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Fantasy Baseball: Sell High on Justin Upton

RotoExperts Staff May 7, 2014 2:34PM EDT
Last week, I touched on “buy-low”candidates, highlighting players such as Wil Myers and Nate Eovaldi that can help you more from this point forward than they have so far. The train of thought doesn’t change when we discuss “sell-high” players; statistics already accumulated have no value. You make trades based on performance moving forward; you are worried about how a certain player will help you win upcoming Fantasy matchups. The key word in that sentence is “upcoming.” The easy example is a player like Emilo Bonifacio, an average at-best player who was hitting .337 with nine stolen bases through April. Those numbers are nice, but by May 1st, they mean nothing. Not one of those multi-hit games or those stolen bases is going to help you win this week. However, a trade partner may believe in the hot start and thus offer you value that is far above anything you would have imagined just one month ago. Bonifacio doesn’t make my list because I doubt that many owners are willing to buy in to this increase in production from a 29-year-old .262 career hitter. The three bats and three arms below, however, have inflated value that some owners are likely willing to overextend to acquire … take advantage!

Justin Upton (OF, ATL): A traditional quick starter who owners always fall in love with about this time of the year. From 2011-2013, Upton has fewer at-bats in April than any other month, yet he’s clubbed 18.8 percent more homers in April than any other month. His per game run production (runs and RBI) also tends to skyrocket in the month’s first season. I’m not saying he’s not ultra talented, but this is a funny looking Braves offense that has two very low OBP players atop the lineup in Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton, and he has proven to be a very streaky hitter. The Braves rely on the three-run homer as much as any team in the league, an offensive philosophy that doesn’t help Fantasy owners as

Justin Upton typically produces early in the season. Photo Credit: sec116pix

Justin Upton typically produces early in the season. Photo Credit: sec116pix

much as middle of the order hitters in other more consistent offenses.

Per 600 at-bat April numbers since the beginning of 2011: .287 batting average with 129 runs, 47 homers, and 97 RBI

Per 600 at-bat non-April numbers since the beginning of 2011: .257 batting average, 102 runs, 23 homers, and 77 RBI

His season ending numbers might well rank him in the Top 10 at his position, but the numbers suggest that you have already seen his best, meaning his Fantasy value has peaked.

I’d deal him for: Adam Jones or Alex Rios

Troy Tulowitzki (SS, COL): The number one player in Fantasy baseball is scorching hot right now, and while the talent is there, the track record isn’t. It’s not that he can’t produce; it’s that he has struggled to stay healthy in the past. In addition to his own health concerns, his counting numbers stand to decline should injury-prone Carlos Gonzalez miss extended time this season. Aside from the unpredictable injury bug, Tulo has benefited from opponents’ inability to pitch around him due to the monster seasons being put together by Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado. How often do you have a leadoff hitter slugging over .600, two injury prone players at 100 percent health, and a second year player threatening the franchise record hit streak? Again, I trust the talent of Tulowitzki, I just don’t think he will finish the season as the top player in Fantasy and believe his hot start has some Fantasy owners overlooking the past. The fact that eight of his 18 home games have come against pitching staffs that rank in the bottom six in team ERA have helped hide the fact that he holds a relatively standard road slash of .250/.377/.518. He’s as hot as can be right now, but don’t be surprised if his value dips just a bit in the coming weeks with 16 of his next 22 games on the road and his six home games coming against pitching staffs that rank among the Top 7 in team ERA. It’ll be difficult to pull the trigger, but don’t lose track of the fact that the numbers already accumulated will not be vacated from your team. That is, if Tulo hits .300 with 25 homers and 75 RBI the rest of the season and you dealt him for Miguel Cabrera, who goes .320/30/90 the rest of the way, you still win the trade despite Tulowitzki ending the year with the superior stat line.

I’d deal him for: Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, or Andrew McCutchen. I’d also deal him for a Robinson Cano package, given Cano’s durability and his currently depressed value.

