Fantasy Stock Watch: Keeper Edition 1

The offseason is around the corner, so if you have questions about a player’s keeper value, ask for a stock tip!

Stock Up logoJose Ramirez – Did you see this coming? I’ll answer for you: no, you didn’t. I certainly liked Ramirez as a great value entering 2017, but I never would have pegged him for 25+ HR and a top-10 bat. Now you definitely have to pay full price for him — or rather, you’re going to have to overpay after his breakout. What are his chances of keeping up this level?

He’s proven himself as a .300 bat, with LD% over 20% the last two years, the speed to make infield hits, and a high contact rate. More important, his hard hit rate jumped above league average this year, solidifying his chances at a third .300 year. His speed is a bit above average, and even though he ran a bit less often, he clearly has the ability to reach 15-20 SB each season.

It’s the home run power that will determine his 2018 value. Looking at each half season, his FB% and HR/FB were pretty consistent, but by month-to-month, it’s a bit more rocky. Some may say that anyone can have a cold month here and there, but I look at it as Ramirez having a few hot months (April, September). He’s getting the ball in the air more, and he’s hitting it harder. He’s just not a 30 HR guy, or even a sure-thing 25 HR guy. I’m happy to pencil him in at maybe 23 HR for 2018, and anything above that is gravy.

You have to expect some regression in power. That said, he’s a .300 bat, and a potential 20 SB guy. Oh, and he should continue reaching 100 runs. Ramirez is going to give you across-the-board production, so I’m willing to pay the premium on him.

JD Martinez – I don’t know how else to describe Martinez’s season other than Ruthian. Is that a stretch? You tell me. He reached 45 HR in 2017 — and that was with just 432 AB, because he missed the first month and a half. Can you imagine what he would have done with a full year? He’s entering his thirties, so some fantasy owners may start steering clear due to “old age.” Let them miss out. You should be all-in on Martinez.

He matched a career best FB%, and he dipped below 40% in only one month. His HR/FB actually got better from the first half to the second half. His hard hit rate was through the roof. He’s in the prime of his career and should be able to hit 40+ HR for several more years.

As for the rest of his game, he remained above .300 despite a low (for him) BABIP. The many homers kept him above .300. He’s walking a bit more, and after this power breakout, he’ll certainly get walked more in 2018. His contact rate dipped a bit in the second half, but for the season it was in line with his previous years. The only thing keeping him from a top-3 finish in 2018 is health. But a player who can produce this much in just 450 AB is worth the risk.

Chris Sale – Honestly, I never thought there’d be another 300 strikeout season. Sale had a hiccup in 2016, but then he reached a new level this year, changing up his pitch mix and regaining the lost velocity on his fastball. It’s been a season for the ages, and you should continue paying top dollar for him in any format.

He’s had an elite walk rate for years, and he combined it with career bests in K/9 and SwStr%. That domination is going to continue for years, barring injury. His second half was slightly marred by a jump in HR/FB and BABIP, but with his skills, the damage was mitigated. And heck, if a “bad” ERA is 3.27, I’ll take that every year. He’ll be 29 in 2018, and he’s a proven work horse on a contending team. I can’t project 300 K for anyone, but I have no problem giving him 250 as a floor. Go the extra dollar or five for Sale.

Luis Severino – He had the prospect pedigree to get another chance in the rotation despite a rocky 2016 as a starter. Severino took the opportunity and ran with it, having one of the best breakout years for a young pitcher. I’m a little worried about a full repeat, but overall his skill base is solid and worth investing in.

Everything went right when it comes to his pitching skills. His velocity, swinging strikes, first pitch strikes, and strike percentage all increased, leading to the improved K/9 and BB/9 from last year. He’s mostly earned the results he’s put up this year. An uptick to 51% grounders helped his BABIP drop a few points, and he also cut back on his HR/9 from 2016. There are no red flags in his game, and you can expect great things from him moving forward.

So why am I at all worried? Well, he did have a gopheritis month in August, and his sparkling WHIP in September was due to BABIP luck. That’s not anything major, but given that there are many proven veterans still young or in their prime, I’m less likely to pay a premium on a pitcher with just one full, great season under his belt. You can’t project a full repeat, but you’ll have to pay for it. In terms of profit, his margin may be lower than others. That said, if you already have him, there’s nothing wrong with keeping him as your #1 starter.

