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Fantasy Stock Watch: Keeper Edition 3

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

Stock Up logoWhit MerrifieldHe flashed some speed last year, but no one would have penciled him for a full season entering 2017, especially after Mondesi was named the starter. However, those who grabbed Merrifield early reaped the rewards all season. As we enter 2018, medium to deep keeper leagues definitely should keep him, and he even makes a good case for shallower leagues, especially AL-only. Buy now before the hype catches up to him in Kansas City.

His contact skills and decent LD% give him a high floor for batting average, especially given his hard hit rate is a bit above average. He walks at least a little, which gives him even more chances to get on base. His good speed and a steady green light on the basepaths means he should repeat 30+ SB with no problem.

The doubters may look to his league average HR/FB and claim he can’t reach 20 homers. However, he improved as the season went along, going from 7% HR/FB in the first half to 11% in the second half. Add in the fact that he should get even more AB next season at the top of the order, and I have no problem penciling him in for a .285/20/30 season. That has a lot of value anywhere on the field, but especially for middle infielders.

Eddie RosarioI have a habit of getting in on guys too early, and then finally giving up right before they have a breakout year. I’ve liked Rosario for many seasons, but he had enough issues (lack of position, playing time, and plate discipline) that kept him as a part-time player. After seeing him go up and down last year, I moved on. Then he reaches 500+ AB and has a better year than I had hoped for. The good news is that my earlier obsession is justified, because this was a growth year.

He clearly flashed a power/speed combo in 2015, when he reached double digits in both. Now he’s developed his power even more, with three seasons of HR/FB growth. At first it seemed he did most of his power damage in the last two months, and so his first wasn’t overly impressive (10 HR vs. 17 HR). However, he lofted the ball more in the second half, which explains the boost in total home runs — his HR/FB was pretty consistent all season. His hard hit rate was better in the second half as well.

His plate discipline is the best news for the future. He doubled his walk rate, cut down on his SwStr%, and improved his contact. Oh, and he has enough speed to keep up 10 SB. The average may be a bit lucky, but he’s just entering his prime, and so I could see a .280/30/10 season in 2018. Go the extra dollar on him, like I did in 2015-16.

Drew PomeranzHe struggled after being traded to Boston in 2016, mostly due to gopheritis (33% HR/FB) in September. Because he didn’t perform in the bigger media market, many were sour on him entering 2017. However, he exactly matched his ERA from his good 2016 campaign, notched one more quality start, and actually won games due to playing on a competitor. Is he over the adjustment period and a lock for full value moving forward?

There’s some smoke and mirrors to his ERA repeat, so don’t go all-in. He struggled with the long ball in April (23% HR/FB) but then calmed down in that respect. A very unlucky BABIP sunk his WHIP and hurt his ERA in May. If these normalized, then it should be good news from here on out, right? Not quite. He lost 2.3 from his first half K/9 to the second half. His BB/9 rose 1.2 as well. Giving up more line drives than 2016 helped keep his BABIP above the league average.

The fact remains that he’s too inconsistent to rely on. You should get strikeouts, although they came down last year, and his swinging strike rate says they aren’t coming back. His ERA should rise in 2018. The lack of control and less GB% means he’ll likely hurt you in WHIP. Don’t buy high on him, but deep keeper leagues could do worse for their #3 or #4 SP.

Dallas KeuchelFrom Cy Young winner in 2015 to bench rider in 2016, except that most fantasy owners kept using him because he was supposed to be good. In 2017, it was anyone’s guess as to which Keuchel would show up. I’d expected a partial rebound, but he managed to get his ERA and WHIP back to between his 2014-15 level. However, he also has missed chunks of time for the last two years. So what should you pay for his age 30 season in 2018, and is he an ace worth keeping?

As long as you don’t expect a full 2015 repeat, he’s a good investment. Career bests in GB% and FB% helped mitigate his spike in HR/FB — he actually improved on his HR/9 from last year despite 6% more HR/FB. The extreme ground ball rate also keeps his strand rate high and his BABIP below the league average. As for his K/9, he’s settled down after a career best in 2015, but a 7.7 won’t hurt you. The one red flag I see is a three-year rise in walk rate, and his 2.9 BB/9 in 2017 isn’t great. He’s not a heavy strike thrower, and his pitching to make (ground ball) contact tactics means this rate is acceptable. I’m not comfortable with him as my #1 SP in mixed leagues, but he’s a great #2 for your team.




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Ian KinslerThe aging veteran didn’t show signs of slowing down — until 2017. When you look at his career, he’s not been the most consistent hitter in any category, with varying home run totals and batting average. As he reaches his late thirties, it’s best to move on, even in AL-only leagues. There’s not a lot of keeper value here unless you’re in a full dynasty format, and even then I’d look to move him for something.

