Buy or Sell Slow Starts in Dynasty

Deciphering the dynasty value of four players off to slow starts.

Dynasty leagues are often more accurate than redraft leagues. Trades are swirling weekly with each manager trying to gain a competitive advantage for both this season and beyond. Last month this article was based on an incredibly small sample size. While the season is now over a month old, it is still relatively young. Slow starts for key players can paralyze you as a fantasy manager. You do not want to risk selling too early before a player’s stats bounce back. On the flip side, slow starts provide an opportunity to buy low on a player, but you have to make sure that the slow start is really just a slow start. This article looks at four players with slow starts and helps decipher if dynasty managers should be buying these players or leaving them alone.

Be sure to head over to the Pitcher List Dynasty page for all things prospects and dynasty.


Slow Start(s) to Buy in Dynasty


Austin Wells, C, New York Yankees


For those who have followed my content, I have long been an Austin Wells truther. Since seeing him live in Somerset for the first time, he felt destined to put up big numbers with the Short Porch in Yankee Stadium. So far those hopes and projections are yet to come to fruition. Wells has struggled early on in his Major League career, especially early on in 2024. His dynasty value has seemingly never been lower as he is available on waivers in several of my leagues while the cost to acquire in other formats has been extremely low. Dynasty managers and Wells’ owners should not be throwing in the towel yet. This slow start to 2024 creates the perfect opportunity to acquire Wells at a massive discount.

The focal point of Wells’ value is generated through his power. Standing at 6’2″, his power can seem effortless at times. Although he does not and has not posted the highest exit velocities, Wells’ power is legit. The big rave throughout the fantasy baseball community this past off-season was looking into hitters who have swings designed to most effectively tap into their power. Sparked by Isaac Paredes, hitters who pull the ball in the air typically outperform their power metrics. This is exactly the kind of hitter Wells profiled to be throughout his Minor League career. He is a fly-ball hitter who consistently posted pull rates of over 40%. This approach helped propel Wells to 53 home runs across his 1,300 Minor League plate appearances. He was a 25 HR/600 PA hitter and profiled as a prime beneficiary of the Short Porch upon his promotion.

Part of the issue for Wells since being promoted has been the disappearance of his pulled fly balls. Wells is still hitting plenty of fly balls (FB% is up over 47%), but he is not pulling them. Wells’ overall pull rate sits below 35% while his pulled fly ball rate sits below 25%. This change in approach is resulting in a lower home run output than many expected. One encouraging point is that his pull rate has increased from 26.1% on April 14 to 38.5% from April 15 forward. Hopefully, Wells continues to pull more balls as the season moves along.

While the lack of pulled fly balls is undoubtedly impacting his home run rate, most of Wells’ struggles boil down to poor luck. Looking under the hood, there is far more to be encouraged by than discouraged by. The simplest area to look at for young players is plate discipline and contact rates. Wells has always demonstrated a strong understanding of the strike zone but seeing this at the Major League level has been especially impressive. So far this season, Wells is only chasing 23.8% of the time. This number is down from 37% in his small 2023 sample. PLV does a great job of illustrating just how impressive his strike zone judgment has been:

While scouts have been confident that Wells would have no problem working walks, few expected him to make contact at the rate he has in 2024. Wells’ whiff rate sits at just 25.2% which is right around the Major League average. This is the main reason he is striking out less than 13% of the time this season. Unfortunately, this additional contact has not resulted in a better batting average due to horrible luck in the BABIP department. Despite a sweet spot percentage north of 40% and a line drive rate above 23%, Wells’ BABIP currently sits below .200. He is the only hitter in baseball with a line drive rate above 23% and a hard hit rate greater than 30% with a BABIP under .200. Wells is going to see his average come up.

The best part is that it is not as if Wells is sacrificing his power for more contact. Wells is still barreling up the ball at a well-above-league-average rate. His barrel rate currently sits at 12.2% (six barrels on the season). With just one home run at this point, Wells’ home run per barrel percentage sits at just 16.7%. This number is bound to improve as the season moves along.

The biggest problem for Wells to overcome during the remainder of the 2024 season is playing time, not his offensive abilities. Wells is doing everything dynasty managers should want to see from a player in his rookie season. The plate discipline is great, the contact skills are improving, and he is still barreling the ball up at a high rate. As Wells’ luck improves, so will his dynasty value. Once this happens, he should have no issue taking playing time away from Jose Trevino who owns a career 74 wRC+. Now is the best time to go acquire him in dynasty leagues where you need to bolster your catcher depth chart. He should cost you close to nothing and could turn into a reliable option for years to come.

