If anyone has player requests this year, leave a comment. I’ll write them up for the next week or respond below.
Devon Travis – A horrifically slow start has been righted, and Travis has hit .380 in May. He’s already stolen a career high four bases, and he seems likely to set a career high in home runs as well. So can we safely assume Travis is a good option moving forwards?
Overall, the signs are good. He’s not a speedster, but he’s running more this year, so 10 stolen bases seems reasonable. Regarding his power, the bad news is that his HR/FB has fallen for three years. However, he’s hitting more fly balls, and his hard hit rate is improving. Those factors, plus assuming health and a good AB total, means he should reach 12+ home runs this year. Also, his season HR/FB is being depressed by that awful start, and as of May he’s back to a 10% rate, which matches 2016.
The batting average is what he’s known for, and so far it’s a tale of extremes. On one hand, he’s well below the mark for the season. Even when you look at his strong .380 for May, it seems unsustainable, so managers are likely to be skeptical. I say don’t have any worries about him. His BABIP was insanely unlucky during his bad April. Even if he’s on the lucky side in May, bear in mind his better hard hit rate and stronger LD% will keep it above league average. For the rest of the season, Travis is a nice investment if you can find him in the FA pool.
Michael Conforto – I was extremely high on Conforto entering 2016, and he bombed hard. On top of the baseball struggles, there were rumors the Mets were fed up with his attitude. Despite his potential, I figured if he was going to be slow to develop, and if the Mets didn’t have faith in him, it was time to drop him in a 20-keeper league. Turns out that was the wrong move, and I should have held on for one more year. But hey, I’m the anti-prospect guy, so I have a quick hook. So how legit is this breakout performance?
There’s some good here, but there are also unsustainable factors so don’t get too crazy. He has good plate discipline with a high walk rate and good O-Swing%. He strikes out quite a bit, but it’s not outrageous in this day and age. However, there’s a chance his K% could go up a bit, because he’s put more swing-and-miss in his approach to boost his power, evidenced by his higher SwStr% and lower contact rate. Even so, his approach is good enough to maintain a higher average with that elite hard hit rate and decent LD%.
Now let’s look at the power. Call me crazy, but I don’t expect him to maintain a 30% HR/FB. Yes, he’s killing the ball, so it’s not just a freak luck factor, but only five hitters finished over 25% last year, and I just don’t see him as a truly elite power bat. Even so, 30 home runs for the year seems like a lock. Conforto’s making his money off of fastballs, both four-seam and two-seam, so if pitchers start going to breaking stuff more, there’s a good chance he’ll cool. Despite this, he’s worth owning in any format. I admit I didn’t have faith after 2016 and am paying for it.
Robbie Ray – Ray was a sleeper for me entering the year, primarily due to his huge strikeout potential. As of now, he’s put up a solid ERA and a decent WHIP, both of which have improved from April to May. Is he finally breaking out, or should we assume a collapse?
This is a fine skill set, with just a few flaws. His walk rate is still high for the season, at 4.4 BB/9. He struggles to throw strikes at times, either due to a lack of control or the hope that batters will chase. However, the monthly breakdown shows he’s getting it under control, going from 5.0 BB/9 in April to 3.6 in May. Though 3.6 is still high, it’s much more palatable. His first pitch strike rate rose this month as well, and either month from 2017 is better than his 2016 rate. He may be learning some command in his third year full season.
The other potential red flag is a rise in FB% from under 35% the previous two years to 42% this season. A lot of pitchers can live with that rate, but his HR/FB tends to run higher than average, so more fly balls means more risk for home runs. The good news is that his HR/FB is down 3% from last year, but be warned: his ERA may rise in any given month. Overall, though, I’m gambling on Ray, and if he keeps up the BB/9 improvement, he’ll flirt with elite #2 SP status.
Mike Leake – The soft-tosser has been known for his extreme ground ball tilt, but that didn’t save him from exploding in 2016. Now he’s back on track in 2017, with a shiny ERA and 9 quality starts in 10 games. Did Leake discover a super-secret formula, or is this all based in luck?
Don’t be fooled by the results. This is the same pitcher year in and year out. A lot of his skill metrics are on par with his career and even 2016. He has a low K/9 and elite BB/9. He still induces over 50% grounders. The difference is in luck. In 2016 he had career worsts in BABIP and strand rate. This season, they’re currently career bests. It’s anyone’s guess when the tide will turn. The only other thing to note is that he’s improved his HR/FB slightly compared to recent years. There’s still not much different in his game, so if you can sell high, do so.
