Buying & Selling: NL Starters

Here at RotoGraphs, we receive a lot of would you trade/drop questions from readers. In response, we figure an article focusing on which players we are buying or selling might be helpful for the readership. So, let’s give this a shot. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Fantasy owners should have a decent grasp on their team by May. At this point in the year, sleepers have had a month to show they were worth a draft pick, and older players have shown signs of decline. While not perfect, both BABIP and FIP/xFIP can give you an idea of whether certain performances are sustainable going forward. On top of evaluating their own teams, fantasy owners can target buy-low players from other teams, making a move that will greatly impact the outcome of their leagues. Andrew Cashner and Marco Estrada may have gotten off to different starts, but neither player should be valued based strictly on their performances this season.

Sell high: Padres SP Andrew Cashner

I wrote about Cashner last week, detailing the lack of velocity on his slider. That same day, Padres beat reporter Corey Brock revealed Cashner has been throwing a knuckle-slider this year, which may have been the cause of his diminished velocity with the pitch. I was then told by someone close to the situation that Cashner was going to shift back to a regular slider in his following start. After looking at the PITCH f/x data from his May 19 start, that doesn’t appear to be the case. The lowered velocity on the pitch has led to fewer strikeouts from Cashner this year, limiting some of his value. He’s said the change in approach has allowed him to get deeper into games, and that’s good, but it’s going to limit his upside. Both his 3.99 FIP and 4.28 xFIP indicate that he’s pitched a bit over his head this year as well. Unless that hard slider starts appearing, you might try and sell Cashner as a young pitcher who has finally figured things out.

Buy low: Brewers SP Marco Estrada

In some ways, Estrada is the polar opposite of Cashner. His fastball averages just over 90 mph and isn’t going to overpower anyone. Estrada relies on a nasty curveball, which allowed him to put up a strong 3.35 FIP last season. While that combination can be effective, Estrada’s fastball often leads to a high number of home runs when it’s not perfectly located. That’s been his biggest bugaboo this year, leading to a 1.93 HR/9 rate. That’s the fourth highest rate among pitchers this season. Though Estrada will be homer-prone, that’s unsustainable. His 4.18 xFIP indicates what he’s capable of doing once the home run rate evens out. An eight run game against the Cardinals recently is also a big reason for Estrada’s awful 5.44 ERA. It should be noted that Estrada has also increased his ground ball rate from 34.3% to 41% this year, which has been accomplished by throwing more change-ups. Admittedly, Estrada is a cautious buy-low candidate. While it seems likely the home run rate would fall, it’s not guaranteed. And, right now, it would be tough to start him in a hitter’s park or against a strong offensive team. But if he can recapture some of his excellent control from last season, and start pitching backward more, he can recapture some success from last season. Given his awful performance thus far, it might not take much to pry Estrada away from a fed-up owner.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

17 Responses to “Buying & Selling: NL Starters”

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  1. jtop says:

    Thanks for the article. It’s been a great pleasure reading those at fangraph. Just a question: should I drop Tepesch or Cloyd for Estrada? 16 people mixed league, and I need some boost in W, ERA, BB and QS categories. I also have Hughes, Niese, Liriano, Sanchez, Lohse, McCarthy and Hudson for SP. Would you suggest trading away any?

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  2. Pauly says:

    Estrada’s walk rate is up too, dagger for his WHIP.

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  3. Marco says:

    Cashner’s SwStr% is below average as well. I believe it actually went *down* from 9.0% to 8.6% with this last start, IIRC. It could be a function of decreased velocity and change in slider. And while his F-strike% has always been below average, it’s even lower than career avg, this year so I’m off the Cashner wagon this year.

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  4. Shibboleth says:

    The trick with Cashner is to find someone to flip him to. SPs are almost always deflated in trade value, and unproven ones like Cashner are even more difficult to sell. Might have to keep him around for his home starts at least. Still, I like him enough to keep as a decent spot starter.

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  5. chongo says:

    Hmmmm. I owned both, and from pure fantasy I kept Cashner- who has talent and pitches in a park that Marquis, Harang, and Garland can succeed in- and dropped Estrada, who looks like a right handed Wandy Rodriguez pitching in a hitters park (spot starter at best).

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    • MLB Rainmaker says:

      Think you made the right call.

      Estrada’s has a slightly above average career line, but last year was the first time he was dominant at the MLB level. Now he’s 2 months from 30, and lost his only real asset — his control of the zone. Like you mentioned, given his park he can’t afford to be off a few inches.

      Cashner on the other hand is top 5 in the league in fastball velocity among starters. Wily Peralta and Garrett Richards are the only guys in the Top 10 of that list that aren’t above average MLB starters. Strasburg, Harvey, Fernandez, Samardzjia, Zimmerman — thats good company.

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  6. Emcee Peepants says:

    The one factor that was not considered here is that, at least in my CBS league, Cashner has RP eligibility and the ability to plug him into an RP slot as a starter gives him a huge advantage over Estrada. Even more so in a 12 team, 4 RP keeper league like mine, where RP slots outnumber actual closers. I’ll take a middling starter in that slot over a setup man any day.

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  7. supershredder says:

    Some suggested candidates for such articles:

    Jason Heyward (buy low)
    Yoenis Cespedes (buy low)
    Curtis Granderson (buy low?)
    Matt Carpenter (sell high; doesn’t offer much counting stats and somebody always overvalues positional flexibility)
    Chase Utley (sell high; as hard as it with the value he provides at a thin position)
    Shelby Miller (sell high? in redraft leagues)
    Mat Latos (sell high…if you’re worried about the lowering FB velocity)

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    • DD says:

      Starling Marte (sell high) – unsustainable BABIP, starting to regress a bit lately as well.

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      • LionoftheSenate says:

        Not in a keeper league. Marte is improving by the day. He’s already a A Jones clone and has Matt Kemp, when Matt Kemp was still Matt Kemp, upside.

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    • Pops says:

      I’m buying what I’ve seen from Latos, even with a lower FB velocity. I own both Matt Carpenter and Chase Utley… of the two I am definately looking to move Chase Utley. Not sure what you can really get in return for Carpenter… for the price he’s worth holding onto and plugging into a middle infield spot. OBP is a plus, runs scored and batting average should be useful, as well.

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  8. Rambo says:

    So far so good with the Estrada call.

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  9. I’m selling high the idea of selling high.

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  10. Stacked says:

    What you are missing with Cashner is his elevated looking strike #s. He’s at 31% this year vs 25% last year. And 30% of his Ks are called strike 3s vs 21% in 2012. I believe 30% plus is much higher than average.

    So, to me, that explains the decline in swinging strikes. Doesn’t mean he’s better than last year, but you have to keep it in mind when trying to make deductions from his declining swinging strike rate.

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