Brian Dozier (2B, MIN): He may be my favorite player on this list to trade away, as his Fantasy numbers are simply far better than his “real” numbers. How often does the Fantasy community flock to a player with a short track record batting .232? The man has more runs than hits, a trend I wouldn’t mind if I trusted this offense even a little bit … but I don’t. Trevor Plouffe, who came into this season with a .240 career batting average and averaging 0.85 runs produced via runs scored or driven in per game, is batting third in this lineup. Chris Colabello, owner of a career .194/.287/.344 slash entering this year with just 17 RBI in 160 at-bats, is handling the cleanup duties. Jason Kubel, a .264 career hitter who has batted .255 or better only once in the last four seasons, hits fifth. That trio is currently batting .275 and providing Dozier with more Fantasy upside than you can realistically expect moving forward. Target Field has proven to be a pitcher-friendly park in every measurable statistic thus far this year, hinting to me that this Twins offense as a whole is going to struggle sooner rather than later. I’m not buying that he has all of a sudden become an elite base stealer, as he was successful on less than 72 percent of his stolen base attempts coming into this season. From a Fantasy perspective, Dozier has some serious red flags when considering the advanced metrics. His strikeout rate has spiked while his swing percentage has dipped, a disconcerting trend for a low OBP leadoff hitter. His power is nice for a middle infielder, but a season with 40-45 HRs plus SBs might be his ceiling, and that would be an underwhelming final stat line considering he is almost half way there already.

I’d deal him for: Any second baseman you had ranked in your preseason top seven (players like Jose Altuve, Matt Carpenter, and Ben Zobrist), Wil Myers, or Billy Hamilton

Dan Haren (SP, LAD): For what it’s worth, I practice what I preach, as I shipped Haren in my most meaningful league this past week. Why would I do that? For one, the ease of his early season schedule is something that won’t last forever. His four victories have come against the league’s worst team in the Diamondbacks and the soft-hitting Padres and Twins. He’s thrown over 2,100 innings, a threshold that is worth monitoring as the season progresses. In fact, Haren himself admitted to having to pitch differently these days, using a pitch sequence that often jeopardizes long-term health in an effort to adjust for his declining velocity. As film becomes available on this change in approach, I expect Haren’s home run rate, which is currently 68 percent below his average rate over the last five seasons, to spike. Prior to today’s start against the Nationals, the first year Dodger sports a 2.39 ERA despite allowing 1 through 4 hitters in the lineup to bat .278. That’s playing with fire, but he has been able to escape thanks to the lack of depth in the lineups he’s faced thus far. Another odd trend: after reaching a 2-2 count, opponents are batting just .056. This tells me that opponents are expanding their strike zone and getting themselves out rather than forcing Haren to attack the zone, another trend I like to revert to the mean (.186 BAA in such situations over the previous three seasons) as the schedule toughens. The Dodgers are scoring six runs per start.

I’d deal him for: Yordano Ventura or Lance Lynn

Mark Buehrle (SP, TOR): I’ve got a place in my heart for any pitcher that can grind his way through 30-plus starts a year with marginal pitches, just not a place on my Fantasy roster. Buehrle is a fly ball pitcher (59 percent of his non-strikeout outs have been recorded via the fly ball this year) that plays in a hitter-friendly park, a difficult combination to have significant value at any time, let alone for an entire season.  His home run/ fly ball rate currently sits at silly low 2.6 percent, a ratio that is due to regress to his career mean of 10.0 percent. He is stranding runners at a far higher rate than his 12 year career record would suggest and his xFIP (expected ERA independent of fielding) is nearly a run greater than his FIP, further suggesting that significant regression is on the horizon. Opponents are batting just .088 with runners in scoring position, a level of ineptitude that is very unlikely to continue. For reference, Clayton Kershaw was the best pitcher in baseball last season and opponents hit .180 against him with RISP. Buehrle will continue to gut out innings, but his ratios are set to swell a bit, a trend that will marginalize the Fantasy value of a pitcher who hasn’t struck out 150-plus batters in a season in nearly a decade.

I’d deal him for: Chris Archer, Nate Eovaldi, or Bryce Harper

Jason Hammel (SP, CHC): Players improve, but they rarely jump from waiver wire after-thought to Cy Young contender in one season. Hammel has lit the Fantasy world on fire in the early going, winning four of his five decisions with a sparkling 2.43 ERA, but I’m not even mildly buying in long term on him, or any Cubs starter for that matter. The NL Central boasts four solid offenses that are struggling out of the gate, but they are still elite run-producing squads that Hammel is going to have to face with regularity. In addition to those difficult games, Chicago’s offense isn’t going to offer consistent run support. How fluky is the win total? He won four April starts while all other Cubs starters who pitched at least 30 innings have combined for three victories. Now that we’ve covered why the wins are unlikely to continue, let’s dig into the statistics to explain why Hammel’s production is simply not a safe bet to continue. He has opened this season with six consecutive quality starts … one more than he had in the final four months of last season! His earned run average was 5.28 entering this season, and even with some improvement, there is significant regression ahead for the nine-year pro. Over his last three seasons (the best three-year stretch of his career), Hammel has allowed right-handed hitters to bat .268, a number that has dropped to a microscopic, and unsustainable .128 this year.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio has nearly tripled this year when compared to that three year run, making me think that he is benefiting from cold bats in the cold weather. Speaking of early season success, inflated springtime value really isn’t anything new for the 31-year-old. His April resume from 2011-2013 is an impressive one, in which he’s won 10 of 13 decisions with a 3.02 ERA. Things have gone south after the first month, however, as he has won just one of every three decisions post-April, recording 4.89 ERA in the process. He gave up just three earned runs against the Cardinals on Sunday Night Baseball, but the slumping Red Birds were making consistent solid contact, something that will lead to a spike in ERA over time for Hammel. Get out while you still can, even if you have to sell-low based on his current All Star stat line.

