Get Out While The Getting’s Good

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening – whichever is applicable to you. I’ve been playing Fantasy Baseball for nearly fifteen years; each year has a story all to itself. Ultimately your season is defined by the level of success your team accomplishes. At season’s end I’ve found myself in the penthouse on more than one occasion, and have been relegated to the slums of the outhouse a time or two. Regardless of my place in the standings I’ve always tried to see the process out. Success however breeds contentment, identifying problem areas becomes more difficult when seemingly every move you’ve made has worked.

While spending time in the penthouse I choose to focus on my team from an internal point of view. Make no mistake; I still focus on areas of deficiency; however I also look at areas of strength. When looking at the production my focus becomes validating what can reasonably be expected moving forward. Will strength now become a liability in a month? Essentially I focus on what should reasonably be expected from my team moving forward, and in doing so I identify players who I should potentially look to move.

Today’s post focus’s on four players whose owners could have been spoiled by their first half production. When focusing on individual players I wanted to go out of the comfort zone of potential disappointments. Take Drew Pomeranz for example: Excellent first half combined with move to AL and career highs in IP make for an obvious regression candidate. With that in mind I targeted four players who all rank among the top fantasy players in the game.

Washington Nationals LogoDaniel Murphy

Despite a Postseason for the ages, Murphy came into the season with little fanfare. With an ADP of 165 and the 10th 2B off the board in NFBC drafts, it was clear most didn’t buy into last October. With a .351 AVG and 18 HR and the calendar still in July, Murphy’s adjustments last season clearly should not have been ignored.

Murphy’s focus on hitting the ball in the air surfaced last August when the career 1.27 GB/FB hitter posted a 1.05 rate; that rate was 0.89 during his postseason run. This season Murphy has managed only one month (June 1.11) over a rate of 0.80. To summarize, Murphy is no longer the lackluster second base option he once was. He has now become an upper tier option with good pop, plus AVG, and a premium lineup spot to further enhance the value.

So why exactly am I telling you to move him? Let’s start with the BABIP of .354 as of 7/20. Murphy managed to post a .345 mark in 2011, but that came as a 1.51 GB /FB hitter with decent legs. That aforementioned .345 mark netted Murphy a .320 AVG, a little tick below the .351 mark he’s sporting thus far in 2016. Among the top 50 BABIP performers, only 18% have a GB/FB rate under 1.00. Murphy’s new profile simply doesn’t typically support this type of BABIP.

What’s the legitimacy of Murphy’s newfound power? His 18 home runs this season are already a career high. His 13.3% HR/FB rate is 6% higher than his career mark. When you combine his pull rate of 40.8% with his current Hard Hit rate of 38.5%, the 18 home runs certainly seem legit, however I continue to question if they will continue. In April, Murphy posted a 0.70 GB/FB rate with his highest 47.1% Pull rate and a season high 40% hard hit rate, yet netted only a 7.4 HR/FB rate. While small sample sizes hardly paints a full picture, they at least give you a glimpse of what is a possible outcome.

Of the players I targeted, Murphy is the one I have the most confidence in to produce. I just happen to believe the production will be more of a back-end of the top-75 as opposed to a top-20 talent he’s shown thus far. For me, Murphy is a guy to move that will produce you a healthy return to sew up any loose ends you may have.



San Francisco Giants LogoJohnny Cueto

With 13 Wins and a 2.64 ERA, Cueto has managed to silence all those doubters who were put off by his time with the Royals. Much like Murphy, most owners were lukewarm at best on Cueto this season as he was the 22nd SP off the board and 73rd overall in NFBC drafts, despite three really good seasons in four years and a move to the Giants.

Aside from last season, Cueto has always been one of those pitchers who out pitched the peripherals. Cueto’s career ERA is 3.24, and his career FIP is a half a run higher at 3.74. His current K/9 of 7.86 is above his career mark of 7.46, and the 1.78 BB/9 is on pace for a career low. As an added bonus, Cueto has improved his ground ball rate this season, with a mark of 51.3% which would be the second best mark of his career (53.7% in 2011). Cueto has essentially checked all three boxes in my SP approval guide. So what exactly is my hold-up?

While I tend to believe each season is an event in itself, it’s hard to ignore Cueto’s career 1st and 2nd half ERA splits of 2.93 and 3.76 respectively. Last season, Cueto posted a 3.86 ERA in August and a 5.58 ERA in September/October, putting additional emphasis on it. Still yet, Cueto’s velocity is down between 1-2 MPH across the board, and with it has come a slight decrease in hitters chasing (O-Swing of 32%) compared to the last several seasons (2015 34.9, 2014 34.7, 2013 34.9) and a slight decrease in Swings and misses (9.3% in 2016, 9.9% in 2015 and 2014, 11.1% in 2013).

