It seems like every year, without fail, a middle infielder (or two) vaults into dynasty must-own territory from relative obscurity. 2012 gave us Matt Carpenter, 2013 gave us Brad Miller and 2014 gave us Joe Panik. They weren’t listed on top 100 lists, they weren’t guaranteed starting jobs, and by the time you realized they needed to be rostered, it was too late. Getting in front of these types before they become household names is an extremely profitable, but almost impossible strategy. Continue reading
I doubt the title left much to the imagination. The good news: I don’t have to write anything here. If your league allows trading this late into the season, read the title as”Deep(ish) Late Season Targets for 2017″.
Jorge Polanco, SS, MIN – Polanco has been on the radar for a while now without making a Baseball Prospectus Top 100 list. Since Eduardo Nunez was traded to San Francisco, he has basically been the everyday short stop in Minnesota. He’s put 155 balls in play and only one has been classified as a popup. His absurd line drive rate of over 33 percent would lead the league by a mile over a full season and his plate discipline has been an even bigger and more pleasant surprise. He’s always had very quick hands and it looks like he’s added muscle to his wiry frame. The 11 home runs he’s hit in AAA and MLB combined are a career high and do not look accidental as he’s just stopped hitting ground balls. Combining a sub 2 percent pop up rate and a sub 35 percent ground ball rate over the course of a season is rare and difficult to do. Brandon Belt is the only batter to combine the two. It would not surprise me at all to see an Odubel Herrera type of break-out in 2017.
Wily Peralta, SP, MIL – Since returning from a well-earned demotion, Peralta has been a different pitcher. He’s not different in the sense that he’s still a fastball/slider guy, he’s just changed the amount he’s used the two pitches. He’s less predictable and it seems to be working. He’s managed at least 6 innings pitched in all but one of his eight post-demotion starts and he completed five innings in the other. His five percent decrease in fastball usage paired with his seven percent increase in slider usage has led to significant improvements in his contact and swinging strike rates. He’s nearly doubled his strikeout percentage while somehow lowering his walk percentage. He wasn’t a true talent 6.68 ERA guy before the demotion, but his ERA estimators suggested that he was pretty terrible. Very few starting pitchers throw their slider over 34 percent of the time because of the obvious risks, but the ones who do typically perform better for it. This season, only four qualified starting pitchers have thrown their slider as often as Peralta has after being promoted; Michael Pineda, Chris Archer, Ervin Santana and Jason Hammel. The new Wily Peralta looks an awful lot like 2016 Ervin Santana and I’d bet he’s on your league’s waiver wire or about to be. If you are the visual type, watch his 10 strikeouts from his August 30th start vs the mighty Cardinals. He’s only had one other double-digit strikeout performance and that came against a AA lineup rolled out by the Cubs on the next to the last day of the 2014 season. You know, the ones that just swing at everything so they can go play golf.
Scott Schebler, OF, CIN – Since the trade deadline, Schebler has been a full-time player and he’s hit .284/.356/.457 while earning his manager’s trust against same-handed pitching. What turned me on to Schebler was the fact that he doesn’t hit anything softly. When he makes contact, it screams. He’s a strong man, we know this. He hit 27 home runs in High-A in 2013 and 28 in AA in 2014. The issue was supposed to be his ability to make consistent contact. Well, that hasn’t been an issue and his strikeout and walk rates have remained consistent with his minor league numbers. Since settling in as a full-time player, he’s sitting on a roughly league average contact rate and out of the zone swing rate. He looks almost exactly like the outfielder he is replacing in Cincinnati, Jay Bruce. He’ll almost certainly get a full season’s worth of plate appearances in 2017 for a very bad Reds team.
I’ve never agreed with the thought process that a complete tear-down is the way to re-build a dynasty team. It can work and it can be fun, but it takes forever to see improvement in the standings. Drafting can be a crapshoot and you really can’t afford to miss. A top five pick in 2014 landed you Kyle Schwarber, Nick Gordon or Alex Jackson. I can’t imagine you would be very pleased about two of those today and the other probably won’t see catcher eligibility again.
