In last week’s column, I mentioned the difficult decision fantasy managers face by either discounting a pitcher’s first few starts or taking them too seriously. We are now entering the territory where sample sizes are growing large enough to use for key choices.
The downside of this is the asking price. Three good weeks for a player is enough for someone to raise their demands and hold firm. As always, that is the purpose of this particular piece. We know we will have to pay a premium, and we’re willing to do it.
We also know that people are looking to “buy low,” and that’s where our sales come into place. We can meet the needs of others and cut bait by “selling low” on a player who is not showing any signs of a better future.
Hitters to Buy
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B/3B – TOR)
“Is this the season Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. truly arrives as a hitter?” That was the question many asked leading up to Opening Day, and it looks like Guerrero is answering with a resounding “Yes.” Batting .368/.493/.632, he already has four home runs on the young season.
What more could we want from Guerrero? A tremendous prospect for years, he would eventually get a fair chance to break out in the majors. He’s had his chance, and he’s making the most of it.
So yes, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has truly arrived as a prolific hitter.
Jazz Chisholm (2B/SS – MIA)
I always take it seriously when a player or team proves me wrong. Jazz Chisholm is proving me wrong.
I did not expect Chisholm’s offense to develop so quickly, yet he has emerged as one of baseball’s top fantasy shortstops. It’s not too likely that he finishes the season in the position’s upper echelon, but he is also not going away anytime soon. His stock is still rising.
As of this writing, Chisholm ranks 10th in Offensive WAR, and none of his underlying metrics are concerning. What’s most impressive about Chisholm is that he is contributing in all categories. He’s stealing bases, hitting for power, and maintaining a high batting average. His RBI total (six) is a little light, but that’s an easy trade-off given his well-rounded numbers.
Kris Bryant (3B/OF – CHC)
After winning the National League Rookie of the Year in 2015 and National League MVP in 2016, Kris Bryant had fallen far. His low point of 2020 provided a perfect bounce-back opportunity in 2021, and many fantasy managers took advantage of the low acquisition price. Three weeks into the season, the returns are easily positive relative to Bryant’s preseason ADP.
Compared to the prior two hitters on this list, buying Bryant would not necessarily be considered “buying high,” as his .265 batting average is below his .280 career mark. Still, he has returned to form and already hit more home runs (five) in 15 games than he did in all of 2020 (four). As long as his batting average doesn’t plummet, Bryant still has plenty of upside over the full 2021 campaign.
Pitchers to Buy
Corbin Burnes (SP – MIL)
Like so many other young pitchers, many of whom played with the Milwaukee Brewers over the past few years, the main concern for Corbin Burnes was his role. That is, would he get the opportunity to start?
Milwaukee gave him the ball, and he has not disappointed. Over his first four starts of 2021, Burnes allowed a total of one earned run. One!
There aren’t enough superlatives to properly describe how well Burnes is pitching right now, and the only fair comment to make is that no fantasy manager will part with him easily. So be it. We’re here to overpay, and we must pay a massive premium for Burnes.
Dane Dunning (SP – TEX)
While he hasn’t topped what we have seen from Burnes in the first few weeks of the season, Dane Dunning has also been outstanding. His ERA sits at an amazing 0.60, and he has tallied 16 strikeouts in 15 innings.
This appears to be a “red flag” for a fantasy manager currently in control of Dunning. The easy assumption is that since the impossibly low ERA won’t last — which it won’t, because it can’t — Dunning can be “sold high.” This is why managers should plan to buy. Despite the imminent regression, Dunning’s 2.20 FIP and 2.54 xERA are also excellent — he resides among the top-20 pitchers with at least 10 innings in both categories. Even after Dunning comes back down to Earth, there is still room to grow.
Gerrit Cole (SP – NYY)
It feels weird to add Gerrit Cole to this list. We know how good he is and how great he can be, but we’ve also seen the fantasy baseball community question his dominance. Yet Cole ranks fifth among qualified starters in strikeout rate and has a 1.82 ERA and 0.92 FIP.
