Sell High on These Overachievers Due to Regress
I’m the type of Fantasy owner that is always looking to make a deal. I try to sell high and buy low any time a player I own reaches a point that their value seems as if it can’t get any higher (i.e. Trevor Story).
I also look at teams toward the bottom of the standings, as they’ll often get desperate and make a deal, trading away a player who has had a rough month or two. I did just that last week with an old college buddy of mine whose team is sitting in the cellar of our 12-team head-to-head league. His team had a .306 winning percentage through the first six weeks of the season.
With names like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Carlos Gomez (all underachievers he drafted in the first six rounds of our draft) on his team, he made a logical trade partner. After a short discussion, he said his team’s main issue is hitting and that his players will “hit to the back of their baseball cards soon.”
[caption id="attachment_107296" align="alignright" width="452"] Brett Lawrie hit three of his five HRs this season in a single series against the Orioles. Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire[/caption]
Since I knew he wasn’t wrong, I started looking elsewhere. Because like Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green once said, typically players “… are who we thought they were!”
That got me to thinking about hitters who are overachieving through the first six weeks of the season and will end up hitting to the back of their playing cards as well.
These players are a lock to come back to Earth as, more often than not, players will regress to their mean. In other words, their performance will migrate towards their average performance over their career.
A key statistic for overachievers is Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), which measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit. As a reference point, BABIP only becomes "stable" at around 800 balls in play. So it takes about two seasons for the numbers to become mathematically stable. The MLB BABIP average is .298 this season. These players are batting at least 50 points above that and even further above their career marks.
All of these hitters, currently ranked in the Top 200, will likely regress toward their career-average performance, meaning sell high if you can because these batters are bound to regress to their mean at some point, likely very soon.
Superb Start for Saunders
Michael Saunders has been a fourth outfielder for much of his eight-year playing career. Following his trade to Toronto, he battled injuries before finally getting a clean bill of health coming into this season.
The outfielder has taken advantage of his new-found job security through the first 30-plus games of 2016. After going undrafted in most leagues, Saunders is now ranked in the Top 200 with a .313 batting average along with five homers, 12 RBIs and 18 runs scored.
Those numbers are a far cry from his career .236 batting average and a season-high of 19 home runs when playing for Seattle in 2012 (he batted .247 in 507 at-bats that year). Looking at Saunders’ early-season numbers, his BABIP is .422 through his first 128 at-bats. In 2012 and 2013, the only two seasons of his career that he tallied 400 or more at-bats, he was at the league average (.297 and .298, respectively). When a player is ranked outside the pre-season top 1,000 (yes, you read that correctly top 1,000), he’s clearly playing way above his career averages.
If you happen to be one of Saunders’ owners, look to include him in a deal at optimal value, and be sure to mention that he led off for the Jays on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Breakout for Brett with Pale Hose?
Another player thriving in his new home is Brett Lawrie. After being the centerpiece of the deal that shipped Josh Donaldson to Toronto in 2015, Lawrie was then traded to the White Sox for two prospects at last December’s Winter Meetings.
At first glance, it looks like the second baseman is enjoying the South Side of Chicago. His five home runs put him on pace to top the career-high of 16 jacks he set last season with Oakland, and he’s also scored 19 runs and knocked in 16 RBIs. He’s also batting .259 which is right on par with his career average. The problem is that Lawrie has done all of that with a .372 BABIP. That means his numbers are bound to get worse across the board.
Way back on May 1, Lawrie hit a home run for the third consecutive game against the Orioles. That homer was his fourth of the season and he’s hit just one in the last 13 games since leaving Baltimore. That makes it clear to me that he’s already begun to regress toward his career averages and that you might want to cut bait with the White Sox middle infielder.
Shaw Showing Some Promise
Travis Shaw hit his sixth home run of the season on Tuesday, putting him almost halfway to his 2015 total of 13. That puts the third baseman right on pace to double last year's home run total in his first full season with the Red Sox (he played 65 games in Boston last year).
Since supplanting Pablo Sandoval at the hot corner, Shaw has put up Top 20 Fantasy numbers which have included a .329 batting average, 29 RBIs, 24 runs scored and the aforementioned six home runs. He also surprisingly added three steals on four attempts after going 0-for-2 in 142 games between the Majors and Minors last season.
It's not a question of if, but more of a when will Shaw revert back to the player who didn't make the Majors until the age of 25. He batted just .255 over his last two seasons at Triple-A, and .270 in 65 games with the Red Sox last season. He's batting 20-plus points over .300, something he has never done in his career at any level. And what's aiding him in doing so? A .406 BABIP.
His power is absolutely legit but his batted balls in play will stop going for hits and start turning into outs. His 22 percent strikeout rate this season is also screaming for the regression police. While I think Shaw is a good player, he'll likely take a step (or two) back in the near future, ending the season ranked in the Top 200, rather than the Top 20.
Steals Are Villar’s Value
Jonathan Villar, a career.245 hitter, is currently batting .286 and is ranked in the Top 100. His improved batting average is being helped along by an absurd .402 BABIP. That number will absolutely come down, as will his overall rank as we hit Memorial Day and head into the dog days of summer.
While I own a share of Villar, I own him for one reason and one reason alone -- to steal bases. And he’s done just that, racking up 12 in 17 steal attempts. I know his other numbers will regress, but as long as he keeps stealing bases and batting first for the Brew Crew, he is worth a roster spot. Try to trade the speedy shortstop before the Brewers’ shortstop of the future, Orlando Arcia, gets the call up to the majors later this summer.
What’s the Story with Story?
Another shortstop that I’ve been trying to sell you on selling is none other than Trevor Story. I understand that he is having a great season so far, but let’s remove his record-setting first month and you’ve got a guy who has hit just one home run through 15 games in May.
Yes, he is the Rockies’ shortstop of the future (Jose Reyes will be traded sooner rather than later), but he isn’t nearly as good as his early-season numbers suggest. He also put up these other-worldly numbers while racking up a .356 BABIP. Story’s home run numbers have already tailed off, his batting average bottomed out at .241 on April 27, and he’s struck out 55 times in 37 games.
Trading away Story or any of these other hitters will likely net your Fantasy team great value as these players are at or have already hit their peak for the 2016 season. Be sure to check the stats on the back of their baseball cards at the end of September to see just how far each of them regressed through the summer.
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