Diamond Digest: When to move on from struggling stars

Hitters like Dexter Fowler (right) are generally more trustworthy in fantasy baseball than pitchers such as Justin Verlander (left).

Image By: From left to right: images courtesy of Flickr user SD Dirk and Wikimedia Commons

This column begins with some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, baseball season is already more than a quarter of the way through. The good news? We still have almost 75 percent of the regular season to look forward to. With most of the year still to come, big moves made now still have a substantial impact on your season’s outcome and it may be time to make some of those difficult and risky moves. So which struggling stars should you let go of? And for whom? How do you know when it’s time to give up?

Before discussing those questions, let’s look at my recommendations from three weeks ago. I asserted that Wil Myers’ .318 average was unlikely to hold up and he has hit .219 since then, though his strikeout and walk rates have improved. Baseball is weird like that sometimes.

Below is a table showing just the ERAs in April and the first 22 days of May of the five pitchers I mentioned a few weeks ago. It begins with the two I recommended trading followed by the three pitchers I suggested acquiring.

PitcherApril ERAMay (through May 22) ERA
Ervin Santana0.773.81
Dylan Bundy1.654.68
Adam Wainwright6.123.42
Lance McCullers Jr.4.340.71
Carlos Martinez4.711.86

My predictions were validated! Thanks, baseball gods.

Joking aside, this table is meant to illustrate the danger in using ERA to evaluate players in regards to future fantasy value. Strikeouts and walks won’t always be as good of an indicator as they were for these five pitchers, but they will usually be better than ERA. Speaking of, Wainwright has only 16 punchouts with 13 walks in 23.2 May innings so far. Proceed with caution.

On the buy-low end of the spectrum, a few weeks ago I recommended adding Carlos Gonzalez. After slashing .216/.283/.341 in April, the first three weeks of May have seen him compile a .230/.324/.344 line. The 40 point bump in OBP is nice, but his BABIP of .302 is regular and his strikeout rate has actually gone up. Now, though, it may be time to worry about CarGo. His usually reliable power seems to be absent, and an explanation may not be easily available for why, or for what to expect going forward. This poses a tough question for Gonzalez’s owners: What should we do with him?

Unfortunately, this question has no correct answer. One option is to look deeper into his stats and speculate from there. According to his batted ball profile on fangraphs, his hard contact rate is near his career average while his rates of medium and soft contact are slightly lower and higher, respectively. Perhaps there is an injury, or a mechanical adjustment to be made. But this type of analysis is beyond my ability and that of a typical fantasy player, so I prefer to rely on league context to determine my course of action. Leagues with fewer teams carry a greater opportunity cost for keeping a struggling player on the roster, and there are probably young players available to replace him. Carlos Gonzalez is owned in more than 90% of ESPN leagues, and I would cut him for outfielders such as Aaron Altherr, Keon Broxton and Manuel Margot who are owned in 68.5, 47 and 39.7 percent of leagues respectively. In deep leagues, the options will be thinner so it may be best to hang on and hope the CarGo of old returns.

Hitters are generally more consistent than pitchers, so the track records of batters like Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion and Dexter Fowler are more trustworthy than those of Matt Harvey, Julio Teheran and Justin Verlander. Of these three pitchers, I am most likely to hold on to Verlander, but his walks per nine innings are currently a career high for a single season. Under the radar names such as Joe Ross, Aaron Nola and JC Ramirez may be worth a waiver claim at a starting pitcher spot.

As for relievers, typically the prospect of future saves and strikeouts drive value. Newly minted Brewers closer Corey Knebel is a must-own in all formats, yet is available in roughly half of ESPN leagues. The end of May and early-June are still part of the golden window for making unfair trades, so keep on doing that.

Do you own Carlos Gonzalez and want to trade him to Dylan? Send him an email at dylananderson100@gmail.com.

Note: All statistics used in this article are current as of May 22. 

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