Likely selected near the end of the first round in most leagues, Cole’s high price tag means he needs to deliver nothing short of outstanding numbers. He’s doing it, and there’s no reason to think he will stop.
Hitters to Sell
Ryan Mountcastle (1B/OF – BAL)
I mentioned being wrong on Chisholm, and it looks like I was wrong on Ryan Mountcastle, too. The problem? It was also in the wrong direction. Double wrong.
Right now, Mountcastle isn’t hitting. Period. He’s not giving power, and he’s certainly not giving batting average. The Baltimore Orioles will be patient with one of their future bright spots, but they can afford to take their time with Mountcastle. Fantasy managers can’t. He’s batting .177 with one home run, seven RBIs, and six runs scored.
I am certainly not closing the door on Mountcastle forever, or even the remainder of 2021, but he’s a player to sell right now.
Dansby Swanson (SS – ATL)
One of the most important trends to watch in fantasy baseball is the follow-through from a breakout. For example, Christian Yelich quickly developed into one of the best hitters in baseball, and then followed his breakout campaign with another outstanding year.
Dansby Swanson is going in the opposite direction. He had the best season of his career — at least, on a per-game basis — in 2020, but he is erasing all of his gains. He has just one home run, three runs scored, four runs batted in, and is hitting a paltry .190.
The irony? One of my first articles for FantasyPros was searching for the next Yelich. Swanson was one of the players I named as a 2020 target. He delivered, but it looks like he reached his ceiling.
Ian Happ (2B/OF – CHC)
Ian Happ is in almost the same situation as Swanson. After enjoying a breakout 2020, he is now undoing his positive moves by hitting just .160 with one home run and one RBI.
The argument for Happ entering last season was that an increase in playing time would yield better results. Now, we are seeing the same increase expose him. He may eventually creep back toward the 2020 version of himself that carried many fantasy teams, but he is nowhere near that player right now.
Pitchers to Sell
Luis Castillo (SP – CIN)
For the bulk of 2020, I kept writing about Luis Castillo and his disconnect between ERA and FIP. He was the perfect “positive regression” candidate, where the numbers indicated better days were still ahead.
They never arrived.
Indeed, Castillo’s numbers by season’s end were solid, but they took an arduous road to get there. The hope, for many, was that he’d reach his full potential in 2021.
After Tuesday’s start, Castillo is 1-1 with a 6.05 ERA and just 16 strikeouts in 19.1 innings.
According to FanGraphs, his fastball velocity is slightly down compared to last year. If he couldn’t improve with higher velocity in 2020, what makes anyone think he will recover in 2021? The short answer: We can’t expect such a rebound anymore.
Kyle Hendricks (SP – CHC)
Any way that we slice the numbers, Kyle Hendricks has been terrible in 2021. The unfortunate part for him and his fantasy managers is that there is no indication he will improve.
Like Castillo, Hendricks’ fastball velocity is down from last year, but his strikeout rate is actually higher. That’s the end of the good news. Hendricks’ 6.92 ERA, 8.07 FIP, and 5.07 xFIP are all pitiful. The Cubs are also last in the NL Central and have yet to offer any help in the win department. Quite frankly, nothing is redeeming about Hendricks. Don’t wait for a turnaround that may never arrive.
Tarik Skubal (SP – DET)
Tarik Skubal was not likely a high draft selection in any fantasy leagues, but he was a promising part of Detroit’s young rotation member of a starting rotation thanks to his prospect pedigree and impressive strikeout rate as a rookie.
What happens, then, when the strikeout rate drops and the ERA rises? We face the difficult position of cutting Skubal.
There is no reason to hold onto him. He’s failing in every category, and the underlying numbers are even worse than the surface statistics.
Skubal will continue to get opportunities to pitch through his woes, but there’s no saying he will stick in the Tigers’ rotation for much longer. Buy back in only when he improves.
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