6 Players to Buy/Sell (Fantasy Baseball)
It is now T-minus six hours until the MLB trade deadline. While there hadn’t been many major deals over the last couple weeks, the three-team Trevor Bauer trade could commence a flurry of activity leading up to 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. We’ll have to wait to break down the fantasy impact of deadline deals until finding out where all the pieces land. But if you’re looking for a sneak preview, check out last Friday’s Closer Report, where I analyzed all the closer situations that could be impacted at the deadline.
Meanwhile, there are still plenty of pitchers who may not change teams in real life, but could make impact acquisitions in your fantasy league. Let’s take a look at a few.
Players to Buy
James Paxton (SP — NYY)
Until this year, the concern with Paxton was always related to health, not performance. But after getting obliterated in his last two starts against Colorado and Boston, his ERA has soared all the way up to 4.72, and his 1.51 WHIP is even more hideous. It’s tempting to jump to the conclusion that Paxton is a victim of his move to hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium — or that he simply can’t handle the pressure of playing in New York. However, we should let the data guide us, not easy narratives. Paxton’s ERA is actually two runs lower at home than it is on the road.
A more logical explanation for Paxton’s struggles is that he has displayed less control — his BB/9 has jumped from 2.36 in 2018 to 3.51 this year — and been plain unlucky on batted balls. According to Statcast data, Paxton has the biggest gap between his actual and expected batting average allowed, and the same is true in terms of slugging percentage. While questions about his durability remain, this is absolutely still a pitcher with top-20 upside for the final two months. His price tag will likely never be lower.
Zack Wheeler (SP — NYM)
Wheeler is an excellent buy-low candidate whether he gets traded or not (although he probably will). With a BABIP and HR/FB ratio that are both above his career averages, Wheeler has been mildly unlucky in terms of his batted-ball results, but not outrageously so. The real culprit for his bloated 4.71 ERA is a dreadful 65.8 percent left-on-base percentage, which is the fourth-lowest in baseball. He’s always had a strand rate as good or better than league average in the past, so we can chalk that up to bad timing and bad luck.
Wheeler’s 9.92 K/9 and 2.46 BB/9 are both the best marks of his career, so he should be putting up numbers that are every bit as good as they were in his excellent 2018 campaign. His value will rise even higher if he ends up in Houston, where the coaching staff has turned other talented-but-inconsistent pitchers like Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole into bonafide fantasy aces.
Max Fried (SP — ATL)
Fried’s stat line to date is unimpressive (4.21 ERA, 1.41 WHIP), but there are some clear reasons for optimism here. He has induced ground balls at the major’s sixth-highest clip. Yet when opposing hitters put the ball in the air, it is leaving the yard 21.4 percent of the time, the third-worst rate in baseball. Once Fried’s HR/FB rate normalizes, his ERA should drop closer to his 3.53 xFIP. Meanwhile, Statcast data suggests that Fried is due for a healthy amount of positive regression not only in slugging percentage allowed, but in batting average allowed, too. It also doesn’t hurt that he pitches in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and division with a potent Braves lineup behind him.
Players to Sell
Chris Paddack (SP — SD)
Paddack is having a phenomenal rookie season and should be a fantasy ace for years to come, but now could be the time to sell him in re-draft leagues. Pegged in the preseason for an innings limit of 130-150 innings, he’s now up to 100.1. He was sent to the minors in June to reduce his workload, and it’s quite possible we see that happen again — or he’s simply shut down — if/when the Padres fall further out of playoff contention. Even if Paddack manages to stay in the rotation all year, his .208 BABIP allowed and 79.7 percent strand rate are both due for some regression, and the Statcast data paints a similar picture.
Luis Castillo (SP — CIN)
Castillo is another excellent young arm with a bright future ahead of him who could be worth selling in season-long fantasy leagues. His 4.32 BB/9 rate is dangerously high — the second-highest among qualified starters, in fact — but it hasn’t yet hurt his ERA due to a .246 BABIP allowed and 82.4 percent strand rate that are both among the five most favorable marks in baseball. Once Castillo starts surrendering more hits with runners on base, his ERA is going to rise significantly, which helps explain his 3.87 FIP, 3.74 xFIP, and 4.20 SIERA. Castillo’s bat-missing ability is top-notch, but he is highly unlikely to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA when issuing so many free passes.
Mike Fiers (SP — OAK)
The name Mike Fiers does not exactly scream fantasy ace, but the fact remains that we are two-thirds of the way through the 2019 season, and he has outproduced the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Aaron Nola, and David Price in standard 5×5 leagues. That is highly unlikely to continue, mind you, but it could present the chance to ship Fiers out for a player you can rely upon down the stretch. Fiers sports one of the worst strikeout-to-walk ratios in baseball, but has managed to post a useful 3.54 ERA thanks to his good fortune on balls in play. His .239 BABIP allowed is the second-lowest in the majors, and his Statcast data does not support the notion that he’s earned it by generating weak contact. He could implode at any moment, so if I owned him, I’d explore the market right away.