Buy High, Sell Low: J.D. Martinez, Trea Turner, Charlie Blackmon (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
We’ve made it! We are officially into the second month of the 2021 Major League Baseball season.
Remember how often you have read about it being too early to act on any numbers?
Maybe, just maybe, it is no longer “too early.”
It’s now May, and we have to consider that a “slow start” might be the unfortunate start of a player’s season that will never fully get to the point we expected. Conversely, we know that breakouts exist on a yearly basis, and it’s entirely possible that a hot April was only the beginning of a career year.
As always, that’s the goal of this column, as we try to identify which players should continue on their current paths.
Hitters to Buy
J.D. Martinez (OF – BOS)
We all should have seen this coming.
In fairness, some did. Some fantasy managers and analysts were buying into J.D. Martinez rebounding after a poor 2020, and they will be rewarded. For the rest of us — remember, Martinez’s ADP was 91 by the end of the offseason — we will need to pay a price to acquire him.
It’s worth it.
Over the last five seasons, Martinez has finished with the following batting averages, in chronological order: .307, .303., .330, .304, .213. Which of these is not like the other?
Martinez has always been an outstanding source of batting average with power. That hasn’t changed. His drop in 2020 was nothing more than a buying opportunity and, while his price is soaring higher, so are his numbers.
Trea Turner (SS – WSH)
It’s happening. Trea Turner is emerging as the fantasy baseball star many expected over the past few years.
Turner is now 28 years old and coming off a 12-12 season — home runs and stolen bases — over 59 games. Prior to the year, he showed no reason for anyone to think he will run less, and the projection is that his power will only grow.
As of this writing, Turner is already ahead of the pace he set last year for both stolen bases and home runs. As an added bonus, his batting average is back above .300, while his career mark sits at .296 — a good indication that little will change in that department.
Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF – ATL)
This will probably be the easiest write-up I have had since starting this column last year. Go get Ronald Acuna, Jr., even at a premium.
The “premium” is going to astronomical. Acuna is not only a player who can directly carry a team toward a fantasy baseball championship, but he’s someone everyone knows can directly carry a team toward a fantasy baseball championship. That isn’t easy to pry away from another manager. Still, the effort must be made.
Acuna’s numbers are essentially perfect across the board. He hits for average, power, and mixes in some stolen bases — although it is unlikely that he reaches the lofty expectations of 40-40 anytime soon. The key to Acuna is that he is consistently great. We don’t have to question if any part of his game will suddenly decline, as he is only getting better with each swing of the bat.
Pitchers to Buy
Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD)
It’s become an annual tradition to question whether or not this is the year Clayton Kershaw will stop producing like a future Hall-of-Fame pitcher. It’s also become a tradition for him to continue producing like a future Hall-of-Fame pitcher.
This isn’t confined to only 2021 or a randomly selected season from the last decade. Kershaw has finished in the top ten for the Cy Young Award nine times in the last ten years. His only miss? He still delivered a 2.73 ERA!
Right now, Kershaw is pitching to a 2.95 ERA with a FIP of 2.55 – and that’s after his blowup against the Cubs on Tuesday. His strikeout rate isn’t amazing, but it’s just over one-per-inning, right in line with the past few years’ results.
Simply put, Kershaw isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He’s a name that already carries value, but he’s pitching to his own high watermark.
Brandon Woodruff (SP – MIL)
While the talk of the Milwaukee Brewers’ pitching staff has largely circled around Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff is quietly putting together a fantastic season. He enters Wednesday with a 1.80 ERA and 2.14 FIP. The best part? Woodruff’s hot stretch is both sustainable and understandable.
Last year, Woodruff dropped his ERA from 3.62 in 2019 to an impressive 3.05. His strikeout rate increased, and, overall, he put together his best season in Major League Baseball – as well as one of the best sets of numbers among all starting pitchers.
Now, Woodruff is simply carrying this success into 2021. The aforementioned Burnes breakout is certainly stealing some of the spotlight, but let it outshine what Woodruff is also doing.
Aaron Nola (SP – PHI)
I used the word “quietly” to describe Woodruff’s emergence, but has anyone’s excellent season been quieter than Aaron Nola’s? He’s currently pitching to a 2.89 ERA and 2.43 FIP. It’s the seventh-lowest FIP in the league among qualified pitchers.
These numbers are not exactly new for Nola. He finished 2018 with a 2.37 ERA – his career-best – and his strikeout rate is actually down compared to the last two seasons. The key, therefore, is his FIP. It’s at a career low and is a good indicator that Nola is simply developing into a better pitcher. That’s not surprising, considering he’s 27 years old and arguably in the prime of his career.
