior to his debut. Hernandez, unlike Kingham, struggled from the get-go. In 41 games for the Astros in 2016, Hernandez triple-slashed .230/.304/.420 with 4 HR and an uninspiring 25.0% strikeout rate. He played just one game in an Astros uniform (as a defensive replacement, he did not hit for them) in 2017 before being shipped off to the Blue Jays in a package for Francisco Liriano. The outfielder struggled again in his new home in 2017; in 26 games, he triple-slashed .261/.305/.602 with 8 HR and an astronomical 37.9% strikeout rate.
Prior to this year, everyone knew Hernandez had power and speed (thanks to three straight 30-steal seasons in the minors, though that hasn’t quite translated to the majors), it was just a question of whether the youngster would be able to curb his strikeout rate. It seems he has done exactly that this season. Hernandez is triple-slashing .316/.391/.701 with 4 HR, a steal, a 10.9% walk rate, and, most impressively, a 23.4% strikeout rate in 64 PA. Hernandez also ranks second in baseball behind only Mookie Betts in Barrels/PA (which you can read more about here), and fourth in baseball in average exit velocity. All signs are pointing to a breakout for Hernandez, so go scoop or trade for him before it is too late.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants
We all know Brandon Belt. Twenty-ish HR, .270-ish average Brandon Belt. Definitely not 40-HR Brandon Belt.
Well, 40-HR Brandon Belt is what we are seeing this season.
Do I think Belt will keep up this pace? Absolutely not; his 23.1% HR/FB is nearly double his career mark and his batted ball profile has not changed substantially enough to justify this increase in production. With that being said, now is the time to ride the Belt wave until he inevitably cools off or gets injured. If you’re a Belt owner you might want to try to sell high but you probably won’t be able to get much for him, so you’re better served holding him until he flames out.
Mike Soroka, SP, Atlanta Braves
Soroka would be a speculative add more than anything else. The Braves scratched Soroka from his Sunday start in AAA, which does not necessarily mean that a call up is impending, but it is certainly a good sign. There is currently an open rotation spot and Soroka, at just 20 years of age, seems like he is the next man up. The young righty has put together a solid season so far in Gwinnett: 22.2 innings pitched, a 1.99 ERA, 0.971 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, and 2.0 BB/9. Soroka was once seen as a middle-of-the-rotation arm but has flashed top-of-the-rotation potential over the past three seasons. If you have room, Soroka makes for a great stash until we see how the Braves rotation shakes out this week.
Sean Newcomb, SP, Atlanta Braves
Another Braves pitcher, but this time one that already has a rotation spot. Newcomb currently sports a 4.23 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, neither of which point to the lefty as a must-add. However, under the surface are some reasons to believe that Newcomb will bounce back. The 24-year-old has an excellent 49.3% ground ball rate and a great 11.1 K/9 that sit behind a 3.65 FIP. Newcomb does have some issues with walks (4.6 BB/9 this season) but is due for some positive regression in the ERA department. Scoop or trade for Newcomb before the breakout comes.
Luis Castillo, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Castillo has been awful this year. And I mean absolutely terrible. The righty’s 7.5 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 are far cries from his 9.5 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 marks from last season. His 47.9% ground ball rate is more than 10% below the number he posted in his breakout rookie season last year, and he is allowing nearly 5% more hard contact.
Why am I recommending Castillo, then? For two reasons. One: Castillo has never been cheaper to acquire. Two: he is not this bad of a pitcher. There are some things in his profile that suggest he will improve his numbers this year. For starters, his 58.1% strand rate is pitiful and is almost sure to regress back toward the mean of 70% as the season goes on. Additionally, Castillo is actually generating more swings-and-misses than he did in 2017 and is doing a better job of throwing first-pitch strikes. His FIP and xFIP sit at 5.59 and 4.39, respectively. Neither of these marks are particularly inspiring but they do suggest that better days are ahead for Castillo. I won’t blame you if you opt not to go get him, but know that there is top-20 potential here if he figures his problems out, and he has never been cheaper.
Alex Wood, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Wood, much like Castillo, broke out in a big way in 2017 and has had issues in 2018. After posting a pristine 2.72 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2017, Wood has put up marks of 4.11 and 7.7, respectively, in 2018. Also like Castillo, there is reason to believe that Wood will bounce back.
The lefty is still generating ground balls more than 50% of the time, and his walk rate has improved to a paltry 0.8 BB/9. Wood’s strand rate of 46.1% is certain to improve; if he maintained this poor of a strand rate, it would be the lowest mark by any qualified pitcher over a full season since World War II…by over 12% (Derek Lowe had the lowest single-season strand rate of any qualified pitcher since WWII with 58.5% in 2004). Wood currently sports a 2.47 FIP and 3.15 xFIP, both of which point to positive regression for the 27-year-old’s ERA. Trade for Wood while his owner is still panicking.
