Saturday fantasy notes: 5/6 Edition

Saturday fantasy notes will be a recurring segment here at FunGraphs. We will take a look at two batters, one to go long on and one to sell, as well as two pitchers in the same way. Without further ado:

Go Long!

Miguel Cabrera / 1B / Detroit  (Ownership: 99% ESPN / 99% Yahoo)

Some might take issue with putting such a known quantity on the ‘Go Long!’ list, but Miggy is poised to break out in a big way soon and might be available at discounted rates in some leagues due to his injuries and slowish start.

Cabrera’s 2017 triple slash line stands at .275 / .359 / .493 (.852 OPS for the mathematically challenged), numbers that are the envy of most hitters but fairly disappointing for the two-time AL MVP winner. Cabrera’s counting stats, with eight runs, four home runs and 11 RBIs, are suppressed due to a cranky groin that led to a DL stint.

Obscured by all this is that Cabrera is mashing the ball like he never has so far this season. His 43.4% hard hit rate is the third best of his career, while his 34.0% line drive rate is easily a personal best. Those figures should equate to a BABIP of at least .350, however he is currently trending at only .306 due to some putrid batted ball luck to start the year.

On top of this, Detroit’s offense has actually underperformed its peripheral-based expectations, sitting at 10th in the MLB in runs scored despite easily leading the MLB in barreled balls (although the legitimacy of some of them is in question due to questionable StatCast calibration at Comerica). Moreover, JD Martinez just started a rehab assignment and is due back on the big league roster within the next week, which will provide additional protection for Cabrera’s third place batting spot and lead to more run-scoring opportunities.

 Trevor Cahill / SP / San Diego (Ownership: 10% ESPN / 12% Yahoo)

People have been slow to the party on Cahill, so jump on this one while it’s still hot. For some background, Cahill established himself as a pitch-to-contact worm-burner with the Athletics in 2009 and has been decidedly average for most of his career. Injuries cropped up around 2013-14, and Cahill has shuffled between the rotation and the bullpen among Arizona, Los Angeles, Chicago Cubs and now San Diego over the past several seasons.

However, the 2017 iteration of Trevor Cahill is different. Through five starts, Cahill is sporting an 11.3 K/9, 57.3% GB rate and 3.60 ERA / 2.64 FIP / 2.82 xFIP line. Cahill had been striking out incrementally more batters from 2014-16 as his innings in the bullpen had increased, but 2017’s strikeout rate presents a massive step forward.

Excitingly, the peripheral statistics support Cahill’s newfound bat-missing ability. Among 94 qualifying starters with 30+ IP in 2017, Cahill’s 34.8% outside swing rate is 5th and his 13.3% swinging strike rate is 8th. These are stats that tend to stabilize within five starts, so there is genuine reason to believe in Cahill’s new strikeout rate surge. Exploration of the reasons behind Cahill’s new found deception deserves its own post, but the development of a devastating knuckle-curve in 2016 is behind some of the improvement.

Cahill also benefits from throwing in a pitcher-friendly home park, with occasional visits to AT&T Park and Dodger Stadium, so strike while the iron is hot.

Sell, sell, sell!

Ryan Zimmerman / 1B / Washington  (Ownership: 93% ESPN / 93% Yahoo)

Ryan Zimmerman has been the most valuable player in fantasy baseball thus far. He sports an absurd .433 / .474 / .885 triple slash to go along with 26 runs, 12 home runs and 31 RBIs. Ridiculous numbers. I promise this post isn’t motivated out of the spite I feel for picking up Mitch Moreland instead of Zimmerman three weeks ago.

Much has been made of a revamped approach at the plate for Zimmerman, leading to more line drives and fly balls. While some of that assuredly has merit, Zimmerman’s 40.0% HR/FB ratio will likely be in the mid 20%’s by the season’s end. His .478 BABIP is  almost unconscionable. And let’s not forget some of the synergistic benefits he’s received from the unsustainable performance from his teammates as well.

Don’t get me wrong – Zimmerman is mashing the ball. His hard hit and barrel rates are impressive. But his BABIP and HR/FB ratios are so out of whack that there will likely be tough times ahead. And if you can try to swindle a trade for a more established veteran with a slower start – say a Miguel Cabrera – jump at the opportunity.

Dallas Keuchel / SP / Houston  (Ownership: 97% ESPN / 97% Yahoo)

The 2015 AL Cy Young winner is enjoying a bounce-back 2017 season, with a 1.88 ERA and an average of over seven innings pitched per start. But how much of it is sustainable? The good news is that Keuchel is back to getting an inordinate amount of ground balls. While his 56.7% GB rate in 2016 was still great, it was below his career average and the 63.0% he is sporting this year. On top of that, his swinging strike rate is up to 10.5% from 9.6% last season.

The bad news: Keuchel’s .195 BABIP against and 93.1% strand rate are fueling his sub-2.00 ERA and both are likely regress hard. Keuchel is also making a living by throwing the ball out of the strike zone and getting hitters to chase. His 36.5% zone rate is the lowest in the MLB and his outside contact rate of 57.1% is the lowest of his career. With no repertoire changes to explain a sudden increase in deception, it’s likely that hitters will eventually figure out that they can lay off his outside zone offerings.

Once Keuchel starts allowing more baserunners due a higher BABIP, hitters will also naturally become more selective and make him throw the ball over the plate. While this is happening, the strand rate will go down due to less sequencing luck, resulting in more runs. The cumulative magnitude of these effects might be tough to witness for Keuchel owners.

Market Keuchel for sale right now if you own him fantasy leagues. The merry-go-round will stop soon.


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