Buy High, Sell Low: Dylan Bundy, Cedric Mullins, Garrett Hampson (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
As I wrote in last week’s column, we are past the point where we can compare the players’ current numbers with their pace from 2020. Every team has now played more games in 2021 than in last year’s regular season. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we have reached uncharted waters, but it is an area not seen by players in two years.
It also helps fully discount any season statistics from 2020 that now appear to be outliers.
Players to Buy High
Cedric Mullins (OF – BAL)
One of the patterns I have noticed when writing this column for the last dozen weeks is that a player can fit into both categories of “Buy High” and “Sell High.” This is because the “High” side of the player’s performance is shared where the “Buy” or “Sell” is a function of which side of the transaction a fantasy manager sits.
Cedric Mullins is the perfect example of this. For anyone who has Mullins on a fantasy team, he would be a “Sell High” candidate. For anyone else — including myself as the writer of this column — I would still be looking to “Buy High” on Mullins. Remember this disconnect when negotiating a trade. It’s likely that the current fantasy manager with Mullins is looking to receive a premium and assumes the future will present a decline.
It shouldn’t because Mullins has already seen regression and is now at the point where his numbers can stabilize for the remainder of the year.
His batting average is the most likely statistic to see some drop, but there’s no reason to expect it to crumble. Mullins is enjoying the lowest soft-hit percentage of his career and, at age 26, may simply be developing as a hitter. Most importantly, he has already reached his Major League-high point for stolen bases and home runs. If he continues producing in both categories, he’s an absolute gem for the next few months. If he happens to drop one of the two, he still is providing enough to a fantasy team to warrant a trade offer right now.
Kris Bryant (1B/3B/OF – CHC)
There is simply no way that we could be surprised by Kris Byrant’s resurgence. He had an absolutely terrible 2020, but it was also a 60-game season — of which he played only 34 — and every single number was not only worse than his career average but significantly worse.
This is the same player who won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and then followed it up by winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2016. He played 2020 at age 28 and had his “down” year immediately after hitting 31 home runs and scoring 108 times.
As always, I am compelled to highlight players appearing on this list for the second time, and Bryant is one of those players. He was originally targeted because of his quick return to relevancy, but he is now firmly entrenched among the league’s best hitters. As of this writing, he is in the top ten among qualified hitters for Offensive WAR, slugging percentage, and wOBA. Bryant’s walk rate is also solid, which helps him carry additional value in leagues that use on-base percentage.
Dylan Cease (SP – CWS)
I have taken quite a long time to convert my stance on Dylan Cease, but I have now reached the point where I am buying. Even at a high price.
Through thirteen starts, Cease’s ERA is a solid 3.38, with his FIP slightly better at 3.26. The real eye-popping number is his strikeout rate. It’s well over one-batter-per-inning, and it’s almost double last year’s pace. Unlike so many other pitchers I have highlighted in previous articles, Cease’s fastball velocity has not increased. It has actually reached the lowest point of his career.
Basically, Cease is doing everything well.
His soft-hit percentage has risen, his hard-hit percentage has plummeted, and he is inducing strikes — both swinging and called — at the best rate of his young career. As I wrote about Mullins above, Cease is likely developing in front of our eyes.
Last season’s numbers suggested that Cease was actually going to regress in the wrong direction. Instead, he has taken steps forward and quietly emerged as one of the better strikeout arms in the game — he currently ranks tenth in strikeout rate among qualified starting pitchers.
Players to Sell Low
Garrett Hampson (2B/SS/OF – COL)
The Colorado Rockies tend to drive fantasy managers insane with how the organization handles its players. That actually wasn’t the case for Garrett Hampson, who had the opportunity to serve as an everyday player in arguably the league’s best ballpark for hitters.
He has since squandered said opportunity.
It also hasn’t helped that Brendan Rodgers has finally started hitting and is finally healthy. Still, Hampson is his own worst enemy right now, and, as easy as it has been to knock the Rockies, the numbers speak for themselves.
As of this writing, Hampson is batting below .250 with an on-base percentage below .300. He has five home runs on the year, and his only value comes from his stolen base total — which is now at 12.
Indeed, if Hampson continues to run, he isn’t worthless. However, if he continues to lose playing time, he may only contribute speed as a part-time player.
Garrett Richards (SP – BOS)
Through thirteen starts, Garrett Richards has only fully imploded once. That was back on April 4th for his first start of the season — in which he allowed six earned runs in only two innings. To his credit, he also continually lowered his ERA through May and the early part of June. Why, then, is he a “Sell Low” candidate?
Richards’ ERA sits at 4.09, but his xERA is a whopping 5.26. Despite my note that he has only suffered the one terrible outing, the looming regression is concerning because it might drain what’s left of his value.
Beyond Richards’ ERA and its potential rise, the real concern is his strikeout rate. It’s low at 7.81 K/9. His walk rate is also high, which, not surprisingly, is producing his lowest rate of inducing strikes since 2012. There has also been a dropoff in velocity for each of his main pitches compared to 2020’s numbers.
Richards may still have some allure on the trade market as his numbers are no longer disastrous, but I wouldn’t want to wait much longer before trying to find a buyer. It’s unlikely that one even exists at this point.
Dylan Bundy (SP – LAA)
I have often written about players who were key targets of mine before the 2020 season and only now, in 2021, have delivered on those expectations. Dylan Bundy is the opposite. He joined the Los Angeles Angels last year and immediately put together the best season of his career — his ERA was the lowest, while his strikeout rate was the highest.
One year later, everything has fallen apart for Bundy.
Baseball is a sport of regression, and Bundy’s inflated ERA of 6.98 will decrease over the coming weeks — his xERA and FIP agree with this. But, just because Bundy will pitch better than he has doesn’t mean he will pitch well. In fact, his FIP is still so high that his improvements might be too slight to matter.
Ultimately, there are no redeeming metrics that can inspire hope in Bundy other than simply relying on last year as a barometer for what he could be. I’m not willing to wait for that return to form, and I’d want to move him as soon as he shows some signs of a turnaround — where I don’t expect said turnaround to continue.
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