Buy High, Sell Low: Byron Buxton, Tyler Glasnow, Giancarlo Stanton (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
While the first installment of this column focused on the immediate reaction to the start of the season, we are now moving into a timeframe where frustration is going to play a role in how fantasy managers think. For example, one bad start by a pitcher could be forgiven, but what about two or three?
Week 2 also presents a new element to the mix: standings. For any head-to-head leagues, teams can directly see where they rank against their opponents. Once again, this brings out the element of panic.
The opposite side of this equation is the expectation that a player is going to revert back to the mean. In time, that’s probably true, but we are looking to buy now for the long haul, even if the players are already at a current high point. Such is the purpose of this column.
Hitters to Buy
Byron Buxton (OF – MIN)
I’m scared to write these words, but go get Byron Buxton. Why “scared?” Because we know. We know the risk with Buxton, and we know that we are on the verge of being fooled again — we already saw it in the infant stages of this season where Buxton missed a game due to an illness, and we saw it again on Wednesday where he sat out both games of the doubleheader because of a tight hamstring. He simply can’t stay on the field.
With that being said, I’m still buying. There’s a reason why Buxton was so highly touted throughout all of his years as a prospect, and there’s a reason why so many of us continually go back to him season-after-season. He has all the makings of a stud hitter.
Right now, he’s hitting like one. Entering Wednesday, Buxton ranked first in the league in Offensive WAR, ahead of Ronald Acuna, Jr., J.D. Martinez, and Mike Trout. Those names should tell you that he isn’t competing with hot streaks. Buxton may finally be ready to deliver on the promises from years past. Even with the inherent injury risks, I’m willing to pay a premium to acquire him.
Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B – COL)
If we’re targeting players who have continually broken the hearts of fantasy managers and taken a while to develop — read: Buxton, Byron above — then we have to include Ryan McMahon. The good news is that he shouldn’t cost nearly as much as Buxton, despite having some excellent fantasy baseball assets — namely, hitting in Colorado and multi-position eligibility.
Of course, McMahon isn’t performing at Buxton’s level, and past history of the Rockies’ refusal to commit to players is always something to monitor. Still, McMahon has started every game since Opening Day and has five home runs through his first ten contests. There is no reason for us to expect that he’s suddenly going to fall off the map, and the bursts of success that we have seen from him are indications that he can continue to deliver.
Austin Meadows (OF – TB)
Anyone who drafted Austin Meadows had one clear thought: bounceback. The Tampa Bay Rays’ outfielder put together such a poor 2020 campaign to piggyback an excellent 2019 that it crushed his ADP. Many fantasy managers pounced on the discount, and the early returns are great — entering Tuesday, Meadows was in the top-20 for Offensive WAR.
Meadows’ batting average is still lagging behind, but his walk rate is up, strikeout rate is down, and he’s showing some power. What’s even better is that his BABIP is currently at a career-low, so there’s a clear path to improved numbers — at least in the batting average. It looks like that “bounceback” really is coming to fruition.
Pitchers to Buy
Tyler Glasnow (SP – TB)
How can we question Tyler Glasnow at this point? Not only has he been completely dominant to start the season, but he’s pitching deep into games. That was the concern prior to 2020 — a potential innings limit — and it was eased by the shortened season. The same argument arose again for 2021 — mainly because Glasnow has only once thrown more than 65 innings in a season, and it was capped at 111.2, at that — but we have to start to back off from that worry. Glasnow has completed at least six innings in each of his three starts, and his latest outing left him one out away from an eight-inning performance.
Glasnow leads all qualified pitchers in WAR, FIP, and xERA. He will cost a tremendous amount in any trade, but there’s no indication that he’s going to slow down from his current pace. Even if — and likely when — his innings are capped, he will have provided enough value to a fantasy team that he will be worth the high asking price. That’s why I would want to buy now before we get too deep into the season and reach the point where we can’t capitalize on his excellence.
Lance Lynn (SP – CWS)
Despite entering his age-34 season, Lance Lynn was going to pitch in 2021 as a workhorse. That, alone, gave him value, as we can generally expect many pitchers to not reach the high threshold of 200 innings. In addition to giving length, Lynn is simply shutting down opponents. Through two starts, he has not allowed a single earned run.
Naturally, that will change. Lynn will get hit, and his pristine resume will start to tarnish. Based on his past few seasons, however, there’s no reason to think that his regression will be drastic. He has actually finished a season with an ERA over 4.00 just once in his 10-year career. At this point, even if you weren’t a believer — I certainly wasn’t — we can’t argue the numbers. Lynn will be viewed as a “sell-high” option by fantasy managers, but the reality is that he has plenty to give over his next 30 or so starts.
