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Fantasy Stock Watch: Week 22

If anyone has player requests this year, leave a comment. I’ll write them up for the next week or respond below.

Stock Up logoJorge Polanco He didn’t have a bad showing in 2016, with a line drive approach and enough power and speed to make him interesting. He’s been hot in August, so is he taking another step forward, or is this just good luck for a month inflating an otherwise average season?

Don’t believe the hype, unfortunately. It’s true that he’s hitting a lot of line drives this month, but his BABIP is still lucky, so the average will come down. For the season, his LD% has only been above average in two months. Frankly, he doesn’t hit the ball all that hard: he has one month above average and one at exactly average, but the others are subpar. Despite his average speed, he can’t beat out grounders because his highest monthly GB% also coincide with his worst BABIP. And when you look at his 17% HR/FB in August, you know he can’t keep it up when you look at the rest of his months, where he was no better than 5%.

I worry that Jorge may end up like another Polanco — Placido. He’ll give you just okay counting stats. However, Jorge’s batting average ceiling isn’t as high as Placido’s. He’s still young, but the immediate upside owners were hoping for in 2017 isn’t materializing. You could do worse for a middle infield option in 2018, but you’re probably better off going for someone with more upside.

Jay BruceAn August trade to the other league hasn’t slowed down Bruce, and he’ll keep mashing home runs like he’s always done. As fantasy teams enter the playoffs, he’s a reliable bat to use if you need power production.

His batting average is BABIP dependent, but he’s been mostly average there this season, with only one low month compared to all of the second half of 2016. Without bad luck, you know you’re getting a .250-.260 hitter. For 2017, he’s sporting his best HR/FB, tied with his rookie season, at 20%. He’s at 23% in the second half, and 23% since being traded. Despite the lower FB% in August, a 41% rate is still enough to keep the home runs going. He’s also corrected a dip in BB% during June and July, which is even more impressive given he’s facing a new league. There are no red flags for me here, so use him with confidence.

Mike Montgomery I try not to gush about Cubs who are doing well, but man, what a boon MiMo has been for us. He’s only had 3 starts with 4+ ER, and his August gems have been deeper into games than earlier in the season, while giving up only one earned run between the two starts. His ground ball tilt plays well with a great Cubs infield defense, helping him retain a low BABIP. After some early control issues, he’s been better in the second half (3.2 BB/9).

The dip in K/9 and SwStr% this year hurt his value for some owners, and he may make a more valuable real life piece than fantasy player, but I’m optimistic that come 2018, he should be in the rotation full-time. Given that 2017 is already a career high in innings, plus his back-and-forth role, I could excuse some of his K/9 drop is due to the fatigue of a full season. For 2017 you can’t rely on him as a consistent starter, but deep keeper leagues should target him for a nice medium-risk, high-reward arm. The RP eligibility also adds to his value.

Gio Gonzalez It seems Gio found some more gas in the tank, as he’s riding a career best ERA and WHIP. We’d all but given up on him as a #2 or even #3 fantasy starter, but his 2017 ratios want us to believe again. However, how much of this is skills based, and how much of it is luck? It turns out he’s not as safe as you’d think.

Yeah, those bests in ERA and WHIP are mostly due to his luckiest BABIP and strand rate of his career. In terms of skills, there’s nothing here that indicates he can be this good again in 2018. First, he’s always struggled with walks, and his career best BB/9 was only 3.0, in 2016. This year it’s back up, though he’s decided he loves August (1.9 BB/9 in 2016, 1.7 in 2017). However, he’s also losing strikeouts in the second half, which happened in 2016 as well. A 7.0 K/9 since July isn’t very good, and it’s supported by dropping velocity and a lower SwStr% in August. In the second half, he’s been able to keep away from home runs, and he’s increased his GB%.

Overall, I just can’t buy into Gio, and you definitely shouldn’t overreach come 2018. Despite the better Pitch Value for his changeup, and even his fastball, it’s hard to believe luck and hitters won’t catch up to him. This is a mirage, especially when you look as his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, which are all a career worst since his first two years. Sell him ASAP and get some better, younger pieces.




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Mitch Haniger Every season, some unknown guys have an amazing April, and then it’s a guessing game as to who will stay hot due to luck or skill gain, and who will fall back to earth — hard. Haniger is the latter, although an oblique injury that shelved him for a month and a half is also partly to blame. Then he was hit in the face, which may have affected his attempts to get back into rhythm. There’s potentially bad luck in his second half, but his metrics aren’t good and suggest it’s also partly his fault.

