12 Players to Buy/Sell + Week 3 Trade Advice (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
One thing that really differentiates baseball from sports like football or basketball is that the worst team in the league can beat the best team at least one-third of the time. The same principle applies to individual players: even the very worst hitters in the league occasionally get hot, and even the best ones can go into prolonged slumps. But the best teams — and players — are the ones who stand out in the long run.
If you’ve played fantasy baseball long enough, you probably know by now that outside of young players and the occasional late-bloomer, most players eventually revert back to their typical level of production. But with just 60 games on the schedule this year, one extended hot streak can result in a career year — and one big slump can ruin a player’s season.
We don’t care much about season-long numbers here, though. That was for draft season. What we’re looking for here is who will be the best players from this point forward.
If you think 60 games is a small sample size, try 15 games. At this point in the season, there are still players that have a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of over .500, and those with a BABIP under .100. While there is an argument to ride the hot hand more than ever in a short season, I’ll still ultimately put my money on players who have proven themselves over entire seasons.
With that in mind, it’s time to sort through the statistical clutter of the first couple weeks and find this week’s top buys and sells.
Note: Some statistics are through Sunday’s games.
Hitters to Buy
Nolan Arenado (3B – COL)
When it comes to early season statistical outliers, exhibit 1A is Arenado, whose BABIP was just .146 entering Monday. Arenado has never been particularly high BABIP guy — his high batting average is typically due to a low strikeout rate combined with a ton of home runs — but that is absurdly low. It helps explain why his batting average has dipped all the way down to .185, even though he has the fifth-lowest strikeout rate in the league (6.6 percent). With five straight seasons of delivering first-round fantasy value in standard 5×5 leagues, this guy is arguably the single most consistent fantasy force there is in the game today. Don’t let two weeks of unlucky batted ball outcomes scare you off.
J.D. Martinez (OF – BOS)
Like Arenado, Martinez is one of the most consistent four-category producers (sans steals) in the game today. He’s smacked 35-plus homers in four of the last five seasons, and he’s hit .300 or better in five of the last six. And yet he entered play on Monday with a .196 batting average and zero home runs. It’s possible that part of his struggles are due to a temporary ban on reviewing in-game video footage, but that could also just be something that is frustrating him because he isn’t getting the results he wants. Regardless, he is too good a player to struggle for long (and lo and behold, he just hit a home run as I was writing this).
Scott Kingery (IF/OF – PHI)
Kingery is off to an awful start at the plate, with just three hits in 31 at-bats through Sunday. Part of the explanation could be lingering effects from his bout with COVID-19 in summer camp, though it surely doesn’t help that he’s got a .125 BABIP. Plus, the Phillies had a week of postponements due to the Marlins’ coronavirus outbreak, so Kingery’s small sample is even smaller than most. Whatever the case may be, better days lay ahead for the 26-year old. All of the reasons to like Kingery heading into the season still apply: he’s a highly-regarded young player with multi-position eligibility (including at 2B) and the demonstrated ability to go 20-20 or better over a full season. His slump hasn’t cost him playing time, and the price of acquiring his services will never be lower.
Pitchers to Buy
Charlie Morton (SP – TB)
It’s never a good idea to be overly optimistic when it comes to injuries, but I do think there are times where it is worth taking a shot on an injured player. Morton is one such example. This is a player who returned top-10 starting pitcher value in fantasy leagues last season, marking the third straight year he’s performed like a high-end fantasy starter.
Morton has missed a lot of time with various ailments over the years — last year was the first time he topped 175 innings — and he’s currently on the shelf with the dreaded “shoulder inflammation.” Given his advancing age, the Morton owner in your league may consider him a lost cause. But you’d have to think that Morton knows his own body pretty well at age 36, and both Morton and the Rays seem confident that he’ll be able to return to the rotation as soon as August 20. There simply aren’t that many elite pitching options this season, so if Morton ends up missing just one start, you’ll be very glad you acquired him at a discount when you had the chance.
Andrew Heaney (SP – LAA)
Heaney is similar in many respects to Matthew Boyd, who I recommended in this space last week. Both generate a ton of swings and misses with a manageable walk rate, but both have been undone to this point in their careers by the long ball. That said, Heaney is doing a better job of keeping the ball in the yard this year. Instead, his issue has been a low 64.8 percent left-on-base percentage, which suggests that he’s simply been the victim of some timely base hits. Heaney’s 11.14 K.9 rate last season would have been eighth-best among starters if he had thrown enough innings to qualify, and he’s theoretically in a highly-favorable situation if the Angels can just start winning games. He is a fly ball pitcher, so the home runs issues could certainly resurface, but he should be able to limit opponents’ BABIP. Add it all up, and you have a pitcher who could be helpful in Ks, wins, and WHIP, even if his ERA stays in the 4.00 range.
Mike Minor (SP – TEX)
Some caution is warranted with Minor, who will be on a pitch count on Tuesday after showing fatigue and diminished velocity in his first few starts. But it should be noted that he’s also had his fair share of misfortune. His 44.0 percent left-on-base percentage is easily the lowest among qualified starters, and he trails only the aforementioned Matthew Boyd in terms of the difference between his ERA (6.89) and Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP (3.73). Minor delivered 200 strikeouts and a 3.59 ERA last season, and he has quietly been useful more often than not since completing his comeback from shoulder surgery in 2017. This one will require a little bit of patience, but it could pay off, and it shouldn’t cost you much to find out (I just picked him up off waivers in a 12-team league, in fact).
