My Cubbies aren’t off to the same blazing hot start as last year, but they’re still at the top, so I can’t ask for much more. However, a Cub had to make my list due to his struggles: Kyle Hendricks. At the same time, the Brewers are shocking pretty much everyone by their second-place status, and plenty of their hitters have been nice FA pickups for fantasy owners who stream their DH/bench players.
If anyone has team or player requests this year, leave a comment and I’ll write them up for the next week or respond below.
Travis Shaw – He saw double the at bats from 2015 to 2016, but his power metrics dropped (HR/FB from 18% to 10%). This year he is raking so far, with a HR/FB of 27%. For someone who was likely available in most F/A pools, it’s been a good April of profit. But can he keep it up all season?
There are signs that Shaw will maintain this better than last year, when he fell off sharply in the second half. His contact rate, O-Swing%, and SwStr% have all improved. Although he hasn’t walked a lot, he has improved his K%, which is more important to me. And currently, his BABIP is rather low due to a GB% spike, so if he can hit a few more balls in the air, he could actually net a bit of batting average improvement.
That said, the grounders are actually capping his power right now. With a 27% HR/FB, he could be in elite territory if he lofted more balls. However, I don’t expect the HR/FB to maintain that level all year, and it seems unlikely he would suddenly shift 10 percentage points from GB% to FB% to put him on pace to hit 40 homers. Another concern is the fact that he is getting lucky against lefties right now. He struggled against them last year, so when his BABIP vs. LHP returns to earth, will his full playing time continue? There’s still a lot of risk with Shaw, and I’m more likely to sell than buy.
Miguel Sano – A lot of hot players at the hot corner. Sano is putting up solid power and average so far. We all know the power is legit, and with his high FB% and elite HR/FB, I wouldn’t be surprised at 40 homers this year. That will also help keep his run and RBI totals strong.
What you can’t count on is that high average. Sano takes a lot of walks, sure, but his contact rate is scary low, just like last year. Despite having good zone judgment, he swings and missed a lot. The only thing propping up his average right now is a very lucky BABIP of .450. When that falls, he’ll be back to hitting under .250. All in all, he’s still a very valuable bat due to 3B eligibility and immense power, so I would buy simply for the power, but don’t think he’s pulling a Kris Bryant and making strides to improve his batting average.
Matt Cain – Remember Matt Cain? That elite starter who was a sure thing for so many years? He has been going from average to awful since 2013, and if you’ve been fooled into picking him often during that span, I’m sure it has felt like a decade and not just four seasons. However, Cain’s April has been a surprise to all, and I’d wager most managers are still leaving him on the waiver wire. So can he keep this up?
Let’s hit on the good news first. So far he’s healthy, and he is limiting the home run damage compared to recent seasons. Okay, that’s it. The rest of the metrics are neutral or bad. His K/9 is in line with his career, and his BB/9 is par with his post-peak numbers. His fastball velocity is down a little, and he is missing fewer bats. This doesn’t bode well for maintaining his good results. What’s more, the shiny ERA and WHIP are certainly due to luck, with a low BABIP and high strand rate.
I’d say the best you can hope for moving forward is 2014, and that’s if he stays healthy all year — which is no sure thing. Sell if you can get anything of value for him.
Lance Lynn – After missing all of 2016, Lynn doesn’t seem to have missed a beat. His BB/9 is in line with his career and even a bit better. His K/9 is down a little, but his velocity and swinging strike rate are in line with his career, so I’m not overly worried. He is even sporting a bit of a GB% uptick and a lower LD%. Overall, I’m not very worried.
The luck metrics do caution that you don’t expect an ERA under 3.00 all season. His BABIP is a career best by far, so it seems likely that it will rise in the coming months. His strand rate is quite high at 86%, but he maintained 80% for 2014-15, so it’s not as much luck as one may think. The final red flag to watch for is a slightly elevated HR/FB, but honestly it’s not crazy high, and I don’t doubt he can lower it. This is a buy, for sure.