Scott Schebler, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Schebler started the first three games of the year for the Reds and went 4-12 with a HR. He was hit by a pitch late in the third game of the season, though, and was shelved for nearly three weeks, causing a lot of owners to give up on the 27-year-old hitter. Schebler hit 30 HR last season and is showing everyone what they were missing while he was on the DL; the lefty is triple-slashing .304/.360/.543 with 2 HR, 9 RBI, and a very respectable 12.1% strikeout rate since returning from the DL. Schebler also ranks third in baseball in barrels/PA and hard contact begets hits, so Schebler’s success should continue to a degree. There’s no reason to believe that Schebler will suddenly go from a .250 hitter to a .300 hitter, but a batting average in the .270-.280 range with 25+ home runs over the rest of the season seems perfectly doable for the Reds outfielder.
Sahil’s Struggling Stars:
We’re a month through the 2018 Major League Baseball season (can you believe it?),
long enough where many player’s performances cannot be simply dismissed as a small
sample size. While many players are off to blazing starts, some have started the season off as ice cold as the April weather. In this section, I will look at 3 players who came into the season with high expectations in fantasy baseball, but have not delivered. I will give my analysis, and then let you know whether you should hold onto the player or drop him.
Evan Gattis, DH/C, Houston Astros
After splitting catcher duties with Brian McCann last year, Gattis entered the season as
the primary DH for the Astros, replacing the retired Carlos Beltran. Many thought he was
a lock for 500 ABs and 25-30 home runs and made him one of the top 5 catchers off the
board on draft day. However, he has struggled mightily out of the gate, hitting
.208/.291/.312 with only 1 home run and a wRC+ of 72. Perhaps more concerning is his
lack of playing time. After starting 9 of the first 11 games for the Astros, Gattis has been out of the starting lineup 4 of the past 5 games as the Astros have rotated the DH spot to keep some of their regulars fresh. Given his performance and sporadic
playing time, he looks like an easy cut, right?
Not so fast. Gattis has historically been a slow starter, posting his 2nd lowest monthly
AVG and OBP numbers and lowest monthly SLG historically in March/April. His
positional eligibility is also something to keep in mind. The majority of Gattis owners
drafted him to fill their starting catcher position. Despite his slow start, not too many
catchers have 27 and 32 HR seasons on their resume, and certainly not ones that are
sitting out in free agency. His strong track record alone is a reason to wait it out a few
more weeks to see if his numbers improve. Even if the Astros continue to give Gattis a
couple days off a week, there is no reason he cannot provide solid power numbers with a
decent average. Over the course of the season, he is more likely to pay higher dividends
for you than overperforming fringe catchers like Kurt Suzuki that you can pick up off of
waivers. That being said, it is not a bad idea to start flagging other options in case his
numbers don’t pick up. Verdict: Hold
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
The #2 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Byron Buxton had earned a reputation as an
elite defender with a questionable bat after struggling during his first two seasons in the
majors. That all changed during the second half of the 2017 season, when he posted a .300/.346/.546 line with 11 HRs and 35 RBIs after the All-Star Break. This led many owners to spend a high draft pick on him, convinced that the 24 year old had finally broken out as an elite player. But the results have been disastrous to start out the 2018 season, to say the least. In 11 games, Buxton has posted a .195/.233/.244 line with an abysmal WRC+ of 27 before landing on the disabled list with migraines. While he was set to return in late April, a fractured toe suffered after fouling a pitch off his foot in a rehab game will keep him on the shelf longer than expected. His tantalizing upside and draft pedigree suggest that he is a player worth holding onto, but the numbers suggest otherwise.
Outside of those 207 at-bats to end the 2017 season, Buxton has been a terrible hitter. He
posted a horrific .216/.288/.306 batting line during the first half of the 2017 season and is
batting a measly .235/.292/.399 in his career. While his 29 stolen bases last season were nice for fantasy owners, as Billy Hamilton has shown for a few years now, they are not as
valuable if you can’t get on base. Looking at the current season, Buxton looked to be
back to his old ways before landing on the DL. His 41 plate appearances is admittedly a
small sample size, but his 37.8 O-Swing% and 4.7 BB% indicates that he still lacks plate
discipline. Those statistics, combined with the lack of a timetable for his return and
questions about how the fractured toe will affect his stolen base numbers once he returns, makes Buxton a risky player to count on in fantasy. While there is a chance he ends turning his potential into elite performance, there’s a high likelihood he turns into Billy Hamilton 2.0. If you are a believer in Buxton’s ability and play in a league with a DL
spot, by all means, stash him. But if you are in a league with a short bench or have your
DL spots clogged with other players, it might be time to search for a trade partner or simply cut him. Verdict: Drop
Sonny Gray, SP, New York Yankees
On the surface, Sonny Gray looks like one of the better pitchers in the MLB. He has posted a sub-4 ERA in 4 of his 5 seasons and pitched well down the stretch after being acquired by the Yankees during the 2017 trade deadline. As a result, many owners thought he would be an effective mid-rotation arm for their fantasy teams in 2018. However, like the other players in this section, that hasn’t been the case so far. Gray has posted an unsightly 7.71 ERA and 2.14 WHIP in 21 innings spanning 5 starts. He has only made it through 5 innings once, while posting a concerning 19:16 K:BB ratio. Given his seemingly strong track record, it may be reasonable to expect that he’ll bounce back soon. However, a look at some of the underlying numbers behind Gray’s performance suggest that might not be the case.
