Max’s Players to Pick Up/Trade Targets:
Eduardo Escobar, SS/3B, Minnesota Twins
Jorge Polanco getting suspended for 80 games may have actually been a blessing in disguise for the Twins. Eduardo Escobar, who was expected to be a utility player off the bench for the Twins this season, lucked into an everyday role when Polanco’s suspension was announced and has performed swimmingly. Escobar leads the majors in doubles and is currently posting a career-high mark in every leg of his .311/.364/.623 triple-slash. The 29-year-old has also drastically increased his walk rate (currently 8.8%, 2.6% better than his career mark), which has contributed greatly to his improvement.
The most impressive part of Escobar’s profile, though, and perhaps the most important, considering Escobar’s drastic uptick in production, is his hard-hit rate. Escobar currently sits just outside the top-50 in baseball in Barrels/PA (read more about that here), which is a career-best. Since the invention of Barrels/PA, Escobar has only once finished in the top-100 in baseball in the stat. This season he is hitting the ball much harder, so Escobar’s .342 BABIP (which is 43 points higher than his career mark) may not be all luck-driven. Regardless, it’s worth adding the infielder due to his multi-positional eligibility and hot streak, at least until he cools down.
Matt Adams, 1B/OF, Washington Nationals
This is not the first time we have seen Matt Adams go on a hot streak. Last season, Adams was hitting so well that the Braves moved Freddie Freeman to third base to keep Adams’ bat in the lineup. This season he is red-hot once again; the lefty has hit 8 long balls in just 85 PA this season including Sunday’s game.
Still, it is impossible to ignore what Adams has done since coming to Washington. (All of the upcoming stats are not including Sunday’s game.) For starters, he has demonstrated monumental improvements in plate discipline; his 30.7% O-Swing% (percentage of balls outside of the strike zone swung at) is 8.1% below his career mark and has helped improve his walk rate to a robust 14.8% (more than double his career 6.4%). Adams is also 30th in baseball in Barrels/PA and 37th in average exit velocity. I don’t know what is helping Adams see the ball so much better but he needs to be added until he begins to slow down. And he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon.
Jorge Soler, OF, Kansas City Royals
Soler, unlike the first two gentlemen on this list, is not crushing the ball. He is, however, hitting the ball hard at a career-best 42.3% rate while also walking a career-high 15.4% of the time. Soler’s 25.2% strikeout rate leaves something to be desired but it is more than palatable considering that Soler has been more disciplined in general at the plate this season. Additionally, Soler is swinging at fewer balls and whiffing at fewer pitches in general. Basically, everything is going right for Soler right now. He has hit four HR in 127 PA with a batting average over .300 and an OPS over .900. Soler is firing on all cylinders right now and is worthy of an add in 12+ team leagues.
Caleb Smith, SP, Miami Marlins
Smith was one of the pieces sent to Miami in the Giancarlo Stanton trade and he is making the Marlins look like a somewhat competent organization for acquiring him. Smith currently boasts a 3.67 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and a 12.6 K/9 that is fourth among qualified MLB starters behind some guys named James Paxton, Gerrit Cole, and Max Scherzer. The 4.5 BB/9 is problematic but if Smith continues to strike out batters at an elite clip he will bring value to any fantasy team he is a part of.
Rick Porcello, SP, Boston Red Sox
Rick Porcello has recaptured his Cy Young form. I don’t think he deserved to win Cy Young in 2016 (it should have been JV or Britton), but this year he is certainly making a very good case for Cy Young #2. In addition to his paltry 1.0 BB/9, Porcello is also striking out a career-high 8.9 batters per nine innings, all of which has helped him post a 2.14 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. This can partially be explained by his better-than-average .252 BABIP and 78.0% strand rate, but even those do not explain the much better results Porcello has gotten this far.
These are the three biggest things affecting Porcello’s performance so far: limiting hard contact, inducing more grounders, and relying more on his change-up. Porcello is currently allowing hard contact against him just 27.2% of the time (19th-best among qualified starters) while inducing grounders at a 47.6% clip that is reminiscent of his days with the Tigers.
