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Dynasty Pitchers to Buy or Sell (Fantasy Baseball 2020)

by Brendan Tuma | @toomuchtuma | Featured Writer
Oct 15, 2020

Trading in fantasy sports is a lot like playing the stock market. We want to “buy” assets when we think their value will increase, and we want to “sell” assets when our research shows us that we should expect their value to decrease. The key, then, is to find the right time to both buy and sell — and to ensure we are receiving proper value in return.

As an extreme example, would it make sense to sell Justin Verlander (Tommy John surgery) in a dynasty league right now? Potentially, but his value has already plummeted. It’s unlikely that we would get much in return for him right now. Instead, let’s focus on some more under-the-radar names throughout the offseason. As of mid-October, here are some players to buy and sell in your dynasty baseball leagues.

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Sell: Trevor Bauer (SP – CIN)

Context is important here, as Bauer is very likely going to remain a valuable fantasy asset in 2021 and beyond. Similar to how I discussed “selling” Jose Abreu in dynasty leagues last week, we should consider it unlikely that Bauer falls off a cliff anytime soon. The 2020 season was a strange one for many reasons, headlined by the idea that a “full season” worth of data was really just two months. This is going to cause many fantasy analysts to overreact to a small sample, which brings us to Bauer’s 11-start heater.

The National League Cy Young candidate is a known tinkerer, and it’s certainly possible he unlocked something this summer. Bauer was downright special this year, posting a 1.73 ERA (backed up by a 2.17 xERA) to go along with 100 strikeouts in 73 innings. He posted career-highs across the board, including strikeout rate and walk rate. Perhaps this elite-level success can be credited to Bauer’s pitch mixing:

Pitch 2019 Usage  2020 Usage
Fastball 38.5% 40.9%
Curveball 19.6% 15.7%
Slider 13.9% 16.5%
Cutter 16.6% 19.7%
Sinker 3.8% 7.0%
Changeup 7.6% 0.3%

The most notable difference is that Bauer ditched his changeup. This is a tangible change (pun, yes) that could help explain his success. Additionally, the spin rate of Bauer’s fastball increased, which led to him using his four-seamer more confidently. It’s very clear these changes paid off for the 29-year-old impending free agent.

Selling him in dynasty leagues has everything to do with the idea of “selling high.” Bauer’s 11-start sample in 2020 is going to be treated as a full season worth of results by some. He’s known to tinker with pitch usage, as evidenced by the drastic change in his pitching profile from 2018 (2.82 xERA) to 2019 (4.21 xERA). There’s a real fear that he’ll tinker his way out of this recent success. As a free agent this winter, the potential of a new environment adds uncertainty to Bauer’s fantasy value. Already being treated as a top-five SP in early 2021 mock drafts, I want to cash in on Bauer when his value is as high as it’ll likely be for the foreseeable future.

Buy: James Karinchak (RP – CLE)

This one is a bit obvious. If you followed baseball even semi-regularly this season, then you learned the name James Karinchack. You likely don’t need some nerd rattling off his stats to highlight how dominant he was, but I am going to do so anyway. “Special K” threw 27 innings out of the bullpen this summer and struck out 53 batters, which came out to an unholy 48.6% strikeout rate. That trailed only Karinchak’s fellow rookie sensation Devin Williams in all of baseball. Taking a peek at Karinchak’s Baseball Savant page helps paint an even prettier picture. The 25-year-old also finished in the 100th percentile in xBA and xSLG, while finishing a measly 99th percentile in whiff rate.

Suggestions of Brad Hand’s imminent demise proved to be premature following a rough opening week to the summer. Still, it popped the thought into the head of many dynasty league players; what if Karinchak became Cleveland’s closer? Karinchak was already a valuable fantasy asset without earning saves, but if he was the confirmed ninth-inning guy? Oh, man.

