6 Players to Buy/Sell (Fantasy Baseball)
While it’s true that pitchers are notoriously more volatile from year-to-year than hitters — there’ll be more breakouts, there’ll be more busts — the perception of pitchers often shifts more rapidly than it should.
There are a lot of reasons a good starter can have a bad outing; weather conditions, batted ball misfortune, bullpen malfeasance, a poorly-timed home run, or just running into a hot-hitting opponent. But when that bad outing comes in April, it can put a stain on the pitcher’s statistics that causes fantasy owners to panic.
So let’s focus on some starting pitchers in this week’s buy/sell. And let’s begin in Chicago, where two starters who joined the Cubs to much fanfare have had very rocky starts to their 2018 campaigns.
Players to Buy
Yu Darvish (SP – CHC)
Chicago’s $126 million man has been hit hard in two of his first three appearances as a Cub, prompting plenty of fans to freak out (at least judging by Twitter). Darvish’s fantasy owners shouldn’t be too worried, but if they are, it’s a buying opportunity.
Darvish is striking out more than a batter per inning, and his velocity has been fine. His walk rate is up in the early going, but that is mostly a result of the four walks he issued in his first home start on Friday, which also happened to be far and away the coldest weather he’s pitched in as a Major Leaguer. Mostly, Darvish has been undone by his opponents’ .325 BABIP and 21.4 percent HR/FB ratio, which are both significantly higher than he typically allows. As his luck normalizes, he becomes more comfortable in a Cubs uniform, and the weather warms up in Chicago, expect Darvish to post numbers resembling his career 3.46 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
Jose Quintana (SP – CHC)
Quintana, the Cubs’ other big pitching acquisition of the last calendar year, is off to an even worse start than Darvish, posting an abysmal 8.16 ERA through his first three games. Quintana’s velocity is down a little, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is upside down (10 walks and only nine strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings), but he’s also been hurt by a lowly 52.9 percent left on base percentage, fourth-lowest among qualified starters. In his last (and worst) start, Quintana pitched in “ridiculously” frigid weather conditions in Chicago — and three of the seven runs charged to him were given up by the bullpen after he left the game.
Those may sound like excuses, and make no mistake, Quintana has not pitched well so far. But a couple bad starts is not nearly enough to outweigh Quintana’s lengthy track record of Major League success. He was recently named by MLB.com as the most consistent starting pitcher in baseball, and with good reason; he’s posted an ERA of 3.51 or lower and a WHIP of 1.24 or lower in four of the last five seasons. Quintana showed improved strikeout ability last season, and even if he isn’t able to fully maintain that, he should benefit from a full season pitching in the National League with a loaded lineup supporting him.
Chris Archer (SP – TB)
Archer’s season looks a lot like Darvish’s so far. He has been walking a few more batters than he typically does, but he’s still throwing hard and striking out plenty of batters, and the majority of his early-season struggles have been due to poor batted ball results. Archer’s opponents have put up a .379 BABIP and 18.2 percent HR/FB ratio, both far higher than he usually surrenders. He’s also stranded just 55.9 percent of baserunners so far, a figure that is sure to normalize over time.
With an ERA over 4.00 in each of the last two seasons, Archer is fast becoming a pitcher known for underperforming his peripherals. It’s certainly possible he does so again in 2018, but even if he does, he’s got a good shot to finish as a top-30 starting pitcher in 5×5 roto leagues. If the Archer owner in your league no longer views him that way, he’s a solid buy-low.
Players to Sell
All three of the pitchers in this week’s sell column are young enough that they could conceivably break out, but there are enough warning signs in their peripherals to suggest you’re better off selling high. All three should certainly be owned right now, but they are worth swapping for more reliable arms if you can sell a league mate on their potential.
Sean Manaea (SP – OAK)
Manaea’s shiny 1.63 ERA and 0.72 WHIP look amazing, but his 4.03 FIP gives a better indication of the ERA you can expect from him the rest of the season. Manaea struck out less than eight batters per nine innings in both of his first two Big League seasons, and his strikeout rate is even lower so far this year. That hasn’t mattered yet because Manaea’s opponents have an unsustainably low .169 BABIP against him, and he’s stranded 100 percent of his baserunners so far. His pitch mix hasn’t changed and his velocity is on a downward trajectory, so there isn’t much reason to expect a sudden breakout here.
Jake Junis (SP – KC)
Junis has a 1.93 ERA, but most of his underlying numbers look a heck of a lot like last season, when he posted a 4.30 ERA. His velocity, strikeout rate, and walk rate are all basically unchanged; the difference is simply that he’s managed to strand 100 percent of baserunners thus far and his opponents have a BABIP of just .170 against him. Junis was not a major prospect and never put up elite Minor League numbers, which makes it even harder to talk yourself into him having a legitimate breakout. The projection systems call for Junis to have an ERA between 4.50 and 5 and a WHIP above 1.30, and nothing he’s shown so far makes that seem implausible. His last start was rocky, but there could still be time to sell.
Reynaldo Lopez (SP – CHW)
Lopez does have prospect pedigree going for him, and he’s coming off an impressive 10-strikeout performance on Monday night in Oakland, so perhaps we’re witnessing a legitimate breakout here. But his peripherals suggest he is due for some major regression, so now could be the perfect time to sell high to a fellow owner who is willing to go all-in on Lopez’s talent.
Like Manaea and Junis, Lopez has benefited from an abnormally low BABIP allowed (.150, second-lowest in baseball) and high strand rate (92.6 percent). He’s also walking 5.21 batters per nine innings, a number that should come back to haunt him if it continues. Last year, he didn’t struggle with walks, but had a weak strikeout rate, so it’s not clear he’s capable of missing bats without issuing a lot of free passes.
Lopez has a bit more upside than Manaea or Junis, so don’t just give him away. But I’d gladly deal him for any of the buy-low pitchers listed above.