As the calendar turns to May, trade markets in Fantasy are heating up. Currently, the top trade targets are mostly closers and position players, but there are good deals to be made involving starting pitchers as well.
For the first time this season, we'll take a look at some of the biggest underachieving and overachieving starters in this space and see what trade possibilities they provide. The pitchers featured aren't necessarily the biggest candidates for regression. For example, Johnny Cueto won't keep up a 1.39 ERA all year long, so he is due for a big tumble. Still, owners should still expect him to be a must-start option in nearly all formats, so he was not included here.
Instead, I have targeted the pitchers who are among the most under- and over-appreciated and, therefore, are some of the strongest buy-low and sell-high targets. I have also highlighted some starters who may appear to be solid trade targets, but are best left off your transaction list for now.
Each of the pitchers featured here have large xFIP differentials. xFIP is an estimate of ERA that is based on factors that are under a pitcher's control, and it is often a good indicator of which pitchers are likely to see a change of fortune. For each of the pitchers in this analysis, there is a divergence between ERA and xFIP of at least one full run. (All statistics for games through Wednesday, May 2.)
Top buy candidates
|Josh Johnson, Marlins||3.47||5.34||1.74||0.446|
|Yovani Gallardo, Brewers||4.00||5.79||1.65||0.371|
|Ivan Nova, Yankees||3.83||5.58||1.76||0.398|
|Dillon Gee, Mets||3.16||4.85||1.38||0.364|
|Felix Doubront, Red Sox||3.66||5.19||1.54||0.352|
Josh Johnson, Marlins: With a 5.34 ERA and 1.74 WHIP, the Marlins' ace finds himself benched in 24 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com. That's a lot of dissatisfied owners, and one of them may be in your league. Let them fixate on the poor Fantasy stats, while you focus on the fact that Johnson's outrageous .446 BABIP and 30 percent line drive rate have been receding over his last three starts. He is also still getting strikeouts and ground balls, so the potential is there to purchase an ace on the cheap.
Yovani Gallardo, Brewers: Gallardo is also riding the pine in roughly one-quarter of our leagues, as he has paid the price for too many walks and homers. Actually, it has only been in his two starts against the Cardinals that Gallardo has been anything other than his usual dominant self. He has had trouble with the Cards over his career, so whoever owns Gallardo will have a dilemma whenever they pop up on the Brewers' schedule. He is just too good against everyone else to let him languish on some other owners' bench.
Ivan Nova, Yankees: More and more owners have been starting Nova lately, but they could have a change of heart after back-to-back drubbings. Nova's command hadn't been at its best in those starts, but he has also allowed so many hits on balls in play as to raise suspicion. Nova owns a .398 BABIP, even though his line drive and infield fly rates are close to normal. He is getting killed on grounders, as batters are hitting .404 when they put the ball in the dirt. That's a stat that almost certainly can't get worse, so now is the time to pounce on Nova, before his ERA and WHIP move back towards a more likely resting point.
Dillon Gee, Mets: Because Gee has been saddled with an undeserved .364 BABIP, many Fantasy owners are missing out on what could be the start of a breakout season. The 26-year-old had been good at getting whiffs in the minors, and his swinging strike rate has surged to 13.3 percent over his first four starts this year. That has helped to increase his strikeout rate, and he has walked only five batters over 26 innings. Given that he had set a precedent for this kind of performance as a prospect, owners should not be quick to dismiss this year's small sample of enticing peripherals. With an ownership rate of just 17 percent, Gee is possibly the most undervalued pitcher in all of Fantasy right now.
Felix Doubront, Red Sox: Doubront hasn't been as much of a strike-thrower as Gee has been, but he is experiencing a similar resurgence in his whiff rate. Fenway Park is a good place for hitters to get flyball hits, but Doubront's .217 flyball BABIP is due to shrink nonetheless. When that happens, owners could enjoy the benefit of Doubront's robust K-rate without the price of a high ERA and WHIP. You should be that owner, and it shouldn't cost you much to gain that privilege.
Top sell candidates
|Ted Lilly, Dodgers||4.45||1.38||0.85||0.171|
|Derek Lowe, Indians||4.69||2.27||1.42||0.292|
|Joe Saunders, D-Backs||3.64||1.24||0.96||0.248|
|Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays||3.86||2.40||1.27||0.250|
|James McDonald, Pirates||4.03||2.97||1.05||0.241|
Ted Lilly, Dodgers: A big part of Lilly's early success has been a tradeoff of flyballs and liners for ground balls. After a lengthy career characterized by lofty flyball rates, it's hard to imagine that Lilly will maintain a ground ball rate that is in the neighborhood of the major league average. Lilly's ownership rate has been heading skyward, so now is the time to deal this hot commodity before balls hit off him also start moving in an upward direction.
