An In-Depth Rundown of Value Performers and their ROS Outlooks
In last week’s “Trending and NoteWorthy” column I accumulated, criticized, and projected some of the most disappointing players of the 2018 Fantasy Baseball season. Most of the players in that column were high draft picks for obvious reasons. The more you expected and the less you have actually received is how you determine a disappointment. This week, I am going to switch from being a downer to being a praiser and it is only natural for the majority of this list to be comprised of players that were drafted in the mid to later rounds. Expectations were lower and their draft-day expense was less while your return on investment has been more.
I wrote last week’s column because early round draft picks are crucial to winning leagues and if you own one of the high-priced early season busts you are probably in some trouble, but it’s still too early to give up, both on your season, and on those disappointing selections. I am writing this week’s column because if you own one of the early season values then you got an unexpectedly impressive return on your draft-day investment, but it’s early enough in the season for draft-day values to sour. These Early Season Average Draft Position (ADP) values could be the real deal or a bubble waiting to burst. I wanted to make my case for selling high or standing pat.
Mike Foltynewicz, SP Atlanta Braves
2018 Stats: 79 Innings Pitched – 94 Ks – 2.16 ERA – 1.14 WHIP
There were whispers during spring training that Foltynewicz’s spot in the Braves rotation could be in jeopardy if he didn’t perform, not only in 2018, but going forward. That speculation had to play a meaningful part in his drop to #401 overall in drafts. The average velocity of his two-seam (96.9) and four-seam fastballs are some of the highest of any starting pitcher in baseball. That kind of raw arm strength shouldn’t have been drafted after Michael Kopech – who may not pitch for the White Sox until August if at all – Adam Wainwright, Mike Minor or Marco Gonzales, but he was. He currently ranks as a Top 25 pitcher in points leagues even though he was on the waiver wire in a majority of leagues after draft day.
Foltynewicz is on pace for a career best K/9 (10.71) and HR/9 (.57) while his BB/9 (3.76) has been the worst of his career. Typically, a high walk rate would be a flag for concern, but it looks more like an anomaly than a significant risk. His command has always been a slight concern, but not a disastrous one, and while it is worth monitoring, it isn’t definitive enough to suggest a collapse is coming. His BABIP isn’t excessively low and his WHIP is in line with his ERA, making the numbers feel legitimate rather than a fluke. He has the power stuff to continue to dominate. The numbers support a breakout season rather than a small sample size surprise ready to reverse.
Sean Newcomb, SP Atlanta Braves
2018 Stats: 74 IP – 74 Ks – 35 Walks – 2.92 ERA – 1.23 WHIP
The Braves big two – Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb – have been a significant reason why they have been able to contend with the Washington Nationals and their big two – Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg – and they have both been significant, must-start contributors as great values for Fantasy owners.
Newcomb has better secondary pitches than Foltynewicz with less velocity and worse command. The items of command and WHIP are always going to be concerns for Newcomb. So rather than trade him out of concern because of his high 2018 BB/9, owners need to accept that this is his norm and focus on the fact that he has actually improved from 2017. If I was to point to something less than ideal, it’s that an ERA of 2.92 is lower than it should be when a pitcher has a WHIP of 1.23, so some regression is possible going forward. I am also slightly disappointed that he has only struck out 74 batters in 74 innings pitched, a K/9 that is one of the lowest of his career. His velocity and secondary offerings are better than that and could mean there is some improvement in that regard going forward.
Miles Mikolas, SP St. Louis Cardinals
2018 Stats: 85.3 IP – 63 Ks – Nine BBs – 2.43 ERA – .96 WHIP
Returning to the Major Leagues after playing in the Japanese league explains why Fantasy owners would have been less than aggressive about targeting Mikolas on draft day. With only 63 strikeouts in 85.3 innings pitched, an argument can be made that his value has been good, but not exceptional. Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz were drafted later, have been more impressive, and have more upside going forward.
When a pitcher makes or misses your Fantasy lineup due to command it creates a narrow window for success without much room for error. It lowers their ceiling and an argument can be made that their command needs to be so precise to make an impact on ratios that there isn’t enough room for error to be bullish because of a lack of strikeouts. In one-start weeks his strikeouts limit his impact without significantly helping in two-start weeks. Regardless of his limitations, Mikolas has pitched extremely well and nine walks in 85.3 innings pitched is obnoxiously good.
