Trade Season: Fire Sale

Some fantasy owners develop an emotional connection to players over the course of a season. In baseball, this is understandable as the season stretches over months and months. When a player is performing, the emotionally connected owner labels him something along the lines of “my guy” and credits him for carrying the team to where it is at said point in the season.

More dangerously, some fantasy owners invest the same amount of emotional stock in players who are simply not performing. This is essentially where owners get behind a certain player for a number of reasons that mask said player’s true performance. This owner could still be waiting on Jason Heyward to turn things around because he has selected in the first 10 rounds of the draft. Another owner could be hanging onto Francisco Liriano because he is from Pittsburgh and is waiting for the veteran to right the Buccos ship.

This article is all about not being that guy because, let’s face it; when we look back on past fantasy seasons no matter the sport, we all have been “that guy” at some point. Below are players that owners should try to sell to the highest bidder. While all of these guys had some kind of value coming in the season, that value is significantly lower now and owners need to get what they can. It’s time for owners to cut your emotional ties and start searching for alternative options because those guys who were considered locks coming into the season are far from that now.

Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
.281/.356/.401 – 9 HR – 51 RBI – 39 R – 0 SB

Unless you play in an OBP league, Adrian Gonzalez should not be owned. That seems harsh to say, but the five time all-star really hasn’t done much of anything this year. His HR total is way down from years past, in fact on pace for a career worst. On top of that, he hits in the middle of a mediocre lineup that ranks 18th in the majors in runs scored. Currently, Gonzalez ranks at number 20 for first basemen on the ESPN player rater. A lot of that has to do with that fact his power has seemed to disappear this season.

His soft hit rate has risen slightly, but is still fairly impressive at 15.3%. Over the course of Gonzalez’s 12 year career he has averaged a 35.3% hard hit rate; a number seen as slightly above average when compared to other players across the league. This year, his hard hit rate is 30.6% which is average at best. His fly ball rate has sunk to 24.6%, a number that is 12.2% below his career average, and his ground ball rate has shot up to 50.7%. This doesn’t bode well for an aging player who isn’t exactly fleet of foot. To go along with the contact numbers, Gonzalez’s ISO is dramatically down from his career ISO (.203) at .126. With that being said, I believe we are now looking at a player whose best years are behind him.

I would sell Gonzalez for just about anything that would remotely improve your team. The return will be nothing spectacular, but neither would the return of releasing him to waivers. All things considered here, as an owner you are really trying to sell the value of the name. This has been a guy for the past nine or 10 plus seasons that has been on the higher side of the first base rankings. While his counting stats are down, Gonzalez is not entirely worthless as his average and OBP can still help contribute to a roto or categories team. Unfortunately, his days as one of the most reliable first basemen are behind him. Don’t be the last owner to recognizes this in your league.

Justin Upton (OF)
.236/.290/.392 – 11 HR – 41 RBI – 45 R – 6 SB

Not too long ago, I wrote an article based around Justin Upton being a buy-low opportunity. Unfortunately that didn’t come to fruition, so I’m here to explain the other side of things. The fantasy baseball community has become accustomed to the typical ups and downs that come with a Justin Upton season. This year, however, the downs have significantly outweighed the ups. His counting stats, much like Gonzalez, are practically worthless. Upton’s power/speed combo is the reason many owners took stock in him when drafting, however, the former first rounder hasn’t flashed a lot of either this year. His average continues to tank due to the lowest walk rate (6.8%) and the highest k-rate (30.3%) of his career, a number that’s eye-popping in its own right. When he is making contact, his horrid 22.7% soft contact rate isn’t exactly helping him out either.

As an owner, I advise taking whatever you can get for Upton before there’s nothing left to take. You can try to capitalize on his .267 average this past month as a selling point during trade negotiations as that might be the only positive attribute for Upton right now. Owners should also be aware that Upton is one of the more notable names that could be dropped if you cannot find a trade partner. His production, at the very least, could be matched if not exceeded with a lot names on the waiver wire.



