Buy High, Sell Low: Carlos Correa, Corbin Burnes, Ian Happ (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Another week is in the books as we move through the middle of June and toward the “Dog Days of Summer.” They haven’t arrived yet, but now is the time to prepare for a playoff push.
Now is the time to be bold.
As always, “bold” applies more to this column than others, where we normally balance risk versus reward. Here, we know we are taking a risk by either paying a premium for a player or moving on too early instead of too late.
Players to Buy High
Carlos Correa (SS – HOU)
What more could we want from Carlos Correa?
Entering Tuesday, he sat in the top-15 for Offensive WAR with a .295 batting average, .390 on-base percentage, and 14 home runs. Much of this can be attributed to the prior seven days, during which he hit an absurd .364 with a .517 on-base percentage and three home runs.
The landscape at shortstop is quite deep, but there’s no denying that Correa is producing at an outstanding level.
Perhaps the most surprising number for Correa’s season is his soft-hit percentage. Normally, the lower the number, the better indicator for success. Not here. Correa’s soft-hit percentage is the third-highest of his career. Conversely, his hard-hit percentage is only a slight tick above his career average.
Why doesn’t this matter? Because Correa might be changing his hitting approach for the better.
In his prior six seasons, Correa’s swing percentage at pitches outside of the strike zone was never lower than 27.7. Now it’s 24.4. As a result, he is seeing a career-best walk rate and a career-low strikeout rate.
It’s also easy to forget how young Correa is. He will play almost the entire season at age 26. It’s quite possible that he is continuing to emerge and evolve as a hitter, and fantasy managers are reaping the rewards.
Corbin Burnes (SP – MIL)
Remember when Corbin Burnes was one of the elite, dominant pitchers of the season? It was in the middle of that incredible run when I wrote about “Buying High” on Burnes. For the first time.
The second time has arrived.
I won’t take any credit for listing Burnes in this column as the purpose is to target players who have already started to rise. I wasn’t ahead of the curve with him, just along the curve. Said curve has now curled back downward in a completely acceptable regression.
Now we can buy as the second wave begins.
Burnes’ ERA still sits at an outstanding 2.62 despite coming off his worst game of the season. In addition to the regression, we can forgive his last start as it took place in the hitter haven of Colorado.
Overall, I’m still buying Burnes and ideally trying to add at this dip while acknowledging that I might have to pay a premium for his early-season body of work.
Alex Cobb (SP – LAA)
On the surface, Alex Cobb may not look like the “Buy High” type.
Underneath, he’s the ideal candidate.
Not only is Cobb’s strikeout rate insanely high compared to his career average, but it is at least 50 percent higher than almost every prior season to date. This improvement doesn’t appear to be an accident. Cobb’s fastball, curveball, and changeup are all being thrown at a velocity faster than their respective career averages.
It gets better. There’s still room to grow. A lot of it.
Cobb’s ERA is a pedestrian 4.41 — actually higher than last year’s. His xERA, FIP, and xFIP, however, are all much lower than the 4.41 mark. In fact, his FIP of 2.41 is the sixth-best in the league among pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings.
Cobb’s stock is rising, and it’s time to buy before the cost increases with the likely lowering of his ERA.
Players to Sell Low
Ian Happ (2B/3B/OF – CHC)
Like Corbin Burnes, Ian Happ is making an appearance in this column for the second time. Happ is not in the same esteemed category. Instead, I’m still looking to “Sell Low” on a player who was one of the darlings of the fantasy baseball community just one year ago.
In Happ’s defense, he hasn’t been a complete disaster at the plate. His walk rate is high — it’s actually the highest of any qualified hitter in the bottom-30 for Offensive WAR — so his on-base percentage hasn’t plummeted. It’s not nearly enough, and the frustrating takeaway is that Happ is hurting fantasy baseball managers more than anyone else. His batting average is a putrid .184.
If looking for optimism in a Happ turnaround, the place to start is his BABIP. It is well below his career average — and any single season end-of-year number. This would have pointed to a possible improvement. That is until we look deeper into Happ’s underlying metrics and see problems everywhere.
Maybe no singular rate or percentage is horrible in itself, but each one is at least slightly concerning. His soft-hit percentage has risen, while his barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, and fly ball percentage have all dropped.
At this point, there is no reason to think that Happ will suddenly return to last year’s form.
Gleyber Torres (2B/SS – NYY)
Often, when trying to gauge how much a player’s value has moved, I find it important to highlight my own personal expectations for said player prior to the season. This helps me compare the magnitude of a move throughout the fantasy baseball community.
I was buying into Gleyber Torres before the season began, and it was probably at a more feverish rate than most in the industry. Torres’ ranking was hotly contested, but name value and history still carried enough weight to keep him on the earlier side of the ADP.
Now, three months after Draft Season, I’m finally ready to revise my stance on Torres. I’m not alone on this.
Torres is still owned in most leagues — as of this writing, at least 90 percent — and he should not hit the waiver wire at any time. Still, the reason we bought into Torres was because of the upside, and he is showing no signs of reaching that pinnacle. He currently has as many home runs — three — in 62 games this year as he did in 42 games last year. His batting average is an acceptable .252, but we should only “accept” this average if he’s giving us anything anywhere else.
Vince Velasquez (SP – PHI)
Much like the aforementioned Alex Cobb, Vince Velasquez may not appear to fit into the right category at first. In fact, his ERA of 4.44 is almost identical to Cobb’s 4.41.
Also, like Cobb, the answer lies beneath the surface.
Velasquez has always tantalized fantasy managers with the potential for strikeouts, despite his strikeout rate fluctuating somewhat wildly over the years. Still, the rate is impressive. Unfortunately for Velasquez, that’s where it ends.
His fastball velocity has now reached the lowest point of his seven-year career, while his xERA and FIP are noticeably higher than his ERA. This serves as a strong suggestion that regression is coming and, with the fastball velocity also down, even the strikeout rate might suffer.
I don’t want to wait around to find out how far Velasquez can fall. He has currently failed to complete five innings in three of his last four starts and not thrown more than 85 pitches in any of them. To date, he has only reached the 90-pitch threshold in four games and has not thrown 100 pitches in any of his 10 starts.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy baseball, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you navigate your season. From our Lineup Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – 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.