Hand ultimately rebounded to post a 2.05 ERA with a 0.77 WHIP in 23 appearances. He was fantastic. However, the Tribe hold a $10 million club option on his 2021 services, which includes a $1 million buyout. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the penny-pinching organization to head in a different direction this winter. Savvy fantasy managers should look to “buy” Karinchak before he establishes himself as a top-three fantasy closer.

Sell: Dustin May (SP – LAD)

This one hurts. I love Dustin May. Do you love Dustin May? Of course you do. We all love Dustin May. He has the best hair in baseball and is one of the most GIF-able pitchers on the internet.

My issue with the 23-year-old flamethrower has everything to do with his perceived value. Through 90 2/3 big league innings, May owns a 2.98 ERA to go along with a 1.09 WHIP. That’s really, really good. May is young, effective, and he pitches for a good team. That seemingly checks all the boxes of SPs we want to roster in dynasty leagues. His behind-the-scenes profile just leaves me wanting more, however:

It’s hilarious to say, because May throws 100 mph, but he’s really a pitch-to-contact type with insane horizontal movement. As mentioned previously, his “stuff” gets a lot of love from GIFs on Twitter, but he really isn’t as much of a bat-misser as his perceived value would lead you to believe. A whiff rate that ranks in the bottom seventh percentile of the league combined with a less-than-ideal strikeout rate means that May will always have to induce weak contact to have success.

Please don’t read this as a recommendation to sell May for whatever you can get. He clearly has some high-level skills when it comes to spin rate, fastball velocity, and movement on his pitches. For fantasy purposes, however, he has the ceiling of an SP2. This is the same reason the fantasy community was knocking Mike Soroka’s value before his Achilles injury. If you roster May in a dynasty format and another manager views him as a top-50 dynasty asset, I’d be okay with shopping him.

Buy: Framber Valdez (SP – HOU)

Valdez saved the Astros’ season. Gerrit Cole left for free agency over the winter, Justin Verlander made just one start, and Zack Greinke finally showed signs of slowing down. That three-headed monster from 2019 was long gone come Summer 2020. Things didn’t go perfectly for Houston this year as they stumbled into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record. It would’ve been much worse if not for Valdez.

The 26-year-old had flashed upside in the past but was considered “behind” popular breakout candidates Josh James and Jose Urquidy in Houston’s rotation. Following a so-so start on July 28th, Valdez was fantastic the rest of the way, putting up a 3.39 ERA that was backed up by a 2.85 xFIP. There were some hiccups that followed, notably an eight-run performance on September 6th, but even that start could be explained away, as it was clear that Valdez was left in one inning too long in an effort to preserve the bullpen.

The key to the southpaw’s breakout was as simple as it gets for pitcher analysis — he struck out hitters on a more regular basis and allowed fewer free passes. Valdez’s 13.5% walk rate ranked in the bottom fifth percentile of qualified pitchers back in 2019. In 2020, he walked just 5.6% of the hitters he faced. Moreover, his strikeout rate increased from 20.7% to 26.4%. That jump in K% was crucial to his success, as an increase in control means that Valdez was throwing more pitches over the plate. Admittedly, he gave up some hard contact. Valdez’s hard-hit rate ranked in the bottom 4% of the league.

This is where we discuss Valdez’s sinker, as he threw it almost 55% of the time in 2020 (up from 41% in 2019). That sinker allowed Valdez to keep balls in play on the ground, which is when we don’t care as much about his hard-hit rate.

To conclude, Valdez allowed fewer walks and was throwing more pitches in the strike zone, which led to an increase in his hard-hit rate. This wasn’t a huge issue because Valdez also struck out more batters than he had in years prior, and many of those hard-hit balls came off his sinker, which meant that they were hit directly into the ground. Your league-mates might not believe his breakout. I’d argue that Valdez can get even better over the course of a full season come 2021.

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Brendan Tuma is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Brendan, check out his archive and follow him @toomuchtuma.

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