By Matt Cott and Moe Koltun of RotoAnalysis.com
The first few weeks of the fantasy baseball season provide the best chance for shrewd fantasy owners to get a leg-up on the competition in many ways; it’s by far the best time to find break-out candidates, figure out which players’ skills have regressed from last season, and, most importantly, it’s the best time to take advantage of other owners who either give up on their players too quickly or don’t act hastily enough to take advantage of a breakout guy. Let’s take a look at some of Moe and Matt’s favorite buy-low and sell-high candidates, as well as breakout guys they believe in and proven players they would recommend getting rid of.
Buy Low: Yu Darvish, Rangers SP & Matt Moore, Rays SP
We’ve decided to group Darvish and Moore together in this “buy low” category because in many ways the two of them had very similar opening weeks: both Moore and Darvish are highly-touted rookie eligible players who have phenomenal stuff, but both of them put up extremely disappointing statistics in their first starts of the season. Their similarities continue as the reason for their worse-than-expected statistics seem to be rooted in the same issue: nerves. Darvish proceeded to have a catastrophic first inning in the major leagues, especially from a control perspective, as he walked two batters, let a runner advance on a wild pitch and earned a total of four runs in the process while facing the lowly Seattle Mariners. After that inning, Darvish was lights out, and from a “stuff” angle, the entire game was a success for Darvish; he averaged over 93 MPH on his fastball, threw a nasty cutter at 90 MPH, a curve at 75 and a slider at 82, all of which looked great. Similarly, Matt Moore struggled with his control in his opening start, but his stuff was as good as ever and he was pitching against one of MLB’s top lineups in the Tigers. Don’t worry about players as young as Moore or even Darvish in their first start, and if someone who watched the start is worried, we’d be more than happy to indulge on many trade offers for either of these young hurlers.
Sell High: Zack Cozart, Reds SS
Zack Cozart has lived up to his prospect status, and more, to start off the season blazingly hot. In our opinion, however, it’s a little early to get on the Cozart bandwagon. Cozart has the potential to provide 15 homers and 15 steals for fantasy and be a very valuable shortstop. The main issue with Cozart’s fantasy value is going to be his batting average and plate discipline. In his minor league career, Cozart hit over .280 just one time, and combined a terrible walk rate (2 walks in 63 MLB PAs so far) with a relatively high strikeout rate. This season, he has relied on a .500 Batting Average on Balls In Play (also called BABIP, which is an extremely lucky mark) to propel his hot start; this will cut to about half in no time, and his numbers across the board will suffer. While Cozart will certainly be fantasy-relevant, hesitate before naming him a top option at shortstop until he improves his pure hitting ability.
Buy Low: Jason Kipnis, Indians 2B
On the flip side of Cozart is Kipnis, a player with much more upside across the middle of the infield. Kipnis, however, has struggled mightily to start the year. Part of this may stem from Manny Acta’s decision to bat him eighth; Kipnis would clearly benefit from more lineup protection and the increased RBI/Runs potential. I think he’ll be moved up soon due to a rebound from his early-season numbers. Kipnis displayed success at the MLB level towards the end of last season, with 7 homers, 5 steals, and a .272 average in just 36 games — that would put him on pace for 32 homers and 23 steals in a full season. Those stats are somewhat ridiculous and can’t be expected to happen this season, but they do display just how good Kipnis could be. His BABIP of .067 has simply killed him so far this year, and is relatively comical in contrast to Cozart’s .500 mark. As those hits begin to fall, Kipnis’ true-talent will start to ring out, as he’s actually been walking more and striking out less than last season. If there’s an owner in your league who is doubting their pick of Kipnis, or if he’s available on the waiver wire, now is the time to buy in.
Sell High: Alex Avila, Tigers C
I feel like the writers of RotoAnalysis.com write something negative about Alex Avila almost every week, but it’s going to keep happening as long as his fantasy results and skill level don’t match up. Everything about Avila’s stats right now screams ‘fluke’. Coming into April 11th’s game against the Rays, Avila had been striking out less than a third as much as he did in 2011, slugging 1.000, and already had 4 runs and 5 RBIs in 3 games. Fortunately, Avila did go 0 for 3 with 2 strikeouts against James Shields in that game, so the regression has likely already started. Avila lowered his still preposterous batting average to .333 — We expect that number to drop another 80 points or so to around .250-.260. While he does have power, I think 20-25 homers is going to be the cap on Avila in 2012 based on his talent and the Tigers’ DH spot being taken up by Delmon Young and other players on most days, limiting Avila’s games played. If anyone in your league values him as a top 5 catcher, I’d trade him in a heartbeat.
Believe In: Alejandro De Aza, White Sox OF
Alejandro De Aza is going to be 28 years old this year and playing in his first full season in the majors, which in most circles would make him a “Non-Prospect”. However, De Aza has never really been given a chance in the big leagues, and almost every time he’s been given a chance, he has flourished. Right now, De Aza is a top 30 OF on ESPN’s player rater, despite his .235 batting average. De Aza has built off of the way he ended the year in 2011, and his power / speed combination could be B.J. Upton-like, with a 15 homer, 30 steal season a definitive possibility. An average of .235 would make sense for a player like De Aza’s teammate Adam Dunn, but when a fast player hits over 50% of his balls in play on the ground (that percentage is similar to a typical Michael Bourn season), an average in the .260-.270 range is to be expected at worst. The White Sox don’t have a ton to look forward too this season, but Alejandro De Aza might be a lone bright spot in the darkness that will be the Sox’s 2012 lineup. We’d advocate trying to trade for De Aza in nearly any format — his value is still extremely low, and it won’t be long before he becomes a popular sleeper option.
Do Not Believe In: Tim Lincecum, Giants SP
It’s usually not smart to change your opinion on a pitcher after 1 or 2 starts to begin the year — many guys are notorious slow starters, or simply haven’t found their rhythm yet. With Lincecum in 2012, though, I’m much more concerned than other guys who have struggled. The scariest part about his start Wednesday in Colorado wasn’t the fact that he couldn’t get out of the third inning, but that his fastball was hitting only 89-91 mph. Lincecum’s strikeout rate has remained high, but I’m concerned that his strong off-speed stuff won’t be enough to live up to his true ace potential. While he is definitely still a top 10 option at the position, with the given risk I wouldn’t mind giving him up to an owner who thinks they are stealing him at a buy-low value.
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Tweet @RotoAnalysis and be sure to follow Moe @MoeProblems and Matt @KidCotti21. Check out their work on RotoAnalysis.com, as well as The RotoAnalysis Fantasy Sports Podcast.