These Star Hitters are Struggling: Trade Them or Keep Them?
There are quite a few star hitters who have been downright bad so far in 2014. It can really hurt your team when a player you took early in the draft is rocking a .220 batting average six weeks into the season. What happens when your rock solid Top 20 superstar slugger is now ranked #300? Your team takes a kick in the bits, that’s what happens. So what should you do about it? Should you dump the chump? Bench him until he heats up? Keep him in your starting lineup hoping he will suddenly remember how to hit? Trade him off to the sucker team owner in your league? (By the way, if you don’t know who that sucker is its probably you.) That is what I will help you decide on a case by case basis.
The first thing we need to determine is why that player is hitting like crap. Is he getting too old? Is he playing hurt? Has he been unlucky? Were our expectations unrealistically high? Once we know the cause for his suckitude we can then decide whether he will improve or not.
Prince Fielder — .231 AVG, 19 Runs, 3 Homers, 13 RBI, 0 Steals — Yahoo Rank: #14 Preseason, #322 Now
Fielder’s career OPS prior to last year was .921 but last year he put up an .819 season and this year he is all the way down to .705. So this isn’t just a one-month slump he is in, nor is it a small sample size fluke. It is starting to look like a real (and rapid) decline. Today is Fielder’s 30th birthday, so he is not old but he is a little past his prime. Even though fat players usually fade earlier than athletic players we can’t blame Fielder’s age for his terrible start to the season. While his line drive rate has held steady, Fielder has been hitting a lot more ground balls and fewer fly balls. Not only that, the fly balls he does manage to hit are leaving the park at only half of his career rate. There are no red flags in his contact or swinging percentages, which is good. His .250 BABIP is way below his .302 career mark, so that is a sign he has been somewhat unlucky and we can expect his stats to pick up a bit in the near future. I think Fielder will heat up and perform as an above average hitter over the rest of the season, but I don’t think he will ever return to consistently hitting at the level of an MVP contender again. He has hit in 9 of his last 10 games. His trade value has been plummeting, so you are not going to get much for him if you trade him right now. Verdict: Keep him and use him. Lower your expectations, he will be a good hitter but he is no longer a superstar.
Joey Votto — .262 AVG, 18 Runs, 5 Homers, 11 RBI, 1 Steals — Yahoo Rank: #16 Preseason, #193 Now
Votto is off to a slow start in the fantasy categories but I think he will be fine moving forward. His peripherals look good other than a slight increase in ground balls. His .303 BABIP is 55 points below his career average and he has been robbed of at least 3 home runs this year, which are indications he has been unlucky. The Reds have been hurt badly by injuries, which has hurt Votto’s Run and RBI totals. His home run power has dropped since his knee surgeries a couple years ago so don’t expect 30 homers anymore, but 25 is reasonable. Moving forward Votto will put up a .300+ AVG and a .400+ OBP. His Runs and RBI will grow as the Reds offense heats up this summer. Don’t worry about Votto, he will be fine. Verdict: The Real Deal. Still a Stud. Go get him! (If you have Justin Upton offer him up for Votto.)
Jason Kipnis — .234 AVG, 12 Runs, 3 Homers, 12 RBI, 4 Steals — Yahoo Rank: #25 Preseason, #311 Now
Kipnis is currently on the DL with an oblique injury and may miss another month of games. The injury issue is pretty straightforward, but the reason I want to cover him here in this article is because he wasn’t playing well even before he got hurt. I don’t think there is anything to worry about long term however. Kipnis has been unlucky with a .250 BABIP and that has artificially depressed his batting average, but his OBP and SLG are right in line with his career norms. He has actually improved his walk rate and his strikeout rate, which are very good signs for the future. His RBI and Runs are down a bit, but those are team-oriented stats subject to the vagaries of chance. Due to his slow statistical start and his injury, Kipnis’ trade value is at a low ebb — now is the time to strike! Verdict: Strong Buying Opportunity. Make some low-ball trade offers to get him while his current owner is worried about him.
