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Hot starts to buy and sell

Even as most players are starting to eclipse 100 plate appearances, this season is still in its infancy and the early statistics can be misleading. Every player has hot and cold months, but when they happen in the beginning months the surrounding narratives are amplified. All-Star Player X has a batting average below .200? Time to drop. Scrub Player Y hit 8 homers? Must be a stud!

Batting averages and power numbers are the easiest way to tell how good a player has been, but to win your leagues you need to know who the best players are going forward. So here, we will look into four hot starts and dissect them. In the end we should see who is legit, and who is just having a hot start and is ready to come back down to earth.

Xander Bogaerts

I’ve written at some length before about how much I like X, and his breakout last year helped quiet the haters who were ready to throw him into the bust bin. Although 2016 has brought even better results, his performance seems too good to be true. While we know he may have some ability to live with a high BABIP, this year’s mark of .389 is ringing alarm bells like a monk at a nightclub. What is bizarre about this is his generic line drive rate of 20.2% (since line drive rate regresses to 20%, usually a high BABIP is attributed to this) which suggests he’s getting insanely lucky. Compared to the league average on grounders of .239 with a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .220, Bogaerts is somehow crushing to a tune of .357 and .326.

He simply can’t continue to mash grounders like so, and his production will fall back down. But don’t mistake that he’s not legit, as he has made some improvements this season (decrease in swing percentage, more walks). Still, Bogaerts is a hot sell right now as his current value is over his real value. He should still be very good, but he isn’t as elite as the early marks would like you to believe.

Daniel Murphy

I will preface this analysis by saying that I am not buying a Daniel Murphy expecting him to continue to hit .400 (although that would be sweet). But I will say that I’m ready to buy into Daniel Murphy as one of the best surprise players of 2016.

When he was making headlines for consecutive at bats with a home run in the playoffs, all we could hear about was how some silly team was going to massively overpay for a decent bat with no defensive upside. Except for three years at $38MM, he’s starting to make the Nats’ front office look like geniuses.

If we look at just this year compared to others, it looks like 2016 is an outlier. But over the past calendar year, he has a 135 wRC+, ahead of JD Martinez, Jose Altuve and Buster Posey. Part of this is due to adjustments made in his stance, staying crouched more throughout the swing to get more power.

He’s been pulling the ball more often, 39.4% over the past couple seasons compared to a 34.2% career. In addition, his fly ball rates have gone up as well, 44% in 2016 to 33.3% career.

Everything about Daniel Murphy is screaming that he’s a star, and you better believe it. Hold onto him for dear life, or try to pry him from an owner who thinks he’ll come crashing down; because he really is this good.



Gregory Polanco

Touted as a five tool talent as he matured and progressed through the Pirates’ farm system, many are saying that this is the year where Polanco finally breaks out in a big way. His defense has been good for some time now, but his offense is finally coming alive with a 138 wRC+.

But this mark doesn’t look likely to stay, thanks to being propped up by a 26.2% line drive rate. We know that this number will have to come back to around 20% at some point, and his career averages have actually had him below that. Something noticeable about his swing change is that he’s shortened his stroke, which does help explain some contact improvements. But a large part of his value this season has come from new-found power, with an ISO of .197 over a career average of .118. A shortened swing does not facilitate more power, and while his contact might stay high we can’t expect the power to.

If you own Polanco in a dynasty league, you may still want to hold on to see if he can figure out how to really incorporate his power into his swing. But this will still be another adjustment down the line, so his value for this season is only going to go down. Try and sell high if you can.

Robinson Cano

When the Mariners signed Cano to his laughably bad deal, their front office was scrutinized heavily. And when he looked like less of an All-Star and more of a major league average player last season (2.1 fWAR) at 33, it looked like his days of even being a threat were dwindling quicker than expected.

But 2016 has brought better results so far, thanks to a 154 wRC+. Cano’s contact has stayed lower just like in 2015, but we are seeing a transition into more power from the second baseman. His constant .200+ isolated slugging days from the Bronx appeared to be a thing of the past when he left for spacious SafeCo in Seattle, but so far he has an insane .284 ISO. What is sparking his power surge is a huge jolt in his fly ball rates, up to 41.2% from a career 29.8%. He’s being more selective on pitches (career low 48.4% swing rate) until he finds one he can drive. Cano is not just experiencing good fortune, he’s transitioned his attack while at the dish, and it’s paying huge dividends.

His power may not stay at the stratospheric level we see it at now, but it’s here to stay. Cano has aged gracefully, despite a couple disappointing years, and returns himself back to one of the better second basemen in the league.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.

One comment on “Hot starts to buy and sell

  1. Hi James,

    Great article. Just traded another hot starter in Trevor story and having mixed feelings about it. I think it was a sell high/buy low.

    In a 10 team points keeper league, here is what it was:

    Give: $1 story and $9 Cobb

    Get: $5 Cain and $19 Brantley

    Have $1 kang and $1 Russell so figured I’d gamble. I’m in first place and trying to repeat. More focused on this year than next. Also figured the Ks will catch up with story in points league.

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks,
    Mike

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