Sandy Alcantara (SP – MIA)
It appears as if Sandy Alcantara is on the verge of a breakout, as well as delivering on the high standards set when he was a prospect. Through three starts in 2021, Alcantara has a beautiful 2.45 ERA and the fifth-best xERA among qualified pitchers. His strikeout rate is pressing against his career-high — back in his first season, 2017, in which he threw only 8.1 innings — and his ERA has now dropped in three consecutive years.
Despite his hot start, Alcantara doesn’t have a win on the season. That’s not a surprise, given the overall struggles of his team. Still, he is continuing to grow as a pitcher, and we could be looking at one of the highest risers from when the season began to where the numbers land at the end.
Hitters to Sell
Giancarlo Stanton (OF – NYY)
The huge metaphorical elephant in the room is always the health of Giancarlo Stanton. We often argue that if he can stay on the field, he will produce like a top-flight fantasy asset — especially in the power department. What do we do, then, when Stanton is on the field but isn’t hitting?
Really, we worry. In this case, we look to sell low — before his stock plummets.
Entering Wednesday, Stanton is ranked 24th-worst among qualified hitters in Offensive WAR. He’s batting just .175, and, most importantly, he has only one hone run on the season.
Stanton’s real concern is that we could always hear, without prior warning, that this cold streak is due to an underlying ailment. His track record shows us that it’s a risk and, if that were to be the case, he would carry absolutely no value on the trade market. I would want to capitalize now, despite how depleted the return might be.
Myles Straw (OF – HOU)
Myles Straw was an ideal late-round target for speed, especially in a deep Houston Astros lineup — where, if led off, he would have an uptick in runs scored. The good news? Houston has been excellent offensively — fifth-most runs scored per game — so half of the necessary formula is working. The bad news? Straw has been nonexistent.
Through eleven games, Straw is batting just .222 and has been on base only 13 times. He has swiped three bags but was also caught once.
Straw is simply not worth holding in hopes of better offensive output. If he turns his season around and starts to emerge, it’s likely that he can be added, but there are no signs that it’s about to happen.
James McCann (C – NYM)
The New York Mets made it a priority to improve their lineup for 2021, and James McCann was expected to be one of the reasons for such a boost. Fantasy managers bought in, especially at such a thin position as catcher.
The early returns have not lived up to the hype. McCann’s on-base percentage is only .261, let alone his batting average sitting below .200. He doesn’t have a home run, which is not necessarily a surprise considering his career-high was 18, and he only has 65 total through eight years.
There’s always time for McCann to improve — he will be given plenty of opportunities — but his batting average is hurting fantasy teams while he has only contributed one run scored and one run batted in.
Pitchers to Sell
Marco Gonzales (SP – SEA)
Like the aforementioned Lance Lynn, Marco Gonzales was given a boost during Draft Season because of his ability to throw a high number of innings. He reached 200 in 2019, fell just short of 70 in the shortened 2020, and all signs pointed to this trend continuing in the right direction.
That is, as long as his numbers aren’t so dismal that he cannot continue to pitch regularly.
Through two games, Gonzales has been flat-out terrible. His ERA is the third-worst of anyone with at least 10 innings pitched, and his FIP is an impossible 9.63.
There’s a positive regression in Gonzales’ future, as his 3.10 ERA from 2020 shows us that he can work through it. The real issue is that he has never been known for strikeouts, and he carries so much of his value from limiting damage via ERA. If he isn’t improving — his walk rate and home run rate are astronomical — then he isn’t valuable to a fantasy team.
Ryan Yarbrough (SP – TB)
We often rely on the Tampa Bay Rays to get the most out of their pitchers, which is one reason why people were willing to buy into Ryan Yarbrough. After his initial dip to start the season, he was available at a discount. Another opportunity to buy.
By now, Yarbrough has fallen to the point where he is not worth the investment. His ERA and xERA are through the roof — although his FIP is quite good. The issue is that, like Gonzales, Yarbrough doesn’t strike out nearly enough batters to justify his high ERA. It has also been well-documented that his velocity is trickling downward — according to FanGraphs, all four of his pitchers are slower in 2021 than they were in 2020 — so he remains exposed until he can solve batters a different way.
Nick Pivetta (SP – BOS)
On the surface, Nick Pivetta has been quite solid for the Boston Red Sox, so his name appearing in this list as a “Sell Low” candidate might be surprising. That’s because we’ll be taking a peek beneath said surface, where we go from Pivetta’s 3.27 ERA to an xERA of 4.48 and an xFIP of 5.13.
With Pivetta’s numbers showing well, fantasy managers are in a weird position. Some might view him as a “Sell High,” where I am arguing the opposite case. Still, he is being highlighted because, as soon as his numbers begin to catch up with the underlying metrics, his value will crumble. I would want to have offloaded him by then.
Beyond our fantasy baseball content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you navigate your season. From our Trade Analyzer – which allows you to instantly find out if a trade offer benefits you or your opponent – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball season.