Hitters to Sell
Charlie Blackmon (OF – COL)
I’ve been holding off as long as possible before writing these words, but there is simply no reason to keep Charlie Blackmon on a fantasy baseball roster anymore. Indeed, his batting average has finally ticked up toward .200, but even if you were targeting him as a “buy-low” candidate, where can he go from here?
Blackmon has exactly one home run on the season. He isn’t stealing bases, and the only beacon of home would be said batting average. That’s if he starts hitting a clip close to .400 for the next few months.
Blackmon was once a fantasy star, but the shine has faded.
David Dahl (OF – TEX)
The argument in David Dahl’s favor during the offseason was easy to make: he is entering his age-27 season, moving to a new team — with a potential of jump-starting his career — and he simply needs to stay healthy in order to perform — he has constantly shown flashes of a bright future, but couldn’t stay on the field. Granted, moving from Colorado to any other team would bring a perceived drop in offense due to the absence of the league’s most hitter-friendly ballpark, but Texas’ new stadium was still too young to determine how big of a drop he would experience.
Now, we are starting to see why the Colorado Rockies moved on from Dahl in the offseason. He isn’t developing, even with increasing playing time. As of now, he is batting a dismal .191 with a putrid .292 slugging percentage. That’s right. More than 30 qualified hitters have a higher batting average than Dahl’s slugging percentage.
I need not go on. I was a believer in Dahl both in Colorado and with his new opportunity in Texas, but it isn’t happening.
Cavan Biggio (2B/3B/OF – TOR)
Cavan Biggio is an odd case. Normally, by the time I write about players in the “Sell Low” category, they have fallen to the point where the most likely landing spot for them is the waiver wire. That isn’t the case with Biggio. He still has value on a fantasy team. The problem is that it appears difficult to determine just how much value.
Biggio probably isn’t going to give enough stolen bases to matter in that department, so let’s cross that off the list of “paths to value.” He does have enough power to avoid being a complete non-factor with home runs, but his ceiling is likely in the mid-20s. If he gets there, it’ll be a nice run for the rest of the season. If.
Then we have the batting average. Biggio isn’t actually known for a high batting average either — at least, not an outstanding one. Including his Minor League seasons, he finished above .285 just once. That season also included a .352 BABIP — batting average on balls in play — which was easily the highest of his career. That is where we can see some slight improvement for Biggio, as his BABIP is currently below his career average. Even if that corrects positively, it isn’t likely to do much.
Ultimately, there really isn’t much behind Biggio at the moment to expect a big turnaround, but he carries enough name value to warrant a potential trade. It will be a lower price, but such is the nature of this game.
Pitchers to Sell
Kenta Maeda (SP – MIN)
I’ve held out as long as possible, but I must list Kenta Maeda in this column. My hesitation was not because I expected a turnaround — I didn’t — but because I was selling him from the offseason and had to wait for confirmation to avoid any semblance of a bias.
Now, the numbers speak for themselves. Maeda is pitching to a 5.34 ERA. It’s easy to think this will lead to a “buy-low” setup, but the underlying statistics are not promising. His xERA is 4.43, while his FIP is 5.27. The latter ranks third-worst among all qualified pitchers.
Now is the time to move on from Maeda. Even if he puts together a slight rebound, it doesn’t look like it will hold.
Steven Matz (SP – TOR)
Remember when Steven Matz was performing like one of the best pitchers in the league? It didn’t last, and he now ranks in the bottom-15 among qualified pitchers for FIP. He’s gone so far in the opposite direction that a positive correction is actually likely. After that, however, the future appears to be bleak.
I constantly write about how to utilize this article, and Matz is the perfect example. Fantasy managers know that he has declined, and they will assume — correctly — that someone is trying to cut bait before things get worse. That’s right. Embrace it. We’re “selling low” because we know we can’t get as much as we would like for our assets. Matz is one of these assets.
Matt Harvey (SP – BAL)
It almost looked like Matt Harvey was back to his old form. Almost. He started the season with a decent outing that then turned into one dud, followed by a few more performances that slowly helped lower his ERA. Overall, his numbers are fine. Unfortunately for Harvey, “fine” is probably his current peak.
Harvey’s FIP is good — 3.50 — but his xFIP is 4.54, while his xERA is 4.55. Put another way, he’s still on the verge of a negative regression, even if it doesn’t happen immediately.
The market for Harvey is most likely cold at this point, but he isn’t worth holding onto now that we have seen a month’s worth of his starts. He made a push back toward relevancy but doesn’t look like it will last.
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