Owners should be willing to sell but not aggressively look to dump him. It’s difficult to confidently project that he can maintain a BB/9 of .95, but it is safe to expect his command to remain above average. Owners shouldn’t expect a collapse, but some regression in his BB/9 and WHIP is to be expected, and if that happens it is safe to expect some home runs as a result, raising his ERA as well. Mikolas has been very good and should remain a solid, mid-rotation starter going forward. Buy him or sell him based on that projection rather than whether he is a sell-high or buy-low candidate.
Gleyber Torres, SS/2B New York Yankees
2018 Stats: 11 HRs – Two SBs – .297 BA – 41 Ks – 11 BBs
Drafting prospects who don’t break camp with their Major League teams is difficult because there is significant buzz surrounding them even though we have no reasonable idea when they will make their debut. That uncertainty, more than anything else, explains his modest ADP and it is why he was a draft day value. All that being said, he has been great regardless.
As far as his skill set and Fantasy projections, there wasn’t a lot to doubt with Torres. We knew what he would be, even as a 21-year old rookie. He is polished for his age with a high offensive ceiling and he qualifies in the middle infield. The limit on Torres is that he doesn’t steal bases and if he does struggle the Yankees have the depth – if they choose to use it – to reduce his at-bats rather than ride out a slump. The upside is that he is a 20-30 home run middle-infielder who could hit .290-.310. He is on pace to possibly reach those benchmarks while being drafted after Josh Harrison, Dansby Swanson, Albert Pujols, CC Sabathia and Max Kepler. I don’t see a sell-high opportunity here, but if owners know a Yankees fan chomping at the bit to own shares do your best to take him for a ride. Otherwise, smart drafting. Continue reaping the rewards.
Tim Anderson, SS Chicago White Sox
2018 Stats: 11 HRs – 13 SBs – .232 BA
I have always liked Anderson more than most Fantasy analysts because he has above-average power, speed and an above-average hit-tool. Prospect analysts are always concerned by free-swinging, over anxious athletes who lack plate discipline and don’t walk. That is what Anderson is and his batting average is suffering as a result early in the 2018 season.
Anderson’s BB% and K% are improved while his BABIP is one of the worst of his career, suggesting that his batting average should improve. If he makes more contact then he should hit more home runs and improve his batting average.
It’s difficult to gauge how Fantasy owners value him because he plays on a losing team and receives minimal media attention. Because of the lack of buzz he could be a buy low. He was my target at shortstop during draft season and he is my target in trade season as well.
Blake Snell, SP Tampa Bay Rays
2018 Stats: 82.1 IP – 89 Ks – 2.30 ERA – .98 WHIP
Snell has only allowed three runs or more twice in 14 starts while striking out six batters or more in eight of those. He has a WHIP under one and ranks 10th in ERA, more than a half of a run better than Chris Sale.
Walks were a concern for Snell in the minor leagues, but his command has been significantly better in 2018, maintaining a BB/9 of 2.73 compared to a career BB/9 of 4.04.
The significant amount of improvement in Snell’s command and a career best Left on Base percentage (LOB%) of 85%, compared to his career 74.4%, suggests owners should expect more walks and more earned runs going forward. He has been so dominant that it isn’t a reason for panic, but if an owner inboxes an “ace” offer I recommend you take it.
Charlie Morton, SP Houston Astros
2018 Stats: 76.2 IP – 96 Ks – 2.82 ERA – 1.12 WHIP
Morton’s 146.2 inning semi-breakout in 2017 created some “sleeper” tags that resulted in a relatively expensive #167 ADP, but his strikeouts and overall performance has been impressive enough to make him a draft day value any way.
A look inside the peripheral 2018 numbers creates reason for concern. The rise in Morton’s K/9 justifiably wows Fantasy owners while the increase in his BB/9 (3.40 vs. 3.07), HR/9 (1.29 vs. .86) , HR/FB (20.4% vs. 12.5%) and Left On Base percentage (86.5% vs. 73%) creates some confusion and cause for doubt. He finished 2017 with a 3.62 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP in 146.2 innings pitched while he currently has an ERA of 2.82 and a WHIP of 1.12 in spite of peripheral numbers that suggest he is pitching worse this year. In addition to improved ratios in spite of what appears to be worse performance, Morton has only pitched more than 150 innings twice in his career and his K/9 has never been anything close to what it was in 2017 or what it currently is in 2018. With a 170-200 inning season potentially on his horizon it is difficult to imagine Morton’s ratios and strikeouts won’t regress as he approaches rarified territory in terms of workload.
