Legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey once said, “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late”. For the last 20+ years, Fantasy Baseball pundits have essentially said the same thing every time they tell us to “sell high and buy low” when it comes to players on our roster. My experience over that same timeframe, however, is that the vast majority of owners don’t accept this advice. It just seems that we’re blinded by an above average performance in a small sample size and don’t approach the situation logically. If a veteran player with a lifetime .275 batting average is hitting .330 in mid-June we can’t seem to conclude that the last 3 1/2 months of the season will create a regression to the mean for that player. Instead, we think that he’s found the magic bullet and will continue the onslaught on opposing pitchers.
On the flip side, you’d think Fantasy owners would also try to find proven players who haven’t performed well so far and target them in trades. In the AL-only keeper league I’ve played in for 25+ years, my team was having a lousy season in 2015. The analysis was easy, as the three most expensive hitters on the squad were Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury & Victor Martinez. It was clear that my team would end up in the second division and none of those three All-Star caliber players would be keepers in 2016, but not one contending team had approached me about a potential deal. Did they really think Cano would hit .240 for the rest of the year? He hit well over .300 in the 2nd half and ended up at .287…this season, he’s at .304, within 3 points of his lifetime average. Or that Martinez would continue to hit .216 when he came off the DL before the end of June? He ended the season at .245 and is hitting .318 with 16 HR’s this year. Eventually, one team did make a deal for Ellsbury and he gave them some SB’s down the stretch and he’s proving in 2016 that he’s not over-the-hill with 16 SB’s in half-a-season.
If you’re in the camp that believes selling high or buying low might help you win your league, one of the tools to utilize is “Batting Average For Balls In Play” (BABIP). This advanced baseball metric measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit. It eliminates strikeouts, walks & home runs to only include balls put in play by the batter. Three main factors influence this statistic and they are 1) defense…2) luck…3) talent level. When analyzing an experienced player, luck is the key component we’re looking to find. It helps us determine if selling high on this player is a wise decision. Through games of July 4th, major league hitters have an average BABIP of .301, so let’s look at the top ten & bottom ten BABIP numbers for 2016 and see if they should be on the radar of Fantasy and real-world GM’s.
> #1 – Jonathan Villar .401 – He’s been a Fantasy darling this year, holding the Brewers SS spot for top prospect Orlando Arcia. Hitting almost .300 and leading the NL in SB’s, could this be a breakout or a mirage? The good news is that he’s the perfect age (26) and had a .360 BAPIP at Houston last year in a small sample size. The bad news is that a speedy lead-off hitter can’t sustain success striking out 27% of the time.
> #2 Starling Marte .400 – Selling high on this Bucco OF would be a fool’s move. At age 27, he’s just getting better each season. The BABIP is certainly higher than his lifetime mark of .360 but even a regression to that number still makes him a Fantasy All-Star.
> #3 Ian Desmond .393 – The Old Duck panned this player prior to the season and then beat himself up for drafting him in a AL-only format. His “walk year” in 2015 was a disaster, but he’s building enormous free agent value by hitting .317 with 15 HR’s & 14 SB’s in the first half of 2016. Be careful, as his BAPIP was .307 & .326 the prior two years.
> #3 Christian Yelich .391 – This 24 year-old Marlins OF finally seems to be overcoming the injury bug and has a career-best .872 OPS in 2016. Even this BAPIP number doesn’t seem lucky, as his figure last year was .370.
> #5 David Freese .389 – Couldn’t even find a job during the off-season and didn’t sign with the Pirates until after Spring Training started. Can he sustain the .289 BA & .822 OPS? His BAPIP in 2015 was .310…what do you think?
> #6 Xander Bogaerts .380 – Still only 23, this BoSox SS is the real deal. His BABIP last season was .372.
> #7 Jon Jay .379 – Currently on the DL, when it took the Padres a week to figure out he had a broken arm. A productive player but not a difference maker due to little HR RHRpower or SB speed, his lifetime BABIP is .340.
> #8 J.T. Realmuto .373 – Last year’s BABIP of .285 makes you wonder if this is a fluke. Or, at age 25, maybe it’s a breakout. In either case, a Fantasy Catcher who steals bases is golden.
> #9 Carlos Gonzalez .379 – Always one of the most talked about players this time of year, his 2016 numbers are certainly inflated. Should you (and the Rockies) consider selling high while he’s healthy? His BAPIP numbers the last two seasons were .283 & .284.
> #10 Freddie Freeman .368 – If you old-school fans are wondering how he’s having a productive year with no line-up protection, this could be the answer. This is the highest number of his career.
Now for the bottom of the barrel…
> #1 Todd Frazier . 205 – Pundits keep asking how he could have 23 HR’s with a .212 BA? This might be the answer. His lifetime BABIP is low at .279 but this seems downright unlucky.
> #2 Carlos Santana .236 – A “walking” statistical anomaly, his BABIP is always low (.267 lifetime) but his ability to get those base-on-balls gives him a .363 OBP.
> #3 Jose Bautista .239 – A player’s walk year isn’t a good time for bad luck and injuries but 2015’s BABIP was .237. Nobody wins when matched against Father Time.
> #4 Ryan Zimmerman .240 – Unfortunately, this seems to be a player who is old before his time (he’s only 31). Injuries have sapped much of the ability and this number isn’t that much worse than last year’s .268.
> #5 Derek Norris .241 – The last three seasons, he’s had a BABIP over .300…there appears to be some bad luck in his current .212 BA.
> #6 Prince Fielder .241 – A non-athletic player in his 30’s sometimes falls off the cliff. Last year’s BABIP of .323 gave no clue that 2016 would be a disaster.
> #7 Albert Pujols .243 – The future HOF still has productive power numbers, but his BABIP has regressed dramatically in the last few years…in 2015, it was .217!
> #8 Matt Holliday .249 – Another veteran slugger who has contributed decent production this year, this BABIP is out-of-character to his lifetime figure of .335.
> #9 Freddy Galvis .255 – Only holding the Phillies SS position for J.P. Crawford, he may have peaked in 2015 with a .309 BABIP & .263 BA.
> #10 Curtis Granderson .256 – Below his career line of .298 but don’t ever count on him to hit much more than .250.
OK…I’ll trade you Freese for Frazier.