Today marks the midway point of the third week of this young fantasy baseball season. How’s your team doing? Are you freaking out yet? You shouldn’t be. Unless it’s a happy freak-out.
Still, it can be hard to see your team start in the loss column. It’s hard to see a bunch of DL10‘s next to what feels like half of your roster. It can be even harder to let go of the horses you picked to carry you across the finish line, the guys you were convinced were sleeper picks, the ones you reached for in the draft.
So when is it ok to let go? And who should you be grabbing instead? Lucky for you, I’ve got some suggestions on how to handle those decisions and a list of four players under 40% ownership that could fill their roster spots. As always, I’ll end with a craft beer review, this one being a collaboration between California brewery Sierra Nevada and the 1,000+ year old German brewery Weihenstephan.
To drop, or not to drop
Holy shit, that was almost 14 years ago. Also, that was the most heartbreaking playoff series of my life. I haven’t had a hard life. But I digress.
We’ve heard a lot of talk recently about “stabilization rates” of batters after a certain number of ABs, with many players starting to reach these early thresholds of meaningful statistics. Math is math, and I’m not denying that, but there are other things to consider in addition to how many ABs the player has seen before we make a decision on whether to drop someone or not.
To cherry-pick an example from this year, Joey Votto has 73 PAs to his name and has only walked 5 times, good for a BB-rate of 6.8%. That’s atrocious, especially for a player who has led the MLB in walk rate for 4 of the last 5 seasons and holds a career BB-rate of 16.1%. All that is to say that there’s no way in hell Joey Votto ends the season with anything under a 16% BB-rate. It just doesn’t happen. Yet here he sits with a rookie-level walk rate.
But I cherry-picked him for a reason: he’s an easy hold. No one is going to drop Votto. Hell, ESPN doesn’t even allow you to drop Votto. But when you replace Votto with names like Chris Davis or Marcus Semien or even Yoan Moncada those decisions get a bit more difficult. I’ve devised a simple rule of thumb in the form of a crude chart to help managers decide when it’s ok to cut bait on poor performers and disappointments. Please note that I am not advocating that you drop players after “x” week if they aren’t performing well, this is just a rough guide on how long of a leash you should give them before you consider moving on. Moving on can take the form of benching, trading, or dropping. You should always try to trade a player from the top-100 before dropping them.
For 10-teamers: You will have the most waiver wire fodder of any league. It’s much easier to cut bait on players when you have a larger pool of comparable talent available to you. You can have more freedom to add, drop, and trade fringe performers and busts. If you play in a league this size (or smaller), you should be more actively chasing hot bats and hot arms because you can afford to be wrong. On the other side of that coin is the difficulty in trading: you will find other managers much less willing to trade their blue-chip players because those are the greatest commodity when second-tier guys are a dime-a-dozen.
For 12-teamers: I think these are the most balanced and interesting leagues because their size shrinks the free agent pool significantly, but not so much that there’s “nothing out there, man.” You can still find good bats and arms on the wire, just not many names you’ll recognize. Savvy management and player scouting is quite important, and due to the smaller talent pool trades for second-tier players becomes more common. Give your players a bit more leash because while you can afford to dump someone you put stock in, their replacement will be harder to find.
For 14+ team leagues: This is where your life becomes about scouting minor leaguers and scouring team depth charts. The waiver wire will be thinner than Trump’s hair and anyone you drop is very likely to be immediately snapped up by someone else. Any remotely recognizable names are going to be rostered or have an injury. You’ll need to trust more in projections, player history and stats, and play the long game when making decisions lest you risk rage-dropping someone who’s having a rough start and having no one to replace them. Playing time is worth reiterating when looking at who’s available: if you’re only looking at stat lines they may seem juicy, but often when they’re on the wire in leagues of this size that could mean they were (or are) filling in briefly as a starter for an injured everyday player, or are about to lose their job to platooning or a prospect being called up. The playing time factor becomes much more important in large leagues (and two-catcher leagues), so don’t load up on backups and platoon players with shiny ratios and OBPs/AVGs who won’t be on the field enough to move the needle.
