Happy Wednesday, baseball fans. Two things on the agenda today: identifying four players to buy/sell (two pitchers and two hitters), followed by a craft beer review, this one out of Connecticut’s own Two Roads Brewing Co.
Each player I breakdown in buy/sell will also come with a recommendation for players to shoot for in a trade to give you an idea of relative value, though as always, your mileage may vary depending on your league settings, team needs, and how stingy your fellow managers are.
Let’s dive right in!
Sell High: Ser Didi of House Gregorius
2018 Stats: .333/.424/.735, 10 HR, 25 R, 30 RBI, 2 SB
This is a weird one for me because not only do I actually believe in Didi’s talent, I’m a well-documented Yankee fan to boot.
Ser Didi Gregorius, a knight of the Netherlands, is mashing like potatoes at Thanksgiving. He’s pacing the entire MLB in OPS and RBI, tied for the lead in HRs with 10, and with a cherry of two stolen bases on top has contributed to every statistical category along with somehow being the best player on your team, despite the fact that you probably drafted him with a pick outside the top-100.
Looking under the hood, Didi has maintained his career K-rate while dramatically raising his BB-rate to a career-best 14.4%, well above his 5.9% career average. He’s not benefiting from a lucky BABIP either, which sits at an even .300 and only a hair above his usual mark. Where the differences come into play are his batted ball stats. In the young 2018 season, Didi has lowered his GB/FB rate to its lowest ever by far (0.51 GB/FB compared to a 0.96 mark over his career), set a career high in Line Drives (25.3% in 2018, 20.5% career), career low in Ground Balls (also 25.3% in 2018, 39% career), career high in Fly Balls (49.4% 2018, 40.5% career), tied his career low in Infield Fly Balls (9.3% 2018, 12.3% career), and of course set a massive, ridiculous career-high in HR/FB rate (23.3% 2018, 9.5% career).
Digging deeper, he’s pulling the ball far more than he ever has while making better contact. In his career, Didi has Pulled the ball at an average clip of 38.2%, and when he started Pulling more as a Yankee and set career highs in HR last year, he also set a career high in Pull % by crossing the 40% mark for the first time in his career. This year? He’s dusted his 2017 Pull rate of 40.3% and posted a 48% mark, all while posting a career high Hard Hit Percentage of 36.7%, well above his career mark of 24.2%.
To top it all off, Didi is playing the role the Yankees envisioned for Greg Bird of the lefty counterpoint between the big bats of Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez. Didi is making the most of his opportunities and will continue to see good pitches no matter how well he does, because you don’t pitch around Didi Gregorius with Stanton, Sanchez, or Judge behind him.
Whew! That’s a lot of good stuff for the Knight of the Netherlands. So why am I recommending you sell him?
For starters, the crazy 23.3% HR/FB rate is not going to last. It’s literally double his best-ever mark and nearly three times higher than his career HR/FB of 9.5%. While I do think Didi has a legit shot at a 30 HR season this year (and 10 HR in April certainly helps that cause), his .402 ISO is as absurd as it is unsustainable. Didi has never recorded an ISO of .200 or greater, and as much as I want him to I know he will not finish the 2018 season with that .402 mark intact.
The Verdict: Didi is very good. Didi will continue to post good fantasy numbers. Didi is taking advantage of his lineup protection, seeing better pitches because of it, and walking more, hitting more line drives, all while hitting fewer ground balls than ever. But Didi’s power will fall back down (slightly closer) to Earth. Don’t forget he crushed 25 HR last year despite missing a month, and 20 HR the year before that. But his current pace has him slugging more bombs than Stanton or Judge, and that just isn’t gonna happen. Sell Didi while his value is high, but if you can’t get someone to bite on a big upgrade then don’t sweat it: he’s going to keep producing for you, just don’t expect him to finish with 2017 Stanton power numbers.
In short? Didi is in-Didi* really good, but his actual value is probably lower than his trade value, so try and get what you can for him while you can.
(*semi-stolen from John Sterling’s HR call)
Potential Trade Targets: Gary Sanchez, Aaron Nola, Zach Greinke, Jose Ramirez, Rhys Hoskins.
Buy Low: Marcell Ozuna
2018 Stats: .250/.267/.339, 2 HR, 9 R, 17 RBI, 1 SB
Marcell Ozuna was a 2017 fantasy darling who flirted with a 40 HR season while batting over .310 and collecting 124 RBI for the Marlins. This vaulted him to a top-50 pick in most leagues, but he has yet to provide even top-100 value. Why?
