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Buy High, Sell Low: Bryce Harper, Yordan Alvarez, Michael Conforto (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Buy High, Sell Low: Bryce Harper, Yordan Alvarez, Michael Conforto (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

MLB’s trade deadline is upon us. As professional teams make their final maneuvers for one last push toward a playoff spot, we need to do the same with our fantasy teams.

For the earlier portion of the season, I wrote this column with plenty of time for a player to change course. While there are still two months left for a similarly sudden shift, drastic moves may be necessary for the final stretch.

We may be on the verge of making a league-winning decision in the coming days.

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Players to Buy High

Bryce Harper (OF – PHI)
It’s amazing how quickly a player’s value can change.

Bryce Harper was completely fine entering the All-Star break. Batting .282 with 15 home runs, he was pushing himself higher up hitter leaderboard. In the second half, he has vaulted squarely into the upper tier.

In his first 11 games of the second half, Harper has hit .378 (14-of-37) with six doubles and five stolen bases. The latter number is astounding.

Harper has shown an ability and desire to run in the past, reaching double-digit stolen bases six times — including 2021 — in his 10-year career. At the same time, he has randomly gone dark on the base paths and stopped stealing altogether.

We should not expect Harper to keep averaging one stolen base for every two games played. Realistically, we might not get another five total stolen bases from him this season. Still, Harper has pushed his numbers into excellent territory while providing more versatility for fantasy managers. He also went 15 games without a home run before snapping the drought Tuesday night, so we can expect some power improvement in the near future.

Yordan Alvarez (OF – HOU)
While he almost certainly won’t catch Shohei Ohtani or Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Yordan Alvarez will probably end this season with some MVP votes. His numbers are consistently excellent, and it probably helps that Ohtani and Guerrero are getting more attention. It keeps the asking price a little lower than it should be.

Alvarez remains a stock on the rise. Listed in this column weeks ago, he’s producing both power (19 HRs) and batting average (.288). This is nothing new for him. Alvarez was injured for essentially all of 2020, but with just over a year’s worth of regular-season games under his belt, his overall production is incredible. In 175 career games, Alvarez has 47 home runs, 43 doubles, and a .300/.383/.589 slash line.

There is no questioning what Alvarez can do. Before 2021, the only doubts centered around his ability to stay healthy. Expect two more months of injury-free baseball and take the risk tied to that assumption. If Alvarez can stay on the field, the final two months should be just as dominant as the start.

Walker Buehler (SP – LAD)
Before the 2021 season, I didn’t know what to do with Walker Buehler. Last year, I was one of the leading voices behind the Buehler campaign, ranking him firmly within “The Big Four” at the time and arguing that he should actually be part of “The Big Three.” Still, Buehler appeared to be more of a 2021 regression risk than we have seen thus far in his career.

It took all of four months for me to finally commit again to Buehler, and he now sits as a “Buy High” candidate for the rest of the year.

I led with my initial hesitations on Buehler because they’re now erased. I was concerned about the number of innings he pitched in his young career, but he should reach 180 before the end of the season, thus eliminating any fear of a serious limitation. I also worried about regression giving his underlying numbers, but Buehler now holds the best ERA (2.31) of his career. Furthermore, his 3.08 xERA, 3.20 FIP, and 3.62 xFIP are all lower than 2020’s respective numbers.

The irony of Buehler’s current campaign is that he isn’t dominating everywhere. His fastball velocity is at a career-low, which has brought his strikeout rate down to barely more than one per inning. This decline could catch up to him, but he is also inducing more ground balls than usual. Again, his numbers across the board are excellent.

If I’m in a position to win a fantasy baseball championship this year, Buehler is definitely a target, even with his new inflated price.

Players to Sell Low

Michael Conforto (OF – NYM)
Michael Conforto has been a hindrance to fantasy teams this year.

Conforto started off the season incredibly cold with only one home run and a .212 batting average through April. Eventually, he landed on the injured list for a little more than one month. He collected two hits in his first game back. Then he went cold again.

Conforto’s season numbers are pitiful. He’s currently batting .209 with six home runs — if we scale this out to 162 games, he would be on pace for just 15 for the season. He doesn’t steal bases, and he can’t be a consistent run-producer with his current struggles.

There are small signs Conforto might improve, but that’s all they are –  small. His .253 BABIP (batting average on balls in-play) is so low that some regression up to his career .300 mark is expected, but he’s often carried a lower BABIP aside from 2020. Even if he bumps his batting average up to the point that it isn’t a disaster, it won’t be great.

Simply put, there’s no reason to stick with Conforto this far into the season.

Adbert Alzolay (SP – CHC)
Between his outstanding numbers in a short 2020 stint and his performance through this season’s first two months, Adbert Alzolay appeared to be on the rise.

Not anymore.

Alzolay’s numbers are landing right around a level of acceptability. They aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they also haven’t solidified in the positive direction. The problem, however, is the inconsistency within them and the probability for future regression.

Alzolay’s 4.79 xERA and 5.32 FIP are higher than his ERA — which is too high at 4.73 — while his fastball velocity and strikeout rate are down dramatically from 2020. The bulk of his career numbers now come from 2021, and we are starting to see that his stock was probably too high at the beginning of the year.

I want out before it drops any lower.

Garrett Richards (SP – BOS)
Weeks ago, I wrote about Garrett Richards as a “Sell Low” candidate, but with some hesitation. Although his surface numbers had not been poor enough for fantasy managers to think of him in that light, his overall performance had not warranted holding. Since then, he has slowly and steadily trended in the wrong direction.

Richards’ first glaring red flag is his 17.6% strikeout rate. It’s too low to provide any value to a fantasy baseball team. Therefore, he needs something else to offset this missing asset.

He doesn’t have it.

Richards’ ERA is pressing up against 5.00, rising to 4.99. His 4.93 FIP is right in the same range, but his 5.76 xERA is much higher.

Finally, any expectations that he could still produce wins with Boston’s support hasn’t panned out consistently. Richards is 6-5 on the year, and he has reached 100 pitches just once in 19 starts.

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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros and the creator and content editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.

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