Fantasy Baseball 2016: Buy-Low, Sell-High Trade Advice After 2 Months
By now, most fantasy baseball players hate their teams.
There's a commonly cited notion of MLB clubs using Memorial Day as a reflection point. Two bad weeks isn't enough to panic, but two months represents a more significant sample size. Fantasy managers often think the same way, ditching the "it's still early" line when the calendar turns to June.
While gamers—especially those in rotisserie leagues—should have a grasp of their team's strengths and weaknesses, it's often still too early to write the book on individual players.
Last year, David Ortiz exited May hitting .224 with six home runs. Instead of everyone begging him to keep playing, critics were calling him washed up. From June 1 onward, he batted .296 with 31 homers.
Unable to harness psychic powers, fantasy players instead fixate on the current stats and assume nothing will change. It will. Slumping stars will figure it out, and unexpected phenoms will turn back into pumpkins. Not always, but the law of averages flaunts a strong track record.
Early June is a popular time for fantasy trading. Rather than falling for the flavor of the month, sell those whose value has peaked and target credible contributors at discount prices.
Buy Low: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
The career .307/.420/.528 hitter is batting .222/.342/.411 with a 26.6 strikeout percentage well above his career clip of 18.9. His 14.0 walk percentage also represents a steep decline, a sentiment which couldn't apply to any other player.
In prior years, this would be the time to excuse his difficult start by mentioning his .269 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). With more data available, it's not so simple. His ground-ball rate has spiked to 47.7 percent, and he has a .496 OPS against the shift.
The Cincinnati Reds first baseman has adjustments to make, but a 32-year-old master of plate discipline is a strong candidate to make them. For anyone not comforted by years of success, his 44.8 hard-hit rate bodes well for an average uptick.
Until then, he has at least offered some pop, hitting seven home runs in May. Skeptics have argued that his keen batting eye hinders his RBI tally, but he has driven in 31 runs despite his struggles.
While enough warning signs exist to not buy Votto as a superstar first baseman, see if he's available for a fraction of his preseason price tag. After all, this is a guy who hit .362/.535/.617 after the All-Star break last year.
Sell High: Aledmys Diaz, 2B/SS, St. Louis Cardinals
Even after a mortal May, Aledmys Diaz should still own enough goodwill from his otherworldly April to exploit on the trade block.
After hitting an insane .423/.453/.732 during the opening month, the rookie shortstop offered a normal .267/.304/.419 slash line in May. The regression hasn't diluted his overall numbers too much, as a .328 middle infielder with seven homers still stands out.
His return to earth includes striking out 19 times in his last 29 games since recording four punchouts over 22 April contests. The 25-year-old's infield fly rate also inflated to 13 percent.
There's also the lingering issue of how the St. Louis Cardinals allocate playing time when Jhonny Peralta returns. The veteran shortstop halted his rehab stint after accidentally cutting his thumb while opening a box. Before the setback, his return seemed imminent.
Slugging .292 at the moment, Kolten Wong should lose starts instead of Diaz, but the breakout star could sacrifice some plate appearances with those three and Jedd Gyorko fighting for reps. While he has certainly earned a regular gig, he can't afford to go too cold.
If any peer treats Diaz as a top-10 shortstop, don't hesitate to sell.
Buy Low: David Price, SP, Boston Red Sox
In 2016, the buy-low case for David Price is probably too obvious to successfully implement in a competitive league.
The 30-year-old ace has struggled during his Boston Red Sox initiation, issuing a 5.11 ERA through 11 starts. Yet the southpaw has maintained excellent peripherals, brandishing 10.35 strikeouts (K/9) and 2.36 walks (BB/9) per nine innings with a 3.11 Fielding Independent Pitching.
His recent performance may have also calmed some panicked owners. Since allowing six runs in consecutive appearances against the New York Yankees, he has posted a 2.63 ERA over four starts. While diminished velocity inflamed his early struggles, Brooks Baseball shows improved pitch speed during those recent outings.
Nobody can question his ability to handle the American League East. He spent nearly six seasons dominating for the Tampa Bay Rays and notched a 2.30 ERA in 11 starts for the Toronto Blue Jays last year. No longer having to face Boston also helps, as does the run support sent his way.
