Welcome to the first Reader’s Choice edition of Trader’s Corner. In our last installment I asked you, the THT Fantasy faithful, to submit requests for which players you wanted to see covered. The response was overwhelming, with a ton of great suggestions. I ultimately settled on 10 players, based partly on a first-come, first-serve basis and partly on volume—players that more than one of you wanted to see.
Because of the positive response, this will certainly be an exercise I will look to repeat in the future. Also bear in mind that I passed over any player I’ve already covered, since those players will all be re-examined sooner than later. So if a player you were hoping to see doesn’t show up today, keep your eyes peeled, as there’s every chance I’ll cover him soon.
You may notice a few formatting changes this week, but as always, included in each discussion will be the player’s Oliver projection for the rest of the year (in the format AVG-R-RBI-HR-SB for hitters and W/SV-ERA-WHIP-K for pitchers) along with projected dollar values from the THT Forecasts custom price guides for both the standard Yahoo! and ESPN Formats.
So, without further ado, here are the results for the first ever Reader’s Choice edition of Trader’s Corner.
James McDonald – requested by Joel, Scott, Tyler, and Corey
So far: 5-2.14-0.95-71
Oliver RoS: 6-4.23-1.38-104
Oliver Yahoo! Value: N/A
Oliver ESPN Value: N/A
What to like: Undrafted in the vast majority of standard formats, McDonald has finally lived up to the post-hype hype in 2012. He’s been one of fantasy’s very best pitchers, and it hasn’t entirely been a fluke.
Thus far, McDonald is pitching to a very strong 3.28 xFIP and 3.11 SIERA. The primary cause of this newfound success has been a brand-new slider he’s throwing around 20 percent of the time. The strikeouts are up, walks are down, and the only thing that’s held him back from even more value has been a lack of run support.
What not to like: While the results so far have been more skill than luck, the latter hasn’t been absent, as his BABIP sits at a measly .254 and home run-per-fly ball rate at just 4.3 percent. Both of those numbers will regress. This is captured in the still strong xFIP and SIERA, but that doesn’t mean the skill change should be completely trusted yet, either.
While McDonald’s 9.8 percent swinging-strike rate is a career best, his first-pitch strike rate is a career worst, suggesting it’s more likely the extra strikeouts are real than the reduced walks.
Neither the league nor McDonald’s arm has had time to adjust to the new slider-heavy approach, leaving quite a few more unknowns than we normally expect with a pitcher performing so well in the true outcomes. Nearly everything McDonald has done so far this year is encouraging, but it’s important to remember that the sample size we’re working with here is still small and in stark contrast to McDonald’s career arc thus far.
Conclusion: Conditional You could make a strong argument for handling McDonald in a number of different ways depending on the situation.
He makes an interesting buy-high gamble for a team struggling in strikeouts and ERA. There is blow-up potential, but the deeper we get into the year, the more difficult it is to make up ground without taking on some added risk.
On the other hand, for a team that finds itself near the top of the pack in strikeouts and ERA, selling him for a more stable commodity is advisable. His value is high enough right now that selling will mitigate the risks while bringing in a valuable enough piece to offset the potential reward.
In less clear situations, play it safe and lean towards the sell, but make sure you get decent value.
Jimmy Rollins – requested by Jules
So far: .237-26-13-2-10
Oliver RoS: .257-50-42-9-17
Oliver Yahoo! Value: $4
Oliver ESPN Value: $8
What to like: On the surface, not much. The only thing Rollins has done so far in line with expectation has been steal bases. There are some glimmers of hope, though. Despite an inflated strikeout rate, Rollins isn’t swinging and missing any more than usual, and rate of contact on pitches in the strike zone—a strong indicator of expected strikeout rate—is actually the eighth-best mark among qualified hitters and a career best.
The strikeouts are going to fall, and with them, the average should increase. He’s also only been caught stealing once, so his ability on the basepaths remains undiminished.
What not to like: Seemingly almost everything so far. Most troubling is the lack of power and the sky-high 22.1 infield fly ball rate.
It’s obviously impossible for balls that do not leave the infield to clear the outfield fence, so this trend is tied directly to Rollins’ career-worst 2.9 percent home run-per-fly ball rate. It’s is also a factor in Rollins’ .274 BABIP, though it’s also worth noting Rollins hasn’t had a BABIP over .275 since 2008.
Conclusion: Buy low, but don’t pay too much. Although Rollins is on the downside of his career, shortstop is quite thin this year, and before long Jimmy should go from looking like a replacement-level option to one at least a bit better. His power and average should increase as his infield fly ball and strikeout rates regress, and he’s still stealing bases and doing so efficiently.
