AL SP: To Buy Low or Not to Buy Low

More than a month into the season, we are in full-fledged buy low and sell high mode. Though I always say it is much harder to execute these trades than all the fantasy advice articles you read will have you believe, it is still worth making an attempt. Today, I won’t be writing your standard buy low post, but rather analyze several pitchers who have been disappointments thus far and look at the reasons why you should buy low and why you may want to pass. Hopefully, we can then come to a verdict.

Max Scherzer

After starting the season poorly and then apparently discovering a mechanical flaw the led to two strong starts in a row, Scherzer followed up with another clunker during his last outing. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the mechanical flaw story was just noise, as any pitcher can have a bad start. So with a 6.26 ERA, what’s a non-owner to do?

Why You Should Buy Low: Aside from his 2008 debut, Scherzer is actually posting the best SIERA of his career, though to be clear, it isn’t significantly lower than previous seasons, and he has been amazingly consistent in the metric. His K% is up, supported by a bump in SwStk%, though that also comes with an increased BB%, also supported by a drop in F-Strike%. His batted ball profile is pretty much in line with what he has always done. What’s killing him so far is simply the insane .403 BABIP, and we all know that there is as close to a 0% chance of it staying that high all year.

Why You Should Not Buy Low: Maybe that high BABIP isn’t going to regress all that much. Now, of course it won’t stay above .400 all year, or even .360. But if he posted a .330 mark the rest of the way, he will still have major problems posting a sub-4.00 ERA, which would render him near replacement level in shallower leagues. How might this occur? Simply put, the Tigers defense is horrendous, which is pretty much as expected. Their team BABIP allowed sits at .311, which ranks fourth to last, they rank dead last in baseball UZR/150 and their defensive runs saved (DRS) ranks fifth to last. We knew this could be a problem and so far it has been. In fact, he is even sporting an infield hit rate (IFH%) of 12.8%, more than double his career rate. It’s a small sample for sure, but just another piece of evidence that his defense isn’t doing him any favors.

Verdict: I would still attempt to acquire Scherzer, but I would value him a bit lower than I did in the pre-season.

Matt Moore

One of the pre-season favorites for AL ROY based on his dominant minor league career and fantastic 9.1 innings with the Rays last year, Moore has been quite a disappointment with a 5.31 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. Is there any hope?

Why You Should Buy Low: The surface peripherals such as K% and BB% don’t show it, but Moore has displayed swing and miss stuff and actually shown pretty good control. His 10.7% SwStk% is excellent, which suggests his K/9 should be much higher, while his F-Strike% and Zone% are both above the league average, hinting at a much improved walk rate going forward. A high BABIP has hurt him, but both UZR/150 and the team’s BABIP allowed suggest the Rays are an average defensive squad and so based on that alone, his BABIP should decline. He also makes for an interesting target for stat-nerd owners because all his expected ERA metrics are poor as well, so it doesn’t appear that he has been unlucky at all. So he is a stealthy buy low target for reasons beyond just blind faith that a top pitching prospect will get better.

Why You Should Not Buy Low: Despite some of the underlying metrics suggesting improved strikeout and walk rates are imminent, the fact is that he has disappointed in both categories and maybe I am missing something by just focusing on SwStk% and F-Strike%. He has been an extreme fly ball pitcher, which is scary for someone whose control has been so poor. At just 22 years old, it’s possible that he has not reached the level of BABIP prevention skills that would be considered league average, so despite average defensive support, his BABIP may not regress much.

Verdict: Well, I just traded for him last week in two leagues and now own him in three of my four. So, that probably tells you what I think. I love the fact that his peripherals are worse than his underlying metrics suggest and so to me, he’s the ultimate buy low. Of course, the many Rays injuries on the offensive side is going to do no favors for his run support.

Dan Haren

Haren has always been rather underrated as a fantasy ace because he doesn’t have the mid-90s fastball, doesn’t post eye-popping strikeout rates and a lot of his value comes from his elite control, which leads to excellent WHIPs. He has a reputation of being a first half pitcher, but with just a 1-4 record, 4.41 ERA and 1.37 WHIP this year, some owners might fear that it could get even worse as the season moves on. Should you pounce?

Why You Should Buy Low: Underneath the disappointing ERA, we find a 3.78 SIERA, well below his actual ERA. His SwStk% is identical to last year and just below his 2010 mark, so although his K% is down slightly, his K/9 should remain stable, if not improve. His BB/9 is up and is actually at its highest mark since 2004, but his F-Strike% is as strong as always, sitting at its highest mark since 2008. The Angels offense has disappointed so far, but you have to believe it gets better from here, especially when Albert Pujols awakens from his season-long slumber. That would help his run support immensely.

Why You Should Not Buy Low: At the end of spring training, Haren admitted to feeling a bit of dead arm, which typically saps a pitcher’s velocity. In addition, he has been battling back soreness. His fastball velocity has been down all season, and his average speed has not once been above 89.0 miles per hour over any start. It seems rather clear that these various maladies have played a role and Haren is not 100% healthy.

