Another week, another edition of Saturday Fantasy Notes, where I pick two players to go long on for the rest of the season and two players to treat like the plague. My sell picks from last week aren’t looking so hot right now, as Zimmerman is still tearing up the ball and Keuchel added another great start, but I still stand by them. Without further ado, the 5/13 edition:
Yonder Alonso / 1B / Oakland (Ownership: 51% ESPN / 59% Yahoo)
If there was an award for most improved player, Alonso would be the shoe-in winner. Always considered a patient hitter, Alonso lacked the power to become fantasy relevant at the first base position. He toiled with the Padres for several seasons before being dealt to Oakland prior to 2016. Alonso’s 2016 triple slash line read .253 / .316 / .367 for a below average .683 OPS. Fast forward to 2017 and Yonder is rocking a .294 / .385 / .667 triple slash for a 1.051 OPS.
Much of Alonso’s improvement is related to an improved approach. His groundball rate has dropped from 44.1% to 24.7% while his flyball percentage has increased from 33.3% to 53.2%. In case you’ve been living under a rock, flyballs are good and groundballs are bad, so this massive shift in batted ball profile portends well for the sustainability of Alonso’s success. His barreled balls per plate appearance metric of 11.1% is 11th in the MLB, so he’s not just hitting loopy flyballs.
Alonso’s .288 BABIP and 26.8% HR/FB ratio point to modest regression, if that. Heavy flyball hitters typically have lower BABIPs, so maybe we see a slight reduction there, but not by much. And while his 26.8% HR/FB rate is high, it’s not on Judgian-levels, so perhaps we only see a few less homers going forward.
Don’t be surprised if Alonso is a 35 HR / 100 RBI hitter at season’s end with a .380 OBP. Pick him up now if he’s still available.
Nathan Karns / SP / Kansas City (Ownership: 12% ESPN / 12% Yahoo)
Karns has been an effective but not overly sexy fantasy starter for the last three seasons, posting a cumulative 8.98 K/9 and 3.95 ERA since 2015 for the Rays, Mariners and Royals. Karns’ 23.5% strikeout rate in that span ranks 22nd among MLB starters, ahead of names such as Greinke, Hamels, Cole and Keuchel.
Karns was dealt from the Mariners to the Royals last offseason and seems to have taken a step forward in 2017. While his 4.58 ERA isn’t appealing, his 9.17 K/9 and 56.7% groundball rate indicate a 3.50 ERA true talent starter. The surge in groundball rate is a welcome sign for the previously flyball centric pitcher. Pitchers who post strikeout rates above 9.00/9 and groundball figures in the high 40s/low 50s are few and far between and generally very good, with names like Kershaw, Syndergaard, Arrieta, McCullers and Liriano headlining the list.
If you needed more reason to roster Karns, consider that Kauffman Stadium is one of the stingiest home run parks in the league. Karns has struggled with the long ball in recent years, so the move to Kauffman should help in that regard. The Royals also boast one of the best team defenses in the MLB, which is a boon to every hurler pitching in Kansas City.
Sell, Sell, Sell!
Mark Reynolds / 1B / Colorado (Ownership: 85% ESPN / 85% Yahoo)
I’ll start by giving Reynolds some credit. The former 35%+ strikeout rate hitter has incrementally improved his eye at the plate over the last four years, lowering his chase and swinging strike rates to a point where he is now sporting a league average 20.0% strikeout rate.
Reynolds is raking so far this season, with 26 R / 12 HR / 31 RBI / .331 AVG / .407 OBP. He’s acquitted himself well to the thin Colorado air, and is riding a BABIP of ~.350 over the last two seasons. That, combined with his new-found plate discipline, actually makes for .280-.300 average hitter. Never thought I would say that about Reynolds.
Unfortunately, it looks like Reynolds’ new approach has hindered his ability to drive the ball. His current 31.6% flyball rate is a career low, while his groundball rate has climbed to 46.9%, easily a career high. Much of his home run and RBI total is built upon a HR/FB rate of 38.7%, which is about double his career average of 19.4%.
Free agent acquisition Ian Desmond, who was expected to man Reynold’s first base spot, is currently manning left field since his return from a fractured wrist. This setup will work out fine for now, however once stud left field prospect David Dahl returns from his rib injury, which is still a ways out, Desmond will likely boot Reynolds from first.
If you’re a proud Reynolds owner, thank him for his services and float his name out there in the trade market. Now is the time to sell.
Robbie Ray / SP / Arizona (Ownership: 75% ESPN / 80% Yahoo)
A graduate from the Michael Pineda school of pitching (although with inferior control), Ray flashes tantalizing strikeout rates due to his whiff-centric stuff but struggles with giving up hard contact and home runs. A career K/9 of 9.99 and BABIP of .336 back up this assertion.
Ray has juiced up his strikeouts this season, good for a 12.4 K/9 (4th best in the majors), but at the expense of walks, as his 5.01 BB/9 is second worst. His ERA sits at 4.14, with a promising 3.20 xFIP. I’m normally a fan of extreme strikeout pitchers who walk a lot of batters since they have a high floor. At the very least, you’re getting seven strikeouts out of a start, regardless of the ERA, WHIP and QS/W potential. Yet Ray concerns me.
His high strikeout and walk totals are highly inefficient, and he’s going to have an increasingly difficult time ascertaining wins and quality starts with his high pitch counts. Additionally, his current BABIP of .304 is well below his career average. Given that Ray’s hard-hit percentage against is 51.0%, by far the worst in the majors, we should probably expect a BABIP closer to the .340-.350 level he was at last season. Once that happens, the tight rope act Ray is walking now will come crumbling down.
Previous Long Picks:
1B, Miguel Cabrera (DET) – 5/6
SP, Trevor Cahill (SD) – 5/6
Previous Sell Picks:
1B, Ryan Zimmerman (WSH) – 5/6
SP, Dallas Keuchel (HOU) – 5/6