Derek Lowe, Indians: Even though he has all of nine strikeouts over five starts, Lowe has been gaining popularity. All of that contact has contributed to a 1.42 WHIP, but a 4-1 record and a 2.27 ERA have made Lowe more Fantasy-relevant. The sinkerballer has had to rely upon an 86 percent strand rate to keep all of the baserunners from hurting his ERA, and that's a high rate for any pitcher to maintain. Lowe is not just any pitcher, as he has had trouble with stranding runners over his career. It's just a matter of time before he implodes, so it's imperative for his owners to trade him at his highest value.
Joe Saunders, Diamondbacks: Saunders has been getting plenty of grounders in the early going, but on the whole, the rate stats point to the lefty being largely the same pitcher he has been for years. He has been helped by a miniscule 3.0 percent home run per flyball ratio and an 88 percent strand rate. Once those revert towards Saunders' norms, so will the rest of his stats. He has been added to 41 percent of our leagues over the last two weeks, but if you hang onto him now, you will likely be dropping him later and getting nothing back in return.
Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays: It's been harder for hitters to make contact off Drabek this year, but he is still awfully wild. His high walk rate is getting masked by favorable BABIP (.250) and strand rates (88 percent). While Drabek is vastly improved over the version we saw a year ago, he is likely to disappoint owners in standard mixed leagues over the longer haul.
James McDonald, Pirates: There's nothing wrong with Pittsburgh's middle infield of Neil Walker and Clint Barmes, but they're not good enough to ensure that McDonald will hold batters to a .156 average on grounders. The dearth of ground ball base hits has helped to keep McDonald's WHIP just above 1.00, even though he is posting yet another mediocre walk rate (3.3 BB/9). Not that many owners have bought into McDonald's fast start, as he is owned in 25 percent of our leagues, but those who own him may still be able to get peak value for him based on the Fantasy stats he's put up so far.
Hold these pitchers
|Brandon Beachy, Braves||3.67||1.38||0.92||0.229|
|Colby Lewis, Rangers||3.60||1.93||1.04||0.286|
|Rick Porcello, Tigers||3.84||5.64||1.32||0.308|
|Ervin Santana, Angels||4.58||6.16||1.50||0.274|
Brandon Beachy, Braves: Especially since Beachy's strikeouts are down, it would appear that this would be a good time to sell him, as his stellar Fantasy stats will be practically impossible to sustain. Even with regression, though, Beachy will post an ERA and WHIP that is useful in standard mixed leagues, and his K-rate has been held down mainly by just two of his starts. For now, there is really no reason to view him as a sell-high candidate.
Colby Lewis, Rangers: It's all but certain that Lewis won't continue to strand 90 percent of his runners, and worse yet, he is likely to increase the number of runners he puts on via bases on balls (current 1.1 BB/9). Even so, Lewis can be used in most weeks in standard mixed leagues, as long as he doesn't revert to being the home run dispenser he was last season. Lewis' fastball, which had been easy to clobber last year, is not as flat so far this season. That's a good sign that he is on his way to replicating his 2010, and not his 2011, season.
Rick Porcello, Tigers: Porcello's command has improved over his first five starts, yet he is being punished with an ERA that is nearly a run higher than last year's. It would be easy to blame his 58 percent strand rate, but keeping runners from scoring is something that Porcello has struggled to do in each of the two previous seasons. Before you buy low on Porcello in deeper leagues, bear in mind that there's a reason why his ERA continues to be stuck in the vicinity of 5.00.
Ervin Santana, Angels: Santana has been miserable so far, and while his xFIP is still a mediocre 4.58, it is close enough to respectability to provide owners with hope for a turnaround. However, Santana has had a hard time missing bats this year, and that partially accounts for all of the homers he has been allowing. xFIP may not buy into Santana's 19 percent home run per flyball ratio, but he has a history of higher-than-average rates, if not quite this high. Despite the improvement that xFIP promises, it's best to stay away from Santana for now.
| xFIP: Also known as Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. It is an estimate of what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based on factors that a pitcher can control, such as strikeouts, walks and flyballs. xFIP is a derivative of FIP, which was developed by Tom Tango. |
Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
GO/AO -- Ground out-air out ratio
GB/FB -- Ground ball-fly ball ratio
Batting Average per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats
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