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Buying High

We are all familiar with the practice of buying low. Over the first couple of months of the season, nearly all of my trade offers involve attempting to acquire a player who has started off slowly. But have you ever bought high? Did the thought even cross your mind to target Jose Bautista in 2010 after he finished the month of May with 16 home runs? Probably not. But sometimes it could be a good idea because the other owner may be thinking he is selling high and you still get the player for cheaper then he is ultimately worth. But of course, this is a much riskier type of trade and so most shy away from it. If you have the cajones, here are some players who may be worth buying high.

Gio Gonzalez

To be honest, I was not a big fan in the preseason. He was coming off two straight seasons with a low 3.00 ERA, but his SIERA marks were dramatically higher in both years. I didn’t think the move to the National League would be enough to offset his luck neutralizing. Instead, Gonzalez said the heck with luck, I’m just going to improve my skills enough to legitimately be considered one of the best pitchers in baseball. Now sporting a career best 2.55 ERA, that comes along with a 2.97 SIERA, suggesting that he is (nearly) the real deal. Always a ground ball pitcher with a good strikeout rate, control has been his biggest problem. But, his walk rate has now dropped every single season, and F-Strike% hints at even further upside in that department as it actually sits above the league average for the first time. He has also gained velocity on his fastball once again and his fastball has now jumped in speed every year, which has likely contributed to a small spike in SwStk%. While a sub-3.00 ERA may be tough to sustain, he has truly become a top fantasy option.

Jason Hammel

Hammel came flying out of the gates, posting a 60%+ ground ball rate and 3.11 xFIP in April and his new found skills haven’t regressed at all. Though he is clearly not such an extreme groundballer, his last two months suggest that a GB% around 50% RoS should be reasonable to expect, which still represents a career best level. The biggest change though has come in the form of his strikeout rate. Backed by a bump in fastball velocity and an increased usage of his slider, his SwStk% has skyrockted from typically below league average marks to above 10%. That means his strikeout rate is absolutely for real. The one slight concern is his F-Strike%, which sits well below the league average and suggests that his walk rate may be headed upward. But, he has shown better first strike rates in the past and he has never really struggled with his control, so this doesn’t appear to be a major issue. He should handily outperform his ZiPS RoS ERA of 4.41, which has no idea about the changes in his velocity or pitch mix.

Edwin Encarnacion

Encarnacion’s main problem was simply staying on the field. Between injuries and poor defense, he has only topped 500 at-bats twice in his career, and both times just barely. This year, he is on pace for nearly 600 ABs, and in more than 200 fewer of them, has already topped last year’s home run total by 3. Encarnacion has always made pretty good contact for a power hitter and so despite a below league average BABIP, sports a career batting average that wouldn’t kill your fantasy team. He also hits a ton of fly balls and is hitting them at a career best pace this year. That fly ball rate combined with pretty decent contact has meant that his HR/FB ratio looks entirely reasonable, even given that he’s on pace for a whopping 46 homers. He is also hitting his home runs significantly further than in past years according to ESPN Home Run Tracker. While his HR/FB ratio would represent a career high, it is not so out of line with his past and a power surge at age 29 isn’t too crazy to believe.

Jed Lowrie

Lowrie has never garnered more than the 309 at-bats he did last season with the Red Sox, but the oft-injured shortstop is on pace for 530 this season, even despite getting a late start due to a thumb injury. His power production has really been all over the map in past years, so it is difficult to gauge his true talent level. However, he has shown spurts of good power at various stops and now hits in a ball park that inflates left-handed home runs by 13%, which he has taken full advantage of by posting a 16.7% HR/FB ratio at home. His 14% HR/FB ratio isn’t outrageous, and he has posted an 11.4% mark before, though it came in fewer than 200 at-bats. However, he is a fly ball machine, much like Encarnacion, hitting over 50% of his balls in play in the air. While I have my doubts that he will reach the 30 home run plateau that he is currently on pace for, his power does not appear to be too much of a fluke.