Gregory Polanco – The good news is that he is still running and swiping bases. If this April had come immediately after 2015, it would look like he was in line with his overall growth and simply hadn’t developed power yet. However, in 2016 he hit 22 home runs, which was higher than his stolen base total, and most of us weren’t expecting that. As such, the early power outage is concerning, especially with the low average. So can he turn it around, or is it bad luck?
There’s a lot of mixed signals here. The good news is that he has improved his K% and BB% so far. However, his O-Swing% and SwStr% are up, which doesn’t bode well for the gains in his plate discipline continuing. His BABIP isn’t very low, so that seems to indicate his average won’t rebound much. He is hitting the ball into the ground right now with fewer line drives. However, if he gets back to his 2015-16 levels, given his current BABIP, it means his average could jump above .260 for the rest of the season.
The power outage is harder to explain away. With more grounders, that means fewer fly balls. He’s not hitting the ball hard, either. I want to see how his batted ball profile does in May before I buy low. Otherwise, if he is become a ground ball hitter, with his mostly average HR/FB, he’ll be capped at 10 home runs. He’s one of those players where you feel he should net more steals than he does, and if that trend continues, then he looks to be a .250/10/25 guy in 2017, and that’s well below his draft value.
I’d sell in redraft, and for keeper leagues I’d move him if you get nearly full pre-2017 value.
Adrian Gonzalez – After some late-career power surging, he trailed off in 2016, and now he has gone a full month without a home run. His batting average is down as well. The Dodgers are struggling as a team, so his runs and RBI numbers aren’t stellar either. At age 35, are we seeing a full decline? Well, he says he’s still dealing with a forearm issue, but the red flags are all over his profile.
In terms of plate discipline, he hasn’t really lost anything. There are some minor dips here and there, but nothing that screams emergency. His average is certainly affected by his lower hard hit rate (four-year decline) and LD%, and he has been hitting more grounders the last two years. The grounders also hurt his FB%, though he has never had an elite rate there. However the zero homers can be partly explained by fewer fly balls and fewer hard hits.
I’m optimistic he can come near a repeat of 2016, but that’s the new ceiling for him. The days of .280 and 20 home runs are over unless he drastically changes something or gets lucky.
Kyle Hendricks – Velocity has been an issue for Kyle this season, but what worries me more is his sudden lack of control. He’s missing fewer bats, and his changeup is less effective due to the lower fastball velocity, so that explains the lower K/9. However, I don’t rely on him for high strikeouts. A 3.9 BB/9 is very high, especially for the type of pitcher he is. He’s also struggling with gopheritis so far as he struggles to find his precision command.
The good news is that he still induces grounders, his approach and the Cubs’ defense will keep his BABIP below league average, and the season’s still young enough that he can potentially correct most of these flaws. Watch his velocity and his walk rate, because they’ll be key to getting back to solid #3 SP territory. As a Cubs fan I worry every breakout player is going to flop the next year, so I’m feeling pessimistic about Hendricks, but I can’t blame you for gambling on him.
Don’t sell for pennies on the dollar, but it was unlikely he could repeat the perfect storm of 2016’s ERA title, so if you find a buyer who is willing to pay well for him, make the trade.
Trevor Bauer – Bauer’s a guy I’ve been hoping would put it together for years. Unfortunately, I’m still not inclined to buy in 2017. The one shining point in his game has been a huge spike in his K/9, and his velocity is even up a little. But that’s it for positives. The rest of his game? A bit of bad luck, but it’s mostly his fault.
The K/9 spike may be a short-term result, because you could argue he has been effectively wild. His first pitch percentage is down, and his walks are up. Maybe he fools hitters here and there, but it’s not a stable skill set that is producing the strikeouts. What’s more, he has given back the BB/9 gains he made in 2016, and in today’s game a 4.0 rate isn’t going to cut it. His BABIP is perhaps unlucky right now, but the low strand rate is his own doing: a 20% HR/FB is killing his chances, and he can’t stop giving up home runs.
This isn’t a sell candidate — it’s an outright drop. If you can find an Indians fan to take him, great, but I don’t hold out any hope that he can correct all these flaws in 2017 and get back to even bench material.
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