6 Players to Buy/Sell (Fantasy Baseball)
I realize this is a fantasy baseball column, but I feel it is my duty to at least reference the end of Game of Thrones. Everyone else is doing it — at least on Twitter — so why not yours truly?
But rather than be the latest person to tell you whether you should love or hate the final season, I’ll just sneak some GOT puns into the names of this week’s players to buy and sell and call it a day!
Players to Buy
Jacob deGrom of Thrones (SP — NYM)
There’s every reason to believe deGrom is every bit as good as we thought he was coming into the season, but the results haven’t quite been there because of an inflated HR rate. While deGrom rode an unsustainably low 6.3 percent HR/FB ratio to a 1.70 ERA last season, this year the reverse has been true — an inflated 15.6 percent HR/FB ratio has pushed his ERA close to 4.00.
In the long run, his HR/FB rate should settle somewhere in between these two extremes, which is why the projection systems expect deGrom to provide an ERA in the 2.90-3.00 range going forward. In other words, he should still be viewed as a top-five fantasy starter, if not top-two.
Eduardo “Ned” Rodriguez (SP — BOS)
Rodriguez has been making steady improvements in his age-26 season, but those improvements have been masked by an incredibly unlucky .364 BABIP and 65.3 percent strand rate that have pushed his ERA all the way up to 4.89. For the third year in a row, Rodriguez is posting a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio, but this year he is missing more bats and also generating more soft contact and a lot more ground balls. The latter should help keep his HR rate in check, which means that he stands a good chance of bettering last year’s 3.82 ERA once his batted ball outcomes normalize.
Rodriguez may never become a fantasy ace, but he has the potential to be a weekly must-start option. He could be on his way to a career year, but even if he just matches what he did last season, he can be a solid fourth starter in standard 12-team mixed leagues.
Kyle “The Cat” Gibson (SP — MIN)
Gibson is producing easily the best strikeout and walk rates of his seven-year career, and yet his ERA is nearly a full run higher than it was last year thanks to a minuscule strand rate and sky-high HR/FB ratio. He is prone to giving up a lot of hard contact, but his 4.47 ERA should still be at least half a run lower and he’s also capable of being an asset in WHIP if he continues to limit the free passes. Meanwhile, the Twins have emerged as one of the best teams in the league, which should afford Gibson with plenty of opportunities to collect wins.
If you’re struggling to find a reliable starter for the back end of your fantasy rotation, Gibson could be the perfect solution, and he can probably be acquired quite cheaply (if not directly off the waiver wire).
Players to Sell
Justin “Stormlander” Verlander (SP — DET)
Of all the starting pitchers who had an average draft position inside the first 25 picks of fantasy drafts this spring, Verlander is the only one who has been providing the numbers of a fantasy ace. But while there is no doubt Verlander that is insanely good, he’s also had more than his fair share of good fortune. In fact, Verlander currently has the single-lowest BABIP allowed (.171) and single-highest strand rate (96.0 percent) of any qualified starter in the Major Leagues. Some of that is because he’s such a good pitcher, but both metrics are still due for a healthy amount of regression — they are the dictionary definition of unsustainable for any pitcher.
Don’t get me wrong, Verlander is a legit fantasy ace. But is he really better than some of the other top-tier starters who have had much less fortunate batted ball results? I don’t think so. Right now you can probably acquire any pitcher you want for Verlander, and perhaps get a decent bat thrown in, too.
Zach “Ironpigs-Born” Eflin (SP — PHI)
Eflin’s 2.89 ERA and 1.09 WHIP looked mighty impressive on the surface, but a closer look reveals he is performing well over his head. He was never a big strikeout guy to begin with, but his K/9 rate has dropped from 8.65 last year to just 7.23 thus far in 2019. He has helped himself immensely by avoiding walks, but that alone isn’t enough for sustained fantasy success. Rather, Eflin has been skating by based on an 83.3 percent strand rate that is the eighth-lowest in baseball and a .272 BABIP that is also probably due for a correction.
Simply put, it is hard to see how Eflin produces an ERA below 4.00 going forward, let alone below 3.00. You won’t get a haul for him, but the fact he pitches for the Phillies could boost his trade appeal, so I’d recommend shopping him around.
Zach “Ser Davos” Davies (SP — MIL)
Davies currently has a sparkling 1.54 ERA, but the cold hard truth is that he’s the same pitcher he’s always been. Or maybe he’s actually worse than he’s always been: His weak 6.15 K/9 rate and middling 2.73 BB/9 rate are both worse than his career averages, but he’s benefited from a completely unsustainable 85.6 percent strand rate, 7.4 percent HR/FB ratio, and .271 BABIP allowed.
With Davies, we’re likely looking at a mid-4.00s ERA going forward, and a pitcher with that kind of ERA and a well-below average strikeout rate simply isn’t usable in standard mixed leagues. Any trade value that he may have will likely evaporate soon, so the time to sell is now.