Kyle Seager – Mr. Steady has been able to produce a .260 average and 25+ home runs for years now. After a step up in 2016, he’s finally struggling hard. What’s going on here?
Your guess is as good as mine. There are signs of further growth in his game. He’s swinging out of the zone a lot less this year, is walking more, and has a career low SwStr%. His hard hit rate is down from a career best in 2016, but it’s still his third best out of seven seasons, and it’s above the league average. His BABIP is in line with his career, yet he has a career low average.
The major issue is the lack of power. His HR/FB is sitting at a measly 6%, despite a career best FB%. It’s not an issue of weak/bad contact, because his hard hit rate is good and his infield fly ball rate is low. The balls simply aren’t leaving the yard for him. It’s entirely possible he goes on a tear and still ends up where he always does by year’s end. It’s also possible he never gets his homers going and is a huge disappointment. There’s risk here, but he may be a good buy low target.
Christian Yelich – Yelich decided to flip speed for power in 2016, and it seemed to work well. For the year, he’s not doing awful, but the average is down, and his recent weeks are poor. Can we hope for a turnaround as he climbs back to a very solid #2 outfielder?
Sadly, I don’t like his metrics and future potential. His low average is tied to his low (for him) BABIP, which is also tied to a career low LD%. It’s more likely he hits under .275 than over it given his season trends, so you can’t count on his previous good results. Regarding speed, he’s simply not running as often now that he hits in the middle of the lineup.
The biggest issue I have with Yelich is his batted ball profile. He has an above average HR/FB, sure, but look at his GB% and FB% rates. This year is a career best in FB%, and he’s only at 25%. If you don’t hit the ball in the air very often, you won’t put up the home run totals we expect of a #3 hitter. The only reason he reached 20 HR last year was due to a very high HR/FB that he isn’t repeating. For the year, he may flirt with .280/20/10, but that’s the best you can hope for, and I’d take the under on those. He’s simply not an elite OF option, so if you can sell him for a good price, do it.
Justin Verlander – It’s been a roller coaster ride these last few years, with an awful 2014, an injured 2015, and a strong 2016. Now Verlander’s back to terrible according to his ERA and WHIP. Has the veteran run out of steam?
So far, you have to blame him more than luck or any other factor. His K/9 is still higher than his 2014-15 lull, but it’s certainly down from 2016’s 10.0 rate. What’s really bad is his career worst BB/9, which is 4.3. The dip in SwStr% is partly to blame, as his Zone% (lowest in last six years). Batters are swinging out of the zone less as well, and they’re sporting one of the highest contact rates against him in his career.
Perhaps even more concerning is the gopheritis. His HR/FB isn’t very different from last year, but his HR/9 has been going up for years and has reached a career high. What’s more, his batter ball profile used to be balanced, but he’s had six consecutive years of rising FB%, resulting in over half the fly balls in 2017. He’s fully earning that low strand rate. Again, the results here are more Verlander’s fault than anything, so if you can sell for even half value, I’d do so.
Gerrit Cole – Remember Cole’s glorious 2015 season? Remember 2016’s return to earth? Entering 2017, I’d say fantasy managers were split on what they expected from him. Either he would return to elite status, or continue along at his more middling value due to lingering injury issues. As of now, he’s not had a breakout, but Cole’s holding his own. What can we look forward to for the rest of the season?
Let’s get the big red flag out of the way. He’s dealing with some gopheritis, with a HR/FB twice as high as his career level, and a HR/9 three times as high as last year. Batters are punishing his mistakes despite his strong skills. The somewhat good news is that he’s not a fly ball pitcher (35% FB%), so the results are slightly limited, but homers are the cause of an ERA over 3.60.
After that, there’s actually a lot to like in Cole’s game. His BB/9 is back down to elite levels, under 2.0. Also, though his K/9 is even lower than last year, he’s doing better in swinging strike rate, fastball velocity, and first pitch strikes. Those three factors bode well for a rise in strikeouts as the season goes on, so I expect his K/9 to finish near or above 8.0. Finally, when you consider all the homers, his strand rate of 78% is actually very high. If he can mitigate the home runs, then his ERA could fall by a good amount, getting back under 3.00 for the rest of the season. Cole may not be a #1 SP, but I’ll take him for a solid #2 guy, so buy if you can.
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