I have found incredible success in actively trading players like stocks month-to-month and year-to-year. The goal is simple, buy a player today who could or will be more valuable in one year relative to what you paid. It can happen week-to-week if you are diligent. In three leagues, I moved on Matt Shoemaker the day after his May 21st start where he threw 50% change ups and plan on selling at the deadline. His acquisition cost was so low, that the return on this short investment will be immense. This strategy can and should be employed by teams who are contending as well.
The following six players are guys that I am investing heavily in before the trade deadline:
Wilson Ramos (C) WAS – Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy and Willson Contreras aren’t going anywhere in your league. Since Mike Piazza did it in 2000, four catchers have finished a season with a higher ISO and lower K rate than Ramos is flashing this year. Ramos has stopped swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and popping up. This is peak Victor Martinez stuff. He is a free agent this winter and if he ends up in the American League with the ability to DH on his days off from behind the plate, we could be looking at the new #1 dynasty catcher moving forward. Pay the price.
Derek Dietrich (2B/3B/OF) MIA – Remember this guy? Me neither. He never appeared on a top 100 list, but he’s hit at every stop in the minors. Dee Gordon’s suspension forced him into an everyday role at second base and all he’s done since is hit like a top 10 second baseman. With Martin Prado set to be a free agent at the season’s end, Dietrich has positioned himself for the lion’s share of the third base plate appearances in Miami in 2017. If he can improve a bit versus left-handed pitching, he has the ability to produce a top ten second baseman season next year.
Justin Turner (3B) LAD – Since the beginning of 2014, Turner has quietly been an elite hitter. His 141 wRC+ is ranked 17th among qualified hitters, one point behind Michael Brantley and J.D. Martinez. He combines borderline elite plate discipline with loud contact and lots of fly balls. Turner is a free agent this winter and feels like a New York Yankee. Holes at first base, third base and designated hitter create a perfect fit. This is a top ten fantasy hitter in Yankee Stadium even without the luxurious beard.
Jason Heyward (OF) CHC – Heyward’s value has essentially bottomed out. Here is the link to his 7-day rolling wOBA since 2014. It can’t get any worse than this. However, his plate discipline hasn’t eroded and his BABIP is over 30 points lower than his career average. This is an easy buy-low call. His value one year from today will be substantially higher than it is now.
Robbie Ray (SP) ARI – His terrible win/loss record and ERA likely make him very available in your league. Ray is 24-year-old starting pitcher who throws left-handed and averages nearly 94 miles per hour with his fastball. He is currently sporting nearly identical strikeout and walk rates as Jake Arrieta while maintaining near elite contact rates. If the light turns on in 2017, the return on this investment will be colossal.
Matt Bush (RP) TEX – Bush is holding elite velocity and consistently throwing three pitches. He’s pretty clearly next in line for saves in Texas and Sam Dyson is starting to look like the overuse is catching up to him. Bush has mentioned on several occasions that he would like the opportunity to start in the future and the Texas Rangers under Jon Daniels have shown a willingness to allow relievers to give starting a run. It hasn’t always worked, but C.J. Wilson has an extra 50 million dollars in his account because of it. I do have to mention that Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando appeared to all break almost immediately, but they did get their shot.
I’ll continue to touch on this series weekly with pop-up dynasty buys and sells.
I vividly remember that time a 21 year old infielder debuted with a .407 wOBA in a hitter’s paradise after slugging .661 in 69 games at AAA that year. Brett Lawrie was my unicorn. If you are reading this, there is a pretty good chance you felt the same way. He hit 18 home runs and stole 13 bases in those 69 games at AAA. Then he hit another nine and stole another seven in his 43 game debut, complete with above average walk and strikeout rates. He looked like a player with a 20/20 floor and 30/30 upside, all while helping your batting average. There was no return big enough to convince his owner to sell.