Ultimately Cueto’s HR/9 could very well be the deciding factor. His current rate of 0.53 is good for the 2nd lowest mark in his career, and 0.35 points below his career mark of 0.88. How much of this is luck and how much of it is the improved home and road parks of the NL West?

With the early season success and the overall team success, Cueto should be a very easy sale on the market. Perhaps you need additional Saves or a better K source. Let another owner deal with the potential pitfalls that the 2nd half could hold in store for Cueto; the history of such struggles is both recent and lengthy.

Pittsburgh Pirates LogoGregory Polanco

With an AVG of .282, 12 home runs, nine stolen bases and decent counting stats, 2016 is well on its way to being a breakout for Gregory Polanco. His ISO is 73 points higher than last season, and his OPS is over 140 points better. In a season of lost speed, having a legit 20 SB threat with double-digit pop gets plenty of people excited.

Notice the intro sales pitch for Murphy and Cueto was a tad more extensive? While Polanco has the overall appearance of an improved player, the reality is the growth has been somewhat overstated. While his BB% has increased to 11% this season compared to the 8.4% mark from 2015, his 20.7% K rate from 18.6% in 2015 makes it a wash. He has nine stolen bases but has been caught five times. After attempting a combined seven in April and May, he has attempted just two since and has yet to register a stolen base.

The improved ISO and OPS for the season can really be centered on a strong start. Polanco featured a .904 OPS and a .198 ISO in April, and those total went to .973 and .287 in May. Since then Polanco has posted a .778 OPS in June and a .539 mark thus far in July. His ISO during that stretch was .148 in June and .150 in July. While he has made strides vs. LH pitching, he’s still only hitting .236 in 72 PA against them. With the Pirates depth there’s a good chance Polanco will miss more plate appearances than your typical top-tier player.

Your window to move Polanco is closing rapidly. While both Cueto and Murphy give you options to choose from, Polanco likely won’t. The power speed combo certainly make him appealing to some, however you’re going to have to be willing to take less than Polanco currently is worth. Should the current trends hold you’ll be glad you did.



Colorado Rockies LogoCarlos Gonzalez

Around this time last season Carlos Gonzalez was a shell of his old self; a .259 hitter with 13 HR and a .766 OPS. Twenty-seven second-half home runs later and Gonzalez was firmly back on the map. While memories of the first half may have factored in a less than favorable ADP of 58th overall, Gonalez was still a coveted player.

For those who remained faithful, 2016 has been more like the 2nd half of 2015 than the first. His .317 AVG, 19 HR and 100/90 pace have him right on par with what we’ve come to expect from CarGo without the injury flare ups. Sure a .370 BABIP seems to be breeding the .317 average, but let’s not forget CarGo’s home games (Coors Field) are at BABIP heaven, and he has posted BABIP marks of .384, .352 and .368 over the course of full seasons in the past.

My skepticism of CarGo goes beyond the numbers. It can’t be found in Contact trends or plate discipline. My hesitation for CarGo comes simply from the gut. If I close my eyes I don’t have to go back very far to find a 20 HR hitter with a middling AVG and unspectacular counting numbers. Essentially that was what CarGo was during his limited 2014 season and the first half last year. I also don’t have to search long to see a player who is a Superstar at home and just a good player on the road. A player who could very well be calling a new place home in a week or so.

Moving CarGo now is certainly a role of the dice. If you move him before the deadline and he stays put you’ll be hard pressed to get more value in return. If you hold and he’s dealt the window to obtain even a similar player has all but closed.

*****

Over the years I’ve likely become numbers dependent to a fault. In the early stages the Postseason exploits of Daniel Murphy would have resonated to me on draft day – his steady unspectacular track record be damned. In a Catch 22 of sorts, today I find myself enamored by his numbers, yet my gut is telling me he’s still that blah player, just with a better supporting cast. Selling you on moving Polanco is easy; the numbers would lead you to believe it’s the right thing to do. Murphy, Cueto and CarGo are likely harder sales. Sure each have a minor imperfection of some sort, but the overwhelming data simply does not exist.

My selling card to you is my gut. My gut tells me Murphy will be good not great. My gut tells me Cueto will be less than so-so down the stretch. And my gut tells me CarGo will be wearing a different uniform in August. The difference between the penthouse and the outhouse often comes down to decisions like these, I hope for your sake the penthouse is calling your name

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.
Josh Coleman

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