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Trend Tracking: It’s Time to Move Rich Hill

As we near the halfway point of the MLB season, fantasy seasons are coming into focus. With trade deadlines approaching, buy-low and sell-high players are more important than ever. Today we look at one of each, a veteran pitcher on whom this may be your last chance to sell high and a buy-low dynasty option showing some subtle signs of a breakout.

Time to Sell High on Rich Hill

That Rich Hill is still pitching at age 38 after enduring the tribulations that he has is remarkable. Given how often he’s resurrected a seemingly-sputtering career, it would be easy to wave away his most recent struggles. Indeed, his resiliency and ability to make adjustments count for something, even if they are intangible. That which can be quantified, though, is trending in the wrong direction, and it might be time for fantasy owners to take advantage of Hill’s strong reputation and shop him to pitching-needy rivals.

Hill’s surface numbers have declined sharply this season: ERA up from 3.32 to 4.68, strikeout rate down from 30.1% to 24.3%, FIP up from 3.72 to 5.17. Two (probably related) problems stand out; hitters have stopped chasing pitches outside the strike zone against Hill, and his home run rate (especially against right-handers) has skyrocketed. On the bright side, Hill’s pure stuff hasn’t shown any obvious indicators of falling apart. The velocity, movement and spin on both of his pitches are at their prior levels- welcome news, because a 90 MPH fastball and a 75 MPH curveball don’t leave much margin for error to combat a velocity loss.

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Instead, it seems that fastball command has been Rich Hill’s bugaboo. Consider the heatmaps of Hill’s fastball location over the past three years. Hill isn’t elevating the ball much this season, as his average fastball location shows. For a pitcher who thrives on changing hitters’ eye levels- using his high-spin fastball at the top of the zone and his high-spin curveball down- this is a concerning development. Likely related, Hill’s average release point is lower this season, perhaps causing the spin on his fastball to play less effectively by diminishing some of the late life that was instrumental to his past success. Whether it’s a flaw in Hill’s delivery or simply poor execution, there’s no disputing that his fastball has not been as effective this season. His swing-and-miss rate on the pitch is way down, and hitters are slugging an astounding .568 against it this season (compared to .383 in 2017).

Even worse, Hill’s declining fastball has allowed hitters to lay off the curveball, especially when he throws it outside the strike zone. As a two-pitch pitcher, Hill needs the fastball to be effective, and it hasn’t been this season. If you want to be optimistic, you could point to Hill’s sustained velocity and stuff and project him to bounce back. At his age, though, with declining command potentially traceable to an alteration to his delivery, I’m concerned. I’d look to move Rich Hill while his reputation remains high and his stellar 2016-2017 remain on owners’ minds.

Buy Low on Yoan Moncada

I don’t love Moncada in redraft leagues for the rest of this season. Fangraphs projects him to slash .234/.318/.396 with 10 home runs and 10 steals apiece from here on out, that unexciting production the result of a projected 31.2 percent strikeout rate. In dynasty leagues, though, I’d buy. Glance at his numbers, and it would be easy to think that Moncada hasn’t improved from last season. His strikeouts are up, his walks are down, and his isolated power is about the same. Indeed, the White Sox doubtless hoped for more than .223/.291/.402 from the former uber-prospect this season.

So why the excitement? First, of course, is his age. Moncada just turned 23, so he’s got ample time to improve offensively. More than that, it seems he might have already started. Moncada’s contact rate is still a red flag, but his plate discipline may have actually taken a step forward. Moncada has swung at pitches middle-middle at a much higher rate this season. What’s more, Moncada seems to have better tailored his swing habits to his own skill set. For his career, Moncada has struggled to cover the bottom of the strike zone, with his highest whiff and ground-ball rates on pitches in the bottom third of the zone. This year, he’s increased his swing rate on pitches up while cutting back on pitches down, and his ball-in-play data reflect the improved approach.

True, Moncada’s overall numbers don’t look better, but his Statcast data does. His average exit velocity is up four miles per hour from last season to a Top 25 mark in baseball. Further, Moncada has simultaneously increased his fly ball rate while cutting his popup rate, so one would expect that his batting average on balls in play would have improved more than it has.

Yoan Moncada will always strike out, but he might hit the ball hard enough to hit .260 in the next few years anyway. For a middle infielder who’s begun to tap into his plus raw power and has seemingly made significant strides as a basestealer? That’ll be extremely valuable. If you’re rebuilding or reloading in dynasty, Moncada should remain a prized asset. If owners are growing frustrated with his lack of immediate production, this could be the opportune time to buy an elite talent. His surface statistics don’t reflect it, but Moncada is improving as a hitter. It might take a while for everything to click, but patience should be rewarded in time.

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