Fast forward five seasons and he’s an afterthought, besides the occasional sleeper post with no real evidence that he is a sleeper. He can be had for next to nothing and there are clear and visible reasons why. His batting average tanked, he’s quit running, he played in a terrible home park and struck out far more often in 2015 than he did in previous seasons. Even with all of the warts, he was a top 20 second baseman in 2015, according to ESPN’s player rater.(21st actually, but several players are no longer eligible at the position). The dream of a .300 hitter that routinely goes 25/25 is dead. There are reasons to believe 2015 is Brett Lawrie’s floor moving forward and his value will come as more of a power hitting second baseman than as the five category stud we all fawned over.
Sometime last season the girl that Brett Lawrie brought to the dance started to slip out the back door, and he changed a bit. He appeared to make a conscious decision to begin pulling the ball and elevating in the second half of the season. He began hammering it in the process, leading to a second half ISO increase of over 30 points. There is a recent example of a player doing this and doing it successfully: Marlon Byrd in 2013. Marlon Byrd’s 2013 season featured nearly identical walk and strikeout rates to Brett Lawrie in 2015. Keep in mind that Marlon Byrd was a top 50 overall player in 2013 and had he been eligible at second base, he would have finished in the top four at the position.
Lawrie’s pull percentage hovers around 35 percent for his career, but in the second half of 2015 he pulled 43.2 percent of the balls he put in play. He also managed to reduce his strikeout rate and increase his walk rate incrementally over the first half. His Infield fly ball rate fell from 10.6 percent for his career to 5.9 percent in the 2nd half of 2015, suggesting that he’s capable of maintaining a batted ball profile similar to the 2nd half of 2015 over a full season.
Take a look at his spray chart from the second half of 2015, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net. The red dots are the home runs Lawrie hit after the 30th of July.
According to Baseballheatmaps.com, Lawrie did something in 2015 that Marlon Byrd had never done, he averaged over 290 feet per flyball, adding nearly 14 feet to his 2014 average. The scouting reports on Lawrie have never mentioned elite power potential, but in the second half of 2015 alone, Lawrie pulled three home runs that landed over 446 feet away from home plate and he was one of only seven players to hit a ball over 475 feet. (see the 476 foot shot HERE.) Out of every player with at least as many recorded non-ground balls in play in 2015, only 16 players averaged a higher exit velocity on those balls in play than Brett Lawrie, according to BaseballSavant.com.
We are over 100 plate appearances into 2016 and the plan of attack seems to have stuck. His pull percentage is over 40 and his ground ball rate has plummeted to just over 36 percent, over 10 percent lower than his career average. Something else has unexpectedly happened; Brett Lawrie has stopped swinging at garbage and is walking at a near elite level. His swing percentage on pitches out of the zone has plummeted to better than league average and his walk rate is nearly 13 percent, higher than Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera’s career number. It’s still a very small sample, but walk rate typically begins to stabilize around 120-130 plate appearances.
10 of Lawrie’s 16 home runs were hit away from his home-run-suppressing home park in 2015. With the shift to U.S. Cellular field, which is known as one of the top three or four most friendly home run parks to right-handed hitters, I have very little issue seeing a 25 to 30 home run season in 2016.
