Baseball may be a 162-game season, but for fantasy baseball players, that often can be hard to remember. After all, it can be difficult to roster a struggling player that isn’t impacting your team in the way you were hoping for, especially as you make a push towards first place. Well, I have good news for you, folks! I have identified some buy-low players that are going to be much better for you down the stretch! If these players are currently on your team, continue to roster them. If not, I would immediately inquire about trading for them or claiming them off of waivers. Their statistics may not currently look good, but by the end of the year, I am confident we’ll be looking at them through a much different lens. Who are these eight buy-low players? Let us take a closer look!
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Buy-Low Players for the Second Half
All Statistics as of Saturday 7/24
OF Anthony Santander, Baltimore Orioles
- Current Statistics: .231/.280/.387, 81 wRC+, .288 wOBA
Coming off of an impressive 2020 season in which he posted a 132 wRC+, expectations were high for Anthony Santander to continue to produce for a rebuilding Orioles team, potentially emerging as a coveted asset at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, as he’s battled injuries, things have not gone as planned, and he’s currently on the COVID-19 list as well. That said, upon return, we should expect a much greater power output. He’s already being impacted greatly by a career-low 9% home run/fly ball rate, and his numbers are mainly hampered by a poor first month. Since then, his strikeout rate and fly-ball rate are about in line with where they were in 2020, and he’s also chasing pitches at a career-low rate (32.4%). Essentially, he’s doing everything right from a process standpoint and is now awaiting better results. There’s a chance that he’s available on waivers, and, if not, the struggles combined with him being on the COVID-19 list means that acquiring him should be a relatively easy maneuver.
OF Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs
- Current Statistics: .177/.288/.317, 71 wRC+, .275 wOBA
It is always a good idea to be mindful of not extrapolating numbers based on small sample size, but considering that Ian Happ’s tremendous 387-plate appearance stretch between 2019 and 2020 came in two different seasons, I can understand why many were willing to draft him as a top-100 hitter this offseason. Hey, I did so a lot as well!
Sadly, the batting average alone has made him very difficult to roster in category leagues, while he’s struggling in all departments. On the bright side, though, THE BAT X projects a 107 wRC+ the rest of the way, and I am completely on board with that. The 26-year-old’s .223 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a career-low, which makes him an obvious candidate for positive regression. When you consider that the issues have come from a very low line-drive rate (16.1%), however, the optimism builds. Wait, what? Well, line-drive rate is a more unstable statistic, and with Happ’s career rate being closer to 24.4%, you’d expect closer to that moving forward. With the extra aggressiveness (72.3% zone swing) he is showing, the batting average is in a great position to improve, while he has too much of a track record hitting for power to expect that not to also be better down the stretch. He’s an intriguing buy-low addition with second base/outfield flexibility.
OF Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals
- Current Statistics: .185/.282/.331, 70 wRC+, .274 wOBA
Who led the league in home runs in 2019? The answer would be Jorge Soler, who certainly is not a candidate to do so again in 2021. Yet, it is very difficult to fathom why the 29-year-old is struggling. He’s not striking out (27.5%) more, his 27.4% called-strike + whiff rate (CSW%) is a career-best mark, and he’s still barreling the ball (12.6%) very well. Ah, there’s that career-low 10.1% home run/fly ball rate and .232 BABIP. Why can’t you regress positively and let us enjoy Soler bombs? It’s not too late though! Soler’s 16.7% barrel rate and 17.6% strikeout rate are great signs he heading in the right direction, and I am in line with THE BAT X’s 121 wRC+ projection the rest of the way. Get him now!
2B Cesar Hernandez, Cleveland
- Current Statistics: .227/.304/.414, 96 wRC+, .313 wOBA
With a #295 overall average draft position, chances are you didn’t draft Cesar Hernandez to be your starting second baseman. At the same time, you probably weren’t expecting him to break out with a career-high .188 isolated power (ISO) and 9.1% barrel rate. Wait, why is he on this list at all? We’ll have to thank the BABIP gods, which have not been kind to the 31-year-old this year. Given that he has even sprays and 88th-percentile sprint speed, there’s nothing to back up a career-low .256 BABIP, especially since his batted-ball trajectory indicates less “topped” balls with much more overall solid contact (5.8% 2021 vs 3.6% career) and barrels. His power production might not continue to carry over based on his career numbers, but this is someone hitting at the top of his lineup and in a position to potentially hit for average with enough power. Should you be in the market for a middle infielder, he should be at the top of your list for cheap acquisitions.