Despite starting his career off with a blazing start, Gray hasn’t looked like the same
pitcher since 2016, when he posted a 5.69 in an injury-shortened season for the Athletics. Although his 3.72 ERA in 11 starts with the Yankees looked solid on the surface, his 4.45 xFIP painted a different picture, suggesting that he actually did not pitch all too well last year. His 5.58 xFIP in 2018 suggests that he might be slightly better than he has pitched so far, but still nowhere close to the expectations by fantasy owners and Yankees fans. Further compounding the issue are reports of diminishing velocity in some of his recent starts. During his April 20th start against the Blue Jays, Gray’s average fastball velocity dropped 4 mph from its normal level of 94 mph to 90 mph. While Yankees manager Aaron Boone downplayed Gray’s drop in velocity, it is often a precursor to a serious arm injury, which would explain his exceptionally poor performance to start off the season. Given that many fantasy owners drafted him with the expectation that he would play a big role on their roster, it might be hard to jettison him after 5 starts. However, if you can find a trade partner that wants to bet on Gray turning it around and is willing to pay for the name, you should absolutely trade him without any regrets. Verdict: Drop
Anthony’s Deep League Pickups:
The baseball season has been going on for about a month now, and players are starting to settle in. Unfortunately, some of these players have struggled early on, while others have been struck by injuries. Chances are, your fantasy team has suffered a couple of losses already, and good trades or pickups can be difficult to come by. Here are some players who are flying under the radar in fantasy leagues that can fill a hole in your lineup.
Howie Kendrick, WAS – 2B, OF (9% owned Yahoo, 15.3% owned ESPN)
Fantasy Stats: .299 AVG, .330 OBP, 4 HR, 9 R, 11 RBI
Even at age 34, Howie Kendrick continues to hit. After a down year in 2016 with the Dodgers, Kendrick came back with an impressive season last year with the Phillies and Nationals. While he still doesn’t walk enough, his average is high enough to make up for his other shortcomings. It is unlikely that his power surge will continue, Kendrick should hit for a high average, add 10-15 stolen bases, and should score lots of runs. He should be a productive utility player as long as he gets playing time, although it could be hard to come by once Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton get off the DL.
Kurt Suzuki, ATL – C (40% owned Yahoo, 40.6% owned ESPN)
Fantasy Stats: .290 AVG, .370 OBP, 4 HR, 13 R, 12 RBI
After being a liability on offense for most of his career, Kurt Suzuki broke out in a big way last season, hitting .281/.351/.536 with 19 home runs while sharing time with Tyler Flowers. Apparently everyone thought this was a fluke because he is only owned in 40% of fantasy leagues despite putting up the numbers of a top 10 fantasy catcher. He has put fears of regression to bed so far, and has taken over the starting job. Hitting in an improved Braves lineup will only give his numbers a boost.
Junior Guerra, MIL – SP (36% owned Yahoo, 27.3% owned ESPN)
Fantasy Stats: 2 W, 21 K, 0.82 ERA, 0.95 WHIP
Junior Guerra has been something of a mystery. After a great rookie season that somehow didn’t get him any ROY votes, Guerra fell apart in 2017, being banished to the bullpen after having a 5.20 ERA as a starter. He made one start in Triple-A this year before being called up three weeks ago. Since then, he has dominated, allowing only two earned runs in 22 IP while striking out nearly a batter per inning. While it is unlikely that he will keep such a low ERA over the rest of the season, his 2.77 FIP suggests that he will be a top 20 fantasy pitcher. Beware of regression, but for now, buy while he’s still hot.
Ivan Nova, PIT – SP (30% owned Yahoo, 33.5% owned ESPN)
Fantasy Stats: 2 W, 30 K, 3.32 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
Ivan Nova has burned fantasy owners before, especially last season. After having a 3.21 ERA in the first half last season, he fell apart in the second half, finishing with a 4.14 ERA. However, this season may end differently. Last year, Nova’s first-half FIP was 4.14, while this season, Nova has a 3.44 FIP. Of course, six starts is not the same as an entire half season, but Nova has increased his strikeout rate while decreasing his already low walk rate to a minuscule 2.6%. Proceed with caution, but don’t be surprised if this is the season Nova finally reaches the potential he had early in his career.
Erik’s Interesting Stats:
- In his last 5 starts J.A. Happ has struck out 9, 9, 8, 10, and 9 batters, which is a strikeout per nine rate of 12.93. His career rate is 7.8.
- 12 of Miguel Andújar’s 24 hits this season have been doubles. Over the last two weeks, he has more doubles (11) than RBIs (9), runs (7), home runs (3), and walks (1).
- Through 26 games Didi Gregorius has an OPS of 1.251, considerably higher than his career OPS of .747.
- Mike Trout leads the league in home runs plus stolen bases with 15. One of the players tied for second with 12 (and a .297 OBP), Michael Taylor.
- Bryce Harper has walked 35 times so far this season. That’s 11 more than the second highest total of 24 by Aaron Judge.