Faith no more?

The mid-summer classic is now behind us and the next, and more important, milestone to us fantasy managers is the trade deadline. The MLB trade deadline is important, as it will result in playing time shake-ups, shifting of roles, and newfound contextual advantages or disadvantages. Fantasy league trade deadlines are often scheduled a few weeks after the MLB trade deadline. Of course, the incessantly repeated mantra of the trade market is to buy low, but with less than half the season remaining, should we believe our underperformers will still turn it around?

In some cases, I think we should continue to have faith, while in others, perhaps, we just need to recalibrate our expectations and think of these players not as buy-candidates, but sunken costs. Let’s look at a few players who I don’t believe in any more and some who I do.

Aaron Hill

I was fairly high on Hill coming into the season and I put my money where my mouth is. I drafted him twice, at picks Nos. 51 and 52 respectively. In a third league, I also traded Hunter Pence for him.

Hill’s advanced numbers are a total mess, rife with peculiarities. First off, he’s the proud owner of a .187 BABIP, which is a good .100-plus points below his career mark. Although that might give prospective investors a sense of optimism, this largely due to a putrid 9.3 percent line drive rate (his career rate is 19 percent), along with a career high 54 percent fly ball rate. Despite the increased fly ball proclivities, his homer/flyball rate has regressed closer to 2007 level than that of 2009.

There’s definitely more than luck at play here. It’s always possible he regain his form—I’d settle for the 2007 version at this point, but as long Hill continues hitting the ball this way, I’m disappointed to predict that we are in for more of the same. With a bit of luck in terms of having runners on and some flyball carry, his final homer and RBI numbers could look respectable, but I don’t expect a significant rebound in the batting average department.

Mark Reynolds

Maintaining the status of fantasy stud while striking out nearly 40 percent of the time is a very difficult line to walk. Reynolds hits so few balls in play that he is especially prone to the wiles of BABIP, for he has fewer chances that anybody for anomalous swings to even out over sample size. Like Hill, Reynolds is sporting a career low line drive percentage (12.9 percent) and a career high flyball percentage (59.6 percent). Reynolds is therefore sporting a .272 BABIP, which doesn’t sound so low until you realize that his career BABIP is .332. Reynolds’ profile has always been that his contact rate is terrible, but when he connects, he hits the ball so hard that his balls become hits with an outlying frequency. That’s not exactly happening this year.

Further, while Reynolds still has prodigious power, his homer to flyball rate has dropped to a merely impressive 18.9 percent from and absurd 26 percent last year. (Joey Votto is at 25 percent this year, by the way, and, according to FanGraphs, appears to have not popped out on the infield all season.)

The other hit to Reynolds’ value is that he has attempted a mere seven stolen bases this season, far behind his pace of 33 attempts last season. Tacking on 10 more swipes over the rest of the season would help owners recoup some of the price of investment. All in all, the power numbers will still be close to what you should have expected, but don’t expect the average to climb back to the .260 range.

Jason Bay

Jason Bay looks like a different hitter this year than he has been in years past. Not only are his actual power numbers down, but so too are his walk and strikeout rates. Perhaps Bay is attempting to modify his game a bit to the spacious confines of Citi Field by becoming more of a contact and line drive type hitter (his line-drive rate is the highest it’s been since 2005).

Regardless, it doesn’t look like Bay is going to bounce back as a big power threat, at least not this season. He’s homering at a rate half that of his next most meek season, 2007. With the return of Carlos Beltran, Bay is being pushed down to sixth in the Mets order, but this shouldn’t really affect Bay’s value. His RBI chances aren’t likely to suffer, as the core of the Mets order should continue to be strong and he remains the drop off between the (relatively) fearsome hitters and the lesser batters in his order, so I don’t expect a significant change in his run scoring pace.

Pablo Sandoval

Panda started the season off on fire, but has since chilled and is yet to thaw. The most troubling thing about him is tremendous dip in his ISO as compared to last year. Despite a sharp downturn in homer rate, Sandoval does look to be the same type of hitter he was last year. Ground ball, line drive, flyball, walk and strikeout rates all match up. The problem with that is that is Sandoval’s BABIP is a not totally illegitimate .298. Last season, his BABIP was .350, which is a bit high for players with such notoriously poor plates discipline. As a matter of comparison, Vladimir Guerrero’s career mark is .318, while Alfonso Soriano stands at .306.

