Breaking Down the Yasiel Puig/ Alex Wood Trade (Fantasy Baseball)
Enigmatic. Annoying. Super talented. Wasted talent. He’s in a lot of love-hate relationships, in the same vein as the Yankees or Cowboys. Maybe it’s because he bat flips doubles, or even licks his bat, for starters:
Whatever you think of him, Yasiel Puig is sure to be fantasy relevant in 2019. In case you downed too many holiday cookies, or were too busy prepping for your fantasy championship, we will be breaking down the Yasiel Puig (and yes, Matt Kemp) trade. The Dodgers moved Puig, Kemp, mid-rotation starter and former All-Star Alex Wood, backup catcher/ infielder Kyle Farmer, and $7M in cash to the Reds for aging Homer Bailey (in which he was subsequently released), middle infielder Jeter Downs, and righty Josiah Gray. For the sake of this article, we will dive into the details on Puig, Kemp, Wood, and how their fantasy circumstances have changed, and then do a brief overview of the minor leaguers.
Yasiel Puig – a leap to the next tier?
After taking the next step in 2017 (28 homers, 74 RBI, 15 stolen bases, and 115 wRC+ in 152 games), Puig just barely missed that production in significantly less time (23 homers, 63 RBI, 15 swiped bags, and 123 wRC+ in 125 games due to various injuries). His second half was substantially better than his first half, hitting 12 homers, stealing eight bases, and hitting .270 in just 49 games. With the move Cincinnati, he gets to play half his games in the Great American Ballpark, also known as the Great American Launchpad. His new home had the fourth most runs allowed according to ESPN Park Factors, and had the largest home run rate in the big leagues. This 1.395 homer rate was 9% more than the second highest ballpark (as you could guess, it’s Coors Field). Dodger Stadium, while not a terrible place to hit, was just 11th in homers and a measly 28th in runs. Clearly, this represents a tremendous upside to his fantasy stock. He has an everyday starting spot, as opposed to him being platooned in the Dodgers overcrowded 2018 outfield. This should allow him to get in a groove, be himself, and improve on those 2018 numbers. He mainly batted sixth, seventh, and eighth with the Dodgers, seemingly hitting best in the eighth spot. For a player who ranked as the 79th hitter in 2018, it is truly bizarre to see him hitting so far down the lineup. The early prognostication is that he will hit squarely in the middle of the lineup, most likely behind Joey Votto or Scooter Gennett.
How's this for a potential lineup?:
1. Winker LF
2. Suárez 3B
3. Votto 1B
4. Puig RF
5. Gennett 2B
6. Schebler CF
7. Barnhart C
9. Peraza SS
— C. Trent Rosecrans (@ctrent) December 21, 2018
This also greatly increases his fantasy upside. The NL Central is a tougher division than the NL West, but given the change in parks, this doesn’t decrease his stock. However, there are stats in his hitting profile, according to FanGraphs, that may suggest a slight regression headed into 2019. His walk rate of 8.1% represented a career-low for him in the majors. His K rate also increased 2% from 2017. These stats are seemingly offset with this slightly unlucky BABIP of .286, had a small increase in his ISO from .224 in 2017 to .227, and sported the same wOBA the past two years.
Puig was the 37th best outfielder in 2018, and ESPN had him slated as the 34th best outfielder and 101st overall player prior to the trade. While a potential 30-homer, 20-season could happen, both Steamers and Depth Charts project a tater total in the mid-20s. However, they expect a big bump in RBI (to the 80-90 range), and a higher triple-slash line. His floor and tremendous upside put him as a top-30 overall outfielder. ESPN has Mitch Haniger, Ender Inciarte, and Dee Gordon in front of him, and I would prefer Puig over all those players.
Alex Wood – Ace of the Reds, but not your fantasy team
You likely already know about Wood’s drop-off from 2017 to 2018. If not, he pitched about the same number of innings (151.2 innings in 2017 compared to 151.2 innings in 2018), but had drastically different results. His K rate dropped .9%, his BABIP increased from .267 to .293, his LOB percentage dropped 9.5 points, and his groundball rate dropped four points. Add this all up, and his 3.68 ERA in 2018 was right in line with his 3.53 FIP, 3.72 xFIP, and his 3.90 SIERA. His All-Star 2017 numbers resulted in a 2.72 ERA, 16 wins, and an All-Star Game showing. His first half was much better than his second half in 2017, and shrewd fantasy owners headed into 2018 drafts picked up on this and didn’t draft him at his draft price.
While Puig is likely going to see a big boost to his stats, Alex Wood is going to see a big drop-off in his draft stock headed into 2019. We already know the bad things associated with pitching at the Great American Launchpad, and now Wood has to pitch in a more difficult division as well. The one silver lining in this trade for Wood is that he will likely be relied on more to be the horse of the staff than previously, which should result in him accumulating better counting stats. A look at how he fares each time through the order (according to FanGraphs) shows that he pitches better in facing an order for the third time as he does the first time through.