Wells also ranks in the 93rd percentile in baseball in terms of framing with a plus arm. The concerns many had over his defensive skills have subsided and should not have any impact on his dynasty value or the Yankees’ willingness to use him at catcher in the coming years.


Josh Hader, RP, Houston Astros


The Astros have been one of the great teams in baseball for the greater part of the past decade. Built around stars, things seemingly got even better this off-season when the team signed All-Star closer Josh Hader. Unfortunately, the 2024 season has not gotten off to the start Hader or the Astros envisioned. While the Astros sit toward the bottom of the AL West standings, Hader has an ERA sitting over five. Now 30 years old, many dynasty managers are wondering if Hader’s best days are behind him.

Anybody worrying about Hader’s long-term value needs to take a deep breath and remain patient. This start to the season has not been ideal, but there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The starting point is team context. While the Astros might be declining from their recent reign, they remain a quality team. Very few experts or models expect them to remain at the bottom of the standings. With more wins will come more save opportunities. Hader has only had four opportunities this season. Houston’s four saves rank last in baseball, behind or tied with teams like the White Sox, Rockies, and Marlins. This is not going to continue.

Going beyond team context, Hader’s stuff is as good as ever. His sinker is still averaging 96 mph and his slider is still generating a whiff rate of 50%. He has only surrendered one home run on the season, speaking to his ability to effectively command his pitches. The stuff is not declining and neither is his control. Don’t just take my word for it, dive into PLV.

Hader’s current overall PLV is 5.38 with a PLA of 2.87. This PLV ranks in the 87th percentile amongst all pitchers. In fact, this is the best PLV Hader has ever posted in his career (PLV only is provided as far back as 2020). According to the model, Hader is pitching better now than he did in 2021 when he finished the season with 34 saves and a 1.23 ERA. He is even pitching better than he did last season when he closed out 33 games with a 1.28 ERA.

Hader is arguably an even better pitcher than he was heading into 2024. His quality pitch percentage is up over four percent from last season. His luck metrics help explain why the results have been far from what was expected. According to PLV, Hader has surrendered four more hits than expected this season, ranking in the 24th percentile. Four might not seem like a lot, but those hits add up for a pitcher with only 14.2 innings. His BABIP allowed also sits at a ghastly .400. There are only a handful of pitchers in baseball who have a higher BABIP against. PLV is not the only model that thinks Hader’s ERA is going to experience significant positive regression. Both FIP and xFIP are shocked at how poor Hader’s ERA is. His FIP sits at 3.08 and his xFIP is 2.16. Both numbers are lower than his peripherals were last season.

What makes Hader an especially great player to target in dynasty? The value placed on relief pitchers. With relievers seemingly treated as a revolving door, their perceived value in dynasty leagues is especially low. This is especially true of closers struggling out of the gate. Hader is one of the league’s premier closers regardless of what his current ERA indicates. His struggles and poor luck create an opportunity for dynasty managers to bolster their bullpen at great value. Hader’s best days are not behind him but may in fact be ahead of him. He is locked into the closer role in Houston for the foreseeable future and the team’s regression could actually lead to more close games and more save opportunities. Go toss out some offers for Hader now before his season turns around.


Slow Starts to Sell in Dynasty


Oneil Cruz, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates


Players with specific skill sets always seem to spark a divide in the fantasy and dynasty community. For pitchers, it is often guys with front-end stuff and poor control. From a prospect standpoint, think Jacob Misiorowski. For hitters, it is usually toolsy and projectable athletes who struggle to make contact consistently. Think Elly De La Cruz. Before Elly was a thing, it was Oneil Cruz. Cruz, a 6’7″ shortstop, was viewed as the toolsiest prospect in baseball at one point. Injuries have overshadowed much of his Major League career to this point but expectations for the 25-year-old were still high heading into 2024.

Cruz’s inability to stay on the field may have actually held his dynasty value afloat heading into 2024. Although durability is usually viewed as a negative thing, injuries have prevented fantasy managers from ever seeing what a full season of Oneil Cruz looks like. The name value and athletic tools are still bountiful, creating a higher perceived value than his offensive production warrants. Heading into 2024, Cruz had amassed 410 Major League plate appearances with 19 home runs, 13 stolen bases, and a .237 average. Prorated over 600 plate appearances, it would get you 28 home runs and 19 stolen bases. This level of production with an average in the .230s is a very solid player, but far from a fantasy star.