Verdict: When it appears that a pitcher isn’t healthy, I usually throw all the rules out the window. Forget about the .320 BABIP or 12.5% HR/FB rate or 23.5% LD%. The luck metrics only apply to Major League caliber pitchers who are healthy. As such, I would no longer value him as I did in the pre-season at this moment. However, the risk is that a player can get healthy at any time and your buy low window, if there ever was one, could close quickly. A sure sign that Haren is healthy again is if his velocity rebounds back to the 90.0 mile per hour plateau, so you might be better off monitoring that and then reassesing if that velocity returns. Best case scenario would be that his velocity is back, but in that start he suffers from some bad luck while giving up a bunch of runs and hits. You know the velocity has returned and Haren should turn things around, but his owner may not be as savvy.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

32 Responses to “AL SP: To Buy Low or Not to Buy Low”

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  1. CB says:

    I own all three. Lucky me.

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  2. Andrew says:

    Left some sexier names on the table (Price, namely) to play it safe on durable, consistent Haren. Damn.

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  3. GVeers says:

    Hey Mike, your stuff is awesome. You’re easily one of the best, if not the best, fantasy writer I’ve read, and I always look forward to your articles.

    If you had to hang a ROS dollar value on Moore, in basically an ottoneu Fangraph points (FIP) league, what would it be? My auction values at the beginning of the season (based on ZiPS and CAIRO) showed Moore hovering around replacement level, but perhaps the projection systems don’t do his talent justice.

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    • Wow, thanks! I don’t play ottoneu so cannot possibly guess his value. But I will tell you that pre-season, I valued him the same as Latos and Bumgarner. Maybe you drop him a couple of ranks from there, but he doesn’t fall far to me.

      The projection systems are pretty useless IMO for rookies, as they always seem to project inflated BABIP marks for some reason. I guess it hedges on all the rookies who prove they are Major League caliber and end up actually posting above league average BABIPs.

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    • The Rajah says:

      It sure is nice to have your mom reading your articles and responding, huh Mike?

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  4. Scott Clarkson says:

    Any thoughts on John Danks? Hurt or potential buy low?

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    • Don’t know if he’s hurt, but velocity down 1.6 MPH, which is wreaking havoc on his SwStk%, F-Strike%, K% and BB%. Hard to believe he’ll have any value if his velocity doesn’t rebound, as his fastball has been getting destroyed.

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    • Jon says:

      Wow, as a Danks owner feeling the pain as well, I just took a look at his game logs to see his SwStr%. Here is his trend this year:

      2012-04-06 – 12.8%
      2012-04-11 – 12.2%
      2012-04-17 – 9.8%
      2012-04-22 – 8.5%
      2012-04-27 – 6.5%
      2012-05-03 – 4.2%
      2012-05-08 – 2.0%
      2012-05-14 – 1.3%

      That is unbelievable.

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  5. ryno says:

    While not an al starting pitcher question, how do you value tim lincecum for 2012. I was offered lincecum for bryan lahair and frank francisco.
    Thanks for the insightful articles!

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    • Man, he’s a toughie. All the underlying metrics suggest he’s been unlucky. SwStk% right at his career mark, his F-Strike% is actually at a career best, which is interesting considering his BB/9 is at the worst rate of his career. But, as we are well aware, his velocity is down and he is averaging less than 90 MPH with his fastball. Whether that has directly led to a 24.8% LD% or not, it scares the hell out of me. Makes me wonder if that means his BABIP will stay inflated all year.

      That said, most of it is probably bad luck, and so he should still be considered a top pitcher. Clearly though, his value is lower going forward than what I, and most others, valued him pre-season. I think that’s a fair trade for both sides. It really depends on your replacement for LaHair and if you can afford to lose ground in saves.

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  6. ryno says:

    Thanks mike…pulled the trigger. Waiver wire question, i have david robertson and alfredo aceves, with andrew bailey and drew storen out on the wire. Do i cover my tail and pickup bailey, or take the plung on both injury riddled relievers. 5 sp slots, 2 rp, 1 flex, i could drop a sp like nicasio, alvarez, minor, norris, masterson, or bauer. Non keeper league, points based.

    Thanks again and hope matt moore and max scherzer work out for you and my father

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    • Is this a standard 12-team league? If so, Nicasio and Alvarez are replacement level, Masterson should prob be on free agency given his terribleness and velocity loss and Bauer likely won’t generate much value in non-keepers given his control problems. So yeah, you have enough droppable pitchers that I’d pick up Bailey, especially if you could put him in a DL spot.

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  7. ryno says:

    Forgot to add, weekly league, with betancourt and hanrahan in tow.

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  8. jon says:

    Great stuff, and I agree on all three pitchers. I would add that I think Moore will be very up and down in his rookie year, even as things improve. It will not be a smooth ride by any means… yet.

    Can I break the rules for one more NL pitcher: Wainwright?

