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Fantasy Baseball Hold or Fold

We’re back to business as usual now that the All-Star break has come and gone, so that means it’s also time to get back to the grind as fantasy baseball team owners. Today we are going to do just that, analyzing some recent hot and cold performers (including the white-hot Matt Carpenter) and determine if they are worth believing in or cutting bait before the inevitable drop sets in. That’s right ladies and gents… it’s time for Hold or Fold!

In this exercise, I’ll be scouring through stats over the last 30 calendar days and identifying some interesting names to analyze. The ebbs and flows of the long baseball season can provide plenty of opportunities for highs and lows, and the best way to maximize the performance on your team is to identify these peaks and valleys and act accordingly. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should cut a struggling player or ask a king’s ransom for a recent performer, but it does mean you should do your diligence.

Let’s see what we have today, shall we?

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Matt Carpenter – 1B/3B, St. Louis Cardinals

If you fell into a coma and missed a week’s worth of action recently, you still had enough time to catch Matt Carpenter destroying a baseball. He’s been one of if not the best hitter over the last week, and looking back to the last 30 days we can see that he’s largely been performing adequately for a while now. Of course, his owners aren’t likely going to forget his first third of the season, which can only be described as disastrous. Through May 15, Carpenter was sitting on a .140/.286/.272 slash line with 3 home runs and a lot of angry Cardinals fans on his back. It was a common topic that the once feared slugger might have finally hit the back half of his career and this might be the end at age 32.

Since then, however, he has put up a much more Matt Carpenter-like .350/.441/.752 line with 22 home runs. His walk rate is as good as ever (and was still elite through his early season slumps), and though the strikeout rate is up, it’s still a manageable 23.1 percent. His batted ball profile is pretty similar to years past, with the exception of a very nifty 10 percent increase in hard contact. If he continues on his season pace for the rest of the year, we would be looking at a career year for the Redbirds slugger as he’s on pace for 40 home runs and a .275/.380/.580 line. The first two numbers look like what I would expect but that third one is a bit higher than anticipated.

Because of all this, I think we really are seeing Matt Carpenter performing at a semi-sustainable pace. Over the last 30 days, he has batted .407 to elevate that average, and although I doubt that continues, his season mark of .279 is largely within range. The power is going to come down, no doubt, but in this day and age of power everywhere, it’s also entirely possible that he’s hit a new level of performance. I doubt he gets to 40 home runs by season’s end, but 35 is a definite possibility.

If you’re in a dynasty league it’s always worth a bit of caution anytime someone over the age of 30 goes through a horrible slump like Carpenter did earlier this year. I’m not going to hold it against him too much though, as his walk heavy doubles mentality is the type of skillset that doesn’t evaporate quickly. Basically, I don’t suggest dropping the farm to nab Matt Carpenter in a trade, but I also think you should hold tight and reap the benefits of the next few years, of which should still be plenty valuable.

Verdict: Hold

Eric Hosmer – 1B, San Diego Padres

I’ll be right up front in saying that I am not a fan of Eric Hosmer. First basemen who need nearly 700 plate appearances to hit 20-25 home runs aren’t exactly a hot commodity, and a guy who hits the ball on the ground 50-60 percent of the time is not genuinely going to have a ton of power or fortune. Of course, he also did finish fourth in offensive value (per’s offensive metric) for first basemen in 2017 after finishing 19th the previous year. That fourth-place finish largely was helped out by his excellent .318 batting average.

So, going into the year Hosmer was sitting as the ninth first baseman off the board, just after teammate Wil Myers and former stud Miguel Cabrera. I thought that certainly wasn’t egregious but was a bit higher than I had an interest in taking him for the reasons mentioned above. Fortunately, I didn’t end up with Hosmer on any of my fantasy teams, and the reason that’s fortunate is that the new Padre is putting together one of the worst seasons of his career.

Through 425 plate appearances, Hosmer has a .245/.311/.387 line with 10 homers and four steals. He’s produced negative value not only offensively, but defensively as well (it’s worth noting that he’s also been considered a bad defender at the easiest position on the diamond). His .300 wOBA is the worst mark he’s posted since the 2012 season, and his strikeout rate has risen to a career-high 23.3 percent. The last 30 days have been some of the worst baseball he has played in his career, with a .155/.188/.206 slash and only one home run over 23 games and 101 plate appearances. Do you think the Padres are getting their money’s worth on this deal?

The looming question remains… is he going to turn around this disastrous season or is this the new norm? Let’s put it this way, the nicest thing I can say is that he can’t be this bad can he? I said earlier that I had very little interest in Hosmer and my interest remains the same. I simply don’t want him on my team unless I’m getting him for pennies and even then he’s riding the pine until I see plenty of success. All of his questionable batting tendencies appear to have caught up to him all at once, and like I said, it can’t be this bad, but it is bad.

