As we start to approach trading deadline season owners will have some hard choices to make about how they choose to attack the homestretch. Let’s take a look at a handful of players who’ve provided mixed messages over the first half of the season and see if we can’t figure out where their respective value fits in to the grand scheme of things, shall we?
George Springer, OF HOU
Springer’s standard league production since his call-up has been just about a best case scenario for his owners, as he’s managed to post top-25 outfield numbers despite losing two weeks to AAA service. But man oh man there are some nasty storm clouds on the horizon. It’s a pretty straightforward process, what’s going down right now. The longer Springer’s been in the league the more his whiff percentage has skyrocketed and, one would presume not at all coincidentally, the amount of breaking balls he’s seen over the last couple months has risen steadily and dramatically. Springer’s strikeout rate in July currently sits at an astronomical 36.6%, and it’s a result directly correlated with the change in pitcher approach. His value should remain stronger in OBP leagues, where his calling card strong eye will mitigate a great deal of his batting average liability in standard leagues. But the kind of full scale adjustments in approach that Springer will need to make to sustain success at the big league level are just not easy to make in season, and in re-draft leagues in particular owners should be looking to cash in on the value they’ve received. Springer’s value in dynasty leagues, however, remains largely unchanged. He’s a dynamic centerpiece for a contending team to spin for second half help. Verdict: Move him if you’re going for it, target him if you’re not
J.J. Hardy, SS BAL
Hardy’s had one of the more bizarre seasons around this year. Owner of a career .168 ISO heading into the season Hardy’s seen that number cut in half, driven by a strange power outage that’s seen him drive just three balls over the fence after averaging 23-per-162 over the first nine years of his career. His patience at the plate – never a strength – has taken a corresponding hit, as he’s walked in less than 4% of his plate appearances. On the flipside after posting a BABIP north of .300 just once in his career he currently sits at .331, which has helped owners offset however slightly the loss of power with an uncharacteristically pleasant .285 batting average. The BABIP uptick appears to be the rawest form of good luck, however, as no accompanying changes in his batted ball profile suggest such a spike. Meanwhile all the standard harbingers of doom (increased O-Swing %, decreased Z-Swing %, dramatically decreased Contact %) are all present in Hardy’s profile this season, and at 32 it’s entirely possible he’s entering his decline phase rather precipitously. Still…the track record is long enough and the profile is such that you wouldn’t necessarily expect a falling-off-the-cliff type of decline here. The lowest HR/FB rate Hardy’s ever posted is 6.1% in his injury-riddled 2010 campaign, and his career mark is a tick under 11%. He’s at 2.9% as of this writing. And despite my general hesitancy to invoke first- and second-half split data Hardy’s recent track record on the matter gives some semblance of hope. Hardy isn’t a classic “buy low” candidate, in the sense that he’s suffered not from bad luck in the first half but from a notable regression in approach. But the track record offers enough to suggest at least some semblance of rebound is likely here. Verdict: A low-risk flyer for those in need of cheap power upside, but don’t pay for him assuming a renaissance.
Leonys Martin, OF TEX
Martin entered the season high on my target list as a high-contact as a guy who showed enough in the first half of last season to make me believe his second half struggles were overcomable (that’s a word, right?). It turns out those struggles may just have been a harbinger of league-wide pitcher adjustments, however, and Martin has had a difficult time countering this season to take the next step. The league reacted to Martin’s first half 104 wRC+ last season with a sharp spike of hard stuff, as well as a concerted effort to move from working him generally down and away to working him almost exclusively down and away. Opposing pitchers have doubled down on the strategy this year, and the result has been a one and a half percent increase in his whiff rate and a highly BABIP-dependent fantasy profile. Coupled with poor stolen base efficiency despite his plus speed, Martin remains an incomplete product at the plate who hasn’t shown the ability to counter-adjust to how pitchers are attacking him. At 26 there’s still time for development, but the ceiling is limited by his approach. He currently checks in as the 32nd ranked outfielder per ESPN’s player rater, and owners shouldn’t buy him expecting more. Verdict: keep your expectations in check.
Ryan Howard, 1B PHI
After starting April with a relative bang – a .255/.333/.469 triple slash with five bombs and 27 R+RBI – the league immediately responded with a deluge of fastballs that sent Howard spinning back into oblivion. He was able to gain a bit of a foothold in countering the new attack in the first half of June, leading to more walks and a few less K’s. But pitchers are back to humping up with a steady diet of fastballs now, and Howard has been unable to muster a defense. His .157 ISO rates as the worst in his career, and the hope that Howard could provide some last stand bounce-back value in deep leagues this season should pretty well have faded by now. Verdict: Cut and run, even in deep leagues.