6 Players to Buy/Sell (Fantasy Baseball)
Every year there are some surprise pitchers who emerge as fantasy stars. Last year, Trevor Bauer, Miles Mikolas, Patrick Corbin, and Mike Foltynewicz all defied the odds to finish as top-12 starters in standard 5×5 leagues, while Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, and Gerrit Cole fully delivered on their promising potential and became bonafide fantasy aces.
In other words, we shouldn’t completely dismiss pitchers who have seemingly come out of nowhere to dominate hitters over the first couple weeks of 2019. Still, we are talking about pitchers who have made two or perhaps three starts, so we shouldn’t get carried away. The most likely outcome is that a pitcher regresses to his career level of performance, particularly if he’s a guy with a long track record.
As the season progresses, this column will aim to uncover subtle indicators that a pitcher is due for some positive or negative regression to his fantasy stats. But right now, we’re dealing with some really small sample sizes and some really extreme numbers. Even the best pitchers in the league will occasionally have a bad start, so if anyone in your league is panicking about a proven commodity based on nothing more than one bad outing, it’s an obvious buying opportunity.
Players to Buy
Carlos Carrasco (SP – CLE)
Speaking of extreme numbers, Carrasco’s current BABIP allowed is a league-worst .560. That means that more than half of the time that opposing hitters have put the ball into the field of play against Carrasco, it has fallen for a hit. To put that in perspective, last year there wasn’t a single pitcher who permitted even a third of batted balls to become hits.
The poor early results certainly aren’t the result of diminished stuff — Carrasco’s velocity is fine and his 15.43 K/9 rate is the fourth-best in baseball thus far. He’s finished as a top-15 starter in standard 5×5 leagues in three of the last four seasons and remains a solid bet to do so again this year.
Aaron Nola (SP – PHI)
While some pitchers suffer from misfortunate on balls that land in the field of play, others are hurt by a disproportionate number of fly balls that go over the fence. Yes, some pitchers are simply more gopher-prone than others, but any pitcher can get bit by the long ball in any given start, and that’s exactly what happened to Nola last time out against Washington. As a result, Nola currently sports a 37.5 percent HR/FB ratio that is second only to Tyson Ross and about three times higher than Nola’s career mark.
Nola was one of the most extreme ground ball pitchers in baseball last year, which allowed him to also be one of the best at avoiding home runs. Expect that to be the case again this year once his HR/FB rate normalizes.
Zach Wheeler (SP – NYM)
In addition to the issue of hits and home runs allowed, there’s also the matter of when those hits and home runs happen to occur. In Wheeler’s case, they’ve been happening at very inopportune times — namely, when there are men on base. Wheeler’s left-on-base percentage currently stands at a league-worst 42.2 percent, meaning that well over half of the runners he’s put on base have come around to score. That is quite a ways off from Wheeler’s career left-on-base percentage of 73.6 percent — and the Major League average of 72.8 percent last year.
Wheeler didn’t do himself any favors last time out by walking seven batters, but it isn’t worth overreacting to that unless we see the command issues pop up more than once. This is a pitcher who has posted a sub-3.55 ERA in three of his four Major League seasons, so once Wheeler starts to strand more runners, good results should follow.
Players to Sell
Trevor Bauer (SP – CLE)
Bauer was a top-10 starter in standard 5×5 leagues last season, so the fact he’s continuing to have success is obviously no fluke. That being said, over his first two starts Bauer has allowed a league-low .040 BABIP and zero home runs while stranding 90 percent of baserunners. That has allowed him to post dominating fantasy stats even though he faced similar command issues to Wheeler last time out, walking six batters.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that Bauer’s 0.64 ERA will rise, but the hotter take is that Bauer will be unable to match the fantasy numbers he posted last season. To be clear, when I suggest selling Bauer, I’m talking about selling very high. If there are people in your league who believe that Bauer has ascended to the level of Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, it’s probably worth making a move. Perhaps you could acquire Carrasco or Nola and a starting-caliber bat.
German Marquez (SP – COL)
I was much lower on Marquez than the industry consensus, and through his first couple starts Marquez had made me look a little silly. But here’s the thing: Marquez hasn’t made a start at Coors Field yet. In fact, both of his starts have come at very pitcher-friendly parks (Miami and Tampa). That helps explain why Marquez currently has a BABIP allowed of .148 and an HR/FB ratio of 10.0 percent, and he has managed to strand 100 percent of his baserunners.
Marquez is a good pitcher who is stuck pitching half of his games in an awful pitching environment, so I would look to sell him before the high altitude in Denver raises his ERA and WHIP.
Jake Arrieta (SP – PHI)
Arrieta was once a top-tier fantasy starter, but his numbers have been trending in the wrong direction for several years now. Over the last three seasons, Arrieta’s strikeout-to-walk ratio has drastically worsened and his velocity has tailed off. The bottom hasn’t completely fallen out yet — his ERA has remained below 4.00 — but at 33 years old, this could be the year it happens.
Arrieta has somehow managed to post a 2.77 ERA through his first two starts of 2019 despite walking more batters than he has struck out. Perhaps you can point to Arrieta’s ERA and past pedigree — and the run support he’ll receive on the Phillies — in order to convince someone in your league to give you something of value for him before he turns into a pumpkin.