Well, that went quick. With the trade deadline fast approaching in most fantasy leagues, this will serve as the final Buy/Sell column of the 2020 season.
Writing this column has certainly been…different this year, with so little data and statistics to analyze. One month’s worth of games wouldn’t be much to work with under any circumstances, but it’s even more so when you consider how many games have been postponed due to the Covid-19 fallout. We’ve also had an inordinate amount of injuries, particularly to pitchers, which was, unfortunately, a foreseeable outcome all along.
The good news about this truncated schedule is that more fantasy teams than ever should still be in the pennant race as we enter September. That means it’s not too late to make the big deadline deal that can put your team over the top. So without further ado, let’s get to this week’s top buy and sell options.
Hitters to Buy
Gary Sanchez (C – NYY)
Need to make up ground in the power categories by adding a catcher who could conceivably hit 10 home runs in September? Sanchez is your man (he’s had multiple 10+ HR months before). We know by now that he’s going to be a batting average liability, but so are most catchers. While his 41.8 percent strikeout rate thus far is breathtakingly bad, he still doesn’t deserve to be hitting .132. His .133 BABIP is the lowest among all qualified hitters, even though he ranks near the top of the league in exit velocity and hard-hit rate. Sanchez typically only strikes out about 25 percent of the time, not 42 percent, so some of that needs to be chalked up to an early-season slump. But it could be enough to have the Sanchez owner in your league feeling fed up, which could present the rare opportunity to get difference-making fantasy production at the weakest offensive position.
Shohei Ohtani (UTIL – LAA)
The pitcher version of Ohtani is already a bust for 2020, and the hitter version isn’t looking much better on paper. But Ohtani’s awful .181 batting average is mostly due to some awful batted ball luck. His .182 BABIP is sixth-lowest among qualified hitters, even though his exit velocity and hard-hit rate have both been well above average (albeit not as high as last year). Meanwhile, his 9.8 percent walk rate and 25.0 percent strikeout rate are right in line with his career averages. The fact he’s no longer toeing the rubber should only help him as a hitter, keeping him fresh and requiring fewer off days.
Marcus Semien (SS – OAK)
Semien was never going to repeat his 2019 season, when he shattered his previous career highs in batting average (.285), HRs (33), runs (123) and RBIs (92). But the fall from grace has been swift and severe, as demonstrated by his .202 average through Sunday. Semien is striking out more than he has the last couple of years, and he hasn’t been making great contact so far. But on the bright side, he’s walking more than ever, still hitting leadoff in a potent A’s offense, and still chipping in both home runs (four) and steals (three). He should at least be able to match his career .254 batting average from here on out while providing steady production in each of the other four standard rotisserie league categories.
Pitchers to Buy
Max Scherzer (SP – WAS)
With a 4.31 ERA through six starts, Scherzer has been a disappointment for fantasy managers up to this point, but he is a great bet to finish the season strong. He’s been a bit wilder than usual (3.73 BB/9), but his 12.64 strikeouts per nine innings is the third-best among quality starters. The real issue is that he’s been victimized by .351 BABIP, also third-highest among all starters. He’s also given up more long balls than usual, something that likely won’t continue. The bottom line is that Scherzer’s stuff is just fine, so if someone in your league is concerned that the 36-year old is in decline, this is as good a time as any to pounce.
Lucas Giolito (SP – CHW)
The window to buy low on Giolito may have closed in a lot of leagues when he completely dominated the Tigers last time out, but his 3.89 ERA and 1.24 WHIP are still rather pedestrian, so perhaps there’s still time (particularly if he has a subpar outing against the Pirates on Tuesday night). Giolito has walked a few more batters than usual so far, but his strikeout rate is right where it was last year, and his current ERA and WHIP are mostly due to an inflated BABIP. He had some real struggles before finally delivering on his prospect pedigree last season, so perhaps the Giolito owner in your league still doesn’t fully trust him.
Kevin Gausman (SP – SF)
You wouldn’t know it from his ERA, but Gausman is pitching really well right now. His 12.19 K.9 rate is sixth-best among qualified starters, and so is his 7.0 strikeout-to-walk rate, which is even more impressive. With a .363 BABIP allowed and a massive gap between his ERA (4.65) and FIP (3.10), he’s been as unlucky as any pitcher in baseball not named Matthew Boyd. There was a similar discrepancy between his surface and underlying numbers last year, so perhaps there’s something he’s doing wrong that isn’t captured in the metrics, but the more likely outcome is that he starts getting much better results soon. It will be tough to trust him in his next two starts (LAD, @COL), but he could be a solid rotation piece for the rest of September.