For all league sizes: Nothing is one-size-fits all. You can drop a stud any time you want if they tear their ACL and you’re in a redraft league. You can churn through streamers and chase hot bats and arms all year if that works for you. You should always be open to hearing a trade offer, even if they want your Mike Trout. The important thing is to remember that your draft picks were investments you made, and not all of them will pan out or start producing immediately. And that’s ok. Just don’t bail too early: there’s a reason you chose them in the first place, and if someone has a great April+May but slumps in June, it’s much easier to say “it’s just a slump” than when their slump comes in April.
Four Guys to Grab on the Waiver Wire: Under 40% Ownership
I’ve got three batters and a pitcher to talk about today, owned at 35%, 28%, 15%, and 13% respectively in ESPN leagues. All are criminally under-owned at this juncture, and all should be on your radar if you need help at their respective positions.
1) Michael Brantley – OF (CLE), 34% Ownership
2018 stats: 33 ABs – .333/.371/.485, 2 R, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 SB
Never thought I’d have to argue for this guy. He bats 5th on a strong Cleveland offense, hits for average, and has solid 20 HR-potential pop to go with 15-20 SB potential. Yet here we are, and we all know why: injury. Brantley hasn’t cracked 130 games since his 2015 season, and his draft stock plummeted early with another injury out of the gate. While he’s certainly not risk-free, he’s also much more valuable than his paltry 34% ownership suggests.
Since returning from the DL on April 4th when he smacked a 2-RBI base hit, Brantley is finding his groove, and quickly. While the sample size is still small, he’s a hot bat worth riding based on his long history of good fantasy production. He’s an established started and the only thing standing in his way is health, which by all accounts is good.
Brantley is riding a 4-game multi-hit streak, with his first Home Run and steal of the year coming in that span. He’s running, hitting for power, hitting for average, and supporting it all with a very sustainable .333 BABIP. While his career BABIP is .313, he’s more than capable of sustaining a .333 BABIP as he showed in 2014 when he posted exactly that BABIP over 156 games in his finest fantasy season. His peripheral stats are all similar to that year, with the exception of his atrocious 2.9% BB-rate in 2018 which is guaranteed to rise closer to his career-average of 8%.
Grab him now. He’s only 30, he’s got the pedigree and history, he’s got the job security and offensive support around him, and his hot start since returning from the DL shows he’s put his injury behind him (for now).
2) Matt Kemp – OF (LAD), 28% Ownership
2018 stats: 49 ABs – .347/.389/.592, 7 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB
I’m not saying he’s 2011 Kemp, but he’s not looking like 2017 Kemp, either.
Matt Kemp worked his ass off to earn a starting job in Spring Training, something no one thought he could do. He’s forced himself into the highly desirable 5th slot in the potent Dodgers lineup, and he’s making it count to the tune of double-digit RBI and an outstanding .592 SLG to compliment a sterling .347 BA. While I very much doubt he finishes 2018 with that slashline, it’s a damn good start and proves that what he showed the Dodgers in Spring Training has carried over into April.
Like Brantley, Kemp is someone whose ceiling is quite high and whose history shows us that he’s worth taking a shot on because of it. While he is 33 now, Kemp lost a lot of weight and added muscle this offseason and it shows. There’s no reason for him to be sitting on your wire until (if) he starts flailing. The speed is mostly gone (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see him swipe 6-10 bags if he stays healthy) but the power is still there, as evidenced by his three HR and three doubles to start the year.
3) Brandon Belt – 1B (SF), 15% Ownership
2018 stats: 47 ABs – .255/.368/.426, 4 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1 SB
I suppose I should start by saying I am very sorry for making the above joke about Belt’s belt. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s why you should consider picking him up.
Belt is what I call the OBP-League-Special, in that he goes from arguably deserving his 15% ownership in most AVG leagues to being criminally under-owned in OBP leagues. Brandon Belt is basically Buster Posey without the high AVG (and their stats are weirdly similar so far through the young season): he’s a low/medium power guy who will take pitches, work counts, and rack up walks and throw in about 5 SB over a season.
The problem, which you may have already guessed, is that Belt plays for the San Francisco Giants, which makes him about 400% less likely to accrue counting stats that accurately reflect his abilities. He’s not fantasy perfect, but if you’re looking for that kind of player on the wire (or after the first 20-odd picks in your draft) then I don’t know what to tell ya.
