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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.