Dustin Pedroia — .276 AVG, 22 Runs, 1 Homers, 10 RBI, 2 Steals — Yahoo Rank: #29 Preseason, #215 Now
He isn’t playing that badly but I wanted to talk about him anyway to point out a couple of issues. All of his stats are down a little from his normal production, but the main issue is he is not stealing bases or hitting home runs at his normal rate. Pedroia is not a player who has ever been dominant in any single category, but rather is the type of guy who is slightly above average in every category so that at the end of the season he ranks among the most productive players in the league as a whole. He is similar to Hunter Pence in that respect. But historically Stolen Bases has been the one category where he helps his owners the most, simply because every steal is so valuable in roto leagues. Every steal is 2x as valuable as a home run and 7x as valuabe as a Run or RBI. So if Pedroia is not stealing bases his value drops a LOT in roto leagues. If you play in a points-based league (like most CBS leagues) where stolen bases are much less valuable than in a rotisserie league, well then Pedroia is much less valuable there too. This applies to all prolific base stealers (Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, Jose Reyes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Rajai Davis, Jean Segura, Starling Marte, etc) these guys are much less valuable in points leagues than in roto leagues. If they stop stealing a ton of bases for whatever reason they can quickly lose all their value in roto leagues as well. Pedroia is now fast approaching 31 years old and his stolen bases have been declining every year and that trend is likely to continue. Verdict: Pedroia is a chronically over-ranked fantasy performer. If you can get a top 50 player for him you should make the deal.
Jean Segura — .250 AVG, 15 Runs, 2 Homers, 9 RBI, 6 Steals — Yahoo Rank: #43 Preseason, #267 Now
Segura exploded onto the scene last year when he started the season hotter than the Sun for the first two months. At the end of May he had a .355/.395/.553 slash line with 8 homers and 15 steals! His trade value was sky high at that point. Unfortunately he was a well below average player for the rest of the season. He ended the season being ranked #50 overall, largely due to the impact of his 44 stolen bases. Coming into this season he was ranked in the top 50 on most lists. Why? Did people forget that his 2013 stats were all accumulated in one extended hot streak early in the season? Did they forget he was terrible from June 1st to the end of the season? It is amazing how one hot or cold streak at the beginning of a season can drastically change people’s perspective on a player. Coming up through the minors Segura was a good prospect, but not an elite one by any means. Segura’s fantasy value is tied up almost completely in his ability to steal a ton of bases and hit for a high batting average. Moving forward I am not optimistic that he will shine in those categories. This year he has stolen 6 bases and been caught 5 times. He is 5’10” and 205 pounds, which doesn’t look like the body type that is going to be stealing a lot of bases as he ages into his mid to late twenties and thirties. Segura will be a good fantasy shortstop, but I don’t see him as a top 50 player, or even a top 100 player. Verdict: Overrated Player. His trade value is down right now, but don’t consider him a buy low candidate. Will continue to be a solid player, but not a star. (If you have Dee Gordon offer him up for Segura.)
Allen Craig — .211 AVG, 13 Runs, 4 Homers, 14 RBI, 0 Steals — Yahoo Rank: #52 Preseason, #469 Now
Craig is off to a dismal start, but much of it can be blamed on a very unlucky .225 BABIP, which is more than 100 points below his career average. Craig is a true .300 hitter and he will continue to perform at that level for years to come. Most of Craig’s fantasy value comes from his batting average and his RBI. Those are his only good fantasy categories because he is well below average in Runs and Home Runs and is a dud in Steals. He is also a thickly-built, slow, nonathletic player who is unlikely to age well or stay healthy. He has never gotten more than 508 ABs in a season. The Cardinals as a team are struggling on offense this year, which has depressed Craig’s counting stats but I think that will change as the season progresses. He should be fine moving forward. Verdict: Good Player, but not a star. Hold onto him if you have him, trade for him if you don’t. (If you have Ryan Howard offer him up for Craig.)