Let’s get the hot start out of the way. A BABIP above .400 fueled his high average in April. He put up a good HR/FB (18%), but he hasn’t been able to sustain it, with a 7% rate since July. Even before the oblique injury, it was unlikely he would have kept up that pace all season. When he returned, he wasn’t hitting the ball as hard, and despite a BABIP above the league average, his batting average plummeted to .231.

Now in the second half, he seems to be pushing too hard. His walk rate has halved from his April numbers. His hard hit rate is well below league average. He does seem to have an exceptionally low BABIP, but he’s also hitting more grounders, which are easier outs. His LD% is just 8% in August. He seemed to have decent numbers against righties, at least — but they’re coming down as his BABIP against them drops. Maybe you give him another try in 2018, but you shouldn’t keep him based on his one hot month, and there are better sleeper picks out there.

Randall Grichuk A promising power/speed guy struggled to hit for average. He swung out of the zone, and he swung and missed, well above league average. In the past four weeks, he’s had two great ones for batting average — but he also has two weeks hitting under .130, and he’s not providing much power, and he has no stolen bases since May. I want to buy in, just like I did before the season started, but those who are risk-averse should stay away.

On the surface, his 2017 isn’t much different from his 2016 campaign, especially when you look at BA, OBP, K%, and HR/FB. So at least he hasn’t taken any big steps backward. His hard hit rate is above average, and he’s increased his LD% this year, which are good signs. He’s even made small improvements in his swinging strike rate and his contact rate.

But… there’s a bad feeling here. Ideally, he should be making progress in his age 25 season. He’s not. His Pitch Values on FanGraphs don’t show any gains — if anything, he’s regressed against most pitch types. He does okay against sinkers and changeups, so I guess he can punish slow pitches that are mistakes, but that’s it. His HR/FB is above average, but it’s come down 1% for the last three seasons, and his FB% has dropped to a career low, even if just barely. He has at least average speed, so I’d expected 15 steals in a good year, but he’s not running anymore. His decent average in August is relying on a high BABIP and some luck, given his hard hit rate isn’t great for the month and he has a 47% ground ball rate.

I had hoped for a .250/25+/15+ season if all went well, but he’ll be lucky if he reaches .240/20/8. Next year, there are better options for breakout candidates and high-risk outfielders. The metrics don’t indicate an imminent breakout, so find another guy to gamble on.

Tyler SkaggsHe may still have some name recognition due to his prospect status from five years ago, but it’s clear that Skaggs is just roster filler if you’re hurting for starting pitching. When I look at his past three seasons, I see lots of fluctuations in multiple metrics — he improves here, declines there, and each year it’s different categories. Add in that this year he had an oblique injury that shelved him for months, and it’s no surprise that his August stats have been mediocre. However, his ceiling isn’t that high even with health.

The rust from his one early month to his last month is clear: his BB/9, K/9, SwStr%, and HR/FB are all worse. The only good news is that he’s been able to get back to a ground ball tilt, which he displayed in 2013-14. There was a lot to like in his K/9 from 2016, when he had two months at 9.5 or higher, but he came back down a bit in April and is now much lower after the oblique injury. AL-only leagues may consider trying him in September, but even them I’m reluctant. All other formats should let him sit in waiver limbo.

Sean Newcomb A hot June turned into an ugly July, and he’s been in the middle in August. There’s no denying his strikeout potential, with a K/9 of 9.9 since July supported by an above-average swinging strike rate. Some will argue an unlucky BABIP hurt him in July, but a 27% line drive rate means batters were squaring up on him. He’s also had a HR/FB well above league average the last two months, so the ERA isn’t getting better until he controls the gopheritis.

The biggest issue is that insanely high walk rate. A 6.5 BB/9 in each of the last two months means he can’t stay in the zone, which is supported by his lower F-Strike%, especially compared to his June numbers (3.0 BB/9, 66% F-Strike). Due to the walks, his ERA should be even worse in August, but he’s had a lucky strand rate of 81%. When batters are hitting home runs off him, they’ve luckily been when the bases aren’t full. He still has high upside in deep keeper leagues, but there are still very important pieces missing before he’s a keeper in shallow leagues, or anything more than an endgame pick in 2018.

 

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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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