While the Reds are quickly turning into a team with a lot of upside and the ability to win 85 games, the Dodgers are of course the better team to pitch for. Wood finished as the 56th best starter, according to Razzball, and he likely won’t get back there this year. ESPN had him ranked as the 68th best starter before the trade, around plenty of other pitchers with question marks (Lucas Giolito and Alex Reyes, for starters), which seems an appropriate place to have him. Hopefully Wood can mentor young up-and-comer Luis Castillo to harness all his abilities, as ESPN has him ranked as the 35th best pitcher and is the better pitcher to own.
Matt Kemp, as of the time of this writing, is still with the Reds. Given his slumping second half and large contract, it would be a surprise to see Kemp on the Reds’ opening day roster in 2019, much like how Carlos Santana was traded from the Phillies to the Mariners, and then quickly flipped to the Indians. The comparisons with Santana end there, as Kemp is the opposite of an OBP machine. With that said, we can still act like he will be on the Reds’ roster on Opening Day and assess his fantasy usefulness from there.
Kemp’s 2018 was a tale of two halves. He went from hitting .310 and 15 homers in the season’s first 92 games and hit only .255 with six homers in his last 54 games. Kemp did recover in September to hit .339 in 56 at-bats, but it was not enough to salvage his terrible August. Even with that bad second half, he finished as the 125th best overall player (according to Razzball) and 39th best outfielder, just barely behind Puig. Like Puig, Kemp moves to a ballpark that gives him greater upside. However, he very well may not have a starting spot, as the current lineup (as you can see in the above tweet) shows that Jesse Winker will start over Matt Kemp. Kemp typically hits lefties better than righties, but actually hit righties better in 2018. Winker fares much better against righties, so it looks like, at best case, that Kemp finds himself on the wrong side of a platoon. However, Scott Schebler, the projected starting center fielder, has a history of injuries (as does Puig), so Kemp could find himself in the starting lineup more often than not. Plus, would the small-market Reds be comfortable with having a $21.5M player on their bench?
Before the trade, Kemp was projected as the 70th best outfielder and a top 250 player. With this trade, he slides out of the top 250 and probably drops behind Schebler, who was ranked as the 81st outfielder prior to the trade.
This trade opens up a starting spot for Alex Verdugo, the minor league phenom who has been chomping at the bit to play full-time in the big leagues. Verdugo had a cup of coffee in the big leagues last year, posting a 98 wRC+ over 86 plate appearances. Verdugo figures to start in right, and a platoon of Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor, and Andrew Toles will play in left. Everyone’s immediate thought was that Bryce Harper was an automatic slam dunk to go to the Dodgers, but it looks like that will not happen, as the Dodgers are looking to add another pitcher or a second baseman instead. We will operate under the assumption that the outfielders on the Dodgers now will be on the roster on Opening Day.
Verdugo, a top 50 prospect, has a fantastic “hit” tool and is capable of stealing double-digit bags. He is more known for his propensity to get on base rather than his power, but is likely to develop decent power as he grows into his body and utilizes his tremendous hitting talent. Verdugo will be taken at the end of drafts as a high upside pick and is a great asset in dynasty leagues. Our very own Bobby Sylvester slated him as a top 220 player in dynasty leagues, and that was before the trade.
Before the trade, Chris Taylor figured to see action at second base, spelling Corey Seager at shortstop while he eases back in, in center, and in left. This trade does nothing to switch that up and does not impact his fantasy value.
Joc Pederson saw action in 95 games in left and 28 games in center. Let’s not forget that he belted 25 homers in 2018. Let’s also not forget that he hit 24 of those against righties, and hit just .170 against lefties. Unless Pederson takes a significant step in hitting lefties better, he figures to be a platoon player, and this trade impacts his fantasy value a little more positively than it does for Taylor, he still will not see a big bump in draft stock. He sits as the 93rd best outfielder on ESPN prior to the trade, and while this trade probably slides him up about 5 spots, he is not someone worth coveting in drafts.
Minor League Wrap Up
Kyle Farmer had his own short stint with the Dodgers in 2018, sporting a 76 wRC+ in 77 plate appearances. The 28-year-old is not projected to a be a useful fantasy player now or later.
Over 170 minor league games, Jeter downs has hit 19 homers, batted .260, and has stolen 45 bases. You can see his calling. He projects to hit for average and power down the road. While he won’t be looked at in redraft leagues, he is worth looking at from a deep dynasty league perspective.
Josiah Gray has struck out more than a batter per inning in the minors, and currently sports a 2.58 ERA and 0.88 WHIP through 52 1/3 innings. Similar to Downs, he will not be in the majors anytime soon, but is worth investigating further in dynasty leagues.