The Verdict on 4 Struggling Hitting Stars: Cano, Desmond, Kemp and CarGo
There are several superstar hitters whose performances this year pale in comparison to our expectations. These players were expected to be elite contributors but so far have been huge disappointments to their fantasy owners. They cost you big time to acquire but they are killing your team in the stat columns. Should you sell high or buy low? It is time to find out if they are going to bounce back or fade away.
Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners — 37 Runs, 6 Home Runs, 30 RBI, 2 Stolen Bases and .254 AVG
Cano came into the season ranked #11 on our Top 500 Overall Dynasty League Rankings. Right now at the halfway point of the season he has earned the #308 spot on 5×5 rankings for the year. That is quite a fall, and unlike with guys like Carlos Gomez, Yasiel Puig, Freddie Freeman, Adrian Beltre or Jacoby Ellsbury we cannot blame it on injuries. Cano has simply not played very well. His strikeout rate has nearly doubled from last year while his walk rate has halved. We all expected to see Cano’s home run rate fall off when he moved to Seattle and we were right, but he still had an excellent season last year for the Mariners. His 136 wRC+ was even better than his 125 career average, although it was slightly down from his last few years in New York. This year his wRC+ has dropped 50 points to 86. That’s right, the great Robinson Cano has hit 14% worse than an average major league hitter this year. This is not the first time this has happened though. The only other time Cano has slumped lower than 100 on his wRC+ was 2008 when he sat at 86 just like this year. The following year he bounced back and went on to string together seven elite seasons for the Yankees.
Cano is still only 32.6 years old, so I don’t think we are looking at a sudden age-related dropoff in talent and skill. I think it is just a slump, possibly related to his dietary and intestinal problems that he revealed recently. The talent, the batting eye and the stroke are still there. His BABIP is down 30 points from his career average, and that bad luck will probably correct itself and help his numbers improve somewhat. Cano’s peak years are behind him. He is not going to be drafted in the first round or even the first three rounds of redraft leagues ever again, but this guy is not done helping his fantasy owners win championships just yet. I expect a return to form in the second half, not a return to the numbers he put up annually in New York, but rather numbers similar to what he did in Seattle last year. He will likely hit a little over .300 in the 2nd half, which would get his batting average for the season back up to the .275 or .280 range. He has dug himself too deep of a hole to be able to get his AVG for the season anywhere near his .307 career average. He will never be a 25-30 home run guy again. We should expect another 5-7 homers this year to get his yearly total up almost to the 14 he had last year. The runs and RBI are not going to plentiful for an offensively challenged team in a pitchers’ park. Verdict: Hold. If you have him keep using him and benefit from his impending uptick in performance. I don’t think you will get good value for him in a trade. If you need to improve your team’s AVG Cano might make a good buy low target if his owner is frustrated, otherwise I would avoid trying to buy low because his owner will likely want a return that clings too close to the Robinson Cano name-brand of yesteryear. That will be too much to pay for the depressed power stats.
Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals — 35 Runs, 7 Home Runs, 24 RBI, 3 Stolen Bases and .213 AVG
Desmond ranks 958th in 5×5 leagues right now after ranking #16 on our preseason top 500. Desmond was universally ranked as a top 3 dynasty shortstop entering the season and was the #1 SS on many if not most lists. Over the last three years Desmond averaged 75 runs, 23 homers, 82 RBI, 22 Steals and .271 AVG. Those are fantastic numbers for a shortstop. Yet he has been simply awful this year. What happened? It seems like he is trying to hit a home run on every swing. His strikeout rate spiked last year and that has continued this year, but this year his walk rate has bottomed out. He has a pathetic 7 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. His power has cratered and he isn’t even trying to steal bases. He has been somewhat unlucky with a .282 BABIP that is well below his .326 career BABIP prior to 2015, but that is only a small piece of the puzzle. He is almost 30 years old but should still be in his prime batting years. He is swinging at more pitches this year but his contact rate is normal for him. Many of his peripherals look OK or similar to prior years. His fly ball distance is down.