A sluggish start also isn't entirely new for Price, who exited May with a 4.27 ERA two years ago. He finished 2014 with a 3.26 ERA and career-high 271 punchouts. With April's slump behind him, he remains a top-10 starting pitcher going forward.
Sell High: Jose Quintana, SP, Chicago White Sox
When every baseball pundit calls Jose Quintana the best pitcher nobody knows, any active fantasy player laughs. Of course we know the Chicago White Sox southpaw, who held a career 3.46 ERA before his recent ascent to mainstream stardom.
For years he has flourished as a mid-rotation starter savvy drafters could snag at a bargain. He posted solid, yet unspectacular numbers across the board, but novices shied away from a hurler who has never earned double-digit victories.
Cruelly enough, Quintana is still saddled with misfortune in the wins column. Despite holding a 2.13 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, he's only halfway to setting a new career high at 5-5. Teammate Chris Sale, meanwhile, is 9-1 with a 2.29 ERA.
That's not a valid reason to sell Quintana. Instead, let's assume the competition isn't dumb enough to judge a pitcher by his win-loss record. Let's see if they believe a good pitcher is now a veritable Cy Young Award contender.
It's certainly possible. The 27-year-old has netted an 8.38 K/9 and 1.75 BB/9, both career bests. His 2.30 FIP leads the American League and ranks fourth among all MLB starters. He also teased a breakout by recording a 1.50 ERA last September.
Yet he has only relinquished two home runs despite allowing his highest fly-ball percentage (35.9) since 2013. Ten percent of those are infield flies, but investors should expect some long balls to eventually leave the park and inflate his microscopic ERA.
This is a case where gamers need to sell way high or not at all. Quintana has cemented his place as a high-level starter, but he won't remain a top-shelf ace all season.
Buy Low: Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals
An exciting bounce-back candidate, Anthony Rendon is having a boring season. The Washington Nationals infielder isn't making much noise by hitting .262/.349/.391 with four home runs and six stolen bases.
The 25-year-old looks more like the power-starved hitter from last year than the breakout star who tallied 21 homers and 17 steals while scoring 111 runs in 2014. His 2016 numbers are similar to those of Chicago White Sox second baseman Brett Lawrie, who instead has six long balls and four steals while hitting .255/.339/.423.
Although he didn't garner attention with a sizzling hot streak, Rendon rebounded in May. After hitting .242 with no homers and one steal in April, he hit .269/.368/.463 the following month. Drawing 17 walks in 29 games cemented more running opportunities, and his vanished speed returned.
Even at his best, the third baseman was an unassuming star who excelled without flaunting an eye-catching skill. It all amounted to a second-round pick following his 2014 breakout, but he'll receive less patience than a superb slugger.
A healthy Rendon should continue his subdued recovery into a 15-15 threat who can again flirt with 100 runs with a solid batting average. If that all comes together, he's quietly a top-100 player who may cost less because of an awful April.
Sell High: Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins
For one glorious month, Marcell Ozuna was the best hitter in baseball. Some will believe it signifies a full-fledged breakout, making this the perfect time to test his trade value.
During a scorching-hot May, the Miami Marlins outfielder hit .411/.450/.705 with seven homers and an MLB-best .486 weighted on-base average (wOBA). While everyone gushed over Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak, Ozuna reached base in 36 straight games up until May 30.
It's certainly conceivable for a 25-year-old with immense raw power to blossom into a star, especially one working under hitting coach Barry Bonds' tutelage. It's also possible he enjoyed one memorable month where everything clicked before ultimately regressing to the mean.
The career .273 hitter has actually made less contact while chasing more pitches outside the strike zone than last year, when he was demoted to the minors. Although he has made gradual improvements, a 7.9 walk percentage and 20.8 strikeout percentage still don't befit a breakout star.
Hitters experience drastic ebbs and flows throughout the season. Look back to the Diaz section. Now consider how much better a return he could have fetched a month ago from someone blinded by recent results.
Ozuna is well on his way to matching—probably slightly exceeding—2014's 23 home runs. With his May conquests stored in the bank, he'll surpass that season's career-high .269 batting average. That mark, however, serves as a more realistic rest-of-season projection for an up-and-down slugger who hit .229 in April.
Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.