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Jose Bautista – After a strong 2015, Joey Bats had a disappointing 2016, but many believed he’d bounce back. He didn’t. As he gets further into his thirties, the window has now closed on his keeper appeal, and you should steer clear for many, many reasons.

Where to begin? The batting average has never been an above-average facet of his game, but after three seasons above .250, he’s been under .235 for two years. You can’t blame BABIP, because his career rate is well below the league average, and he’s managed to have an average of .260 with a BABIP as low as 2017’s. The issue is that he’s not hitting as many homers, which help his average over the course of a year. Less power means worse average. What’s more, his previously elite walk rate and BB/K hit a ten-year low in 2017, meaning his overall skills are definitely sliding.

Now let’s look at the power outage. He had held steady at 18% HR/FB for three years after his peak, but now he’s been on a three-year slide, and he ended 2017 just above league average, at 12%. His FB% varies each season, so unless you get really lucky there in 2018, you can’t count on even 25 HR. His hard hit rate dropped nearly 10% from just last season, so the decrease isn’t a fluke. He’s not hitting the ball with authority. In an era where we just had a record set for home runs, a risky HR-only bat isn’t worth your time.

Mark Trumbo – Maybe you’re noticing a pattern here. Adam Dunn remained relevant by putting up consistently elite power numbers despite a poor average, and even then, some fantasy owners wouldn’t touch him. Trumbo had an amazing 2016 and then fell back to earth hard. Like Bautista, the time to invest in this profile has passed.

He’s never hit for average, and he doesn’t walk a lot to offset it in OBP leagues. His hard hit rate was down from last year as well. His FB% has been more steady in recent years than Bautista. However, his breakout year looks entirely like a fluke, because his 2017 HR/FB (14%) exactly matches his 2014-15 seasons. Without a strong HR/FB, he’s capped at 25 HR. Set your expectations at 2015 and 2017, in which case he’s worth a flier in a draft but isn’t worth keeping.

Andrew Cashner – There’s no way to predict what he’s going to do in any given year. In 2015, his ERA and WHIP weren’t pretty, but his underlying metrics seemed to indicate future value. Then in 2016, he was mediocre in both surface stats and metrics. Now in 2017, his ERA looks pretty good and he managed 18 QS, but the metrics are abandoning him. Is there any hope for next season? Frankly, there are much safer bets.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. He was a hard thrower early in his career, but he’s lost a mile per hour off his fastball in the last two seasons, and he can’t make hitters swing and miss anymore (6% SwStr). That explains his horrific, worse-than-Fister K/9 of 4.6 in 2017. Even a ground ball rate near 50% can’t offset the complete lack of strikeouts — that’s too many runners getting on the base paths, especially with a walk rate at or above 3.5 the last two years.

He needed a career best BABIP to manage his “improved” but not good 1.32 WHIP. The complete lack of strikeouts kills his fantasy value and puts his ERA at risk. For 2018, look elsewhere.

Cole Hamels – Welp, the wheels came off quickly here, didn’t they? He’s entering his mid-thirties, and it’s not pretty. He had an oblique issue that hindered him, though. Can you give him a mulligan and expect a strong rebound season in 2018? The risk averse are going to want to find a different comeback target.

Hamels was lucky in April considering his K/9 abandoned him. He managed a good ERA due to his lucky BABIP and strand rate. After returning from the DL, July looked strong via his metrics (7.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9), but he again had a lucky BABIP. In August he lost ground in strikeouts and walks, but his ERA and WHIP stayed shiny due to luck.

September is the month I want to focus on. After a season of lucky BABIP, it finally returned to near normal for him. And that’s when his ERA and WHIP ballooned. His HR/FB wasn’t high that month — it was around where he’s been the last two years (which is higher than it used to be). He also lost his ground ball tilt and had a higher line drive rate. Maybe you can argue he was tired at the end of a long season where he dealt with injury. Let’s not forget that his 2016 September wasn’t pretty either, though at least he was striking out more hitters.

At this point, he’s well out of the top-tier of starters. And he’s not even a safe #2 SP, though he may reach that level in 2018 if all breaks perfectly. Look to him as a risky #3 guy. That said, I’ll certainly gamble on him in leagues that lean toward pitching points.


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Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.