Jason Heyward — .211 AVG, 13 Runs, 2 Homers, 8 RBI, 6 Steals — Yahoo Rank: #60 Preseason, #461 Now
The former ultra-elite prospect has shown greatness in stretches, and even put up a top 50 season in 2012. But he was a big disappointment last year and so far this year as well. He has undeniably awesome tools, size and athleticism but so far he has not lived up to his advance billing. He is still young but at 24 he is rapidly approaching put up or shut up time. That being said I am still a believer in him. I still think he can be and will be an elite player. He will hit for power and accrue lots of R, HR, RBI and Steals. He won’t hit for a great batting average but he won’t be a liability in the category either. I don’t see any red flags in his peripherals such as swing rate, contact rate, line drive rate etc. He has been unlucky this year in terms of BABIP and HR/FB but those will correct themselves soon. Verdict: Future Star, excellent Trade Target. (If you have Charlie Blackmon or Yordano Ventura offer him up for Heyward).
Pablo Sandoval — .171 AVG, 13 Runs, 2 Homers, 6 RBI, 0 Steals — Yahoo Rank: #84 Preseason, #991 Now
KungFu Panda has been awful, by far the worst player on this list of struggling players. He has been very unlucky with his .211 BABIP and that will correct itself and get his batting average back up to the .250 range, which is a good thing. But don’t let that convince you that Sandoval is going to be a good player any time soon. The fact of the matter is that Sandoval hasn’t been a good player for a long time now. His stats have been spiraling downward for three years running. From 2008-2011 Panda was a heck of a good player despite hitting in a tough ballpark for hitters. But ever since that time Sandoval has been a below average hitter in all 5 fantasy hitting categories. Fantasy experts made a big mistake ranking him in the top 100 overall players coming into this season. He simply hasn’t been worthy of such a lofty ranking for the last few years. When he was a young player he could get by purely on his natural talent, but he let his body go and and his motivation has always been questioned. Now it is too late. Combine his declining ability with the fact he plays on a weak offensive club in a strong pitchers’ park and there is very little to be optimistic about. If he leaves San Francisco after this season and goes to a hitters’ park maybe he will revive his fortunes. Maybe. Verdict: Put him on your bench and leave him there until he shows some real signs of life. (If you have Juan Uribe offer him up for Sandoval).
Carlos Santana — .139 AVG, 15 Runs, 4 Homers, 11 RBI, 1 Steals — Yahoo Rank: #87 Preseason, #870 Now
Santana is the innocent victim of a brutal .151 BABIP that has killed his batting average. Once that reverts back to normal his AVG will stabilize in the .240-.250 range. He accumulates counting stats at a very nice level for a catcher. His profile doesn’t look so good at third base or first base, but the fact he is eligible at those positions adds a lot of flexibility to your roster. Santana has increased value in OBP leagues. As long as he remains eligible at catcher he will continue to be a valuable player in future seasons. Verdict: Keep him and use him. (If you have Evan Gattis offer him up for Santana).
Billy Butler — .236 AVG, 11 Runs, 1 Homers, 14 RBI, 0 Steals — Yahoo Rank: #99 Preseason, #776 Now
Butler has turned himself into a slap hitter. He is swinging at more balls outside the strike zone than ever, taking more strikes than ever, and making contact more than ever. But hitting pitches that are balls leads to weak contact. His walk rate has plummeted. His groundball rate has skyrocketed and his power has disappeared. He used to hit 40+ doubles per season and his home run totals were steadily increasing. Then last year he totally changed his approach and it has only gotten worse this year. He no longer hits doubles nor homers, nor many singles either for that matter. Instead of waiting for pitches he can drive he swings at too many pitcher’s pitches and grounds out. He just turned 28 years old, so he should still be in the prime of his playing career. This is an extended slump, not a physical decline. I still think the talent and skills are in there somewhere, and I think he will fix his swing and his approach to regain his former prowess at the plate. But who knows how long that process will take? The Royals have gone through multiple hitting coaches in the last calendar year, which can confuse a hitter. Butler has hit better of late so that could be a sign that good things are in store. You should be aware that Butler has always hit LHPs much better than RHPs and much better at home than away. Take advantage of those splits if you play in a daily league. Verdict: Keep him and wait for the good hitter to emerge from the long slump. Platoon him if you can. (If you have Chris Colabello offer him up for Butler.)
If you have any questions about any other players who are off to hot or cold starts ask them in the comments below. I will reply ASAP! Also, if you make any trades involving the players above make sure to tell me about them in the comments.