With the first half of the 2018 MLB season in the rear-view mirror, let’s take a look at a few moves that could help for your fantasy baseball playoff push. I’ll discuss two hitters and two pitchers, one of each to buy and one of each to sell. I’m looking to do another buy/sell article around the All-Star break as most leagues approach their respective trade deadlines. I’ll starts with a couple of players to buy.
It feels like Anthony Rendon is always undervalued in terms of fantasy and this season is no exception. Rendon missed three weeks early in the season to a toe injury. I think the time missed has partially masked the fact that Rendon is having another fantastic offensive season. His to-date season statistics don’t jump out at you as he’s hitting .289 with 12 homers and 37 runs driven in. The numbers don’t tell the whole story. Rendon ranks 15th in the league in barrel percentage at 9.8% per plate appearance tied with Aaron Judge and just ahead of Manny Machado.
Rendon used to be a guy with 20-25 home run power. Clearly, that’s changed as he’s barreling up every pitch type more frequently this year. Rendon seems to have matured into a 30-35 home run hitter at age 28. Per xStats.org, he’s been extremely unlucky in terms of power with around 17 expected home runs vs his 12 HR to date. That’s with missing nearly 20 games due to the aforementioned toe injury.
Rendon has once again cut his groundball rate from 34.0% to 29.4% but in favor of line drives. Rendon is maximizing launch angle for both power and batting average. He doesn’t run much anymore, but that’s OK. He’s going to be hitting anywhere from second to fourth in the Nationals “potent” lineup the rest of the way, ideal for run production. Steamer projects Rendon to hit .279 with 11 homers the rest of the way and I’ll take the over on both. I would not be surprised if a healthy Rendon hits .300 with 18 to 20 home runs the rest of the way. I’m buying Rendon as a borderline top 30 fantasy asset the rest of the way.
Alex Wood is an interesting option for the second half. I’m not concerned with his velocity or getting fatigued down the stretch. In the first two months of 2017, Wood was averaging nearly 94 mph on his fastball/sinker. His numbers were fantastic as a result but it completely wore him down in the second half as he was throwing much to close to his maximum velocity. This year, he’s consistently been around 91 mph which is putting less stress on his arm and body. Wood threw 164.2 IP including the playoffs in 2017. He’s on pace for 180-185 this year which isn’t a significant increase from 2017 innings total.
Wood is successful largely due to a combination of great control/command and a deceptive delivery. He’s also done a great job of getting swings out of the zone at a 36.4% clip and has an above average 11.4% swinging strike rate. Getting ahead in the count is key which he’s done 55% of the time and has a first-pitch-strike percentage of of over 68%. His walk rate sits at a career low just over 4% which limits damage. Here’s where Wood has been hurt. An unlucky LOB% sits at 67% for the season where he was at 80% in 2017 and is 75% for his career. In addition he’s been plagued with a .350 BABIP in the month of June.
Once the LOB% and BABIP stabilize, he won’t be stuck throwing extra pitches per inning shortening his outings. On the season, Wood has a .269 wOBA the third time through the order. Hint, that’s damn good. I believe Wood will start going deeper into his games and an incredibly low walk rate and a wipeout slider/curve (classified as a slider on FanGraphs) are the reasons. Current owners are likely concerned about a second half collapse or an innings cap, so he could acquired relatively cheap. Go get him.
Gerrit Cole has been an absolute beast early in 2018 much to fantasy owner’s delight. Sure, selling the player ranked third in strikeouts (151) and strikeout percentage (35%) seems foolish but in redraft leagues, it’s about the second half and the second half only. Of the pitchers with a 30% strikeout rate or better, Cole has the second highest walk rate of the group at 8.4%. Depending on your league, Cole is ranked somewhere between fifth and eighth among starting pitchers and that’s what I’m selling, I don’t believe he’s a top-five starting pitcher the rest of the way.
Since May 15th, Cole’s strikeout rate has dropped to 29% and his walk rate has risen to 10.8%. I mentioned in a piece back in late April that one of my main concerns with Cole was his elevated fly ball rate which at the time was 45%. It’s come back to bite him as the weather has heated up. He’s given up 10 homers in his last 55 innings pitched, that’s a 1.64 HR/9. His hard contact has increased as well which has justified the jump in home run rate. The combination of a high walk rate with an elevated home run rate is dangerous especially if his strikeout rate continues to drop. I’ve thrown a few to many numbers out at you, so let’s look at a visual representation.
Those trends are not good for Cole. Then there’s the BABIP. On the season Cole has managed a .238 BABIP on the season and it’s actually DOWN to .221 since May 15. How is he managing such a low BABIP with a healthy 20+% line drive rate and 41.7% hard-hit rate per BaseballSavant.com (percentage of balls hit over 95 mph) I have no idea?
Cole’s ERA in June was 3.41 with a 4.41 FIP largely due to the home run rate. I don’t believe Cole is a 4.41 ERA pitcher, but an ERA in mid-threes the rest of the way would not surprise me. His current 2.50 ERA and 0.92 WHIP is deceiving. Since Mid-May his SwStr rate is down to 10.6% with a sub-30% O-Swing which are both only slightly above average. I’d be selling Cole for a top 20 hitter, someone like Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Trea Turner, or even a struggling George Springer. I’d even think about doing a two-for-one with the previously mentioned Anthony Rendon plus another piece.
Odubel Herrera has been streaky this year and he’s already matched his home run total from 2017 with 14. Herrera is only 26 years old and had the fantasy community excited when he hit 15 homers and stole 25 bases in 2016. That’s fantasy gold with 20-30 upside expectations. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. The speed is way down as he’s totaled just 12 steals in the last season and a half on 19 attempts. If you’re expecting 28-30 home runs based on Herrera’s first half, you’re likely to be disappointed.
Let’s start with exit velocity. His average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls is only 87.2 mph. That’s good for 214th out if 278 qualified hitters. Some of that is due to a career-worst 17.6% infield fly ball rate and a 26.4% soft contact rate. His hard contact has dropped this year compared to 2017 and it matches his soft contact rate of only 26.4%. I can’t figure out how Herrera has managed a career best 17.6% HR/FB this year. That’s coming way down, much closer to 10% where he was in 2017. Per BaseballSavant, Herrera has barreled a total of 15 balls and somehow has managed 14 home runs. Barreled balls are great but if every barreled ball was a home run J.D. Martinez would have 45 homers to date. xStats.org shows his xHR should be between nine and 10.
Finally, there’s the plate discipline. He’s always had poor O-Swing and again this year is well above league average at 37%. That’s the main reason for the high soft contact and IFFB rate. Pitchers have thrown Herrera fewer strikes due to his aggressive nature and that should continue. Herrera’s due for some major regression. He’s ranked inside between 75-100 and I’m confident he ends well outside of the top 100 around 150.
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