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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.