Buy-High Guide: Hitters
One of the most popular trade strategies in fantasy baseball is to ‘buy-low and sell-high.” While it’s a smart idea on paper, this tactic has become a bit cliché and significantly harder to carry out given its prevalence. To counter this approach, I like to employ the “buy-high” plan. Often times, a hot start from an unexpected source can be misidentified as a sell-high candidate, not a legitimate fantasy asset. Many fantasy owners may be scrambling to deal this player at a price less than their performance has made them worth, in an effort to deal them before their luck runs out. Recognizing which early-season successes are real and grabbing them at what may still be a reduced price isn’t always as easy as buying-low and selling-high seems, but it can be just as profitable—especially with owners who think you’re falling into their trap. Right now is the perfect time to put this plan into action, so here are some ideal buy-high targets.
***Note: I didn’t realize until after writing this article that 75% of these players are on the Diamondbacks. Apparently they’re a good buy-high team. I’ll try not to write up all Rockies starters next week.
2B/SS Jean Segura, Arizona Diamondbacks
We all love trends in the fantasy baseball world, as they can often be quite predictive. In this case, though, I’m going to ask you to keep the following trend from permanently lowering your valuation of Segura.
|Year||wRC+ until May||wRC+ after May|
On the field, one cause for Segura’s performance drop-off is a struggle to maintain consistent mechanics at the plate. He’ll often start the season with a good swing, only to see it deteriorate as the season wears on. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea whether Segura will be able to keep a consistent swing. On the bright side, he’s reportedly worked to improve his swing this offseason and a new organization could spell change. It’s also important to mention that Segura endured family tragedy in July of 2014, when his nine-month old son passed away. The second half of 2014 shouldn’t be held against him, and it’s fair to say that may have had some effect on his 2015. Having a fairly normal winter and regular season could do wonders for Segura.
Outside of his mechanics, there’s another puzzling piece to Segura’s season and how it may turn out. Segura saw his walk rate plummet last season, with less walks than anyone since 1989 (min. 500 at bats). This year, his walk rate is up just 0.5%…and that’s not great. Here’s where it gets weird: despite the low walk rate, Segura is swinging at significantly fewer pitches out of the strike zone and whiffing less as well. His plate discipline metrics resemble those in 2013—the best season of his career. This improvement has allowed his strikeout rate to decrease, though the walks have yet to improve. If he continues to show good pitch selection at the plate, he should start walking more.
Segura isn’t going to continue hitting .350 this season, and his power is going to regress some. Even with these caveats, Segura is capable of hitting for a solid average with a handful of home runs and 20+ steals going forward. As a shortstop, Segura should be a top-8 option with surprising upside. Still, he’s a risky option and we’re essentially crossing our fingers and hoping he stays consistent at the plate. There’s a chance he completely falls off, but it’s a gamble I’m willing to take.
OF Odubel Herrera, Philadelphia Phillies
What Herrera is doing this season is absolutely ridiculous, as was his 3.9 WAR performance last season. At this point, it may be fair to say that Odubel Herrera himself is absolutely ridiculous. The 24-year old, who was a Rule-5 pick a year ago, is currently walking at a 17.6% rate, higher than just five hitters in baseball. And Herrera isn’t a power hitter, unlike the other five people ahead of him, which makes this whole scenario even more odd. The limited power gives pitchers no reason not to challenge him in the zone, yet he’s seeing less strikes than ever. That should change. He’s swinging at remarkably fewer balls outside the strike zone this year. That might not change much. Needless to say, Herrera probably won’t continue to triple his 2015 walk rate—though more than doubling it is an achievable mark.
Outside of the walk category, Herrera will see his BABIP fall and as a result, his average is unlikely to be .319 for the rest of the season. His HR/FB mark isn’t going to last either, though an increased fly ball rate should allow him to approach double digit home runs. Herrera is also staying up the middle, making more contact, and getting on base at such a high rate that it would be surprising if he doesn’t reach 20 steals.
Herrera is a bit like Segura, in that we should expect regression but should still buy. Herrera probably won’t sustain this hot of a start, but if he can come close to maintaining it (and I think he can), he’ll be plenty valuable. If you’re in an on base percentage league, then enjoy the hell out of this. If you’re in an average league, enjoy this too. Herrera won’t be a big power hitter, but a handful of home runs, more than a handful of steals, and a great average and on base percentage can make for a very good fantasy asset.
3B/OF Brandon Drury, Arizona Diamondbacks
For those that don’t follow prospects closely, Drury has just about come out of nowhere. Although he was far from an unknown as the 72nd prospect in baseball this offseason, Drury wasn’t a top name and his current numbers are unprecedented. Drury’s hitting .303/.325/.569 with six home runs this season—one less than he hit in all of 2015 between Double-A, Triple-A, and the big leagues.
We all know that prospect development isn’t linear, and Drury is a prime example of that. The infielder hit 26 home runs (mostly in High-A) in 2014, but hit just seven in 2015. Interestingly, Drury hit .331 in Triple-A last season as a 22-year old, along with 26 doubles and a .458 slugging percentage. Drury did all of this in the PCL so there was some offensive inflation here, but he was also nearly five years younger than league-average. Now at the big leagues, he’s been on fire since getting a starting spot in the Diamondbacks’ lineup. Drury wasn’t able to put it all together in Triple-A last year, but he has so far in 2016.
The caveat to Drury’s 2016 is his plate discipline, which has been disappointing in the early going. His walk rate is lower than it ever was in the minor leagues and his strikeout rate is higher than ever. It’s not an encouraging sign and could turn into a problem once the league adjusts. Luckily, Drury hasn’t had this problem in the minor leagues and he’s shown the ability to quickly adjust to new leagues.
It’s very unlikely that Drury continues hitting over .300 this season, but he still has at least 20-home run power and the ability to drive in his fair share of RBI in the Diamondbacks’ lineup. Also bringing positional flexibility as a third baseman and outfielder (with the chance to add second base to the repertoire in the near future) makes him a valuable asset—one that could certainly outperform his prospect rankings.
OF Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks
I’ll be the first to admit it—I was calling Tomas ‘Dayan Viciedo 2.0’ early in 2015. Last season’s 88 wRC+ made that prediction look accurate and caused many to lump Tomas in with the some-power-but-not-much-else group this season. Now, Tomas looks like a different player. Literally. Tomas is in much better shape after a new offseason conditioning program and it’s manifested itself on the field. Tomas suddenly has a top-15 exit velocity and is only four dingers away from his 2015 home run total. He’s also doubled his walk rate and cut down his strikeout rate.
We know Tomas has raw power—there’s a reason why he signed a $68.5 million contract last offseason. But his anemic fly ball rate and barely-average hard hit rate weren’t allowing the raw power to translate into games. Now he’s improved both of those deficiencies and the results have shown. Tomas has honed in on the strike zone and is having much more success on fastballs: he slugged .481 against them in 2015 but .909 this year. It’s a bit worrisome to see that Tomas has struggled against offspeed stuff, and that could become an issue if/when pitchers start to attack him differently.
Even with that caveat, Tomas has seen a huge step forward in his sophomore season. Last year’s numbers can all but be ignored, and it’s time to enjoy his newfound success at the plate. We expected this year’s Tomas to be a bad-average, okay-power hitter, but he’s looking like a decent-average, great-power hitter. Although he’s more one-dimensional than others given a lack of speed, Tomas should be a big-time run producer—especially in the bandbox that is Chase Field.