Taking a deep dive into Ozuna’s stats bestows more confusion than clarity:
…so he should be hitting better than last year? Ozuna is Barreling balls better than ever, including his breakout 2017. He’s making the best, hardest contact of his career by far as demonstrated by his Exit Velo and Hard Hit. His K-rate, while two points higher than last year, is still pretty normal. His BB-rate, however, has plummeted to a paltry 2.6%, well below his 2017 BB-rate of 9.4%. This speaks to a poor batter’s eye, yet Ozuna is making more Contact this season (74.6%) than last year (74.3%) and seeing fewer pitches in the zone in 2018 (40.9%) compared to 2017 (41.3%). He’s elevated his Swinging Strike a bit (13.3% 2018 vs. 12.7% in 2017) but not alarmingly so.
Finally, we look at BABIP. On the surface, his .310 BABIP may seem to be a dishearteningly normal number, but Ozuna sustained a .355 BABIP in 2017 and has a career BABIP of .326, showing he’s performing well below his standards of balls in play. That BABIP will rise and so will his AVG. His BB-rate will surely rise to career-norms for all you OBP-leaguers, and his pathetic 0.89 ISO is a sure-thing to inflate to his career mark of .176 or even near his 2017 ISO of .237.
The Verdict: Ozuna is hitting the ball hard and hitting it well. He’s pressing a bit at the plate, as demonstrated by his sinkhole BB-rate and slightly boosted K-rate and Swinging Strike Percentage. His BABIP suggests poor luck, despite hitting the ball better than ever. Those are all looking like they’ll correct themselves towards the mean, and while he may not clobber 37 bombs this year (though don’t rule it out), Ozuna’s peripherals all point to positive regression, and he seems poised to breakout any day now. Grab him while his value is low.
Suggested Trade Offers: Travis Shaw, Mitch Haniger, Manuel Margot, Ryan Braun
Sell High: Ivan Nova*
2018 Stats: 38 IP, 6 GS/4 QS, 3.32 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 7.11 K/9, 0.95 BB/9, 0.95 HR/9
I once dreamed the dream that Ivan Nova would be the Yankee farmhand that came up and played like, well, Luis Severino (before there was a Luis Severino). But alas, that never came to pass, as 7 seasons and 700+ IP in pinstripes yielded a mediocre 4.41 ERA to go with an equally bland 1.38 WHIP. Then he got traded to the Pirates in mid 2016 and, like many Yankees before him, enjoyed an annoying career renaissance in the Steel City (seriously, why couldn’t he have pitched like that in the Bronx?).
Since then, the 31-year-old righty went from a serviceable 4th/5th starter to a solid 3rd or even 2nd starter-caliber SP. Over 289+ IP in the ‘Burgh Nova has pitched a neat 3.79 ERA and 1.20 WHIP to go with a BB-rate that was cut in half, from 2.9 BB/9 in the Bronx to 1.3 BB/9 with the Pirates.
However, despite all those leaps in stats after switching from AL to NL, three things remained constant: Nova averaged exactly 1.1 HR/9 in both leagues, exactly 9.5 Hits/9, and a 6.6 K/9 mark. Simply put? He cut his walk rate and improved his control, but he gave up the same amount of hits, same amount of HR, and K’d batters at the same rate in his good years and his bad.
You may have noticed that his excellent start to 2018 includes departures from those steady career numbers: his 2018 K/9 is elevated, his BB/9 and HR/9 are due for some major regression as well. Nova is also benefiting from a career-low BABIP of .274, which is well below the league average and a full thirty points better than the career mark of .304 BABIP against him.
It’s not all bad news, as his FIP and xFIP show ERAs of 3.43 and 3.63, respectively, which aren’t far off from the 3.32 ERA he currently sports. Additionally, his GB% and LOB% are both right in line with career numbers. He’s still a solid pitcher, but he’s not what he appears to be.
Mostly, I’m going to focus on the walks and home runs. Aren’t those always the killers for pitchers? These are Nova’s BB/9, HR/FB, and HR/9 rates for the last 5 seasons:
That scares me. Those 2018 numbers are all going to be going up.