All signs are pointing to a monster post-hype breakout and a top five second base finish. He’s still playing with his typical Red Bull-charged, manic aggression, but now he’s showing confidence and that is a scary thought. See this from a few days ago:
I am a believer that the single most important aspect of keeping a dynasty team competitive is the ability to recognize when a player’s value is on the verge of increasing rapidly and being able to acquire that player at a minimal cost before it is too late. My initial thought was to study the site’s pre-season top 500 lists and look for huge swings in value from year to year and attempt to determine exactly what type of player or skill-set typically leads to a huge increase in value; that is something that I will most certainly come back to. I went a different, more fun and simple direction. I’ve asked eight contributors to the site who they think will improve their position on the Bret’s top 500 the most in the next 365 days and why. The responses follow. Feel free to click their name and check out their twitter profiles. I can confirm several are solid follows and the others will be once you follow them…
The post-hype prospect is the “one that got away” of fantasy baseball. Your relationship with that player has been broken for a while, but when you are alone, you can’t resist watching his highlight videos on YouTube and obsessing over his subtle bat flips. You daydream about his 6-hit, 6-power combo starting to click and the .400 wOBA seasons ahead. There is no way that this guy can’t be the one. Look at what he did to minor league pitching. Look at the MLB debut. This was a monster, can’t-miss prospect. He had very few weaknesses.
There is nothing more valuable in a dynasty format than a legitimate fantasy ace. According to ESPN’s player rater, the three most valuable assets in 2015 were starting pitchers. They are not easy to find and more difficult to acquire, unless you can get your hands on them before they break out. They come in all shapes and sizes and often sneak up on us. Who was Jacob deGrom and why didn’t we see that coming? Who is that man wearing Jake Arrieta’s body? What is a Dallas Keuchel? How do we get our hands on the next one before it happens and we are left standing alone in the waiver wire cold?
I don’t know and if I did, this wouldn’t the be moment you’ve read something I’ve written for the first time. What I do know is that I, along with every other dynasty owner, spend all off-season searching for that guy. My search has been narrowed down to one. He comes with the pedigree and checks all of the boxes.
After being drafted 4th overall in 2012, Kevin Gausman flew through Baltimore’s system and made his major league debut in May of 2013, less than a year from the day he was drafted. What he didn’t do was dominate. He pitched to a 5.66 ERA in 20 appearances and was forced to start 2014 in the minors. We ranked him 131st overall in our 2014 overall rankings and that seemed appropriate. For reference, Gerrit Cole debuted in 2013 as well and ranked 39th before the 2014 season. The 2014 season didn’t do a whole lot to convince Gausman owners that they’d be collecting a return on their initial investment, as he pitched to 3.57 ERA in 20 starts, but the strikeouts weren’t there.
Prior to last year, Gausman’s ranking peaked at 100th overall in our rankings and it’s quite possible (and maybe a bit understandable) that the Gausman owner in your league was tired of waiting or willing to listen. If he was, he is more than likely still in the same boat.
Dominant right-handed starting pitchers tend to have several things in common. They throw hard, they get swings and misses, and they induce weak contact. Last year, Kevin Gausman displayed the characteristics of an ace. A league average strand rate and a couple of extra fly balls leaving the yard kept his ERA and ERA estimators up enough to hide his strengths from less savvy owners.
According to PITCHf/x, Gausman’s average four-seam fastball velocity in 2015 was the 8th hardest among pitchers who pitched 110 innings or more, tied with Matt Harvey and Carlos Martinez.
His 2015 swinging strike rate was 10.9 percent, 26th among pitchers who pitched as many innings or more. His zone contact rate of 83.8 percent tied for 10th best among pitchers in that same group. The list of right-handed starting pitchers in 2015 who had better swinging strike and zone contact rates than Gausman is short and pretty eye-opening, with the exception of one guy who should probably be in the bullpen: Max Scherzer, Chris Archer, Danny Salazar, Matt Harvey and Rubby de la Rosa.
According to Fangraphs’ soft-hit rate, Gausman induced soft contact on 23.5 percent of the balls he allowed in play. That was fourth best among pitchers who pitched 110 innings or more in 2015, behind Dallas Keuchel and in front of Jake Arrieta.
When it comes together like it did in his final start of 2015, you get this wonderful display of dominance.
I am all in on Kevin Gausman in 2016 and beyond. The mishandling of young pitchers in Baltimore is well-documented, but I think this one’s future is just too bright for them to wreck. This off-season could be your last shot with his frustrated owner and you may be able to acquire his services fairly cheaply.