Buy High, Sell Low: Week 1 (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
The purpose of any transaction between two parties is to buy at a price that eventually rises to the point where you can sell for a “profit.” It’s no different in fantasy baseball.
What is different is how this article is constructed compared to most others. Normally, in those same transactions, the approach is to buy at a low point so that we can sell higher. Indeed, that’s the ideal path to take. But, what happens if we simply can’t our target at a reasonable price? Do we walk away from the deal?
In many cases, yes. But not here.
This series focuses on players whose prices are already high but are expected to go higher. Conversely, where we would like to sell a struggling asset before the price drops, we also have to explore those we need to cut bait. Let them go. Sell at a low — or for nothing.
I wrote this same column in 2020, and it took a different form than what we would expect during a full season. This is because, in last year’s 60-game sprint, making quick decisions on players was a necessity. Now, we will take on a bit more risk. Selling a player at too low of a price or buying at a peak will have implications that last months. Then again, such bold moves are often what win fantasy leagues.
Hitters to Buy
Alex Bregman (3B – HOU)
As Draft Day approached, one of the hot topics was about the “rebound potential” of Alex Bregman. He was, in a word, “bad” in 2020 — six total home runs and a batting average of .242. Essentially, every number was a significant step down from his career baseline.
We are roughly one week into the 2021 regular season, and Bregman is recovering in a big way. He’s hitting .429 with two home runs and a .726 slugging percentage.
There’s no way around it. The asking price will be high. Remember, however, that Bregman was regularly a first-round pick in last year’s fantasy drafts and only fell this year because of poor numbers in a short season. He’s already on his way back into first-round caliber, and there are still 155 or so games to get the best of what’s to come from Bregman.
Joey Gallo (OF – TEX)
During Draft Season, it was quite clear that Joey Gallo’s low ADP was driven solely by the fear of a disastrous batting average — one that would completely sink a team, despite the obvious power he brings to the table. Through the first handful of games in the 2021 regular season, Gallo is showing that he can put bat-to-ball and prevent such a painful batting average.
Right now, it would be foolish to acquire Gallo by thinking that his average is going to remain high. That’s why we aren’t buying in for that reason. We’re simply willing to pay a premium for the Texas Rangers’ slugger because he isn’t an all-or-nothing dart throw at the plate. Anyone would have taken 40-home run potential around a .250 batting average, and it suddenly looks like that is more possible than we originally thought.
Luis Arraez (2B – MIN)
Before the season, FantasyPros had Luis Arraez projected as the league leader in batting average. Currently, Arraez is batting a robust .389 with a .500 on-base percentage.
The tradeoff with Arraez is that he simply won’t give any power — he has four total home runs — and he also won’t steal bases — with only two in his career. Still, he can legitimately compete for a batting title, and rotisserie leagues specifically value rosters that can stay afloat with batting average.
Even if Arraez’s numbers start to level off — which is likely considering his batting average is so high — there is still so much of the season left that a fantasy manager would be able to reap the rewards.
Pitchers to Buy
John Means (SP – BAL)
By the time you read this, John Means might have already taken the mound for his next start. He might have struggled. He might have erased all gains from his first start. He might have been a foolish add to this article.
He also might have dominated for another start and caused his price to rise even more.
Means is already on everyone’s radar after a stellar performance in his first start of the year — 0 ER, H, 5 K over 7IP — but the story goes farther back than that. Fantasy managers remember how solid Means was in his rookie campaign, and the young left-hander appeared to be poised for a breakout. He then opened 2020 with reports of a “dead arm” and never fully reached his 2019 levels.
Means putting together one of the best starts of the first week of the season is not a surprise to those who bought into him two years ago. If he puts together another start that approximates his first one — it’s hard to ask him to match it — then he’s certainly going to gain more attention. It’s warranted. The only issue that has derailed Means in the past appears to be injuries, and he looks like he’s fully healthy and ready to continue delivering.
Zack Greinke (SP – HOU)
Before the season, I wrote about Zack Greinke as one of the most important pieces to any fantasy team. This was because innings may be limited for some of the younger arms, and Greinke should be exempt from such a cap.
This wasn’t entirely true in his first start — he was pulled after throwing only 82 pitches — but there’s reason to believe this was more because of pitching in April than anything else. Overall, he still dominated through six innings, allowing just three hits.
Greinke probably won’t deliver a high strikeout rate, but if he can continue to rack up innings, his numbers will naturally inflate over the field. His first two starts — a combined two earned runs allowed over 13 innings — are thoroughly encouraging that he still has more left in the tank.
Joe Musgrove (SP – SD)
Fantasy managers were as aggressive as the San Diego Padres when it came to adding Joe Musgrove during this offseason, and it appears as if both parties are happy with the move. Musgrove threw six shutout innings, gave up three hits, and struck out eight batters. What more could anyone want?
