Nathan Grimm

Baseball Daily Dose

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Daily Dose: Selling High

Thursday, July 18, 2013


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Kent Bottenfield was not a star.

Over parts of nine professional seasons, Bottenfield owned a 46-49 record and 4.54 ERA. By the time he showed up in St. Louis he was a reliever who had bounced around, making stops with the Expos, Rockies, Giants and Cubs.

But for one season, Bottenfield was an All-Star. In 1999, Bottenfield won 18 games and had a 3.97 ERA as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. His previous career high in wins was five, so the season was, in a word, unexpected. After the season, the Cardinals traded Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy to the Angels for eight-time Gold Glove winner and four-time All-Star Jim Edmonds.

Talk about selling high.

Selling players at their highest point for a lucrative return is as important in fantasy baseball as it is in the sport itself. Knowing when a player's value is at its highest point requires some digging, a bit of foresight and, admittedly, a little luck as well. At the designated halfway mark of the season -- with the understanding that we're actually beyond the actual halfway point -- let's take a look at some of those guys who are sell-high candidates. In Friday's edition of the MLB Daily Dose we'll try to identify guys who would be good buy-low purchases.


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Chris Davis, 1B Orioles

There are statistics that would lend themselves to either argument one wants to make, so some will choose to highlight the numbers that suggest Davis could carry his ridiculous production through the end of the season. Davis is currently projected to hit .315/.391/.717 with 63 home runs and 158 RBI. Baseball is a silly game, so I won't be the one to say it's impossible for his run to continue, but it's the other numbers that make it hard to believe Davis can keep this up for another two-and-a-half months.
 

Davis' start was lauded not for his prodigious power, which those paying attention already knew he possessed, but for his improved plate discipline. Through the season's first two months, Davis was walking more and striking out less than in previous seasons. An improved batting eye will lead to more contact will lead to a higher BABIP, in theory, which will also lead to a higher batting average and more home runs, RBI, runs, etc.

Unfortunately, Davis' plate discipline has regressed since the start of June. After striking out just 50 times in his first 226 plate appearances, a 22.1 K%, he's struck out 60 times in his last 167 plate appearances. Per FanGraphs, that 35.9% K% is actually above his career 30.4% mark.

While his strikeout rate has been rising, his walk percentage has simultaneously been declining. A walk rate of 12.8% through the end of May has dropped to just 5.3% in the 41 games since.

Of course, owners don't care much as long as he's slugging, and he's continued to do that even while taking a step backward in his approach. I won't suggest that he won't continue to hit bombs, but even that number is likely to decrease in the second half. For historical context, his current 35.6% HR/FB -- meaning basically one in every three fly balls he hits leaves the yard -- would put him second on the all-time single-season list, behind only Ryan Howard's 2006 season in which he hit 58 home runs. It's not impossible to carry that number for an entire season, but history suggests it's very hard to do.

Davis' trade value is as high as anyone's currently, so an owner looking to cash in could bring back a nice haul for the 27-year-old.


Hisashi Iwakuma, SP Mariners

Like most of the guys on this list, Iwakuma's start was one of the more noteworthy in all of baseball. And while his numbers are still very good -- he's 8-4 with a 3.03 ERA and 0.94 WHIP at the break -- two trends, one positive and one negative, are concerning.

Over the first 3 1/2 months, Iwakuma has been one of baseball's best in stranding runners. His 81.4% LOB% is sixth in the majors behind Jeff Locke (more on him in a bit), Hiroki Kuroda, Chris Tillman, John Lackey and Patrick Corbin. That rate is over eight points higher than the league average of 73.1%. Baseball is fun because rates and numbers don't absolutely have to do anything, but it's logical to expect that rate to regress to the mean a bit.

The other problem ties into the first. For all the good he's done, one of Iwakuma's biggest issues is his propensity to give up home runs. He's allowed 21 through his first 20 starts, including giving up 11 in his past five starts. For a pitcher whose game is keeping the ball on the ground, a high home run rate isn't promising.

