Welcome to another edition of M-SABR’s fantasy baseball analysis! Each week, members of our staff will provide their take on notable players to help inform decisions in your own fantasy baseball leagues. In this week’s article, we will discuss some young starting pitchers to keep your eye on, a consensus first round fantasy pick that has flopped to start the season, and a Miguel Cabrera replacement that is eligible at a position most wouldn’t expect.
Max’s Players to Pick Up/Trade Targets:
Sean Newcomb, SP, Atlanta Braves
Sean Newcomb, despite the fact that he is walking over four batters per nine innings, has been excellent this year. Entering play on Sunday, Newcomb sported a 2.88 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 10.6 K/9. Against the Marlins, Newcomb went six scoreless innings, fanned six, walked four, and allowed just one hit. He extended his scoreless innings streak to 20. Newcomb has been pitching like a top-30 pitcher this season and there is nothing in his profile to suggest that that will stop at any point. And if Newcomb is able to lower the walk rate, he instantly becomes a top-20 arm. Buy Newcomb now before he gets too pricey.
Nick Kingham, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Now is the perfect time to buy Kingham because he is still in the minor leagues and there is not a lot of buzz around him starting on Friday. He is the probable starter for the Pirates on Friday though, and if he’s available on your wire he’s worth grabbing for that start. Kingham will draw the Padres, who are a below-average team, and he will be pitching in a neutral park. Additionally, Kingham has done an excellent job of pounding the strike zone in his young MLB career; he has a 16:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 12.1 innings. If you can scoop Kingham or get him via trade on the cheap, go do it.
Zach Eflin, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Eflin has a career 5.39 ERA and 1.32 WHIP through 140.1 innings. He also has a 5.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. Not inspiring numbers, so why am I recommending him to you? Because through two starts in 2018, Eflin has put together a 0.71 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, and 2.1 BB/9. All of this has come because of a two-MPH increase on Eflin’s fastball. Whether this increase is sustainable remains to be seen, but the results have followed the fastball velocity increase so Eflin is worth an add until he proves to us that we shouldn’t buy into his improvements.
Ryon Healy, 1B/3B, Seattle Mariners
Healy has been raking over the past week so, if nothing else, you should add him just to ride out the hot streak. Over his past 10 games, Healy is 10/27 with 9 R, 3 HR, 6 RBI, with a 4:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s been seeing consistent action at 1B and while Matt Adams has been the hot 1B waiver add, Healy has been holding his own out in Seattle.
Michael Conforto, OF, New York Mets
In each week’s fantasy column, I include at least one player who is struggling and does not show a whole lot of signs of turning it around. Two weeks ago that player was Luis Castillo, who has put together back-to-back solid outings since being recommended. Last week I highlighted Chris Archer and that did not work out as well. I’m hoping the Conforto recommendation will pan out closer to the Castillo recommendation than the Archer one.
Conforto owners who have not dropped him yet will likely be willing to take pennies on the dollar as a return for a player that has done nothing but struggle thus far. Conforto’s strikeout rate is up, his hard-hit rate is down, and his infield fly ball rate is up. None of these point to a turnaround, so I’m banking (much like I was with Castillo), on the true talent showing through at some point. The good news is that Conforto has hits in three straight games, including a homer in the Mets’ win in Philly on Friday, so we have some signs of life from Conforto. Additionally, had Conforto stuck to his original timetable for return (and not come back early), he would be returning right around now, so I’m hoping the six-plus weeks we have played so far have served as Conforto’s “spring training” and that we will see him turn it around soon. If nothing else, you can pick up a lottery ticket with the potential for a very high return on investment for very cheap.
Sahil’s Struggling Players
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
A consensus first-round pick in virtually every fantasy league, Goldschmidt has fallen well short of his lofty projections to start the 2018 season. After posting a .297/.404/.563 line with a 142 WRC+ in 2017, his numbers are down to a .216/.345/.388 with a 105 WRC+. A respectable line for a league-average player but not for a superstar like Goldschmidt. Digging deeper into his stats reveals some interesting findings. Goldschmidt has posted a .294/.351/.559 line on the road, compared to an abhorrent .141/.334/.225 line at home. Yes, you read that right. His batting average at home is 150 points lower and his slugging percentage is over 325 points lower than his away numbers. All 4 of Goldschmidt’s home runs have come on the road. Clearly, the newly installed humidor at Chase Field, the Diamondbacks home stadium, has had a major effect on Goldschmidt. In addition, while Goldschmidt has always hit left-handed pitchers better than right-handers, his numbers against righties this season are way down. After posting a .295/.404/.524 line against righties from 2015-2017, he has a .177/.319/.292 line against them all year.
So what do all of these statistics mean?