That ground ball percentage I mentioned earlier is a big culprit for why he’s performing so poorly. If you hit the ball on the ground 61.2% of the time and only hit it hard 37.4% of the time, then that’s a lot of soft grounders right to first base. In previous years when he has been largely successful, Hosmer has relied on BABIPs in the .335-.350 range, which was always a bit fluky when considering how he hits the ball. But this year the BABIP has fallen a bit to .305 and that simply won’t cut it for a guy who hits the ball with the profile of an 80-grade runner.

The mediocre power that Hosmer previously had has also evaporated with his ISO falling from a high of .179 last year all the way down to .142 this season. Again, you can’t show any power when two-thirds of the balls you hit are on the ground. The only redeeming thing Hosmer has provided is sheer volume. Due to his 425 plate appearances (top 25 in the league) he has put up 43 runs and 42 RBI, but that’s a far cry from last year’s 98-94 respectively.

The best thing I can say to Hosmer owners is that he’s still only 28 years old, so it’s entirely possible he puts in the work and completely reinvents himself. Of course, if he doesn’t do that, then you’re going to be stuck with a commodity that is harming your team more than hurting it, so I suggest seeing if there are any believers out there and trying to get out while you can. Holding him until there’s a decent stretch of games is also a solid idea, but I’m also not sure even that can happen.

Verdict: Fold

Marco Gonzales – SP, Seattle Mariners

Over his last 5 starts, former Cardinal and current Mariner Marco Gonzales has put together four wins against one loss, 34.1 innings of 2.36 ERA, 7.89 K/9, and 0.79 BB/9 baseball. For a playoff hunting M’s squad that is desperate for pitching, Marco has been an absolute treasure. He was picked up in the Tyler O’Neill swap from last season, and though plenty of people (myself included) weren’t that excited for his work, he sure has tried his best to prove us wrong.

Gonzales doesn’t at all have front-line starter stuff, but this season he’s showing that he can be a rotation piece that provides excellent innings and keeps his team in the game every time he takes the mound. His season ERA sits at 3.38 and is backed up by the ERA estimators with a 3.32, 3.43, and 3.66, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA respectively. He doesn’t really strike anyone out, though he also never walks anyone either. How exactly has he gone from “just a guy” to valued starting pitcher?

Well, there are some real changes he has made to his pitching repertoire. First, we’ve actually seen his velocity drop from last year’s 91-93 mph range on his fastball to a 90-92 mph range. That’s not extreme, but it is very noticeable to a batter and trending in the wrong direction. The thing about it though, is that he’s actually using that fastball far less than he previously had. The MLB data is a bit slim considering he hasn’t put in that much time in the Majors yet, but we can see that he generally stuck with using his fastball between 50-60 percent of the time in years past. This year that mark is all the way down to 33.3 percent.

In its place, Hernandez has developed a new cutter, which he’s now throwing 20.1 percent of the time, making up for the lost fastball usage. His breaking/off-speed usage has largely remained the same, though he has upped his curveball usage a bit and dropped the changeup a bit as well. This new pitch mix has obviously done wonders for his performance, as we are now looking at a better home run profile with his HR/FB rate dropping from 17.8 percent to 11.5 percent. Certainly keeping the ball in the park helps and he’s seeing the benefit of that for sure. Hitters are actually hitting the ball in the air less than in the past entirely with his FB% dropping about five percent.

So with this kind of pitching change, we are tasked with figuring out whether the new performance level will last or if hitters will adjust and all the numbers will inflate to a higher level. To be honest we are seeing several pitchers make this kind of change – actively switching up their pitching profile to utilize the fastball less since hitters are crushing them harder and farther than ever. Patrick Corbin is a noticeable example of this, with Corbin upping his slider usage to crazy levels and it paying off big time.

I think I’ve seen enough of Marco Gonzales this year to cautiously say that we are looking at a completely different pitcher than we initially had. That doesn’t mean I think he’s going to continue putting up an ERA around 3.25, but it does mean that I think he’s a very viable option for a fantasy squad that probably paid absolutely nothing for him this year. If I’m evaluating his performance going forward, I’m going to predict a 3.50-3.75 ERA with low walk rates and average strikeout rates. And again, for the price you paid, isn’t that super valuable?

Verdict: Hold

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  1. Flex Aedo says

    Van Lee is the Nute Gunray of Fantasy Sports.

    1. Van Lee says

      There are a lot of things about this comment that makes me wonder if I made it in my sleep. Tertiary Star Wars character? Check. Spoonerism baseball name? Check. [email protected] email address? Check. *wipes away tear* I’m so proud

  2. Shan Walker says

    I really got into this article. I found it to be interesting and loaded with unique points of interest. I like to read material that makes me think. Thank you for writing this great content.

    1. Van Lee says

      Thanks so much for the kind words!

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