6 Players to Buy/Sell (Fantasy Baseball)
Welcome back to another week of Buy/Sell, pitcher edition! This week we’ll name one Mets and Cardinals hurler to buy, and another Mets and Cardinals hurler to sell. We’ll also identify one dominant starter who is due for regression and one who should get even better in the second half.
But first, a quick programming note. This column won’t appear next week so that we can provide some fun content related to the All-Star Game festivities. But we’ll be back after that to get you prepared for the July 31 MLB trade deadline — and the trade deadline in your own league.
Players to Buy
Zack Wheeler (NYM)
Wheeler’s season-long stats — 4.42 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 8.94 K/9 — certainly don’t jump off the page/computer screen, and he pitches for the Mets, so wins are always going to be hard to come by. But Wheeler’s 3.70 FIP, and to a lesser extent his 4.08 SIERA, indicate he’s pitched better than his surface numbers suggest.
Wheeler has also been getting better as the season has gone along. His velocity spiked in late May, and while it hasn’t led to an increase in his strikeout rate, it has coincided with better results overall. Since May 22, Wheeler has a 3.50 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, and his 3.15 FIP is 13th-best among all pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings during that timespan. He’s looking like a solid back-end starter in 12-team mixed leagues, and the cost to acquire him should be minimal.
Luke Weaver (STL)
It’s been a disappointing season for Weaver, who was the recipient of plenty of preseason hype in the fantasy community. But his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all indicate that his bloated 4.92 ERA should be almost a full run lower.
Weaver’s strikeout rate is down and his walk rate is up, so it’s not as if he’s pitched great, but he’s also been the victim of a 67.9 percent strand rate that is among the 15 lowest in baseball and a .299 BABIP allowed that is among the 25 highest. He pitches in the right ballpark and league to have success, and with Alex Reyes lost for the season, he’s no longer in any danger of losing his rotation spot.
I can’t exactly tell you that I trust Weaver, but if you’re looking to take a flier on a talented young arm that could turn in a strong second half, you won’t find many options that will come cheaper.
James Paxton (SEA)
If you’re looking for a more high-end buy low recommendation, send out a trade offer for Paxton. He’s performed like a top-20 starting pitcher in standard 5×5 leagues, so he won’t come cheap, but he has the skills to easily be a top-10 fantasy starter over the rest of the season.
Paxton has the fifth-best strikeout rate in baseball, and his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all demonstrate that his 3.49 ERA is at least half a run higher than it should be. There’s good reason to believe Paxton will allow fewer home runs in the second half, which should really help his ERA. While his 12.0 percent HR/FB rate is middle of the pack among Major League pitchers, it is around four percent higher than Paxton allowed in 2016 or 2017.
Paxton has never pitched more than 136 innings in a season (a number he’s quickly approaching), so you always need to factor in some injury risk when you try to trade for him. But the simple fact of the matter is that pitchers with the potential for over 250 strikeouts and a sub-3.00 ERA don’t grow on trees. Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, and Corey Kluber were the only pitchers to do it last year, and Paxton is one of the very few others that has that kind of upside.
Players to Sell
Mike Foltynewicz (ATL)
After three straight subpar seasons in Atlanta, Foltynewicz has broken out this season just as the Braves have ascended to playoff contention. Prior to this year, Folty’s best K/9 rate was 8.36 last year, and his best ERA was 4.31 in 2016; this year he has a 10.80 K/9 and 2.37 ERA.
Now the “but.” While Folty has clearly taken a major step forward this season, he’s also benefited from quite a bit of good fortune. His .256 BABIP allowed is among the 15-lowest in baseball, and it’s 56 points lower than his career mark even though the amount of hard contact he’s allowed has actually increased in 2018. His 9.9 percent HR/FB rate is among the 20 lowest in baseball and well below his career average. Foltynewicz has also managed to strand 81.6 percent of his baserunners, a mark that is 12th-highest in the league.
Folty is unlikely to suddenly revert back to the fantasy liability of old, but his peripherals pretty clearly show that he’s performing over his head.
Steven Matz (NYM)
It’s tempting to think that Matz is back to his promising 2016 form following a horrific 2017 season in which he was plagued by elbow soreness that eventually required surgery. His 2016 and 2018 stats certainly look similar at first glance: He put up a 3.40 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.77 K/9 in 2016, and currently sports a 3.31 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.11 K/9 in 2018.
But his advanced statistics tell a different story. In 2016, Matz’s FIP, xFIP, and SIERA were all in the 3.30-3.51 range, whereas this year they’re all hovering well over 4.00. While his strikeout rate is down a fair amount, his walk rate has really jumped, from 2.11 BB/9 in 2016 all the way to 3.51 BB/9 this year. Matz hasn’t yet paid the price for his reduced control because he has allowed a BABIP of just .257, among the 20 lowest in baseball, and stranded 78.2 percent of baserunners, among the 25-highest figures in the game.
It’s nice to see Matz get some decent results after his nightmarish 2017 season, but he is not pitching like the same pitcher he was in 2016 when he was considered a high-end prospect. If someone in your league is as excited about Matz now as they were in then, make the move.
Miles Mikolas (STL)
Avoiding walks is an under-appreciated skill in both fantasy and reality, and few pitchers have been better at doing it this season than Mikolas, whose 1.40 BB/9 is third-best in baseball. But unlike other control specialists like Corey Kluber, Ross Stripling, and Justin Verlander, Mikolas doesn’t miss many bats, with a 6.17 K/9 rate that is fifth-lowest among all qualified starters.
That lack of strikeouts means that Mikolas is very dependent on good batted ball results, even with his great control. So far, that has worked out just fine, as his .262 BABIP allowed and 8.7 percent HR/FB rate are both among the lowest in the league, and his 77.5 percent strand rate is among the highest. But all of those numbers are due for some significant regression, and when that happens, Mikolas’s 2.63 ERA and 1.03 WHIP will balloon significantly — even if he continues to rarely issue a free pass.