Now that we’re a month into the season, the patient fantasy managers are starting to truly evaluate their players. Those with quick hooks may have dismissed some good players who struggled early. Those who are patient may still find some good players to buy low on for the upcoming month. Let’s take a look at some of those hot and cold players from April — and see whose stocks could rise or fall when Lady Luck changes favor.
Stocks to Invest In
Allen Craig – Okay, he had a pretty awful first month. So what’s the deal? How about an extremely low BABIP, mostly due to a spike in ground ball percentage (63%). That’s so far out of his norm that I don’t expect it to hold up all year. What’s more, his walk rate is in line with his career, and he’s actually swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone (25%) that years before. He’s also boasting a career low in swinging strike percentage, at 5.6%. The only downside is that it doesn’t look like he’s going to get back to 20 HR like he did in 2012, because his HR/FB is in line with 2013 (when he hit 11 HR). Even so, you can pretty much bank on a good BA, lots of RBI, and 10-15 HR. It’s not elite, but it’s very solid production. Let’s just hope he stays healthy all year.
Robinson Cano – Lots of people thought he’d struggle out of New York, and his power is certainly down right now. However, that’s not necessarily just a Safeco Park issue; his SLG isn’t terribly different between Home and Away. However, he is striking out more, with a career high swinging strike percent, so it stands to reason that he’s pressing a bit to prove his big contract. So why do I think his stock will be on the rise? Because he’s Robinson Cano, and he’s a veteran, elite bat. His average HR distance and where he hits his HR from past years isn’t hardly affected by Safeco’s dimensions — most of his HR would be HR nearly anywhere. Give him a mulligan to let him adjust to his new situation, and I’ll bet he’ll pick up moving forward. He may not put up 2012 numbers this season, or even 2013, but he should still be a top-2 second baseman by year’s end.
Robbie Ross – He’s off to a solid start now that he’s finally in the Texas rotation, and he should be there for years to come. In two years of relief he improved his BB/9 and K/9, and early in 2014 as a starter, he’s maintained most of the strikeout gains and improved his walk rate even more. What’s more, even though his strand rate is above the league average, he’s a ground ball pitcher, which results in more double plays and infield outs, so the rate could be nearly sustainable. His only issue so far has been a slight case of gopheritis, but that could be corrected as the season goes on.
Dan Straily – He was the minors’ strikeout leader in 2012, and he didn’t translate an elite K/9 to the MLB level (7.3 in 2013), but it was still respectable. However, this season he’s boasting a 9.0 so far, and although it’s early, his swinging strike rate is currently higher than his previous two years at an impressive 13%. His black mark is a very high HR/FB right now, and that should come down with a larger sample size; at least he’s got a slightly higher GB% than last season to help out. Assuming he gets his gopheritis under control, and he can hold some of the strikeout gains, he’s a solid bet moving forward.
Michael Morse – He’s proven that he can hit for power, but he can never stay on the field. The 27% HR/FB is likely unsustainable, but on the other hand, he’s at least shown he can keep it over 20% in the past (2011, 2012). His BABIP is above league average, but that’s where his career numbers sit, so I wouldn’t expect much regression there or in his average. The biggest question is how many AB he’ll rack up during the season, because he always hits the DL. I may not expect 2011’s 30 HR again, but he could certainly reach 25 with 400+ AB. He’s great for leagues with a deep bench, because you’ll want to carry an extra OF for when he goes down, but otherwise he’s a solid investment.
Stocks That Are Risky
Marco Estrada – The biggest knock on him is that he has a hard time going deep into games, so maybe 200 IP isn’t realistic in 2014. Otherwise, on the surface his season looks stellar. I like him and own him on several teams, but there are some causes for concern, namely a .241 BABIP and a 83% strand rate. Also, his HR/FB is a bit higher than I’d like, especially given that he’s a fly ball pitcher with an even lower GB% than last season. His K/9 and BB/9 are great, which will help mitigate some of his luck regression later, but he’s not quite this good, so if someone wants to overpay in a redraft league, I’d sell.
Kyle Lohse – I promise I’m not a Brewers hater, but I simply can’t buy into Lohse’s outbreak of awesomeness this year. How does a 35-year-old pitcher with a career K/9 of 5.7 jump to a K/9 of 9.0 and a career high swinging strike rate? It’s called a small sample size. Yes, he mixes pitches well, and he has good control (though that BB/9 is up a bit this year). However, his pitch speeds aren’t different than his previous seasons, and aside from throwing more sinkers and fewer fastballs, there’s nothing he’s doing differently. His extra sinkers don’t result in a higher GB% or a lower HR/FB than he’s displayed in the last few years, and his low BABIP will likely rise, resulting in a higher WHIP and ERA.
Brian Dozier – He’s pulling off a good Rickie Weeks impression, with power and speed but a poor average. He’s a mixed bag in terms of sabermetric peripherals, but I have more concern than trust in him. His average should rise a little as the season goes on because he has a very low BABIP, but even in previous years he’s not been a high BA sort of guy. His speed potential was hinted at last season, but I’d take the under at 25 SB. The biggest issue is this power surge early in the season. He had 18 HR in 2013 with a 10% HR/FB and a 41% fly ball rate. In April this year he’s got a 21% HR/FB and a 49% fly ball rate. There’s no way he maintains that HR/FB, but if he can keep up the higher fly ball rate, he may crack 20 HR. Just don’t pay for a full season of this early production — he’s not going to become a 30/30 player.
Melky Cabrera – Obviously some players can come back from a roids suspension and play well. Look at Braun, Cruz, and even Melky early this year. However, there’s far more doubt surrounding Melky’s game. First of all, he’s sporting a career high HR/FB this year, and unless he’s stupid enough to take PEDs yet again, that rate isn’t going to be sustainable. What’s more, a career high LB% is propping up a career high BABIP, so that average is bound to fall. Top it all off with career worsts in K% and BB%, and I’m not betting on this continued success that has him ranked in the top-25 players right now.
Brandon Belt – The positive is his power and RBI production early on, but a 25% HR/FB is not likely sustainable. Everything else worries me, too. He’s got a poor average, and that’s partly due to a low (for him) BABIP. However, he’s also swinging at more pitches out of the zone, and he’s got career worsts in swinging strike percent, K%, walk rate, and contact rate. Perhaps he’s swinging for the fences because he’s in the middle of the lineup and feels he needs to produce, but aside from those lucky HR numbers, the approach is negatively impacting his stats on all levels. I’m starting to worry that he may become a similar case to James Loney, a first baseman who never puts up quite the profile you’d expect at that position.