Naturally, people will expect regression, and it’s clearly going to happen since Musgrove’s ERA sits at a perfect 0.00. Still, he went from the nonexistent run support of the Pittsburgh Pirates to the win-now San Diego Padres, and he’s already doing his part. There’s a good chance that Musgrove easily outperforms his rising asking price as the season continues.
Hitters to Sell
Joc Pederson (OF – CHC)
Every so often, we will see a player change teams, have a new role, and thrive. This has not been the case with Joc Pederson.
The left-handed slugger has always been known for power without batting average, but he’s taking the latter quite literally. Through the first week of the regular season, Pederson doesn’t have a hit.
Fantasy managers knew the inherent risk of drafting Pederson, but the threat runs deeper than his current poor numbers. His job is simply not stable, and, considering that he bats from the left-hand side, he could easily find himself in a platoon regularly.
Joey Votto (1B – CIN)
I find myself regularly drafting Joey Votto late, and it has occasionally been worth the small investment. It looks like that is no longer the case. Votto is currently batting .182 on the year.
No problem, right? Votto is known for his ability to get on base via walks as well as hits.
Except, he hasn’t recorded a single walk.
Votto is an odd case because his numbers are so low that he would have to put together a strong hot streak for him to return to the hitter we have seen over the years. We wouldn’t want to miss that. The issue is that we have seen no signs of said hot streak emerging, and he isn’t worth the roster spot until a rebound is imminent.
Votto’s Cincinnati Reds have also scored no fewer than five runs in a game and a combined 46 through their first six matchups. That’s the most in Major League Baseball. Votto has been nonexistent, either scoring or driving in a total of three runs.
Matt Chapman (3B – OAK)
Matt Chapman appeared to be a Draft Day steal throughout the offseason, typically falling so far that a fantasy manager felt he or she had landed on the perfect value play. One week into the season, the numbers are strongly favoring those who passed on Chapman instead of those who bought into him.
Drafting Chapman was an effort in drafting home runs, as one look at his season-by-season numbers shows that he could produce tremendous power over a full 162 games. He increased his home run output from 2017 to 2018 and then again from 2018 to 2019. The shortened 2020 season is easy to cast aside — good or bad — but that was the approach taken with targeting his upward trajectory. At the time of this writing, he is without a home run.
His team’s lack of offense is also sinking Chapman at the moment. The Oakland Athletics are tied for last place in the American League in runs scored. They will certainly show some life soon — as will Chapman — but there’s a chance his stock continues to slide. I’d want to sell him now to someone who considers him a “Buy Low” candidate.
Pitchers to Sell
Madison Bumgarner (SP – ARI)
People have been writing and talking about it for years, but it looks like we might finally be seeing the end of Madison Bumgarner’s fantasy baseball relevance. For the first eleven seasons of his Major League career, Bumgarner managed to keep his ERA under 4.00 by the end of the year. In 2020, however, he finally imploded with a pathetic 6.48 ERA over nine starts.
Anyone buying into Bumgarner for 2021 was clearly seeking a rebound, but his first start of the year was anything but encouraging. Through one turn of the rotation for nearly every team, Bumgarner has the highest ERA in the league.
He will clearly put together better performances than what he delivered in his first of the year, but the arrow is no longer pointing up for one of the best and most consistent starting pitchers of the last 15 years.
Rich Hill (SP – TB)
I just wrote about the consistency and longevity of Madison Bumgarner now in his 13th season, but Rich Hill has him beat in terms of career length. By four years. At age 41, Hill is pitching for his tenth team in 17 years. The results so far? Not great. An ERA of 9.00 in his one start that only lasted four innings.
It gets worse.
Hill’s WHIP is a bloated 1.750, and his FIP is over 6.00. On top of that, he also only struck out four batters, so he isn’t even helping there.
The Rays have proven to be one of the most forward-thinking and successful teams in the league, and they have done great work with pitchers. That’s one of the reasons why people would have drafted Hill. The reality is that the team also has a short leash, and there may not be enough opportunities for Hill to work his way toward his better games.
Chris Bassitt (SP – OAK)
About two weeks before the season began, I wrote an article about Negative Regression Candidates. I didn’t directly name Chris Bassitt, but I mentioned that his numbers were severely against him. Now that the season has begun, Bassitt has done little to erase these concerns.
In his one start, Bassitt allowed three earned runs over 5.1 innings. It wasn’t terrible, but it’s a far cry from his outstanding 2.29 ERA from a season ago. More importantly, he had an incredibly low strikeout rate in his great 2020 campaign, and it has started even lower in 2021. There’s nothing to suggest that Bassitt will suddenly start missing bats.
If he can’t help fantasy teams with strikeouts, then we are only relying on him delivering another career-best ERA to be valuable. I’m not leaning on that expectation.
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