Sell High – Torii Hunter
When last I looked, neither charisma nor charm were generally recognized as fantasy baseball categories, so it’s somewhat puzzling to me that Torii Hunter is owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues and 72 percent of Yahoo! leagues, respectively. Yes, the 37-year-old is scoring a boatload of runs hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but beyond that, it’s simply a respectable batting average that’s keeping him employed. It’s a classic fantasy booby-trap, as managers will often fall victim to the veneer of a gaudy batting average—“He’s hitting over .300, he must be a good player!” But don’t be fooled: this is a player whose value is inextricably linked with a high batting average, and, consequently, he’s worth shopping.
Much of Hunter’s success in the first half of 2013 has been buoyed by a healthy .357 BABIP, the fifth-highest such figure among qualified outfielders. It’s a perplexing number given his age and batted-ball profile, as we typically see speedsters and line-drive smashers atop the BABIP leaderboard — Hunter is neither of those things.
His 19.9 percent line-drive rate is, in fact, his worse mark since 2010, while he’s stolen but a single base this season, a number that suggests diminishing speed. His increased ground-ball output this year—54.2 percent, a career high—could explain a bump in BABIP, but one that seems unsustainable over the course of an entire season. As his BABIP regresses to the mean, his average will wither accordingly, and Hunter will effectively lose one of his two redeeming qualities, with decreased run-scoring ability as a consolation prize.
Hunter’s BABIP good fortune has also masked his outright refusal to take a walk this season, as his 5.1 percent free-pass rate represents his lowest figure since back in 2000. It’s reasonable to presume this is a byproduct of hitting in front of Cabrera—he’s seeing more strikes as pitchers try to avoid loading the basepaths for Miggy—a theory supported by his 67 percent strike rate, his highest since 2001. However, his strike-heavy diet has instilled some bad habits, as he’s chasing balls outside the zone with unprecedented regularity. Hunter’s 42.1 percent O-Swing rate represents the highest figure of his career by far, and nearly a 14-point spike over his lifetime mark.
(This chart, which illustrates Hunter’s 2013 swing rate, is courtesy of the gracious lads over at Baseball Prospectus and Brooks Baseball. Notice how he likes to swing at a lot of baseballs.)
Should his indiscriminate approach at the plate persist as his BABIP comes down to earth, his on-base ability is going to suffer, and the runs won’t be nearly as plentiful.
Furthermore, his modest four home runs bespeak a career-low .118 isolated power, a reality of hitting in Comerica Park and playing major league baseball at 37 years of age. It should be axiomatic at this point that his power prospects for the remainder of the season aren’t encouraging. He has as many long balls at Norichika Aoki, for goodness sake. Shop him if ya got him.
Buy Low – R.A. Dickey
It took R.A. Dickey a mere two hours and ten minutes to dispose of the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday afternoon, as he retired all but three of the hitters he faced in his first complete-game shutout of 2013. It was easily his best performance of what’s been a turbulent campaign for both the knuckleballer and his new club, which has now gone 16-6 in June—a stretch fueled by a recent 11-game win streak—to thrust the Blue Jays back into relevance.
Just as the Blue Jays of late have in no way resembled the club that was 10-21 at one point in the season, the R.A. Dickey that took the mound at Tropicana Field on Wednesday didn’t at all look like the 38-year-old who had laboured to a 5.15 ERA through his first 16 starts as a Blue Jay. He routinely induced bad contact, getting 13 of his outs by way of the ground ball. He got ahead of hitters, surrendering just one walk while throwing 73 percent of his pitches for strikes (compared to the 63 percent mark for the season). Obviously, he was able to avoid the home run, a big step considering his unsightly 1.41 HR/9 rate this season. And he recorded six strikeouts, his third-highest single-game total this season.
One dominant start does not a salvation guarantee, but there are some signs that point to long-term improvement. First, the velocity of his knuckleball has improved over his past three starts, with the floater averaging 76.3 mph since June 15, helping to assuage concern that lingering discomfort in his neck and back has subsided.
He’s also managed to cut down on his walks of late, yielding just 10 free passes over his last 40 innings, an encouraging departure from the 4.06 BB/9 he fashioned through his first 11 starts, and a nice development with respect to his WHIP. The strikeouts haven’t quite come around yet, but he’s flashed more swing-and-miss over his past couple outings. Small sample caveats apply, but he’s induced a swing-and-miss on 14 percent of his pitches over his past two starts, a figure that stands in stark contrast with the nine percent mark he had through his first 15 outings. Bad contact has also factored into Dickey’s recent turnaround—he has a 3.71 ERA and .645 opponents’ OPS in the month of June—as he’s limited the opposition to a .223 BABIP this month.
Curtailing the home runs is the next major hurdle for Dickey, who has made it his personal responsibility to ensure Rogers Centre maintains its reputation as a haven for the home run—he’s surrendered 12 taters in 49.1 innings at the Concrete Convertible. But if he’s able to mitigate the long ball at home, he could be a candidate for a strong second half of the season. Pursue him while his rate stats are still not that pretty.