I’d deal him for: Any closer with a reasonable hold on his job, teammate Travis Wood, or Corey Kluber

Players, like Bonifacio, that I’d sell-high on but the opportunity may not be there.

Dee Gordon (2B, LAD): He was batting .229 in the previous two seasons in 397 at-bats. The elite speed is very real (he averages one stolen base every 2.88 times he gets on base for his career), but the stolen base rate will decrease as his OBP comes back to earth.

Adam LaRoche (1B, WSH): His power, like Gordon’s speed, makes him a Fantasy asset, and he is actually averaging fewer home runs per hit this year than he has over the last five seasons. That being said, the hits are coming at an unprecedented rate: he’s hitting .324 this season, but has hit over .280 only once in his ten year career.

Wily Peralta (SP, MIL): He’s stranding 80 percent of runners that reach base and allowing opponents to bat only .237 on balls in play, rates that are too high to maintain. His home run to fly ball rate of 16.1 percent is very concerning.

Tim Hudson (SP, SF): This one may be a bit based on personal preference, but I’m not rostering a pitcher who hardly strikes out any batters and doesn’t project for many wins. Five of his first six starts this season have come against the Padres, Diamondbacks, and Indians. Come to me after his next three projected starts (@ LAD, vs MIA, and @ COL) and we may have to re-evaluate, but I’m selling Hudson sooner rather than later.

Quick Hits

Robinson Cano in April 2012: .267/.323/.389 with one homer, four RBI, and 14 runs

Robinson Cano in April 2014: .287/.333/.362 with one homer, 12 RBI, and ten runs

I am moderately concerned because Cano has been fast out the gates more often than not, recording at least a handful of homers in four of his last five Aprils, but he has bounced back before. He finished 2012 with a .313/.379/.550 slash, a career-best 33 homers and 105 runs to go along with 94 RBI. Yes, it was on a better team, but it is worth noting that Seattle hit more April homers, not including Cano, than the Yankees did. I’m not saying the Mariners are an elite or even a good offense, but they have enough pop that Cano should continue to be pitched to on a consistent basis.

David Ortiz has not suddenly forgotten how to it, so don’t make a rash move because the 38-year-old hit just .253 in April. He’s proven to be a streaky April hitter over the past few seasons, batting .143 in 2010, .405 in 2012, and .500 in 2013. But his production post-April has been as consistent as you could possibly ask for in those seasons and there is no real reason to think that all of a sudden changes.

500 at-bat pace for post-April 2010: .286 batting average, 88 runs, 34 homers, and 106 RBI

500 at-bat pace for post-April 2012: .288 batting average, 100 runs, 35 homers, and 83 RBI

500 at-bat pace for post-April 2013: .295 batting average, 79 runs, 28 homers, and 91 RBI

In his first 389 games as a professional, Paul Goldschmidt has hit more home runs than Adrian Gonzalez, stolen more bases than Hunter Pence, and hit for a higher average than Tulowitzki did in their first 389 games in the big leagues.

Nate Eovaldi has the same K:BB ratio as control freak Cliff Lee, a better K/9 than James Shields and the fourth best Defense Independent ERA (DIPS) in the league. Interestingly enough, he’s only given up three homers this season, all of which have come against offenses that rank in the bottom five of the league in team home runs at Marlins Park, a stadium that ranked dead last in HR rate last year.

Bartolo Colon’s numbers may seem un-ownable, but he is worth a look against a team that doesn’t take free-passes. In the three starts in which Colon has not walked a batter, he owns a 1.80 ERA and a 7.65 k/9. When he issues at least one walk, however, his Fantasy numbers take quite the hit, with his ERA sitting at 8.37 and his k/9 at 6.46.

How long until managers start adjusting to a recent Justin Verlander trend and begin to load their lineup with right-handed bats? I realize that righty on righty matchups aren’t what you aim for, but since the beginning of last season, right-handed batters are hitting .277 against Verlander, a 44 point spike above left-handed batters.

 

Specific trade questions? Value inquiries? Get at me @unSOPable23 and I’ll help you out!

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