Also worth mentioning, commentor jt had asked if there were any traditionally strong second-half performers worth targeting. While I tend to avoid reading too much into first- and second-half split trends, check out Rollins career wRC+ by month:
The visual difference between the double- and triple-digit numbers probably overstates the magnitude of the trend here, but it does seem Rollins has a deep history of improving his performance in the second half. Don’t expect him to suddenly become a $10-15 player, but if an owner is about ready to give up on him, he could be a nice acquisition.
Colby Lewis – requested by Peter
So far: 4-3.50-1.13-64
Oliver RoS: 8-3.93-1.19-122
Oliver Yahoo! Value: $7
Oliver ESPN Value: $9
What to like: Stellar command an solid strikeout rate. Lewis’s 3.4 percent walk rate is tied for second-best in the major leagues. It’s supported by a 68.4 first-pitch strike percentage, sixth best in the majors. His strikeout rate is solid at 21.6 percent, and he should get quality offensive support from the beastly Texas Rangers lineup.
What not to like: Despite those excellent strikeout and walk numbers, Lewis has a seemingly unfathomable 4.38 FIP. The reason is the 14 home runs he’s already given up, second most in the majors.
Lewis’s 3.89 xFIP tells us we can expect that his home run rate to drop a bit, but even that mark is higher than his ERA. The problem is a 34.1 percent groundball rate, an absolutely killer mark for a pitcher who plays half his games in Arlington.
Conclusion: Buy if you need WHIP, sell if you don’t. Lewis is one of the most unusual players to discuss in a trade context. There’s nothing in his profile that suggests a dramatic change is coming, but his profile is highly atypical and not especially well fit to his environment. He’ll provide a positive WHIP, but his ERA will be no better than average moving forward and could even be worse.
If there’s a psuedo-sabermetric purist in your league just looking at the strikeout and walk rates but ignoring the groundball and home run issues, go ahead and sell Lewis off. From a pure value standpoint, he’s no more than a middling starter so long as he remains in Texas.
Then again, if you need WHIP help and don’t have to give up too much, then he’s actually a worthy target.
One more note: if for some strange reason Lewis gets traded—admittedly unlikely—he could go from a sub-$10 player to a $20 player in the Matt Cain mold literally overnight. Perhaps more than any other player in the game, his projection is affected by his home environment.
Shin-Soo Choo – requested by Peter and Bob
So far: .270-29-17-3-8
Oliver RoS: .284-59-51-12-14
Oliver Yahoo! Value: $24
Oliver ESPN Value: $22
What to like: After an injury-plagued 2011 season, most of Choo’s secondary rates are back to normal. The strikeout rate, walk rate, BABIP, steal attempts, and success rate are all right within range of Choo’s career numbers.
Though Choo has always struck out a bit more than you’d like, he makes up for it with a consistently high BABIP, and this year is no different. The batted-ball profile remains nicely neutral in terms of ground balls and fly balls, and he’s hitting more line drives than ever thus far.
What not to like: Despite all that, Choo’s once-solid power game seems to be falling off pace. Though always more of a balance play than a true slugger, Choo set career lows in home run-per-fly ball rate (10 percent) and isolated slugging (.131) last year, and neither has improved so far this year.
To an extent, this is also the culprit behind his low batting average. If you were to give him three extra homers, putting him more on pace with his career home run rate, his average would also jump to .287.
Conclusion: Buy Low. Though my personal feelings on Choo are a bit more tempered, Oliver still expects the power to bounce back and loves his sneaky balance potential. I can’t find a concrete reason to disagree.
At the very least, Choo certainly isn’t a good sell candidate, even from the most pessimistic perspective. There’s nothing beneath the surface suggesting his value is likely to get lower than it is right now, so it’s just a question of whether the power bounces back.
For an owner off to a strong start this year who may be looking to turn a risky asset into something a bit safer while potentially extracting some value, Choo makes a nice target. The worst-case scenario is that he’s a decent fifth outfielder, and the best case is he helps you a bit in every category.
For someone looking to make up ground fast, there are better boom or bust targets, but if you’re just looking to solidify a strong roster, Choo could well be a wise acquisition.
Madison Bumgarner – requested by Scott (the other one)
So far: 6-3.03-1.09-58
Oliver RoS: 9-3.56-1.22-110
Oliver Yahoo! Value: $9
Oliver ESPN Value: $10
What to like: Much like Colby Lewis, Bumgarner has been a strike-throwing machine, walking just 4.7 percent of batters faced so far. However, unlike Lewis, he has an excellent 52 percent groundball rate and pitches in one of baseball’s best parks for home run suppression.
His ERA does feature a touch of good fortune, as his BABIP is only .273, but even his xFIP and SIERA are still very solid, at 3.42 and 3.33, respectively.
What not to like: After striking out 22.6 percent of batters last year, that mark has fallen off a bit and is down below 20 percent. While this is perfectly acceptable considering his walk rate, it’s not entirely what owners hoped they were buying.