Hitters to Sell
Miguel Sano (3B – MIN)
Sano is a player that I often recommend selling in standard roto leagues because he has prodigious power but doesn’t steal bases and is a batting average liability. His numbers to date seem largely sustainable, although his .241 batting average seems like a best-case scenario for a player who is striking out in a whopping 43.4 percent of his plate appearances. Sano always ranks among the league leaders in hard contact — he’s currently sixth, according to Fangraphs — so he can be expected to produce high BABIPs. But his current .395 BABIP is very high even for him, so he’s going to need to cut down on the strikeouts to keep his batting average from plummeting towards the Mendoza line. Regardless, he’s only a three-category player, which severely limits his upside.
Mitch Moreland (1B – BOS)
With a .340 batting average and seven home runs, Moreland’s season has gone about as well as possible so far. We should know by now what we’re getting from Moreland, who is 34 years old and has never had a season where he’s hit higher than .278 or slugged more than 23 homers. He hasn’t suddenly become a different player — his strikeout rate and hard contact rate are right in line with recent seasons. The only thing that’s changed is the batted ball outcomes, which isn’t likely to last. His Statcast data reveals that he is currently outproducing his expected batting average and expected slugging percentage by a sizable margin. Given the lack of depth at first base this year, maybe there’s someone in your league who wants to try to ride out the hot streak.
Willy Adames (SS – TB)
Adames is a former top prospect who is off to a solid start with the bat, hitting .295 with three homers and 19 runs scored through 28 games. But a closer look reveals that he is striking out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances, and his batting average is being kept afloat by an unsustainable .442 BABIP. His power pace is about right — he hit 20 homers last year — but he doesn’t steal many bases, so his fantasy value will be lacking once the batting average settles in the .250-.260 range.
Pitchers to Sell
Lance Lynn (SP – TEX)
There’s nothing wrong with Lynn, who has had a very solid career and a Charlie Morton-Esque late-career resurgence. He was always pretty good in the ERA department, but his strikeout rate has really jumped the last few years, making him a must-own player in all mixed leagues. That said, his current numbers (4 wins, a 1.59 ERA, and a 0.86 WHIP) make him a clear sell-high candidate. Lynn’s .189 BABIP allowed is the third-lowest among starters and his 93.9 percent left-on-base percentage is fourth-lowest. Once those unsustainable metrics normalize, Lynn will go back to being a similar pitcher to the one he was last year, which is still plenty good, but not a fantasy ace.
Players to target: Max Scherzer, Lucas Giolito, Walker Buehler
Zac Gallen (SP – ARI)
I was very high on Gallen coming into the season, and he certainly hasn’t disappointed. There’s little doubt he will be a strong mixed league option for years to come. But when trying to game out the rest of this season, it’s fairly clear that he’s due for some regression. It begins with the fact that he’s stranding 93.8 percent of his baserunners, a highly unsustainable rate, while his .253 BABIP allowed should be more like .300 from here on out. That explains why he has one of the largest differences between his ERA (2.25) and his FIP (3.69). Gallen is a rock-solid second or third fantasy starter, so don’t sell him for peanuts. But if someone in your league believes he’s already a fantasy ace, I wouldn’t be afraid to move him.
Dylan Cease (CP – CHW)
Cease is a highly-regarded young arm who is off to an excellent start for the up-and-coming White Sox, with four wins and a 3.13 ERA after six turns through the rotation. But his success has been largely driven by a high strand rate (84.8 percent) and a low BABIP allowed (.253). Meanwhile, his struggles with walks and home runs have continued, and his strikeout rate has plummeted. Cease may be a 3.00s ERA pitcher in time, but he isn’t there yet. Given his underlying numbers, it’s pretty much even money whether he’ll be able to keep his ERA under 5.00 from this point forward.
Week 5 Trade Advice
This week’s trade advice is to not overvalue your own players. I know it’s hard, and I must admit I am often guilty of this myself. But if we can’t take an objective look at our roster, we’re never going to get any deals done.
The best way to wipe out your own biases is to take a cold hard look at the underlying numbers, which is what I try to help you do here each week. Try to figure out which of your players are performing at a sustainable level and which ones are due for some serious regression. Don’t be upset if you find that one of your players is due to get worse — look at it as an exciting opportunity to turn a profit.
Another thing that helps you fight your own biases is to look outward for advice on your players. Consult the rankings of the most accurate experts that we compile at FantasyPros, or ask a friend who knows their stuff but isn’t in your league. If all else fails, I’m always available to give you my two cents if you shoot me a message on Twitter. Thanks for reading everyone!
Whether you’re new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to more advanced strategy – like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel – to learn more.