What I can tell you is Belt is an OBP machine and that he can help balance out some of the big power bats in your lineup that often tank your OBP in exchange for their power. Remember that a fantasy roster is a mosaic, not a single picture. Very few players are going to help you in all five categories, and you need strong contributors in each category across your lineup, allowing the high-contact/OBP guys and speedsters to supplement the strong HR and RBI totals of the all-or-nothing mashers.
Brandon Belt is one such player, and while he’s got his warts, he’s capable of providing help to many rosters.
4) Vince Velasquez – SP (PHI), 13% Ownership
2018 stats: 4 Starts, 21.1 IP, 24:5 K:BB, 3.80 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 2.17 FIP, 3.13 xFIP
VV is a 25 year old righty with an uninspiring 4.40 career ERA. He’s a classic “high-strikeout/high-home run” pitcher whose biggest issue is the longball, as he has an absolutely atrocious 1.35 HR/9 rate and 3.38 BB/9 rate over his 280 career IP in the bigs. He also has a cool 9.71 K/9 to take out some of that sting, but still. Ouch.
So why pick him up? Especially when his 3.80 ERA and 1.36 WHIP looks to be right in line with his usual mixed bag of mediocrity?
For starters, VV is doing something he hasn’t done since his 2015 rookie season with 7 starts: keep his HR/9 under 1.00 and his BB/9 under 3.50. Now, 21.1 innings in 2018 is hardly a real sample size, but even when VV has gotten pounded (like in his season debut where he gave up 4 ER in just 2.2 innings) he limits his walks now: in four games, he’s only given up 5 walks, with a high watermark of exactly 2 free passes issued in the aforementioned first-start stinker.
What’s more impressive is that he’s doing this while suffering the highest-ever BABIP in his career, which through 4 starts sits at a crazy-high .371, well over his previous career-high of .325. That BABIP will stabilize, and that means his WHIP will drop with it. His FIP is a sterling 2.17, and his xFIP is a sweet 3.13, proving his luck has been hard on his stats.
I’m not preaching confidently that he’s turned a corner, but VV is still just 25 years old, and has only cracked 20 starts once in his career, which also resulted in his best-ever season. If he can keep the walks and home runs down, as he has managed to do so far, his 10+ K/9 ability suddenly becomes much more useful when the ERA and WHIP drops to 4th or even 3rd starter-levels. Again, it’s a small sample size, but he’s increased his K’s and decreased his BB’s in each start this year, and as long as he continues to limit the long ball and issue fewer free passes the WHIP and ERA will come down as the .371 BABIP inevitably will, too.
The beer: Braupakt, a Collaboration between Sierra Nevada (CA) and Weihenstephan (Germany)
This was a really interesting beer to try for a few reasons. Sierra Nevada is one of the oldest craft breweries in the United States, having been established in 1980 by two homebrewers in California. They have since grown into one of the largest and most successful craft breweries in the world. Weihenstephan is (allegedly) the oldest brewery in the world, with its owners claiming they were established in 1040 AD after “finding” a document in the 1950’s that proved the previous estimate of 1146 AD was inaccurate. While the validity of this claim is still debated, it’s safe to say Weihenstephan is fucking old, and they know what they’re doing when it comes to lager beers.
The Braupakt offering, which translates to “Brewery Pact” (how creative, right?) is a unique Hefeweizen beer brewed with Chinook and Amarillo hops (and you guessed it, those are Sierra Nevada’s contributions!).
Hefeweizen’s are typically lower in ABV and IBU (how bitter it is), but this one sits at a robust 6% ABV with 35 IBU. The result is a slightly heftier body that’s still light and drinkable, with strong bready banana flavors up front in the way of a traditional Hefe. The banana bread is quickly followed by a light, pleasant grapefruit sweetness that adds nice tang to the Belgian-esque spices of the brew. The Chinook and Amarillo don’t come through very strongly, so Hefeweizen traditionalists put away your pitchforks. But those of you who, like me, are hopheads and typically avoid the lager section would be well advised to give this one a shot. If nothing else, you’re tasting history.