Fantasy baseball, much like the stock market, is about finding value. With April in the books, let’s look at some of the players that should provide plenty more trade value than perhaps they’re worth, as well as some slow starters that could be well worth an investment.
Bryan LaHair, 1B, CHC
I love this guy. He’s been biding his time in Triple-A for years, waiting for his opportunity to crush major-league hitting, and that time has come. Handed the starting first base job this spring, LaHair has capitalized by hitting .390 with five HRs, 14 RBI and 11 runs in April. He did all that despite striking out 35 percent of the time. How is that possible? Well, LaHair had an absolutely unfathomable .600 BABIP in June. Six out of every ten balls put in play fell for hits! No one believes he’s going to challenge .400 all season, but owners in your league could be underselling just how far his average could drop. Anthony Rizzo also looms large at Triple-A, waiting to claim the 1B job for his own. That could push LaHair to the outfield — he may handle the transition fine, he may not. He clearly had everything breaking his way in April; shop him and see what you can find.
Derek Jeter, SS, NYY
Like LaHair, Jeter’s been riding the wave of an unsustainably high BABIP (.413 in April). Unlike LaHair, he doesn’t have a prayer of hitting 20 HRs. The last time he did so was 2004, despite routinely receiving more than 700 plate appearances each year. However, the Captain clubbed four longballs in his first 12 games, giving off the allure of a bomb-filled season for the vet. He hasn’t hit one since, but that doesn’t affect the look of his overall numbers — he still finished April with four HRs, putting him just one behind Mike Aviles (another guy that screams SELL HIGH) for the lead at the shortstop position. If he maintained his current .190 ISO, it would be the best season he’s had in that category since the ’90s. He combined for 16 HRs over about 1,200 at-bats in 2010 and 2011. He’s not scraping 16 this year; sell high to someone who thinks he can.
Bryke Trouper, OF, WALA
Hype could be your biggest friend in fantasy baseball, which is why you should be capitalizing on the aura surrounding Bryce Harper and Mike Trout now that they’ve “arrived.” Some rookies come out firing immediately; others take time to adjust to the highest level of their profession. When you’re still in your teens, it’s even more difficult to deal with facing a run of pitchers more talented than anyone you’ve ever competed against in your life. Non-dynasty league owners should definitely be shopping the crown jewels of The Future for someone that can help win a title in 2012, especially a guy that’s been awful over the first month. Could you get Albert Pujols for Bryce Harper? Probably not. Emphasis on probably.
You know who they are. Jake Westbrook. Kyle Lohse. Joe Saunders. Ted Lilly. Barry Zito. Derek Lowe. Et cetera. Don’t let one month of the season change your perception of pitchers after a phenomenal month, especially one that didn’t feature a lot of strikeouts. Of the five guys listed above, Lohse had the highest punchout rate in April with 5.67 K/9 over his first five starts. You won’t be able to sell any of these guys as aces to any smart owner, but you should be able to get something of value, especially from a team suffering through subpar starts from guys like Francisco Liriano, Max Scherzer and others like them. Grab some kind of positive value before the other shoe drops. That also goes for marginally talented closers like Jim Johnson, Brett Myers and Chris Perez. In fact, that goes double for Perez.
Yovani Gallardo, SP, MIL
It’s unlikely you’ll be willing to pry Tim Lincecum away on the cheap, considering his owner likely invested a top-50 pick in him. However, Gallardo has less name recognition but April stats that are just as ugly. But despite his 6.08 ERA, he’s mowing down more than one batter per inning and pitching quite well when he doesn’t face the Cardinals (his opponent for his two April meltdowns). Also remember that while there is a tinge of worry that a slow April from a hitter could mean a new, disappointing baseline of fantasy production. Sure, a 50-100 PA sample size is small, but not insignificantly so. For a starting pitcher, a slow April could mean just one or two bad starts, and when you have a maximum of five starts in April, that makes your line look far worse than it should. High-K pitchers with ugly ratios but acceptable control provide your best buying opportunity in early May.
Adam Wainwright, SP, STL
If you want to talk about unsustainable April stats (and considering you’re still with us after the Bryan LaHair section, I think you do), let’s talk about Adam Wainwright. The former ace is coming off a season lost to Tommy John surgery, something that’s always going to cause owners to proceed with caution. After posting just one quality start in his first five games, Wainwright could be tempting owners to jump ship. However, his ugly 6.75 ERA is built off a HR/FB ratio that’s — wait for it — 33.3%! A third of his fly balls are leaving the yard. The highest HR/FB rate posted by a starter in a full season since 2003 (which is as far as Fangraphs goes back with the state) is 19.7%. Suffice it to say, that number is coming down, way down. Otherwise excellent peripherals that include a 9.11 K/9 and 2.03 BB/9 lead to a 2.78 xFIP over the course of April. Over a full season, that would be his lowest mark in that category ever. He’s back, he’s better than ever, and he’s waiting for you to woo his owner with a deal he can’t refuse.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, KC
Hosmer was a hot commodity in fantasy drafts this season, consistently selected in the first five rounds of the drafts in which I participated. It’s easy to see why people were investing in Hosmer — he hit .293 in 2011 with 19 HRs and 11 SBs as a 21-year-old rookie. Fantasy owners looking for the next big thing were clamoring for a breakout year from Hosmer, looking for a rise in walk rate and a fall in strikeout rate to put those stats in line with his minor-league progression. What we got was a .188 average in April. Failure, right? Wrong. His walk rate did rise from 6.0% in 2011 to 10.5% in April. His K rate did fall from 14.6% in 2011 to 13.7% in April. The problem was, as you can expect, Hosmer’s BABIP, which was a horrific .164 mark. Owners certainly enjoyed his five April taters, but they might be willing to bail if they think they have the next Mark Reynolds. They don’t. Hosmer is going to bounce back to 2011 levels at the very least if he continues the progress he made in April. He’ll make his owner — his new owner, should he be traded — very, very happy.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and has previously written for FanHouse and Razzball. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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