Buy High, Sell Low: Brandon Crawford, Trevor Rogers, Keston Hiura (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
The MLB All-Star break gives us time away from regular-season games to regroup and prepare for the unofficial second half. It serves as a period for each fantasy manager to assess not only their team, but their team’s needs.
That’s where this column comes into play. We always touch upon the caveat that goes with the theme behind these articles, and it should be highlighted again this week. The aim is to target players who will continue in their current direction. Now, without live action to distract everyone, we can hone in on managers expecting a reversal following the All-Star break.
Players to Buy High
Brandon Crawford (SS – SF)
Essentially everything about the San Francisco Giants has been impressive this year. The team has MLB’s best record despite playing in one of the toughest divisions. It also features 34-year-old shortstop Brandon Crawford, who is hitting a career-best .289 with 18 home runs — the second-most of any season he has played — and has already tied his watermark for stolen bases.
I mention Crawford’s age so that there is little question where his value lies. He’s suited for a win-now fantasy squad. Because of his numbers surging beyond any other point we have seen from him on an average year, Crawford will cost a premium. It’s worth paying.
Looking at Crawford’s 10-year career, his 2021 transformation is inspiring because it wasn’t extreme. This isn’t the sudden emergence of a player enjoying a few hot months. Crawford’s 2020 season was also quite good, and he’s now carrying it into another year. He has just taken another step in his development, as his soft-hit percentage has dropped while his walk rate increased.
Logan Gilbert (SP – SEA)
Logan Gilbert is arguably the player who didn’t want the All-Star break to arrive when it did. He had just completed his best outing of the year with a seven-inning, one-hit, eight-strikeout gem against the Yankees, and it was the encore to another strong performance to start July. After a bumpy debut, the rookie appeared to be hitting his stride.
A fantasy manager may look at his 3.51 ERA and conclude this is the peak. They may believe now is the time to sell and make a profit. Maybe, but we should instead look for more gains in the second half.
Gilbert’s game-by-game statistics are a bit erratic, but his overall season arc is naturally aligned with how a rookie often navigates the first season. In May, he eclipsed four innings just once in four starts and allowed at least two earned runs in each game. In June, he took strides in both categories, completing five innings in three of his four starts (pitching only two innings in the other outing) and only allowing more than one earned run once. Finally, in July, Gilbert reached 100 pitches in back-to-back starts and allowed just two earned runs while striking out 14 batters over a combined 12.2 innings.
If Gilbert suffers any regression, it is certainly possible it stems from the pause. However, we are looking for a rest-of-season boost to carry us to a fantasy championship, and Gilbert has the type of upside to quietly — and steadily — deliver for the remainder of the year.
Trevor Rogers (SP – MIA)
Tread lightly here, but Trevor Rogers is back on the list as a Buy-High candidate. It’s his second appearance here, and little has changed since his first. Rogers is still striking out more than one batter per inning, and his ERA is still an outstanding 2.31.
So why the caveat to tread lightly? Rogers has two potential hiccups on his road to a truly outstanding season. The first is his xERA, which sits at 3.22. It is comparatively great, but it shows that some regression might occur. The other problem is volume. Rogers has thrown 100 innings for only the second time in his professional career and will almost certainly eclipse 2019’s watermark of 136.1 across two minor league levels.
Even with those possible roadblocks, Rogers has shown nothing to suggest the talent will evaporate. He has not allowed more than three earned runs in a game all season and has struck out at least seven batters in nine starts. That’s without reaching 100 pitches in any game this year.
Players to Sell Low
Nate Lowe (1B – TEX)
Nate Lowe was one of the first waiver-wire darlings this season, as he jumped out to a tremendous start with the Texas Rangers. Since then, the shine has worn off rapidly, and we’re now at a crossroads.
Compared to his first MLB seasons, where he didn’t receive consistent playing time in Tampa Bay, Lowe is enjoying his best year. However, that is mainly because of his early-season numbers.
Lowe has only two extra-base hits in July. Both were home runs, but both were also from the same game. On July 1. Since then, he is batting .226 with seven singles, five walks, and 10 strikeouts.
The mental side of fantasy baseball will make it a little more difficult to move on from Lowe after his blazing hot start, but the numbers continue to creep down and show no signs of recovery. We might even see Lowe’s fantasy value dip further if his teammate, Joey Gallo, gets traded in the coming weeks.
Keston Hiura (1B/2B – MIL)
I’m far from the only fantasy manager who has ridden the roller coaster of Keston Hiura’s season, and it shows in his league availability right around the halfway mark. The field is split on him. Do we buy? Sell? Hold?
At this point of the year, and sticking with the theme of this column, we can no longer expect Hiura to find his swing. Perhaps he shuttles back and forth to the minors and eventually returns with some level of success, but we aren’t building a winning fantasy team based on that hope. Instead, we need to find someone who has maintained hope. It’s time, yet again, to move on from Hiura.
Every number I could highlight would be troublesome. There is simply nothing redeeming about Hiura’s 2021 season, and the only reason we have dealt with the negatives for this long is the promise of his rookie campaign. It has now been two years since that surge, and all gains have been erased.
Merrill Kelly (SP – ARI)
Merrill Kelly is also having an up-and-down season. The only difference is his inconsistency spans the last three years and has quite the perfect curve to it.
In 2019, Kelly pitched to a 4.42 ERA with a 7.76 K/9 rate. In 2020, both of those numbers improved beautifully to the tune of a 2.59 ERA and 8.33 K/9. Now, 19 starts into 2021, his 4.42 ERA and 7.68 K/9 are almost identical to 2019. This trend is found in most of Kelly’s numbers over the three-year span.
Those who bought into Kelly may have expected him to take the metaphorical next step in his development and built off his 2020 numbers. Instead, he proved that last year was an outlier.
In a word, Kelly was more “lucky” than anything else in 2020. He actually allowed a higher barrel percentage (11.%) than in either 2019 or 2021 by a considerable margin. This is coupled with a .242 BABIP, whereas the 2019 and 2021 numbers are again far closer at .292 and .296.
Kelly has not panned out as a breakout candidate this year, and his arrow will continue to point down. He also left his last start early with a leg cramp, which isn’t expecting to cost him any time.
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.