The Verdict: Similar to Didi, Nova is a good player who is probably showing some legitimate improvement while also outperforming his abilities. Unlike Didi, however, Nova’s ceiling is much lower and much more of a known quantity, which leads me to the *asterisk from the beginning of Nova’s blub up there: his value will greatly depend on how he pitches tonight against Washington. If Nova pitches a gem, you could not pick a better time to sell him. If he lays an egg, you might be advised to hold. If he does so-so, I would move forward with trying to sell him anyway, as the Nats offense can make anyone look mediocre, and you can communicate that to the other owner.
Potential Trade Targets (if Nova pitches well today): Gio Gonzalez, Chase Anderson, Rich Hill, Jean Segura, Yoenis Cespedes, Xander Bogaerts
Potential Trade Targets (if Nova pitches “meh” but avoids a blowup): Luis Castillo (I still believe in him), Mike Foltynewicz, Jake Junis, Joey Lucchesi
Buy Low: Masahiro Tanaka
2018 Stats: 35 IP, 6 GS/4 QS, 4.37 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.51 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, 1.54 HR/9
The Tank has been such a frustrating pitcher for for fantasy owners these past two seasons: he seems to fluctuate between Dr. Cy Young and Mr. Dead Arm without warning, all while posting tantalizing strikeout numbers as a groundball pitcher. Grr.
While his 4.37 ERA matches up a little too nicely with his 4.14 FIP, his xFIP has a different opinion with a 3.61 mark, indicating better times could be ahead. What I really like are Tanaka’s batted ball stats: he’s never posted a GB/FB rate lower than 1.39 (career avg. is 1.48) and this year he’s giving up almost one fly for every grounder with an atrocious 1.05 GB/FB mark. There are few guarantees in this world, but Masahiro Tanaka is a GB stud, and that mark will almost surely rise to the area of the 1.50+ he’s posted in three of his last four seasons. As expected, his GB% is at a career low and should experience some positive regression, while he’s done an excellent job of lowering his HR/FB rate from last year’s horrific 21.2% to 15.8% this season, despite the massive (+8%) jump in Fly Balls he’s allowed. So he’s allowing fewer HR despite allowing more FB. That’s a good thing.
This is largely due to the fact that he’s almost stopped using his sinker: over his career, Tank has thrown the sinker about 20% of the time, but has dipped down to 6.4% this season, his lowest ever by far. That’s not surprising given that his sinker was absolutely pounded last year to the tune of 10 Runs above average, his worst pitch value by a long shot in 2017. This year, despite hardly throwing it, the sinker has allowed just 0.4 Runs above average, which bodes well for his command and use of it.
The obvious killer for Tanaka last year was home runs: he gave up an astounding 35 of them, well above his previous worst of 25 HR allowed in 2015. This was combined with an also-career-worst number of free passes issued with 41 BB and 7 HBP. Yikes. It’s no wonder he carried a bloated ERA when he was walking too many people and giving out HR like Oprah giving away cars.
The Verdict: In 2017 Tanaka was his own worst enemy: as his sinker was pounded and he failed to limit walks all while surrendering HRs like it was his job. This year, despite the uninspiring ERA, Tanaka’s 2018 WHIP sits at a sterling 1.03, which is, to me, the best indicator that he’s back on track while providing better than 1 strikeout per inning. To top it off, he’s suffering from a very unlucky and career-worst LOB %, and pounding the strike zone at a rate of 44.3% which beats his career average and his career-worst 40.1% zone rate in 2017. Now that he’s limiting the long ball and issuing fewer free passes he should be posting ace-caliber numbers in no time.
Tank will rebound. The peripherals are already there, the WHIP is already there, the ERA will follow.
Suggested Trade Offers: Luke Weaver, Alex Wood, Chase Anderson, Mike Clevinger, Mike Moustakas.
The Beer – “Bergamonster” by Two Roads Brewing Co.
Beer Name: Bergamonster
Brewery: Two Roads Brewing Company (Stratford, Connecticut)
Style: Belgian Witbier with Orange and Spice
I was a fan of this beer, especially with summer (supposedly) right around the corner, as it provides a nice transition between heavier winter beers and light and fruity summer ones.
I get a really nice citrusy, effervescent beer with a traditional bready, banana-y Belgian backbone. Very nice balance and lighter than expected body despite the uncharacteristically high ABV for the style. Bergamonster really shines with its use of the orange and spices, which contribute to create a more fully flavored, complex beer without throwing off the balance.
Seek out a can if you can!