Buy High, Sell Low: Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo, Tarik Skubal (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
We are now approximately one week away from the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and, with it, a break from the fantasy baseball action.
Then again, fantasy baseball never sleeps.
With that break comes the opportunity to assess a fantasy roster and make moves for the home stretch. This will certainly be the topic of the next few iterations of this column as we transition from the first half of the season to the last.
Players to Buy High
Aaron Judge (OF – NYY)
The Yankees’ offense has been far worse in 2021 than we have seen in recent years, but Aaron Judge has been able to avoid getting dragged down with the rest of his team. In fact, he might be putting together his most complete season in Major League Baseball.
The number against which his pace will always be compared is the incredibly high home run total from his rookie year: 52. It’s almost impossible for Judge to reach that mark again, and it sets the bar so high that, if he reaches 37 this year — his current trajectory — he would have still fallen short by fifteen.
If we can accept that Judge’s initial home run total was an outlier, then we can truly appreciate how he has grown as a hitter. His strikeout rate is at the lowest of his career, while his batting average is at its highest. His walk rate has also rebounded after a sudden drop in 2020.
The concern with Judge will always be his health, but he’s steadily producing with the rest of his team’s offense trailing behind. That gives him some room to grow despite his already solid numbers for the season.
Joey Gallo (OF – TEX)
Joey Gallo was one of the first hitters about which I wrote way back in the early weeks of the season. At the time — and throughout the preseason that had just ended — we knew exactly what the risk-reward profile would look like for Gallo. That is, we had to accept a nearly nonexistent batting average with high power output.
Months later, that’s exactly what we have from Gallo.
Granted, his batting average is a little better than “nonexistent.” It isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it also isn’t so bad that we have to consider taking him out of our lineups.
Perhaps the real value from Gallo is that he is a top trade candidate in the coming weeks. It’s currently nothing more than speculation that Gallo will get moved, but it isn’t a baseless claim. He’s desirable, and we should see the same as fantasy managers that general managers see when running their Major League Baseball franchises. If he gets traded to an offense better than Texas’, his upside increases as well.
Patrick Sandoval (SP – LAA)
I’m always a little nervous when buying into a player whose numbers are suggesting that regression is likely. The compromise is to lay out the possibility. Acknowledge that, indeed, Patrick Sandoval could have a bad outing or two in his future.
Still, I’m looking to add him for the remainder of the year.
Currently, Sandoval is pitching to a decent 3.86 ERA, with a FIP of 4.59. There’s your route to a regression. The route to success? Basically everything else.
Sandoval has not allowed more than six hits or three earned runs in any of his eight starts this year, and he appears to be getting better as the season progresses. His xFIP is 3.84, while his strikeout rate is a little higher than one-batter-per-inning.
Sandoval hasn’t yet topped 50 innings on the season, too, so we shouldn’t worry about a cap anytime soon. In fact, he’s reached 94 pitches in four of his last five starts and broke 100 pitches in two of them. It’s a good sign for his full transition to the rotation.
Players to Sell Low
Gio Urshela (3B/SS – NYY)
A few years ago, the Yankees acquired Gio Urshela, and he almost immediately developed into one of the league’s better hitters. Because of his sudden improvement, there were valid questions as to the lasting power of this newfound talent.
Then Urshela did it again.
Overall, 2020 wasn’t nearly as great a season for Urshela as 2019, but it was an acceptable follow-up to a breakout campaign. That is, as long as it continues to track in the positive direction.
That’s where 2021 comes into play.
As of this writing, Urshela has a negative Offensive WAR. His strikeout rate is at a career-high, he doesn’t steal bases, and his batting average has drifted back down into the .270 range. He has hit for some power, but it’s barely double-digit home runs, and we’re halfway through the season. Making matters worse, his BABIP is among the highest of his career, so there is a better likelihood that his batting average decreases instead of increases.
Urshela’s glove and past history with the Yankees will keep him in the lineup, but there are better options available for fantasy managers at this point.
Tarik Skubal (SP – DET)
Tarik Skubal was another player listed in the early weeks of the season, and little has changed for his outlook. At the time, I mentioned that he would still receive opportunities, and he has. That’s not only going to continue in 2021 but he’s also viewed as a building block for the Tigers’ future. With that being said, I am not giving up on Skubal for the long term.
It’s 2021 where I am most concerned.
Skubal’s strikeout rate is still impressive — and this was his calling card through the Minor League system — but his ERA is showing no signs of improvement. His FIP and xERA are both higher than the 4.35 ERA we see on the surface, and his hard-hit percentage allowed is borderline astronomical.
Skubal may have some allure for a strikeout-needy spot start between now and the end of the season, but that’s the extent of his value for the remainder of 2021.
Justus Sheffield (SP – SEA)
Like the aforementioned Tarik Skubal, Justus Sheffield is far from a player I want to bury for the future. He still has plenty of time — and development — ahead, and I would actually want to buy at this current low point for dynasty or keeper leagues.
For 2021, however, this “low point” may be here to stay.
Each one of Sheffield’s numbers is concerning. His ERA is bloated, his xERA and FIP are high, and his strikeout rate is low. It’s the sign of a pitcher who simply isn’t performing, and there are no hints at improvement.
Sheffield’s disappointing season is enhanced by the steps he appeared to have taken in 2020. He pitched to an impressive 3.58 ERA, almost two full runs lower than his 2019 mark. There was the same drop in strikeout rate, though, and it now looks like Sheffield was more fortunate last year compared to now. That trend has reversed, and it’s dragging his value down with it.
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.