The Nationals seems to be losing faith because they have benched him a couple times recently. Perhaps his atrocious defense has affected his mentality at the plate as well. His 62 wRC+ makes him one of the worst hitters in baseball. I think we will see a nice rebound from Desmond in the 2nd half, but a lot of that is simply because he can’t really be this bad. To me the most concerning thing is the lack of stolen bases. His messed-up batting stroke is not the reason he isn’t running. The low OBP reduces his opportunities to run but not that much. He isn’t running even when he has the opportunity. Ian Desmond without the stolen bases wouldn’t be worth an early pick even if he were hitting at his normal levels. Those steals are a huge part of his fantasy value.
Desmond’s fantasy stock has collapsed and I have seen him dropped in some leagues. Quite a fall from a guy who was drafted in the first round in many re-draft leagues just 3 months ago. The shine is off. His fantasy stock is at rock bottom. Verdict: Buy Low. If you need a shortstop you might be able to get Desmond at a very low price right now, if so I recommend going for it. But the key is the price — it must be a low price. I see a bounceback coming, but not to elite levels. Likely a valuable mid-range shortstop in the future.
Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres — 42 Runs, 7 Home Runs, 45 RBI, 7 Stolen Bases and .242 AVG
Kemp hasn’t struggled as much as Cano or Desmond but he has still been a disappointment. He was ranked 56th on our Top 500 preseason list and ranks 159th in 5×5 leagues right now based on his stats. We factored his move to Petco Park into the preseason ranking. Kemp’s wRC+ last year was a great 140, this year it is only 83. His BABIP is at .302, which is above average, but it is 50 points below his personal career average prior to 2015. We should see his batting average rise as the season goes along due to BABIP regression to the mean. Kemp’s runs and RBI are right about where they always are, but his power is way down. His .125 ISO is 75 points below his .202 career ISO prior to 2015. His 9.2% HR/FB is less than half the 21% of his last three healthy seasons. Petco is a very difficult place to hit home runs, but so was Dodger Stadium. The HR/FB rate is likely to revert to his career norm. I think we will soon see a major uptick in Kemp’s offensive performance. He will start seeing more balls go over the fence and more grounders find holes in the defense. The last two years have seen Kemp slump through the first half and streak through the second half. I think we will see a similar effect this year. Kemp is a very talented, very streaky hitter still in the prime of his career at 30 years old. He is capable of hitting like the best player in the game for extended stretches. I am certainly not predicting Mike Trout-like numbers, but I think Kemp will be a great player to own in the second half. Verdict: Buy Low at any reasonable price. Kemp is a five-category producer, although the days of 30-40 steals are behind him.
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies — 36 Runs,11 Home Runs, 31 RBI, 2 Stolen Bases and .254 AVG
At 29 years old Gonzalez seems like he is much older than he really is. He has been a star in Denver since 2009 and has put up some truly elite seasons in the thin air. But it seems like he is always hurt. He spends a lot of time on the Disabled List and even when he is playing he is hobbled with nagging injuries. He is a very frustrating player to own because he is such a boom or bust player. When healthy he is elite, but he is so rarely healthy. Like all Rockies players he is great at home and average on the road. He has a career .324/.382/.589 (.971 OPS) slash line at Coors and a .256/.311/.435 (.747) slash everywhere else. He also has huge lefty-righty splits. Even when healthy it is often smart to bench him on the road against a left-handed pitcher if your league allows daily lineup changes.
Gonzalez has a paltry 88 wRC+ this season, which we might consider just a slump if he hadn’t also put up an 83 wRC+ last year. That is more than a slump. You don’t “slump” for a year and a half. This is a long period of flat out poor hitting. But his wRC+ the year before last was 147! He is capable of putting up MVP-caliber run production when healthy. The guy is a lottery ticket. He could win you a jackpot, but more likely he will just take your money and run. If you can get him cheaply he could be worth a flyer if your team is desperate for a shot in the arm. If your team is already a front-runner I would recommend investing in a safer commodity. Verdict: How much of a gambler are you? Sell CarGo if your team is a strong contender, buy CarGo if you need to jump a couple teams ahead of you in the standings.
Check these articles out for similar advice:
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Grading the Unexpected Aces: Archer, Keuchel, Hammel, Miller and Pineda
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Are there any other players off to bad/good starts that you would like some advice on?