What's helped him keep his ERA down is the fact that, of his 21 home runs allowed, 16 have been with the bases empty. Cliff Lee has made a career off the idea that solo homers aren't the end of the world, but only in 2012 did Lee give up more home runs than Iwakuma's 21 allowed thus far. Iwakuma just seems to be getting fortunate with the timing of his mistakes, and with a slight normalization of his walk rate and BABIP -- two numbers that stand out as being unsustainable -- more of those home runs will come with runners on base in the second half.

Jhonny Peralta, SS Tigers

Peralta is a case of his numbers not matching up with what we seem to know about the game of baseball. Peralta's .385 BABIP is second in baseball behind Joe Mauer and among names like Michael Bourn, whose speed will lend itself to a higher number, and Miguel Cabrera, whose superior hitting ability makes him immune from silly ideas like regression. Peralta has neither of those attributes. His 26.3% line drive rate has a lot to do with that, but he owns a 20.7% rate for his career. It's hard to believe he's getting faster or has better bat speed as a 31-year-old, so his .303 batting average isn't likely to stick. Pair that with his negligible stolen base totals and mid-teens pop, and there are likely to be a lot of better options at shortstop in the second half.

Jeff Locke, SP Pirates

Remember the discussion about Iwakuma's strand rate? Locke's is higher, highest in the league in fact, at 83.3%. An above-average LOB%, a well below league average BABIP (.228), lots of walks (10.8%) and not many strikeouts (16.7%) does not a terrific pitcher make. And yet here Locke is. The fact that he's nursing a minor back injury and he's on track to throw more innings than he's ever pitched in his career -- minors or majors -- just makes him that much more of a risk going forward.

Starling Marte, OF Pirates

Locke's teammate is actually the player on this list that I feel the least sure about. In context, Marte's numbers all make sense. His .362 BABIP is reasonable because he's very fast. His nine home runs are generally in line with what he did in the minors. And his 28 stolen bases, while a surprise, aren't hard to fathom for a player with speed hitting at the top of the lineup.

The reason for advocating selling high on Marte is less him and more the perception of what he is. Marte is a nice player who does a lot of things well, but I don't think he's a star. I think he's a .275 hitter who will probably approach 15 homers and 40 steals but doesn't walk enough and gets caught stealing too often. His unwillingness (or inability) to draw walks makes him a less-than-ideal leadoff man, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he falls short of 100 runs scored between his OBP and the lineup around him.

Marte is a good fantasy player, but if someone wants to pay for him like he's a superstar, don't hesitate to pull the trigger.



Mixed League Quick Hits: Alex Rodriguez (hip) said he expects to rejoin the Yankees on Monday when first eligible. He's just 5-for-28 (.179) through 10 rehab games ... the Yankees are still waiting to make a decision on Derek Jeter (quad). If Jeter's injury hasn't progressed by Friday, a trip to the disabled list is a distinct possibility ... better news for their teammate Robinson Cano: he's considered day-to-day with a bruised quad. He should be good to go on Friday ... the Blue Jays are telling teams they don't have plans to trade Josh Johnson. Johnson has a 5.16 ERA through 12 starts ... Mets prospect Travis d'Arnaud (foot) could be cleared to start playing minor league games soon. d'Arnaud hasn't played since April with the broken foot but could make a cameo with the big club before season's end ... Colby Lewis (elbow) threw 2 2/3 innings in a rehab start with Double-A Frisco on Wednesday. He's on target for a return to the Rangers by early August ... Melky Cabrera (knee) is on track to be activated on Friday. He hasn't played since June 27 ... Kelvin Herrera could be recalled by the Royals in the coming days. He's struck out 17 while walking only two over 11 2/3 scoreless innings in his last five minor league appearances.



Nathan Grimm is a baseball writer for Rotoworld. He can also be found on Twitter (@Nate_Grimm).
Email :Nathan Grimm



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