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Fantasy Baseball: Statistically Sound Buy Low Candidates

RotoExperts Staff April 30, 2014 1:16PM EDT
“Buying low” is something that wins Fantasy leagues … when done correctly. There is obvious risk involved when targeting players that are struggling, but that risk can be mitigated by digging into past trends and/or evaluating why said player is struggling, as not all slumps are created equal. The theory of buying low, however, is about much more than determining which players you trust to bounce back: you need a dance partner that is looking to sell your target at a price lower than his preseason value, yet above the value that his current production suggests. I trust Miguel Cabrera to rebound from a sluggish start, but so does every owner who spent their second overall selection on the slugger. In fact, his slow start may have made him harder to acquire than ever, as everyone is expecting a monster month or two in which he dominates the Fantasy landscape.

So, which players are potentially available at a discount that you should attempt to acquire? The following players are among the safer bets to live up to their draft day price tag when all is said and done.

Allen Craig (1B/OF, STL): A wise man once said that expecting different results when repeating a task is not wise. The Cardinals utility man owns a .278/.319/.381 cumulative April batting slash over the last three seasons, so why would you expect that to change? On the other hand, in those three seasons, Craig’s batting line is an impressive .316/.373/.419 after April. For reference, those are essentially Dustin Pedroia’s 2013 numbers (.301/.372/.415). Craig’s slow start, which includes as many multi-strikeout games as multi-hit games,  is obviously less than ideal, but look for him to rebound and play a big role when the Cardinals offense finds their rhythm in the warmer weather.

Prefer him to: Joe Mauer or Eric Hosmer

Wil Myers will settle in for a breakout campaign this season. Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Wil Myers' power will shine through this season. Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Wil Myers (OF, TB): Would you consider his 2013 season a success? He batted .293 with 13 homers, 53 RBI and 50 runs, good for a 600 at-bat pace of .293/24/95/90. Of course you would. So why pull the plug now? The 23-year-old’s April numbers this season (.245/.321/.357 with 29.6 percent of his at-bats ending with a strikeout) very much reflects last season’s less than stellar August (.209/.317/.314 with 33.7 percent of his at-bats ending with a strikeout), numbers he managed to overcome on his way to the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award. He’s working on a seven game hit streak and it is only a matter of time until his elite power shines through.

Prefer him to: Yoenis Cespedus or Carlos Beltran

Hunter Pence (OF, SF): Typically a free-swinger, Pence has worked 12 walks this month. He struggled, batting just .252 and disappointing Fantasy owners. But is this new approach something worth fretting about? Consider this: over the last three seasons, Pence has reached double-digit walks in a month nine times, recording a .295 cumulative batting average over that stretch. One of two things can happen from this point forward; either Pence demonstrates improved discipline and his numbers regress to his career mean in such months, or he reverts to his free-swinging nature. Regardless of the outcome, both are favorable for his Fantasy owners. With an increasing batting average, his counting numbers would naturally increase. With a more aggressive approach his batting average may continue to drag, but more swings means more counting numbers for a player like Pence who has a track record of being able to succeed with such an approach.

Prefer him to: Jay Bruce or Matt Holliday

J.J. Hardy (SS, BAL): He hasn’t been healthy (hamstring), something that is blatantly obvious in his .071 batting average against lefties. His .292 batting average against righties is actually considerably better this year than last year’s .251. He came into this season slugging .434 with the Orioles, power that is nearly impossible to find in the middle infield, giving Fantasy owners a reason to stick with him through this early season struggle. Also worth noting is the fact that April has been a tough month for him in the power department since joining Baltimore, injury or not. Hardy’s April home run rate over his first three seasons in Baltimore is 35 percent lower than any other month. Sit tight if you have him or go out and acquire him, because the power should return for the 31-year-old once he recovers, which gives him extreme value at his position.

Prefer him to: Jimmy Rollins or Jhonny Peralta

Michael Bourn (OF, CLE): Bourn appears to be healthy and he had ten hits in a recent five game stretch. Cleveland’s leadoff hitter was drafted for his speed, but with just two successful steals in five attempts this year, it is possible that his owner is getting a bit antsy. Why? If you liked Bourn coming into this season, you were buying his ability to run, and he has actually attempted to run at a greater rate than in years past. For his career, Bourn swipes bags with an 80 percent success rate, so the fact that he is trying to run should be viewed as encouraging as opposed to disappointing due to his lack of success. Combine that trend with the fact that Cleveland ranks in the bottom third of the league in team batting average and getting virtually no production out of the middle of the order, and you’ll see why things can only get better for the speedy Bourn.