When I see peripherals that suggest his ratios shouldn’t be quite as pristine as they have been, and an eventual workload that Morton has managed only once in his career, I can’t help but conclude that regression is coming. He can’t maintain an ERA under 3.00 with a 86.5 Left On Base percentage or a HR/FB% over 20%. He has been a great value so far and the strikeouts will mitigate some of the regression that I see coming, but the ratios could drop to close to 4.00 before 2018 is over and that’s a rough ⅔ of a Fantasy season ahead for current Morton owners. Owners should thank Morton with a pat on the back after they shove him out the door via trade.
Trevor Bauer, SP Cleveland Indians
2018 Stats: 86 IP – 109 Ks – 2.62 ERA – 1.15 WHIP
Bauer is having a career year and it’s easy to see why — a significant drop in his WHIP and HR/9. Bauer currently has a WHIP of 1.15, almost a quarter point improvement from his 1.36 career WHIP, but there isn’t reason to think his breakout season won’t continue. He has cut down his home runs allowed significantly while he has maintained all of his other peripheral numbers. Bauer should continue his career year and owners should remain confident.
Javier Baez, 2B/SS Chicago Cubs
2018 Stats: 14 HRs – 11 SBs – .251 BA – Eight BBs – 63 Ks
Baez is a fairly easy player to analyze. His BABIP dropped from .345 in 2017 to .281 this season while his batting average is .251, down from .273 in both 2016 and 2017. He is on a pace for career highs in stolen bases and home runs, explained by a career high ISO of .264.
Baez’s ISO has improved each of the last three years while the drop in batting average is explained by a drop in his BABIP. There isn’t anything anomalous happening, he hasn’t been a different player in 2018 than the guy we have always known. He is just getting better Fantasy results than he has in prior seasons. All players have a career year. A season when things just bounce right. That’s Baez in 2018. Some Fantasy owners love players that provide both home runs and stolen bases while other Fantasy owners are afraid of free swingers that don’t walk enough. That is the debate owners go through on draft day with a guy like Baez. That’s why he dropped to #126 overall and why he has a chance to be a 30 home run, 20 stolen base, draft day value.
Gerrit Cole, SP Houston Astros
2018 Stats: 87.2 IP – 124 Ks – 2.16 ERA – .84 WHIP
He didn’t fall far in the draft, but when you look at who was picked in the vicinity and compare their seasons, Cole becomes a top tier pitcher that was a draft day value nonetheless.
Cole was selected after Chris Archer, Byron Buxton, Dallas Keuchel, Aroldis Chapman, and Jose Quintana. He ranks second behind only Max Scherzer in strikeouts. He is tied for fifth in ERA, and is third – better than Max Scherzer – in WHIP. His 2018 BB/9, HR/9 and HR/FB% are all in line with his career totals while his K/9 has exploded from 8.88 to 12.73.
The one noticeable change in Coles approach has been the use of his sinker. In 2016 and 2017 he threw his slider and sinker almost equally, second only to his four-seam fastball. In 2018, it is his fourth most popular pitch and he barely throws it, only 64 times compared to his curveball, which he has thrown third most, 261 times. And by throwing it less, he has gotten more out of it. In 2016, hitters had a .333 batting average against it. In 2017, they batted .287 while in 2018, they are only batting .143. On top of that, his K% is a career high 23.5%, compared to a career total of 11.3% with the pitch.
The peripheral numbers suggest Cole isn’t doing anything he can’t sustain with one possible exception – the strikeouts. He has never dominated hitters like this and it’s in the American League where he faces tougher lineups and the designated hitter. His strikeouts shouldn’t drop significantly, but it’s a lot to ask to expect him to maintain such an enormous increase. The American League should make adjustments and swing-and-miss less often. Other than that, it looks like Cole is a draft day steal on his way to a career year and a fight for the AL Cy Young award.
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