Behind all this is his change-up, which he has started to throw a lot more. This season, Porcello has gone to his change nearly 16% of the time in 2018 which would be a career-high. In addition, he is using his four-seamer just 14.4% of the time. His four-seamer has generated the second-lowest whiff percentage of any pitch over his career next to only his sinker which is meant to induce ground balls, not get whiffs. This season, Porcello’s four-seamer is getting whiffs at a career-high 18% rate which may be due in part to him mixing in his change-up more often to keep hitters off balance. Whatever Porcello is doing, it’s working, and he is a guy that should be bought high if the opportunity presents itself because Porcello looks like he will continue to excel in 2018.
Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
It’s always hard to encourage people to go out and trade for a guy with an ERA over 6, but Archer is someone everyone should be trying to buy low. Archer hasn’t endured any noticeable decrease in velocity, he is getting grounders at a rate similar to his career mark, and while he is allowing more hard contact than usual, he is also getting more swings-and-misses than usual. All in all, I don’t look at Archer’s profile and see a guy who should be pitching to an ERA over 6.
Under Archer’s ugly 6.05 ERA and 1.53 WHIP are a very solid 9.78 K/9 and 2.79 BB/9. Neither of these marks is what we are used to seeing from the 29-year-old righty, but neither is cause for a lot of concern. Additionally, Archer is being killed with a .373 BABIP that is nearly 20% above his career mark of .299 and a strand rate of 64.0% well below his career mark of 72.2%. His 4.02 FIP, 3.61 xFIP, and 3.69 SIERA all point to positive regression for the Rays ace, so go out and get Archer before he turns it around on someone else’s roster.
Sahil’s Struggling Stars:
Matt Carpenter, 1B/2B/3B, St. Louis Cardinals
Since finishing 4thin the NL MVP voting in 2013, few players have been more consistent than Matt Carpenter. He has been a valuable asset for fantasy owners, and was drafted by many with the expectation of elite on-base percentage numbers and 20-25 home runs. However, he has not come anywhere close to replicating those numbers in 2018, posting a .165/.320/.320 batting line in 29 games. A shoulder injury suffered last season that Carpenter opted to rest and rehab rather than undergo surgery for has been pointed to by many as the reason for his poor start. In addition, his 26.2% strikeout rate to start the season would be a career-high, prompting many to believe he is on the decline. So, are Carpenter’s days as an elite fantasy bat? It may seem that way, but the answer is no.
Carpenter is still drawing walks at an elite rate. His 18.0% walk rate in 2018 is actually slightly better than last year’s (when he had a career-high 17.5% walk rate) and much better than his 13.4% career average, suggesting that he is seeing the ball well. His 22 walks are tied for 5thin the National League with stars such as Lorenzo Cain, Trea Turner, and Joey Votto. His BABIP is only .203, significantly lower than his career .318 number, suggesting that he has been a victim of bad luck. Even if his BABIP only recovers to his 2017 number (.274), he should still be a decent hitter. The Cardinals seem committed to giving Carpenter the chance to turn around, continuing to pencil his name in the top third of the lineup every day. He might not bat .270-.280, but a triple slash line around .250/.370/.450, coupled with his multi-position eligibility, makes him a fantasy player worth owning. Verdict: Hold
Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Washington Nationals
The only player to have played on every Nationals team, Ryan Zimmerman experienced a career renaissance in 2017 after several down years, posting 36 HRs, 108 RBIs, and a career high .931 OPS as the primary cleanup hitter. As a result, he was drafted in the mid-rounds of most drafts with the idea that he would continue to post solid numbers for a strong Nationals team. Yet, Zimmerman has flopped in 2018, with a .194/.256/.398 triple slash line. While .203 BABIP would be a career-low and is identical to the previously mentioned Matt Carpenter, I don’t envision Zimmerman having as much success as him.
