Buy Low on Pirates Josh Bell, Sell Cubs Jon Lester
The Numbers Reveal Who to Trade Away and Acquire
We are now 10 weeks into the MLB season. Struggling players present great opportunities to get them at a lower cost in a trade. Also, I will go over players that are outperforming their abilities, like Brandon Crawford and Eduardo Escobar. Signs of positive regression, and regression are evident in these players, and Fantasy owners need to be aware of it.
Moncada started well in his second year, but he has struggled over the last month. He had six home runs along with a solid .267 batting average in his first 26 games. In his next 28 games, he has seen a decrease in power with only two home runs, and a .200 batting average. The biggest issue with Moncada has been more ground balls. Over the last 28 games, he is hitting them 13 percent more often. This seems to be a small slump for the young star, and I believe he will turn it around. He has generated 8.3 barrels per plate appearance. That is 29th among MLB hitters, alongside the likes of Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, and George Springer. Also, Moncada has been given the chance to use his speed more with seven stolen bases on eight attempts. Through the same amount of games last year, he had just three stolen bases. Despite the recent struggles, Moncada has developed as a hitter, and it is a perfect time to try to get him a lower value.
Yoan Moncada has a launch angle issue batting righty. Maybe it's fixable, and 2018's a good time to find out. Maybe it's not, and 2018's a good time to have him try facing lefties as a LHB.
— Patrick Nolan (@SoxMach_pnoles) June 11, 2018
In the midst of a smoking hot start to June, it is time to sell Escobar at his highest value. Not known for his power, has hit five home runs in his last 10 games. He is up to 12 on the season, which puts him on pace for 34 home runs. That would be 13 more than his career high. He has benefited from a 48 percent fly ball rate that should regress, as his career average is 39 percent. Also, his BABIP of .329 is up from his career average of .300. Escobar seems to have made an effort to put the ball in the air more, but his current home run ability is unsustainable. Use Escobar’s power surge as a selling point before he starts to cool down.
Through 65 games, Votto is on pace for 15 home runs. However, there is no reason to believe he will not turn it around. He has been a consistent home run hitter in his career with at least 24 home runs in his eight full seasons. It is not like Votto lost his ability to hit, as he owns a .310 batting average. The main cause is a career high 34 percent line drive rate and a career low 27 percent fly ball rate. His 11 percent home run to fly ball rate is down seven percent from his career average as well. With positive regression coming to these numbers, an increase of power numbers are on the way. It is a perfect time to buy low on Votto before his numbers return to normal.
Crawford currently has the seventh highest batting average in MLB. That is something no one could have expected. He has a .258 career batting average, and the .338 average is way too unsustainable. An indicator of his excellent luck is his .401 BABIP, which is tied for the second highest in MLB. His career BABIP is .304. His good fortune will run out eventually, and lead to a drop in his batting average. The high batting average presents a great opportunity to sell high on him.
After a promising 2017 season, Bell has been a disappointment so far this year. Just recently, the Pirates have opted to move him down in the lineup from cleanup to sixth due to his struggles. A move in the lineup can prove great for hitters just to get a different perspective, and a fresh start sometimes. On the Pirates last year, Andrew McCutchen similarly had a very slow start. They moved him down to sixth in the lineup, and in the next 28 games, he hit .380 with eight home runs. It might not work as well for Bell, but I believe he will turn it around. From Bell’s perspective he thinks it is a mechanical problem saying, ““Lower half’s going. Hands are staying behind”. It just creates a long swing. A lot of ground balls, a lot of fly outs. Not a lot of balls hit on the screws.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) If Bell can clean up his swing he will be able to get his power back. Last year he hit 26 home runs, but has just four through 65 games this year. Alongside the swing issues, he has a very low home run to fly ball rate of 6.5 percent. I expect him to see positive regression there as he had a 19.1 percent HR/FB last season. Before Bell gets his swing in order I would trade for him at his low value.
Cron has been a pleasant surprise for the Tampa Bay Rays this season. Through 62 games, he has powered his way to 15 home runs, which is one below his career high of 16. Despite the high home run total, Cron has drove in just 36 runs. The Rays lineup has limited Cron’s RBI opportunities, and that should continue for the rest of the year. To keep his Fantasy value afloat he is going to need to continue to hit home runs at his current pace. I believe he will slow down, as his home run to fly ball rate of 21.7 percent is up six percent from his career average. Also, Tropicana Field is one of the worst hitters’ park in MLB. The Trop’ has generated the fifth fewest home runs this year. Go and sell high on Cron before his home run rate drops off.
Jon Lester appears to be showing signs of decline in 2018. His 2.22 ERA looks good on the surface, but he has benefited from an 85 percent strand rate. That is not on par with his 75 percent career strand rate, and should see regression. Also, his xFIP of 4.34 is the highest of his career since his rookie season in 2006. He is not striking out as many batters this season, and not generating as many ground balls as he should be. His ground ball rate of 38.5 percent is down around eight percent from last season. Also, hitters have been able to get more hard contact against him. The 34.6 hard hit rate he has allowed this year is a career high. He is coming off back-to-back good starts, going seven innings in both and not allowing any runs. One of those came against a poor Mets lineup that is struggling mightily against left-handed pitchers. After the two good starts, I believe it is time to sell Lester before his ERA starts to rise.
Josh Bell Featured Image: (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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