Prefer him to: Eric Young Jr. or Dexter Fowler

Nate Eovaldi (SP, MIA): That’s right, he’s a buy low. His Fantasy value has risen this season, but he is going to have trouble contributing in the wins department, and that is going to drive down his value to many Fantasy owners. Don’t be one of those owners. He’s struck out at least five batters in seven of his last eight starts, numbers that should continue given his pitching repertoire. Case in point: he struck out Freddie Freeman by blazing two 98 mile per hour fastballs past his scorching hot bat after snapping off a 76 mile an hour curve. He’s also proven to be wise behind his years when it comes to pitching, and not just throwing. He is striking out 7.5 batters per walk issued this season, a tremendous sign for a 24-year-old. I also love the fact that he has become more of a groundball pitcher, as his groundball rate is up from 45.6 to 56.5 percent. This style, along with his K rate, makes Eovaldi a viable option away from pitcher-friendly Marlins Park.

Prefer him to: Jeff Samardzija or Yovani Gallardo

 

Bonus Buys

Doug Fister and Mike Minor are two established pitchers scheduled to come back soon who play in a pitching friendly division. Both starters have been treated with kid gloves, giving me confidence that both will return strong Fantasy value once they develop a rhythm. If either pitcher struggles in their first outing of the season, don’t be afraid to make an offer to the frustrated owner.

I have no real explanation for the struggles of Madison Bumgarner, but I will tell you that he has had poor months before. In 2012, he registered a 5.47 September ERA with a .302 batting average against, and in 2013, he registered a 5.17 May ERA with a 1.31 WHIP. His 3.74 ERA, .310 BAA, and 1.72 WHIP are far from ideal, but strikeout-heavy (581 over the previous three seasons) lefties with an impressive track record (3.08 career ERA entering this season) who play in a pitcher-friendly ballpark are difficult to find. Four of his five starts this month have come against teams ranked among the Top 5 in team slugging percentage, a trend that simply will not continue moving forward.

Quick Hits

Kyle Seager and Starlin Castro have been average at best this season, but two big games have saved them from being dropped or sold low in the majority of leagues.

Seager’s season statistics without two monster games: .197 batting average with one homer, four RBI, and seven runs scored in 22 games.

Castro’s season statistics without two monster games: .250 batting average with zero homers, seven RBI, and seven runs scored in 23 games.

Ian Kennedy won 21 games in a 2011 season that appeared to be an outlier, as he hasn’t resembled a top of the rotation pitcher since. That being said, the Padres righty is off to an eerily similar start as that career season. In 2011, Kennedy struck out ten without walking a single batter in a winning effort on April 25th, on the heels of a 3-1 victory in which he allowed one earned run in 5.1 innings. This season, Kennedy struck out nine without walking a single batter in a winning effort on April 27th, on the heels of a 2-1 victory in which he allowed one earned run in six innings. The main difference? Kennedy’s current 3.16 ERA is nearly 20 percent lower than his April ERA in 2011.

I’ve heard over and over that Jose Abreu is having one of the all-time best starts to a rookie campaign in the history of baseball, but why limit it to rookies? Consider this: from Sunday to Sunday (April 20-27), Abreu clubbed six homers and drove in 17 runs while slugging 1.269 on balls in play. In 2012, when Miguel Cabrera won a triple crown and recorded his only 200-hit season, the widely considered best pure hitter in baseball tallied seven homers and drove in 20 runs while slugging .676 on balls in play … over the entire month of April.

Nelson Cruz is averaging more than a hit per game and has 37 homers, 113 RBI, and 81 runs scored over his last 162 games.

Carlos Santana had 12 hits in the first week of last season, but didn’t record his 12th knock until April 28th this season. He went hitless in 16 of his first 24 games this season after going hitless in just 17 games through the end of May last year. With homers in back-to-back games the window to buy low on Santana may have passed; but keep an eye on him, as his early struggles were significant enough to affect his season numbers, potentially allowing you to buy low on him if he begins to scuffle again.

Kyle is willing to answer your specific questions on Twitter @unSOPable23 and wants to lead you to a 2014 title!

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