The good news is that he hit 20+ HR for two years in a row — something he’s never done in his career before, as surprising as that may seem. The last two seasons, he’s been trying to loft the ball more, sacrificing contact. It’s meant a better HR/FB in 2016-17 than his previous four years, but right now 20 HR bats are rather easy to find, so his achievement isn’t that special.

He had an exceptionally low BABIP, which should be at least partly due to luck considering his solid hard hit rate. However, his LD% was down, and given his age and drop in contact, I’m not optimistic he’ll get back to .280+ again. You’re better off looking to his mid-career level of .250. He kept running this year, but as he gets older, his speed scores are dropping a bit, and so double-digit steals can’t keep up forever. He may be better than this season in 2018, but not by much, and he’s not worth a keeper slot.

Jonathan VillarRaise your hand if you thought Villar would be a much safer bet than Billy Hamilton for speed. I sure did. In 2016, he took walks, and even if his average was a bit high due to a lucky BABIP, it made for a better profile than Hamilton. Yet Villar struggled mightily out of the gate, hitting the DL for a back issue and then not being guaranteed full playing time upon return. This type of surge and fade is usually why I avoid the breakout stars early in the draft, but I gambled on Villar and paid the price in 2017. So now that you can get him for a steal (pun intended), is he worth targeting next year?

Playing time could be an issue if Milwaukee doesn’t trust him, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Before 2017, he had a BABIP above .350 for three out of four years. He hits it in the ground and can outrun throws, meaning he’s capable of sustaining BABIP well above the league average. In the first half, his BABIP was under .300, so there’s some bad luck there, or perhaps the back issue was affecting his ability to hit. In the second half, though it was under 200 AB, he went back to his crazy-high BABIP ways and a .278 average.

His power didn’t lose much from the previous year, particularly in his first half. His speed is still good. He came down from his career high walk rate. He lost some plate discipline (contact, SwStr%), possibly due to pressing to correct his struggles. And we have to see what role he’ll fill in 2018, to project at bats. However, now that he won’t be a first or second round target, I still say you can get some sneaky SB value from him, if all goes well. High risk, high reward.

Johnny CuetoHonestly, I’ve never liked Cueto. As such, I’ve missed out on some great seasons he’s put up, including 2016. However, there’s been some up and down in his metrics and luck, and he’s never been a profile that I feel I really need to pay full value for. So after a down year, I’m definitely backing away, and with some stats to back me up.

The good news is that his velocity and strikeouts are steady. His SwStr% has been pretty consistent, so the 8.3 K/9 is repeatable, though he couldn’t keep up his elite first pitch strike rate from 2016. However, his walk rate was the highest it’s been since 2009, at 3.2 BB/9. After four years of improvement in BB/9, maybe he was bound to have a hiccup, but anything above 3.0 in this era is poor. If you want to gamble on the walk rate returning to elite levels, feel free, but I’m wary.

The most troubling aspect of his season was the complete disappearance of his ground ball tilt. He’s had four seasons at or above 49% grounders. Granted that 2015 was only 43%, but this season was much worse. He tied career worsts in GB% and LD%. He had his second worst HR/FB and HR/9. But most telling is that his hard hit rate was the worst of his career by over 3%. He was making mistakes, and hitters made him pay. He deserved his somewhat high BABIP — it wasn’t bad luck. As he enters his mid-thirties, you have to watch for three things: improved walk rate, improved GB%, and improved gopheritis. If two of the three don’t rebound, you’ll be overpaying next year.

Marco EstradaLike Matt Cain, Estrada had recently established a pattern of outperforming his metrics, in terms of FIP and xFIP. However, also like Cain, things caught up with Estrada, and he exploded with an awful season. Now that he’ll be 34 in 2018, it’s safest to steer clear from him.

The scariest part is that overall, he’s been pretty consistent for a few seasons. Look at the last three years. His LD% has been under 20%, his FB% has been 48-52%, and his GB% is 30-33%. The last two years, his K/9 (8.4, 8.5) and BB/9 (3.4, 3.5) have been nearly identical. However, note that his walk rate has officially risen for five straight years, even if incrementally. His home run metrics have also been close to his career and other recent years.

So what’s the difference in his ERA and WHIP? It mostly lies in BABIP. The good thing about fly ball pitchers is that all that loft usually makes for easy outs — as long as the ball doesn’t leave the yard. Fly balls have the lowest BABIP. But his 2015-16 seasons were just too lucky, and there was no way he could keep his BABIP under .260 forever. This year his BABIP went a bit above the league average, and he was giving up just a little bit more in home runs. That was enough to tip him off the knife’s edge he was walking, and his ERA and WHIP paid the price. For 2018 and beyond, there’s a small chance he could return to 2016 levels, but it’s highly unlikely, and you shouldn’t consider paying for a strong rebound.

 

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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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