Decreased fastball velocity—down nearly a full mile per hour from last year—looks like the likely reason for Bumgarner’s dip in whiffs.
Conclusion: Buy, though it’s tough to tell if it would be high or low. His career simply isn’t deep enough yet to assume the strikeouts will come, but they won’t completely disappear, either, and Bumgarner doesn’t need them to be a quality fantasy pitcher if you can make up a bit of ground in the category elsewhere.
While the drop in velocity and strikeouts is a bit of a concern, Bumgarner has a reputation as a guy whose velocity tends to fluctuate, and its been trending up a bit in his last few starts. It still isn’t where it was at it’s peak in 2011, but the strikeouts seem to be following, as well.
After punching out no more than six over his first eight starts, Bumgarner has struck out at least seven in each of his last three. That includes a pair double-digit whiff performances and 28 total strikeouts over his last 21.2 innings.
It’s also worth noting that Bumgarner’s strikeout rate was lower than it is right now through most May of 2011 before taking off in June though, curiously, his velocity actually tailed off in the second half of the season.
At worst, Bumgarner will be a 3.40-3.50 ERA pitcher for the balance of the season with a very strong WHIP and middling strikeout rate, while the upside is ace-like in all four categories if the strikeouts return in force. He’s a perfect low-risk, high-reward buyer’s opportunity.
Billy Butler – requested by B and Joel (another Joel)
So far: .294-22-35-11-0
Oliver RoS: .302-51-57-12-0
Oliver Yahoo! Value: $12
Oliver ESPN Value: $15
What to like: Butler’s had a career couple of months so far and finally seems to be making good on the power potential he’s long been thought to have. Going the arbitrary endpoints route, his 11 home runs so far mark the most he’s ever had in consecutive months in his career. His strikeout rate remains solid, his BABIP is nominal, and there’s every chance he ends the year having bested his 2009 campaign, his top fantasy season to date.
What not to like: Though his 21.2 percent home run-per-fly ball mark may indicate improved power, regression is likely. That number is more than double his career rate and nearly 10 percent higher than anything he’s done over a full season. His groundball rate is still sky high for a slugger at 48.5 percent. Butler is much more likely to merely double his home run production thus far than triple it over the rest of the year.
Conclusion: Sell High or Hold If you can convince an owner that the power surge is for real and that Butler is a suddenly a 30-home run threat, go ahead and sell. Otherwise, feel free to hold. Overpaying to acquire him now would be a mistake, but he should still have enough value moving forward that there’s no rush to sell him at cost.
Jose Altuve – requested by Hollywood Charles
So far: .316-33-18-3-9
Oliver RoS: .291-48-38-5-13
Oliver Yahoo! Value: $3
Oliver ESPN Value: $8
What to like: Altuve does a little bit of everything, but it’s batting average and speed that are his primary calling cards. While we can’t expect him to maintain a .352 BABIP, his 12.4 percent strikeout rate lines up well with his minor league career. His ridiculous 95.7 percent contact rate on pitches in the strike zone and paltry 3.4 percent swinging strike rate—both of which are among the top 10 in the game—indicate that mark could be even lower, and he does have a high BABIP history from his time on the farm.
His raw speed is just short of elite, but he’s a fairly aggressive baserunner and has been successful so far this year, getting caught just twice in his 11 attempts. And though he’s far from a slugger, he’s not completely punchless. Low double-digit home runs are not out of the question, but that’s his ceiling.
What not to like Not a whole lot. The biggest knock on Altuve has always been his diminutive stature. At 5-foot-7 (maybe), he doesn’t have what you’d call a prototypical baseball body, and scouts have long assumed he wouldn’t have the physicality to survive the highest level.
Conclusion: Buy high. Statistically speaking, there’s little reason to doubt Altuve. Oliver’s projection is for just 388 plate appearances, but entrenched at the top of a surprisingly respectable Astros lineup, he could easily accumulate more volume than that.
I haven’t seen a whole lot of Altuve, but from what I have seen, he passes the eye test. He’s solidly built for such a small guy, and like fellow short, scout-defying second baseman Dustin Pedroia, he makes plenty of contact despite a very aggressive swing.
It’s tough to project a true .300 batting average for any player with less than a full season in the majors, but Altuve could well stay there all year. At the very least, the average should be a plus, and as long as he’s playing every day, 10 home runs, 30 steals, and a big run total are very plausible over a full season.
Derek Jeter – requested by J.C. and JTin
So far: .336-30-20-6-5
Oliver RoS: .300-47-39-6-9
Oliver Yahoo! Value: $2
Oliver ESPN Value: $6
What to like: The future Hall of Famer is having his best season since 2009, providing positive value in five categories so far out of a very shallow position. The nearly-38-year-old shortstop amazingly is posting the best strikeout rate of his career while also providing solid power and speed. What more can you ask for?