SS Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
- Current Statistics: .233/.286/.378, 86 wRC+, .288 wOBA
Whereas Cesar Hernandez probably can be claimed on waivers, the same certainly cannot be said of Wander Franco. Considered the consensus top prospect in the sport, his ADP was actually higher than Hernandez’s despite the fact that there was no guarantee he’d be called up this season. If you took the risk to draft him, you probably were very excited to see him promoted at the end of June.
Unfortunately, as is the case with several prospects (not everyone is Juan Soto or Fernando Tatis Jr.), he’s gotten off to a slow start, meaning those that own him have a difficult decision to make: maintain patience or expect a surge in production. If you can’t tell based on the theme of this article, I’m obviously in the latter camp.
With even sprays, limited pop-ups (4.2%), and elite speed (94th percentile), there’s no reason his BABIP should continue to be .265 for the rest of the season. Right now, for perspective, he’s underperforming his expected batting average, but given that he’s doing things that aren’t captured completely in a context-neutral static, you’d expect him to be outperforming that metric. We’ll see about the power, yet you should be getting someone who’ll hit for average, steal bases, and hit at the top of a strong Rays lineup. If Franco owners are starting to get impatient, jump on that opportunity immediately.
SP Kenta Maeda, Minnesota Twins
- Current Statistics: 79.2 IP, 4.63 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 24.8% K, 7% BB
Drafted as a top-20 pitcher in Fantrax leagues, Kenta Maeda was fully expected to build upon his Cy-Young caliber 2.70 ERA 2020 season. After all, he’d always been an efficient pitcher, and after being traded from the Dodgers to the Twins, he finally got the opportunity to be a full-time starting pitcher- incredibly useful for his fantasy value. Sure, he hasn’t lived up to those expectations, but he might be getting there now! In his four starts in July, the 33-year-old has been significantly better:
- 7/4 at KC: 6 IP, 0 ER, 10 K, 1 BB
- 7/9 at DET: 5 IP, 0 ER, 7 K, 2 BB
- 7/17 at DET: 5 IP, 3 ER, 8 K, 1 BB
- 7/22 vs LAA: 7 IP, 3 ER, 6 K, 0 BB
Meanwhile, he’s made a clear shift in approach during that span:
Maeda has struggled with his slider location, so to see him lean on his splitter, which induces whiffs (32.5%) and ground balls (57.1%), is remarkably encouraging. He’s the best version of himself right now, and I’d look to acquire him while he still qualifies as a “buy-low” candidate- those overall numbers are going to look a lot better soon!
SP Chris Paddack, San Diego Padres
- 87 IP, 5.17 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 22.5% K, 5.1% BB
Remember when Chris Paddack was one of the headliners of the Padres’ resurgence? After a strong performance (3.33 ERA) in his rookie year, he got the opening day start for San Diego in 2020, but the results haven’t been pretty yet; he’s posted a 4.73 ERA in 2020 and a 5.17 ERA in 2021. While the 25-year-old still has great K-BB numbers, he has been hit hard (8.5% barrel), making xFIP a poor metric to judge him by. On the bright side, over the past two months, he’s allowing fewer barrels, thanks in large part to his fastball. The pitch (3 ft average pitch height) is being elevated much better than it had been previously, and he’s gotten back the vertical movement he lost on it in 2020, all very good signs. The Padres rate as an above-average defense, so it’s very unlikely his .315 BABIP doesn’t lower at some point. When that happens, expect an ERA much closer to his FIP.
Closers Who’ve Been Struggling Recently
Since the foreign substance crackdown in June, all of Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Edwin Diaz have struggled. Considering that all have them have seen meaningful declines in their spin rate, it’s not a shock to see that be the case; even if they can still miss bats without it, their command of their fastball has suffered. That said, this could also be a situation where they need time to adjust, and all of them are closing out games for high-marquee teams. It’s a risk I wouldn’t necessarily recommend unless the price is very cheap, yet it’s worth mentioning them as players who definitely can be better down the stretch.
As we head towards the stretch run of the 2021 fantasy baseball season, it is important to know which players might be undervalued in your league. These players all are quality buy-low candidates that I expect to be much better in the second half of the season. Will that happen? Sports are subject to variance, and, sometimes, statistics don’t regress as quickly as you wish they could. That doesn’t mean we should change our process, however. With that in mind, target these buy-low players, and don’t look back!
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