In any case, I think we should expect a moderate bounce back from Sandoval. Perhaps more than the yet-to-be-resolved BABIP mystery, what is needed to boost Sandoval’s value back to where we thought it would be is an increase in his homer rate. Last year, that number stood at 14 percent, while this year it is down to an anemic 5.3 percent. Doubling that rate would still peg him below last year’s pace, but had he just done that we’d see a batting average in the mid .280s and a 20 HR/90 RBI pace. One way or the other, I think Sandoval is a better buy low target than Hill, Reynolds or Bay.

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The other uncertainty that merits mention with Sandoval is his spot in the batting order. Sandoval has literally started a game in every position in the order except first and last. Getting himself right at the dish would reinstate him as a mid-order fixture.

Jayson Werth

I’ve been hearing a good amount of talk about Jayson Werth having a disappointing year. But the truth is that he isn’t having all that different of a year from last. His ISO, walk and strikeout rates are all similar to 2008 and 2009. His line-drive rate is down a bit and his fly ball rate is up a tick, but nothing all too out of the ordinary. Basically, the two main differences are that considerably fewer of the balls he hits in the air are leaving the yard and he’s not running with much frequency, despite a sweet OBP in the .370s.

I doubt the stolen bases pick up dramatically, but it is totally possible that he goes on a homer binge, and if he does, a single two-week hot streak could put him right back on pace for final numbers in the range of what most Werth owners should have been expecting. Werth is still a fine buy-low candidate in my mind, especially because you aren’t really buying as low as perception may seem to indicate.

Nick Markakis

Like Werth, Markakis isn’t having as radically a different season from previous campaigns as the chatter would seem to indicate. In terms of the glamour stats, Markakis is experiencing a down year; he’s not scoring runs, hitting homers or driving in runs – at all. He’d pretty much have to pick up his pace significantly to get to David Wright 2009 numbers. This is a pretty bad place for a proven player and preseason consensus top 50 draft pick. But all is not tragic for Markakis.

His walk rate has rebounded from last season when he was derailed on his path toward truly elite on-base skills. His ISO also isn’t all that far removed from prior seasons when he was about a 20-home run player. Further, his trajectory composition isn’t all that different from years past, and actually most similar to 2007 when he burst onto the scene, making a significant sophomore leap.

So, what’s the problem here? It looks to me like the answer to that question might be doubles. Markakis has always been an elite doubles hitter, but this year he is leading the league and is on pace for more than 50. Some years, more doubles become homers than others. Of course, the other problem is his teammates. There’s absolutely no reason why a player who has spent the entire year hitting second or third in his lineup, and who possesses a .389 OBP and .839 OPS should be sitting on 40 runs scored and 31 knocked in. Baltimore is third to last in team OBP and second to last in team SLG, and we all know that you don’t get to 100 runs scored or driven in by yourself.

Markakis still makes a good buy-low candidate, especially in keeper leagues. He may only score and drive in 70 runs or so this year, but I’d make a quite substantial bet that he won’t repeat those numbers for many years.

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Peter D
Peter D

Hill was playing hurt for most of the first half, and may still be for all we know?  He should have taken more time to recover on the DL.

Paul Singman
Paul Singman

I’m no Alex Eisenberg but as someone who catches his fair share of Mets games, it does appear that Bay is not cocking his hands back as far this year and starting his swing earlier; two things that would sap his power.

Derek Ambrosino
Derek Ambrosino
Peter, Yeah, that’s another factor to throw in the mix. I didn’t comment on it, because it’s all fairly speculative. The injury theory is often a convenient way to connect a seemingly odd performance arc and story narrative. For example, let’s take Aramis Ramirez. The easiest way to explain his season would be that he was suffering from injury all season and it was affecting his performance. When he finally conceded it was serious enough for a trip to the DL, he was given adequate time to rest and recouperate and has emerged as “the real Aramis Ramirez” again, since… Read more »