It is unreasonable to expect that he will bat this poorly against righties the rest of the season. And it is even more unreasonable to expect that he will have a .225 SLG too. Given Goldschmidt’s track record of consistency and excellence, I can almost guarantee you he will rebound and have yet another very solid season for the Diamondbacks. However, I think it’s time to lower expectations slightly. With the ball not flying out as well in Chase Field this year, Goldschmidt’s home run totals might be closer to 25 than last year’s 36. It could potentially cost him a few ticks on his average as well. But Goldschmidt will still have plenty of run-scoring and RBI opportunities in the middle of a stacked Diamondbacks lineup, while providing elite on-base percentage numbers. While that might not make him a top 10 fantasy player, he can certainly be a top 25-30 fantasy player when it is all said and done. If someone in your league is convinced that Goldschmidt will return first round value and will pay accordingly, now would be a great time to make that deal. But holding onto Goldschmidt and watching him post another solid season is not a bad alternative. Verdict: Trade
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Los Angeles Angels
After years of being one of the top fantasy 2B, Kinsler fell flat in 2017 with the Tigers, posting a .236/.313/.412 line and a WRC+ of 91. An unusually low .244 BABIP was thought to be the cause of his struggles, making him a popular rebound candidate in the middle-to-late rounds of fantasy drafts. However, Kinsler has been even worse this year, with a .217/.294/.311 line and a WRC+ of 70. Although he has posted 3 stolen bases on the year, his power numbers are way down, with only 2 home runs in 119 at bats. Kinsler’s groundball rate of 40.6% is well above his career average of 34.9%, and his hard contact rate has dropped from 37% in 2017 to 25% in 2018.
Yes, I know I just threw a lot of numbers at you and I bet you’re wondering what it all means for fantasy baseball.
2017 was not a fluke. At 35 years old, Kinsler looks like he is devolving into a weak hitting second baseman. While his numbers in home runs kept his fantasy value afloat in 2017, it doesn’t look like he will hit enough to provide value in that category in 2018. The increase in ground balls and soft contact also limit Kinsler’s potential for extra-base hits. Although it looked like he would score a lot of runs batting in front of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Shohei Ohtani in 2018, manager Mike Scioscia has placed Kinsler lower in the lineup in recent games, sapping him of even more value. With 2B being one of the deepest positions in fantasy baseball this season, players in most leagues can feel free to drop Kinsler and take a chance on a younger player with more upside. Verdict: Drop
Alex Cobb, SP, Baltimore Orioles
As a diehard Orioles fan, I have to admit that I was pretty nervous when the team signed Alex Cobb to a 4 year/$57 million deal at the end of spring training. After all, the Orioles haven’t exactly had luck with acquiring veteran starters in recent years. Ubaldo Jimenez still gives me nightmares. Cobb didn’t exactly calm my fears in his first 3 starts, posting a scary 13.11 ERA in 3 starts spanning only 11 2/3 innings. Amazingly, none of those starts were the worst on the Orioles this season (got to thank Dylan Bundy and the Royals for that one), but they were still absolutely terrible. While he has understandably been cut in most fantasy leagues due to his poor start, I wouldn’t give up on Cobb just yet. Here’s why.
Despite posting a solid season with the Rays in 2017, Cobb did not sign with the Orioles until March 21st. On the flip side, the Orioles pitchers reported to spring training on February 14th. That means Cobb was a full 5 weeks behind every other Orioles pitcher in preparing for the season. After being rushed to the major leagues due to the Orioles struggles, he had only had 3 weeks of preparation under his belt. And predictably, it showed. However, as he has settled in to the rotation, he has started to resemble the pitcher the Orioles anticipated he would be. He has posted a solid 3.06 ERA over his last 3 starts spanning 17 2/3 innings. Two of those games were quality starts and he came one out away from a quality start in the third game (he had only thrown 69 pitches but was taken out after a lengthy rain delay).
I’m not suggesting that Cobb is going to be a fantasy ace. But he is still very much a solid player to have in the back of your rotation and will serve as quality depth in most fantasy leagues. Verdict: Keep
Alex’s Deep League Adds
Kyle Freeland, SP, Colorado Rockies
Despite Coors Field’s reputation as a hitter-friendly park, it has been pretty good to pitchers thus far for the Rockies. Wade Davis has been dominant and Adam Ottavino has been a pleasant surprise. One player that has flown under the radar, however, is starting pitcher Kyle Freeland. Kyle Freeland is entering his second year in the majors, and he could be emerging as a solid middle of the rotation guy. His K/9 has increased from 6.17 to 8.34 this season and his current ERA of 3.95 is right around last year’s 4.10 ERA. Over his past three starts, he has two wins to go with 21 K’s, including seven innings of shutout baseball against the Padres. His increased strikeout rate and strong pitching performances to start the season make him a great addition going forward.
John Hicks, C/1B, Detroit Tigers
With Miguel Cabrera recently going on the disabled list with a strained hip flexor, John Hicks is expected to have a continued presence in the Tigers lineup. Since entering the starting lineup, John Hicks has filled in nicely, hitting .250 to go with 1 HR and 4 RBIs. He has been hitting in the middle of the order, which provides him some great opportunities to drive in runs even in a mediocre Tigers lineup. However, the reason I included him in this list is his catcher eligibility. With the catcher position being thin as usual, he can be of service to many fantasy teams. Even when Cabrera comes back from the DL, Hicks could have a substantial role if he continues to hit well.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays
Another good replacement for Cabrera owners is C.J. Cron. After being a highly touted prospect on the Angels, Cron never emerged as the player people expected him to be. However, he has found second life since joining the Rays in a late offseason trade. He has delivered solid numbers so far this season, posting a .282/.333/.486 line with 8 HRs and 23 RBIs. He is currently hitting second in Rays lineup, giving him ample opportunities to score and drive in runs. If Cron continues this pace, he will set a career high in home runs and provide solid on-base percentage numbers, which would make him a solid addition to your fantasy team going forward.