Francisco Liriano (SP)
6-10 – 5.38 ERA – 1.61 WHIP – 109 K

Liriano’s season can be summed up just like this: a handful of serviceable starts mixed in with a ton of bad ones. For the most part throughout his career, Liriano has been a reliable and even sometimes electrifying starter who has had occasional issues with both injuries and control. Liriano’s overall solid numbers have been able to mask his control issues in the past. This year, however, there is no way for him to hide a 5.47 BB/9, and pitching is significantly more difficult when you’re handing out five free passes a game. Liriano’s o-swing% has fallen to 27.8%, his lowest rate since 2008. Batters are no longer chasing Liriano’s pitches out of the zone, hence the additional walks

If we delve deeper into Liriano’s plate discipline statistics he is simply being forced into the strike zone. His z-swing% is actually at the lowest rate of his career, sitting at 62.1%. However since Liriano is being forced to throw more in the zone, his z-contact% has risen to a career high of 88.7%. Liriano has used his slider just 30.7% of the time this year which is the lowest rate since 2011, per Fangraphs. His fastball use has increased, up to 51.3%, but one could assume this is a result of him being behind in the count more often.

All of this ties together as opposing teams are swinging less at Liriano’s slider when it is outside of the zone, but teeing off on his fastball inside the zone – thus explaining the increase in fastballs and decrease in slider use, and in turn the additional walks. And because of the additional balls in the zone, Liriano is having home run issues giving up 17 so far this season. His 18.3% HR/FB ratio is a bit unlucky, but not really when you consider that batters are waiting for their pitch.

Liriano is a guy owners are going to have to move quickly to try and sell. The best time to do so would be following a good start like we saw against the Brewers (6.2 IP, 2 ER, 0 BB, 13 K), however Liriano followed that up with a stinker against the Mariners. The Liriano we saw against Milwaukee could make you more optimistic, but don’t be fooled. As an owner approaching your stretch run, you have to remember his inconsistencies, especially this year. A good start here and there from Liriano can help your team, but the horrid ones in between can crush your playoff hopes.

Michael Wacha (SP)
5-7 – 4.37 ERA – 1.44 WHIP – 101 K

Michael Wacha is the player I had the hardest time with including in this list. Much like what I was talking about to start the article, Wacha is a player that I am personally attached to. I have had him every year in one of my keeper leagues, excluding this season, which seems to have worked out for the best. However, Wacha may be the easiest sell out of all of the players listed. Sure, his counting stats aren’t exactly pretty to look at, but he owns a 3.72 FIP. While that’s normally a good thing, Wacha’s xFIP and SIERA tell another story. His xFIP is 3.96, which essentially accounts for home runs differently than FIP does. SIERA is another version of an ERA estimator that accounts for balls in play, something that FIP and xFIP do not do. Wacha’s SIERA sits at a 4.21, which is categorized by Fangraphs as “poor”.

Owners have seen the St. Louis pitcher basically be himself, but a little worse. That can’t be right, can it? Wacha isn’t a 4.37 ERA pitcher by any means, but he does own a .330 BABIP which will push a lot of pitchers around baseball to have a 4.37 ERA – David Price being one of them. Wacha’s .330 BABIP is the seventh highest among qualified starting pitchers, per Fangraphs. Obviously, Wacha’s BABIP does not explain all of his struggles this season, but in my opinion, it is one of the main sources of them.

He has been a quality start machine across the course of his short career; sell an owner on that or his low FIP and you can probably pull more of a haul than any other names mentioned on this list. Wacha almost looks like a solid buy low candidate, but when you mix in his xFIP and SIERA it looks like something more than just a little bad luck for the former first round pick. With your league’s trade deadline quickly approaching, now is the time to go out and make some deals. Get owners to bite on Wacha’s recent stretch of solid starts – excluding his last against the Dodgers. Maybe even use him as a throw in to sweeten the pot on a bigger trade.

 

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Neil Kenworthy
Maryland born and raised. Currently studying at Towson University - Journalism & New Media. Thankful for all of those who are a part of my life and excited to meet others who are not yet. Lover of both fantasy baseball & football, but that goes without saying. Feel free to catch me on Twitter @neil_kenwo; you'll see a lot of Ravens and Nationals stuff in 140 characters or less.
Neil Kenworthy

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