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    • Really picking the difficult ones, huh?! Wainwright is in a similar camp to Lincecum (ignoring the injury return of course), as his peripherals suggest he’s been extremely unlucky. He’s been killed by a huge HR/FB ratio though, unlike Timmah. But also like Lince, his velocity is down.

      The K/9 over a batter an inning is deceiving. If you check 2010, you’ll notice that his K% is identical to this year, yet his K/9 is nearly a point higher. That’s because of the huge BABIP jump, causing him to face more hitters. Although his BB/9 is up a bit and control is usually last to rebound for TJ returnees, his F-Strike% is actually at its highest mark of his career.

      I think he makes for a decent buy low as well, but like the other velocity decliners, you simply don’t know if the high BABIP is the result and may continue to be above league average.

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  9. Bill says:


    What’s your read on the liriano situation now, with the demotion to pen?

    Further, in my al-only league, I have a tough decision to make. Not sure youd be willing to respond, but im Curious to hear what you would advise:

    Pettitte- must activate

    Because of fister injury and danks and lirianos implosion, I’m basically in last place in pitching stats. I love crow, pestano and Perkins as closers in waiting, but I have to drop one or liriano, to activate Pettitte (whose starting stats I need). Who would you recommend I release?

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    • Tough call. Capps hasn’t blown a save yet this year, so I don’t think Perkins is anywhere near becoming a closer. So he’s just an okay middle reliever at this point. Liriano is now a middle reliever as well, with no shot at closing, and who knows if you even want him in the rotation with how pathetic he’s pitched. I’ve dropped him in most of my leagues. Perkins may still generate a buck or two in middle relief, but Liriano walked 2 in 2.0 innings in his first relief outing, so his control is still a major issue. I might drop him, I think i’ve given up.

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  10. Pat says:

    Great read Mike. A pitcher you mentioned in a response (albeit an NL pitcher) is someone I’d love to get your opinion on… Mat Latos.

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    • I won Latos in two leagues and am extremely frustrated. His stuff has been fine, though he has generated fewer swinging strikes. Interestingly, his walk rate is up, but his F-Strike% is the same it’s always been, while his Zone% is up. So I think that walk rate will come down in a hurry, aside from just looking at his history. I’d be patient here.

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  11. Mx says:

    Made a move for Moore AND dumped Pujols this morning. Pujols/Beachy for Teixeira/Moore. No regrets?

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    • I wouldn’t have done it. Moore is only a slight upgrade from Beachy in my eyes, while Pujols’ downside still might be better than the average expectation from Teix.

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  12. Bill says:


    Any thoughts on Danks and the commentary swing strike data above?

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  13. Colin says:

    I’m actually looking to move Haren, problem is, in an AL only league, the value I can get from him probably won’t be enough to off set his loss even if he isn’t completely healthy.

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  14. 3%er says:


    Great article, I’m a big fan of your work here & on the roundtable show. You cited F-
    strike% a bunch here and seemed to use it as a rougher indicator of BB% ability. I was wondering how much you rely on this stat to determine a what a pitcher’s underlying BB% ability, and if you combine it with any other saber stats for this purpose. I remember reading an article of yours explaining how you found that fastball velocity & swinging strike rate were the best indicators of K potential, so I was wondering of there was a similar analysis you would recommend for walk-
    limiting potential. Thanks.

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    • Thanks. Someone else here posted about the velocity/swinging strike correlation. F-strike% was another research piece from someone on here that found a high correlation with walk rate, while Zone% had little correlation.

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  15. segue says:

    “A sure sign that Haren is healthy again is if his velocity rebounds back to the 90.0 mile per hour plateau, so you might be better off monitoring that and then reassesing if that velocity returns.”

    Okay, I give up. What’s the best way to monitor velocity? I’m having a tough time finding a stat on Fangraphs (partially because of the lack of a thorough stat key) that covers this. I can’t find FBv anywhere. Anybody have any hints?

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    • Scroll down to the Pitch Type section, which gives you the BIS pitch data. Then the next two sections are from PITCHf/x and the second of those also gives velocity data. You can also click on game logs and see the velocity from each start, or click on the PITCHf/x tab and then velocity charts to see them in a nice chart form.

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      • segue says:

        Thanks Mike. Can’t believe I missed that velocity chart.

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      • segue says:

        Soooo… IS there a key for all these stats that I’m missing as stupidly as I missed the velocity chart?

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      • Not even sure where the glossary is on the pitch types.

        For BIS:
        CT- cutter
        SF- split finger
        KN- knuckle ball

        FA- four-seam fastball
        FT- two-seam fastball
        FC- cutter
        FS/FO- no idea
        SI- sinker
        KC- knuckle curve?
        EP- no clue…eephus? haha
        SC- don’t know

        the rest should be obvious

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    • Erik says:

      If you are looking at his velocity it was certainly up tonight. If you are looking at anything else it might be too late to buy low. 9 IN 0 ER 14 K 0 BB

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