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Fantasy Baseball Edge: Buy Low, Sell High Pitchers

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By Matt Cott, Moe Koltun, and Matthew Schwimmer of Roto Analysis

With a month in the books, values are starting to become fixated around the league. However, now is also one of the best times to make trades and move your team up the standings while you still have time. We at RotoAnalysis are trying to help you set those trade values of yours and help you set up your team to succeed as the summer drags along. Last week we focused on hitters, and this week we decided to take on some pitchers.

READ: BUY LOW, SELL HIGH HITTERS FROM ROTOANALYSIS

Buy Low:

David Price, Rays SP

While this is an obvious name, we just wanted to stress how important it is not to give up on Price. He’s been pitching very similarly to recent years but seems to have hit a patch of bad luck in his first few starts. His Home Run per Fly Ball rate (HR/FB) is more than double his career rate – while he really should have let up four homers, so far he has let up eight. His strikeout and walk rates are right in line with his career averages and those home runs have been the main source of his ERA ballooning. His xFIP, which only accounts for the strikeouts, walks, and home runs that he “should” have allowed by a normal HR/FB rate is actually lower than his career average and points to a great comeback coming for Price. If any of his owners are feeling antsy, talk to them ASAP.

Edwin Jackson, Cubs SP

Edwin Jackson has had an extremely out of character year so far in 2013. He has seen spikes in both his strikeout rate (career: 6.94 K/9 2013: 9.24 K/9) and walk rate (career: 3.55 BB/9 2013: 4.26 BB/9) and currently has a putrid 6.39 ERA. However, a lot of that ERA inflation is thanks to some very bad luck—Jackson has only stranded 52.3% of runners on base, near the lowest in major league baseball, and almost 20% lower than his career average. That is largely caused by a .353 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) which is nearly 50 points higher than his career average. I’d look for all of these numbers to regress: Jackson’s strikeout rate, walk rate, BABIP, and most importantly, ERA, should all come down. If for nothing else, Jackson is a near-guaranteed innings eater, posting five straight seasons of 180+ innings pitched headed into this year, and that alone should give him value for the rest of the season.

Brandon McCarthy, Diamondbacks SP

Brandon McCarthy is a weird case of a player doing exactly what fantasy owners would have wanted him to do coming into the year, but having little to no statistical ‘fantasy’ success with it. McCarthy has actually both raised his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate since leaving Oakland and moving to the Diamondbacks this season, and is even garnering slightly more groundballs. However, his BABIP against this season is a whopping .377, top 5 among starters in major league baseball. That trend seems much more like a small sample fallacy than a legitimate pattern, and when the ball finds slightly less damaging holes, McCarthy should come back down to earth to a 3.8 ERA or so and be a useful starter in most formats. Add him if he’s available on the cheap.

Sell High:

Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals SP

I like Jordan Zimmerman a lot, but now is the best time in the year to sell on the young Nats starter. Zimmerman has done little to improve from last year. In fact, his K/9 is a full 2.25 strikeouts lower than last season, but he is still posting an ERA of 1.64. Going into last night’s start, Zimmerman was only striking out 4.75 batters per game, which puts him below guys like Jeff Locke and Jason Vargas. While it’s obvious that his ERA will certainly drift closer to 3.5 as his FIP and xFIP suggest, it’s important to note that in most fantasy leagues strikeouts are a separate category. Zimmerman is not producing for owners in strikeouts at all right now, but his ERA is covering most fantasy owners from noticing. Zimmerman is probably a top 20 pitcher going forward, but it is entirely possible that Zimmerman could be used to obtain a borderline top 10 pitcher for the rest of the year and a guy who will produce more reliable strikeouts.  

Ervin Santana, Royals SP

After a horrific 2012, Santana has bounced back and currently ranks as the #24 SP on CBS so far this season. He’s pulled off a 2.00 ERA to go with a very impressive walk rate of just 1.25 batters per 9 innings. However, I think now is the only time all season where you could talk about him favorably. He’s displaying a few of the classic characteristics of overrated pitchers, and the first of these is his left on base percentage which is currently at 89.5% and 4th highest in the league. This rate has been mainly due to luck and should trend closer towards his career average of 72% as the season goes on. Additionally, Santana is posting the best strikeout rate of his career other than 2008, and a walk rate less than half of his career rate. This isn’t sustainable, and I see a pitcher in Santana who is just easily over his head right now, and it’s only 5 starts in. While most people agree he’s not a top 25 option, I don’t even think that Santana is a top 50-60 option. Sell accordingly.

Matt Moore, Rays SP

All fantasy owners get excited for fresh face with new, electric stuff, and Moore certainly fits that billing. However, his perceived improvement this season is significantly greater than his actual improvement, and capitalizing on his flaming hot start isn’t a bad idea. Last year, Moore posted plenty of strikeouts for a rookie—an 8.88 K/9 rate through nearly 180 innings is nothing to scoff at – but he struggled with his control, posting a 4.11 BB/9 rate. Well, this season, not only have his problems not gotten better, but they’ve actually escalated—yes, a 9.97 K/9 rate is an improvement to elite strikeout status, but Matt Moore’s walk rate has actually gotten worse this season, up to 4.62 BB/9. Right now, Moore has a .179 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) against, and is stranding an MLB-high 96.9% of runners against him. Look for both of those numbers to regress to the mean even with the Rays above average defense—if someone in your league values Moore as a top 10 starter, I’d flip him and try to sell high on his phenomenal early season start.

 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.