Here’s why. Zimmerman’s .203 BABIP is not too much lower than the .268 and .248 BABIP he posted in 2015 and 2016 where he posted WRC+ of 106 and 67. Compared to those numbers, his 2017 BABIP of .335 looks like a complete outlier. His 36 home runs in 2017 was not only a career high, but was the same number as his home runs from 2014-2016 combined. These numbers suggest that even if he has had some bad luck, it is likely that the statistics he posts once he regresses to the mean aren’t going to be anything too special. Compounding the issue, Zimmerman has sat out the past 2 games after experiencing back and side soreness and his replacement and platoon mate, Matt Adams, has been on absolute tear, posting a .284/.407/.642 line on the season. If Adams continues his hot start, Zimmerman could quickly lose playing time and further decrease his already diminishing value. Feel free to cut Zimmerman in most leagues and don’t look back. Verdict: Cut
Jose Quintana, SP, Chicago Cubs
Since debuting with the White Sox in 2012, Jose Quintana has been one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball, posting 4 200-inning seasons with a career 3.57 ERA. Those numbers have made him a favorite of fantasy owners and secured him a position at the top of their rotations. However, he has disappointed fantasy owners so far this season, with a 4.99 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP in 6 starts spanning 30 2/3 innings. Given his lengthy track record, it is reasonable to predict a bounce back. However, a look at some of the underlying trends in recent years suggests that might not be the case.
Two trends in particular have been concerning: his walk rate and his home run rate. Quintana’s walk numbers have been steadily increasing over the past several years, from 1.92 BB/9 in 2015 to 2.91 in 2017, and a whopping 4.70 so far in 2018. His 27:16 K:BB ratio is worrisome. His home run rates have seen similar increases, rising from 0.70 HR/9 in 2015 to 1.10 in 2017, and 1.17 so far this season. Given that these trends have been developing over several years now, it is hard to ignore them and dismiss it as a fluke. That being said, Quintana is not a bad pitcher by any means. Even if his walk rate regresses back to his 2017 totals, we’re probably looking at a pitcher that resembles a low-end #2/high-end #3 fantasy starter than an ace. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. However, if someone is willing to pay the price of an ace to acquire Quintana, and you have the pitching depth to absorb his loss, it might be time to pull the trigger. Verdict: Hold (but don’t be afraid to trade him if the price is right)
Sahil’s Deep League Pickups:
Pedro Alvarez, DH/3B, Baltimore Orioles
The #2 overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, Pedro Alvarez’s career has never quite taken off, as poor on-base numbers and terrible defense have prevented him from becoming a star player. However, there is one thing he does really well: hit home runs. Despite not starting every day, Alvarez has already hit 7 home runs in 78 at-bats, including 5 in the last 9 games. While it is unlikely he’ll play much against lefties (even though 1 of his home runs came against Tigers lefty Daniel Norris), Tim Beckham’s injury has given Alvarez a big opportunity for at-bats. As an added bonus, Alvarez has picked up 4 starts at 3B over the past week and should gain eligibility there in most leagues soon. If you’re in need of a cheap source of power, keep an eye out for Alvarez.
Matt Koch, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Patrick Corbin may be one of the most talked-about starters in all of baseball this season, but don’t sleep on his teammate Matt Koch. Since entering the rotation on April 20th in place of the injured Taijuan Walker, Koch has quietly put together a string of 4 very good starts. He has thrown 3 quality starts and has yet to give up more than 2 runs in a game, including outdueling Justin Verlander and the defending champion Houston Astros on Sunday. With a number of starters finding their way on the disabled list over the past week (Jacob DeGrom and Clayton Kershaw, just to name a few), Koch could be a solid short-term replacement with the potential to become a permanent member of many fantasy rotations if he keeps his performance up.
Leonys Martin, OF, Detroit Tigers
If I asked you who is leading the Tigers in home runs so far this year, you would probably guess Miguel Cabrera or Nicholas Castellanos. And you would be wrong. That title belongs to Leonys Martin. After bouncing around between the Mariners and Cubs last season, Martin has found a home as the Tigers leadoff hitter in 2018, posting a solid .282/.344/.470 batting line. He has scored 21 runs on the season, more than fantasy stars such as Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve, and Mitch Haniger (the best outfielder in the AL West, sorry Mike Trout). As long as he continues to hit leadoff, he should have plenty of run-scoring opportunities in front of Cabrera, Castellanos, and Victor Martinez. If you’re in need of an outfielder that will hit for a decent average and score a lot of runs, Martin is your man.