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Fantasy Stock Watch: Keeper Edition 4

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

Stock Up logoJustin Upton – How many years have we been waiting for Upton to reach his full potential? It seems that the days of dreaming about a .290, 40 HR season are over, but 2017 wasn’t too bad of a consolation prize at .273 and 35 HR. Oh, and he reached double-digits in both runs and RBI.  I won’t quite put him in the upper echelon of outfielders, but he’s probably the best #2 OF in my rankings.

He’s been steady in FB% for years, but in 2016 his first half HR/FB was just 10%, followed by a surging 27%. In 2017, his second half was strong again at 25%, but he was more consistent all year, with a 17% rate in the first half. His average may seem a bit lucky with his BABIP, but bear in mind that his hard hit rate was up (tied for a career best), as was his LD%. It’s sustainable, and he’s done it in the past, so a repeat is possible. His floor is similar to 2016, if not a bit better. His ceiling is finally that breakout campaign I mentioned earlier. Even if it doesn’t happen, I still expect 35 HR and strong counting stats. If you miss out on big names like Trout, Judge, and Betts, Upton can help ease the blow.

Brian Dozier – Sometimes I find it hard to imply a hitter whose stock is already high can get even better, but Dozier had a strong season despite the slight drop-off in home runs. Everyone wants the hot youngsters, but I’ll keep Dozier in my leagues, and I’d pay top dollar to acquire him. You should too if you want a strong middle infield.

He put up his second best walk rate, and though his K% remains steady, he swung out of the zone far less than in the past. His hard hit rate was nearly as high as last year’s breakout, as was his HR/FB. The difference was a drop in FB%, but it improved in the second half, so another 40 HR season is possible. He got his BABIP to league average after being below it for years, and he improved his LD%. This helped him repeat a higher batting average, and I’m confident it’s a new normal for him. If you pencil in .265, 30+ HR, and 15 SB for 2018, that makes for a nice value.

Carlos Carrasco – He was a surprise to most in 2015, and he flew a little under the radar in 2016. This year we had to pay up for him, and he still didn’t disappoint. He’s proven he’s a legitimate ace at this point, and given that he’s only 31 in 2018, it’s a great time to buy, even if you have to overpay.

His SwStr%, F-Strike%, and velocity strongly support his ability to reach 10.0 K/9, and the fact that he’s put up a 2.1 BB/9 for three straight years means he’s a great boon for your WHIP. After a slight spike in HR/FB in 2016, he lowered it to a more reasonable level this season — which is good, because he lost his ground ball tilt with only a 45% rate. Even so, his skills are solid enough to mitigate any bad luck factors, and if he has good luck, then he’s looking at a Cy Young season. Add in the fact that he finally reached 200 IP, and he’s a great choice for your #1 SP.

Justin Verlander – He certainly found a new gear after being traded to Houston, and he’s been good through the postseason. A first half ERA of 4.47 made it easy for the Tigers to sell. His second half ERA of 2.43 will have many owners clamoring for him. For his age 35 season in 2018, are you going to gamble on a second half repeat? I’m surprising myself by saying yes, and even go an extra dollar.

First, there’s no denying that he found good luck in the second half. A BABIP that low isn’t sustainable for a full year, or at least it’s not due to skill. Also, given that his HR/FB actually went up in the second half, his strand rate should have gone down, but it went up. Part of that is due to more strikeouts, but it’s worth noting that his season ERA is about the best you can hope for — don’t assume he can put up something like a 2.80 for all of 2018.

The strikeouts remained strong even though his SwStr% dropped a little; perhaps it was due to his improved fastball velocity, or he was simply fooling hitters into not swinging. It proves he’s better than his 2014-15 level, but don’t count on another 10.0 K/9 season. The fact that his walk rate jumped to 3.1 is potentially worrisome, but he’s done this a few times throughout his career, so it stands to reason he can get it back down. He’s had two strong seasons in a row, and I like veterans who lack major red flags, so invest with confidence moving forward.