What not to like: Even with the solid power production so far, Jeter’s groundball rate is over 60 percent for the third consecutive season. Despite Oliver’s expectations, it will be difficult for him to even double down on his six home runs.
His plate discipline profile hasn’t changed much either, so while we can expect a solid strikeout rate moving forward, it should increase a bit and the average should drop.
Conclusion: Sell high, but not too aggressively. If someone in your league is willing to believe that Jeter’s capable of making an MVP run in the twilight of his career, or even that he can be better than he’s been the last few years at this stage, go ahead and move him. He’s still a solid, balanced player, but aside from batting average, itis foolish to expect he’ll continue doing anything else exceptionally well. Jeter could provide a bit of value in speed, but 20 steals is unlikely, and the power is mostly a mirage.
Brandon Beachy – requested by Scott, Arthur, Fox, and Kyle
So far: 5-1.87-0.95-57
Oliver RoS: 8-3.64-1.22-128
Oliver Yahoo! Value: $10
Oliver ESPN Value: $11
What to like: Beachy currently leads the majors in ERA and is fifth in WHIP. You can’t ask for much more than than, which is good, because there isn’t much more.
What not to like: While the surface rates are excellent, where did all of last year’s strikeouts go? In 2011, Beachy struck out 28.7 percent of the batters he faced, one of the best rates in the major leagues. This year, that number has dropped all the way to 20.1 percent. This is also backed by a sharp decline in swinging strikes, so it’s not entirely a fluke.
Beachy’s walk rate is roughly league average, and he also tends to give up a lot of fly balls. His groundball rate is just 42 percent, actually a stark increase from last year but still a bit below average.
With the whiffs gone and no appreciable gains elsewhere, virtually all of Beachy’s success so far this year can be attributed to an unsustainable .207 BABIP.
Conclusion: Sell high. While simple regression based on his minor league track record and success last year suggests he should start striking more batters out, the decreased whiff rate is a serious concern. His xFIP is an ugly 4.03, and his SIERA is not much better at 3.98, indicating the magnitude of the correction that’s in order unless he starts missing more bats.
The situation with Beachy’s strikeouts is somewhat similar to Bumgarner’s, except Bumgarner has elite command and generates a healthy does of ground balls. Since Beachy does neither of those things, rather than a high-floor, high-ceiling situation, we have a lower-floor, lower-ceiling one.
When you also consider how strong Beachy’s surface rates are, there’s plenty of incentive to sell. The best-case scenario is he finds his strikeouts and goes back to being the above-average, but unspectacular, starter he was last year for the season’s balance. If the strikeouts don’t eventually show up, his value could approach negligible as his ERA and WHIP shoot up while his BABIP corrects itself.
Mike Trout – requested by mikes and Tom
So far: .338-24-22-5-9
Oliver RoS: .282-46-36-7-14
Oliver Yahoo! Value: $2
Oliver ESPN Value: $7
What to like: Plenty. The recently graduated über-prospect brings every tool imaginable to the table, and after struggling in his debut last year, appears to be putting it all together in 2012.
Speed is Trout’s best asset—he’s a true burner who easily could blow Oliver’s projection out of the water if given the opportunity. His power is still developing, but what pop he does have he takes advantage of by keeping his batted-ball profile almost perfectly neutral.
What not to like: This is more nitpicking than anything, but you’d like to see a few more walks and fewer strikeouts. His 7.9 percent walk rate is a touch below average, and his 19.7 percent strikeout rate a bit above average. Neither mark is a killer.
Conclusion: Buy high unless the price is absurd. Even the strikeouts and walks offer more upside than downside at this point. His swinging-strike rate and contact rate on pitches in the zone are both well above average, at 5.3 percent and 91.3 percent, respectively.
The power Trout has provided so far is a bit of a surprise, but he’s right at the age where you expect power to blossom.
Unless Trout’s owner is absolutely tied to the new-prospect shine, there may actually be a decent buying opportunity here. There’s risk, to be sure—he is only 20 years old after all. An all-out pursuit is more advisable for owners on the wrong side of the bubble looking to make take a gamble, but even for a team looking to reduce risk, it couldn’t hurt to check the asking price on the young star. He’s looking that good.
If you’re curious about the projections and dollar values provided, make sure to check out the THT Forecasts section. For $14.95, you get full access to the Oliver projections for thousands of major and minor leaguers, including six-year Major League Equivalency forecasts on every player card. And best of all for us fantasy junkies, you get full access to THT’s Custom Fantasy Price Guides, which allows you to create your own price guide based on your league settings and play-style preferences using the Oliver projections, with projections and dollar values updated throughout the season.