Hitters to Sell
Luis Robert (OF – CHW)
Rookie hype is a powerful force in fantasy circles, and it’s sure to be in overdrive right now for Robert. He has produced top-12 outfielder numbers through the first few weeks of the season. Robert certainly has a bright future ahead of him, but unless you play in a keeper/dynasty league, now could be a wise time to move him. While his blend of power and speed will keep him relevant in fantasy leagues, his 32.9 percent strikeout rate indicates that he has some work to do if he wants to avoid becoming a perennial drain in the batting average department. His .297 batting average to date has been inflated by an unsustainably-high .436 BABIP, so perhaps one of your league-mates will believe he’s already emerged as a five-category stud.
Kyle Lewis (OF – SEA)
Lewis has been insanely productive through his first 35 Major League games, piling up 10 home runs, 23 runs, 26 RBIs, and a .319 batting average between the end of last season and the beginning of this one. As the 11th overall pick of the 2016 draft, this breakout isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere, and some of it should be sustainable. What isn’t sustainable, however, is the .436 BABIP he’s compiled through his first 150 plate appearances (and especially his .512 BABIP this year). Lewis has fanned in 34.0 percent of those plate appearances, and while he is making a bit more contact this year than last, his 29.3 percent K rate in 2020 is still far too high to produce a halfway decent batting average, let alone his current .373 clip. His 33.3 percent HR/FB ratio is also due for some regression. He’s an exciting player, but he can’t possibly keep this up.
Kyle Seager (3B – SEA)
I don’t mean to pick on Kyles from Seattle, but Seager is an even more surefire sell-high candidate than Lewis. While nothing in Seager’s advanced stats screams “regression,” he’s a good example of a player on a hot streak who we can expect to eventually revert back to his typical production. Seager is 32 years old and has been in the Major Leagues since 2011, so we should know what to expect from him by now. He has never hit more than 30 home runs or hit higher than .280, and he hasn’t stolen double-digit bases since 2012. He’s coming off the two worst seasons of his career, and while his hot start should already be enough to help his final 2020 stat line, it would be unrealistic to expect anything more than a .260/20 pace from here on out.
Pitchers to Sell
Sonny Gray (SP – CIN)
I don’t have a lot of bad things to say about Gray, who looks to have really turned a corner since joining the Reds last season. His .250 BABIP is due for some regression, but that’s generally true of any pitcher with an ERA of 2.25. The real issue is that I have trouble completely erasing Gray’s ugly 2016 and 2018 seasons from my memory, which is why I’d prefer to own a more reliable fantasy ace. Plus, Gray’s strikeout rate jumped markedly last season, and it’s seen another big jump so far this year, but we don’t know exactly where it will ultimately land. If you can get a full price for him, you’ll be offloading some uncertainty/risk.
Kyle Freeland (SP – COL)
It feels like I recommend buying a Rockies hitter and selling a Rockies pitcher every week. Coors Field always wins in the end! Freeland is a pitcher I will never touch in fantasy leagues, but his ownership has shot up over 50 percent in Yahoo leagues thanks to his sparkling 2.41 ERA over three turns through the rotation. Freeland famously posted a 2.85 ERA over 202 1/3 innings in 2018, but that was quite possibly the biggest fluke pitching performance of the last decade. His ERA rocketed up to 6.73 last year, and that’s exactly what could happen to him again over the remainder of this season. Pitchers like Freeland with a career K/9 rate under 7.0 and career BB/9 rate over 3.0 are never going to succeed in the long run, and that is especially true when they pitch half of their games at Coors.
Alec Mills (SP – CHC)
Mills’ 1.38 ERA sure looks nice, but it’s been due to a completely unsustainable .114 BABIP, 93.0 percent left-on-base percentage, and 9.1 percent HR/FB ratio. Mills has seven strikeouts and five walks through his first 13 innings, and while his strikeout numbers with the Cubs in 2018 and 2019 look impressive at first glance, they came mostly in relief and in a small number of innings. As a starter in the minors, he struck out less than a batter per inning. You obviously won’t get much in return for Mills, but if you can ship him out for a slow-starting back-of-the-rotation type, it’s well worth doing.
Players to target: Mike Minor, Matthew Boyd, Hyun-Jin Ryu
Week 3 Trade Advice
Last week, I talked about the importance of opening up a dialogue with your prospective trade partners. That’s important to gain information about how your league-mates value players, but it also helps ensure the conversation is civil and respectful, which is the topic for this week’s trade advice.
A lot of trade negotiations go south in a hurry because fantasy managers are rude to each other in one way or another. If you really want to get a deal done, don’t act like a used car salesman; try to look at things from the other person’s point of view.
For example, never make a trade offer without at least looking at the other team’s roster and trying to figure out what they might need. Some people might find it insulting to get offered Gary Sanchez when they already have J.T. Realmuto. I also find that it is usually counterproductive to start off with a low-ball offer. You don’t have to open with your best possible offer, but sometimes a really bad offer can shut down negotiations before they even have a chance to get going.