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Xander Bogaerts – I honestly like Bogaerts, but he’s making a strong push to be the poster boy for an overvalued, overhyped player who has more real-life value than fantasy value. Whatever the reason, he hasn’t been able to produce consistently, at least when it comes to repeating in any particular category. He went from a disappointing rookie season to a high average but not enough HR and SB. Then his average fell some, but he managed to crank 21 HR in 2016.

In 2017 his average fell even more, and his home run total halved. The fact is that you shouldn’t have expected a repeat, anyway. His “breakout” year was only a 11% HR/FB and 35% fly balls — he reached 20 homers purely due to a high AB total. His power is only average at best, so never expect more than 15 HR in your projections. As for his batting average, he needed a very high BABIP for the last two years to produce above-average results. As he neared the league average in 2017, his batting average did too. Even though he has a good line drive approach, his hard hit rate is only league average, so you can’t bank on more than .280.

In case you couldn’t tell, he’s average. And his one elite tool, his speed, hasn’t yet been utilized. I believe he can repeat 15+ SB, at least. The fact is that you can do worse at shortstop, but you can do a lot better if you’re looking for help in a particular category or two. An average, run-of-the-mill player should be so high in ADP. Sell high, and avoid drafting him because he won’t be worth the cost.

Carlos Gonzalez – The good news in 2016 was that he remained healthy for two years in a row. The bad news was that his power fell off as he hit 15 fewer home runs with a 9% drop in HR/FB. Then in 2017, things got worse. He dealt with a shoulder that landed him on the DL, and though I’m sure that’s part of the reason he struggled, the fact is his numbers were still disappointing. As he gets further into his thirties, can we even hope for a rebound?

Some will give him a mulligan due to the injury issue. I’m steering clear, though. Yes, part of his decline can be excused, but not all of it. And what’s more he’s still an injury risk because of it. The fact is that 2015 was a career year, especially in HR/FB. In 2016 he fell back to earth, and that’s his ceiling from here on out. I won’t buy into a one-month surge in September, with an unsustainable HR/FB and BABIP. He has an outside shot at putting up another top-30 season, but it’s not worth the high risk and the draft cost.

Jon Lester – Halfway through the year, I held out hope that Lester would turn it around and get his ERA under 3.50. It turns out he did worse in the second half. Perhaps he tired after a long 2016. Perhaps he’s simply aging and isn’t an ace anymore. The poor season, his name value, and the Chicago factor is going to make his draft value quite variable from league to league. There are some warning signs, but I expect him to be better in 2018. That said, the risk-averse will want to find a new #1 SP.

The immediate problem glaring at us is the rising HR/FB, which has gone up for three seasons. His second highest HR/9 hurt his ERA, and he was worse in the second half. He also suffered a bit of bad luck in the second half via BABIP — though a spike in LD% indicates hitters were simply seeing him well. His K/9 held steady compared to recent years, but his BB/9 jumped to 3.0, his highest mark in five years. He also lost a mile an hour off his fastball. He’s not at risk of a complete collapse, but gopheritis and slower fastballs aren’t good for a pitcher entering his mid-thirties. He’s a #2 at best, and honestly, I’d rather use him as a #3, which means I probably won’t acquire him in the draft.

Taijuan Walker – Another year, another lost season for Walker. To be fair, he took steps forward in 2017, but he’s not performing like many have expected. Instead, he remains on the verge of a potential breakout. At this point, I’m going to give up on ranking him as a sleeper — which means he’ll probably become a Cy Young candidate in 2018. Still, there are better gambles in the draft when pitching is so deep.

The good news is that he corrected his gopheritis from last year, going from a 18% HR/FB to 11% and dropping his fly ball rate to 33%. The improved ground ball rate didn’t help his BABIP in 2017, but his LD% was low, so there’s still a chance he could get to a BABIP below .300 on a consistent basis.

The bad news is that his K/9 is stagnant, and his SwStr% and F-Strike% dropped. His walk rate has gone up for the last two years, and not in small increments — a 3.5 BB/9 in 2017 isn’t very acceptable. And after three full seasons, he’s still not reached even 180 IP. I don’t think he’ll cost a ton in 2018, so maybe you can get him cheaply, but definitely don’t go the extra dollar on him.

 

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Kevin Jebens
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.

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