6 Players to Buy/Sell (Fantasy Baseball)
It’s hitter week here at Buy/Sell, and this week we’ll focus on some middle and corner infield options. There are lots of fantasy managers out there who are already panicking about players who are off to slow starts, but I propose we be the ones who benefit, not the ones who panic.
Good, I’m glad we’ve got that settled. Now let’s begin with a consensus top-three fantasy pick who is currently hitting well below the Mendoza line!
Players to Buy
Jose Ramirez (3B – CLE)
The Indians offense has been anemic in the early weeks of the 2019 season, and Ramirez has struggled right along with his teammates to the tune of a .150 batting average, eight runs, three RBIs, and one home run through his first 60 at-bats. It’s fair to wonder whether Ramirez can top the century mark in runs and RBIs again this season given the weakness of his supporting cast, but Francisco Lindor‘s return will help, and in any case the bigger culprit in his early struggles has been poor batted ball outcomes. Some of that is Ramirez’s own fault — he’s making too much soft contact — but he’s also simply been unlucky to rank near the bottom of the league in BABIP and HR/FB rate. Expect both Ramirez’s performance and batted ball fortune to improve soon, and meanwhile the fact that he already has five stolen bases is an encouraging sign he can again be a major asset in that category as well.
Ramirez was typically the third player off the board in drafts just last month, so the owner in your league who invested an early pick in him isn’t just going to give him away. But after his brutal start, could you pry Ramirez away for a hot-hitting third baseman with a good pedigree like Anthony Rendon? Quite possibly.
To begin with, Dozier’s down 2018 season is largely misunderstood. His walk and strikeout rates were right in line with previous seasons. Whether he made more or less hard contact than previous years depends on which data set you use, but either way it’s safe to say his performance did not fall off a cliff and did not justify the huge drop in BABIP he experienced. Keep in mind he also had to adjust to the National League midway through the season and played through a bone bruise that couldn’t have helped matters.
That down season has made many fantasy owners willing to completely give up on Dozier following a dreadful start to the 2019 season. But dreadful starts are par for the course for Dozier — over the course of his career, April has been far and away his worst month in terms of both batting average and power. Dozier has always been a streaky player, but he’s proven to be a true league-winner when he’s on fire. In this case, the price of buying low could be simply scooping him up off the waiver wire, and patient fantasy owners who do so will be getting a guy who was a top-25 overall player in standard 5×5 leagues in both 2016 and 2017.
Anthony Rizzo (1B – CHC)
Rizzo is another player whose low early season BABIP is taking a major toll on his batting average, which currently stands at .182 even though he has an excellent 50 percent hard contact rate. Rizzo does have a markedly higher launch angle so far this season — and he’s hitting more fly balls as a result — so perhaps he will trade some batting average for power this season. But that could actually be a net plus for his fantasy value. The bottom line is that Rizzo has been a top-five first baseman in standard 5×5 leagues for five straight seasons, and is likely to be one again this year once his BABIP normalizes.
Players to Sell
Pete Alonso (1B – NYM)
I hate to pour cold water on Alonso, I really do. He is an exciting talent who will be a good player for a long time — and should even remain a solid fantasy asset over the rest of his rookie season. But it is simply hard to overlook the fact that Alonso is striking out in over 31 percent of his plate appearances. Right now he’s hitting .339, but that is thanks to a bloated .438 BABIP. He struck out in just under 26 percent of his plate appearances in Triple-A last season and batted .260, so it stands to reason that his batting average will be lower than that in the Big Leagues unless he’s able to make more contact.
Alonso’s 33.3 percent HR/FB rate is a little inflated too, but the power is legit and it wouldn’t be surprising if he surpassed 30 HRs this year. The problem is that he is a complete non-factor on the base paths, so he is only going to be a two- or three-category player if/when the batting average tails off. Given the hype we generally see with rookies, someone in your league could be willing to overpay for that kind of production. Alonso’s future is bright, but his present may end up looking a lot like Jay Bruce.
Elvis Andrus (SS – TEX)
Andrus is off to a blistering start, and with the amount of hard contact he’s making, you can’t really argue that he’s been all that lucky. What you can say, however, is that he is unlikely to keep it up. Andrus’ BABIP-fueled .397 batting average is obviously due for some regression, the question is how much. He hit right around .300 in both 2016 and 2017, and it’s certainly possible he does it again this year, especially considering his hot start. But his strikeout rate is up considerably so far this season, and if that continues he’s unlikely to hit close to .300 from this point forward.
It’s also tempting to look at Andrus’ three home runs and four stolen bases and expect him to repeat his excellent 2017 season, when he went 20-25 and finished as the top-ranked shortstop in standard roto/categories leagues. But Andrus simply doesn’t profile as a perennial 20-HR hitter given his tendency to hit the ball on the ground — 2017 was a major outlier when you look at his career as a whole, and it is likely to remain one. It’s reasonable to expect Andrus to produce at a .280-10-20 clip going forward, but someone in your league may believe Andrus is capable of far more than that.
Tim Anderson (SS – CHW)
Anderson proved last season that he is capable of producing a 20-20 season, which is enough on its own to make him a solid back-end starter in 12-team roto/categories leagues. What his fantasy owners probably weren’t expecting, though, was for Anderson to be leading the league in batting average through the first three weeks of the season.
The biggest reason for his high average is his absurdly-high .525 BABIP. Yes, Anderson has trimmed his strikeout rate a bit, but he’s also swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone more than ever. He’s making contact on those swings more often than he has in the past, but there’s not much reason to expect that to continue or to expect him to consistently collect hits when he does make contact with bad pitches.
Again, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that Anderson’s batting average is going to drop — the same could be said for any player not named Ted Williams who is hitting over .400 in April. Anderson’s power/speed combo will keep him relevant in roto/categories leagues, but there is probably someone in your league who is convinced that he is also making strides in the batting average department, a conclusion that his peripheral numbers don’t support.