6 Players to Buy/Sell (Fantasy Baseball)
Kudos to my college Tim McCullough for stepping in last week and providing you fine readers with some hitters to buy and sell. This week, we’ll go back to the pitching well, and begin with a couple injured aces that could come at a discount right now. They aren’t for the risk-averse, but the payoff could be massive in the second half.
Players to Buy
Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
If you’re a Kershaw owner, you’re probably pretty frustrated at this point. I know I am. You likely invested a first-round pick in the Dodgers’ ace, but he missed most of May with biceps tendonitis and then returned for all of one start before going back on the DL for another month with a recurrence of his longstanding back problems.
But if you’re not a Kershaw owner, this could be your one chance to take advantage of his owner’s frustrations and acquire him at a non-astronomical price. Yes, there is some risk that injuries continue to plague Kershaw in the second half, but that risk is solidly outweighed by the potential reward. It can’t be overstated how big an impact a healthy Kershaw can have on a fantasy team in a short amount of time. Last year, he finished as the ninth-most valuable fantasy player at any position despite missing over a month of action. The year before that, he was the third-most valuable player even though he only threw 149 innings.
If your fantasy team is in the hunt, but you feel like you’ll need a big second half boost to ascend to first place, a Kershaw deal could be for you. He could still easily perform like a top-five starting pitcher from this point forward even though he likely won’t throw another pitch before July. If you can get him for the equivalent of a second or third fantasy starter, it could turn out to be highway robbery.
Johnny Cueto (SF)
Cueto is another injured arm you could potentially acquire at a significant discount, although I’d obviously want to pay considerably less for him than Kershaw. Aside from the fact that Cueto isn’t nearly as good as Kershaw, there’s also the fact that Cueto’s injury is considerably more concerning. Recent reports of Cueto’s recovery have been quite positive, but he is dealing with a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, so there is a real chance he re-aggravates the injury as he ramps up his mound work.
Still, if you’re willing to accept the risk that Cueto may not make it back this season, you could possibly get a legit difference-maker for the second half at a reasonable price. Before going on the DL, Cueto cruised to a 0.84 ERA and 0.69 WHIP through his first 32 innings. Although he struggled in 2017, he has plenty of seasons of excellent ratios on his resume before that, and he plays in the right league and ballpark to do it again. The replacement level starting pitcher is pretty decent in 10- and 12-team leagues, so I’d be willing to give up my fourth or fifth fantasy starter to gamble on Cueto’s upside.
Jose Berrios (MIN)
Berrios isn’t injured, and he’s hardly struggling of late, either. But he did go through a rough four-start stretch in late April and early May that his ERA has yet to fully recover from. A 3.66 ERA doesn’t scream fantasy ace, but everything else Berrios is doing does.
Berrios’s 1.51 walks per nine innings is the sixth-best mark in baseball, and he is one of only five pitchers with a BB/9 below 2.0 that is also striking out more than a batter per inning. The others are Corey Kluber, Zack Greinke, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Verlander. That’s some pretty good company.
His .248 BABIP allowed is due to rise some, but positive regression in his HR/FB and strand rates should more than offset that. Berrios is a former top-tier prospect with elite control who is capable of posting a low-3s ERA and solid K rate while continuing to be a major asset in WHIP. The Berrios owner in your league may not be quite ready to view him as a top-15 starter, but that is the direction he is trending.
Players to Sell
Justin Verlander (HOU)
It probably sounds like sacrilege to call Verlander a sell-high, but I mean no disrespect. This is an obvious top-10 fantasy starter, perhaps even top-five. But right now he is top-one, and his peripherals suggest that is unlikely to remain the case the rest of the season.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say that a pitcher with a 1.45 ERA won’t be able to keep it up, but Verlander could be due for more of a course correction than his owners realize. His .215 BABIP allowed is the lowest in the league, as is his 5.1 HR/FB rate surrendered. He’s also sporting the second-highest strand rate in baseball (87.1 percent). All three of those numbers are a lot lower than his career marks.
Verlander is a great fantasy starter who also happens to be benefitting from great fortune. His owners probably recognize that he won’t have a sub-2.00 ERA the rest of the season, but it’s entirely possible he won’t even be a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher going forward. After all, the only sub-3.00 ERA seasons in his illustrious career were way back in 2011 and 2012.
I couldn’t quite stomach trading Verlander for Kershaw, but I would gladly exchange him for Kluber or Max Scherzer, and if you deal him for someone like Chris Sale or Gerrit Cole, you may even be able to get a decent bat back as well.
Michael Wacha (STL)
Wacha’s 2.47 ERA and 1.11 WHIP look mighty nice, but his supporting stats tell a different story. He’s never been a big strikeout pitcher, but this year his walk rate has crept up to over 3.5/9, which means he is really banking on great batted ball results to get by. It’s worked out for him so far, thanks to a .240 BABIP allowed that is 56 points lower than his career average, as well as beneficial HR/FB and strand rates that are also due for some regression.
Wacha wasn’t of much use in standard mixed leagues in 2016 or 2017, and I’m not confident that he will be for the rest of this season, either. His best-case scenario is probably his 2014 and 2015 seasons when he had an ERA in the 3.20-3.40 range and a WHIP around 1.20. But even that would be quite a step down from what he’s provided fantasy owners so far.
Matt Boyd (DET)
It’s a little hard to envision Boyd bringing back much of value on the trade market, so if you can’t trade him, maybe just consider this a warning against picking him up and using him for an extended period of time.
Boyd’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is an ugly 2.08 (15th-worst among qualified starters), but he has an enticing 3.20 ERA and 1.09 WHIP that are being fueled by an entirely unsustainable .232 BABIP allowed, 77.1 percent strand rate, and 6.4 percent HR/FB ratio. He’s surrendering a healthy amount of hard contact, so all three of those figures are due for a major correction soon. And when that happens, his ERA and WHIP will spike. If you own him, I would be ready to jump ship before he sinks you.