Flip the page to 2024 and while Cruz is healthy, his offensive numbers have taken a turn for the worse. Early on, Cruz is batting just .244/.293/.382. He has five home runs and three stolen bases which would be a 21/13 pace over 600 PA. Dynasty managers who own Cruz should be looking to sell now while his name still generates value.

The biggest issue for Cruz has been his inability to show any significant improvements to his contact rate. Strikeouts always profiled to be an issue early in his Major League career, but he has not shown any growth. Cruz’s career whiff rate sits at 34.1%. This is only a couple of percentage points higher than his season whiff rate of 31.1%. An even bigger issue is Cruz’s pitch recognition and plate discipline. Instead of improving upon his chase rate which sat around 30% each of the past two seasons, Cruz’s chase rate has ballooned to 36.2% this year. He is particularly struggling to lay off off-speed pitches which he is chasing over 45% of the time. This PLV rolling chart illustrates how poor Cruz’s strike zone judgment has been through the 2024 season:

Plate discipline and contact skills are not the only areas that dynasty managers should be concerned about with Cruz. One rabbit hole to dive into is his sweet spot percentage. Cruz has the ability to hit some majestic home runs, but he has struggled to keep a consistent swing that produces above-average offensive numbers. The Major League average for sweet spot percentage is 33.6%. This season, Cruz’s sits at just 28%. He hits the ball on the ground too often to post the home run totals his exit velocities suggest.

Cruz’s sweet spot is the least of the concerns here. The biggest issue in his toolset is his speed. This season, we are seeing Elly De La Cruz take stolen bases to a new level. From a fantasy perspective, his offensive slumps are less significant thanks to his ability to continue stealing bases even without great offensive numbers. This is not the case for Cruz. Although he is still only 25, Cruz’s speed is declining. During his brief debut in 2022, Cruz posted a sprint speed of 29.9 ft/sec. Last season, this declined to 28.7 ft/sec, and this year we are down to 28.2 ft/sec. Cruz is still fast, but speed typically only worsens as a player ages. Cruz projects more as a 15-20 SB threat rather than a 30-40 SB guy which many in the dynasty community still believe.

Toolsy players are incredibly fun to roster. The thought of Cruz reaching his full potential and smashing 40 home runs with plus speed is an easy dream to sell to opposing managers in your dynasty league. This makes him the perfect player to dish out now before his value continues to decline. The strikeout issues in his profile are legit and are likely to continue tanking his average throughout his professional career. In addition to all of these issues, Cruz is also a career .159 hitter against left-handed pitchers. He could find himself in a platoon role sooner than many think, which would only lower his value further. The season is not off to the start managers hoped for but they should still be selling now before things get even worse.


Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 1B, Cincinnati Reds


In today’s game, pressure is placed on young players to perform instantaneously upon their promotion to the Major Leagues. Prospects are in the spotlight now more than ever before. This creates some imbalance in their fantasy and dynasty values. Prior to promotion, prospects are typically overvalued in the dynasty community. After most prospects struggle in their first taste of Major League action, they are undervalued by the dynasty community. This creates intriguing buy/sell windows for opposing managers to capitalize on.

Using this logic, the buy window would be firmly open for Christian Encarnacion-Strand. He fits the description of a highly regarded prospect struggling early on in his Major League career. The difference here is that CES was overvalued as a prospect and his true dynasty value should have always been more in line with the levels it is currently at as opposed to what it once was. Those managers who bought high may be resistant to sell low, but odds are his value is going to keep dropping the more Major League at-bats he receives.

There is no denying the power in CES’s profile. While the 33 home runs he hit between Triple-A and the Major Leagues last season were no fluke, it was only a matter of time before Major League pitchers figured out how to exploit his glaring weakness. Encarnacion-Strand has always been an aggressive hitter. Low walk rates throughout his professional career speak to a hitter that often expands the zone which becomes more problematic against pitchers who rarely make a mistake. Pair that with fringe-average contact skills and you get a problem.

The game plan against Encarnacion-Strand this season has been simple. Get ahead, and then do not throw him anything to hit. Once ahead in the count, pitchers are using Encarnacion-Strand’s aggression against him. Encarnacion-Strand has seen a total of 89 pitches this season in hitter-friendly counts. Pitchers are only throwing chase or waste pitches 16.8% of the time in those counts. On the flip side, CES has faced 142 pitches in pitcher-friendly counts this season. In those counts, the number of chase or waste pitches thrown at him jumps to 42.2%. Once CES falls behind, pitchers are unlikely to throw him anything to hit knowing he will expand the zone and get himself out.

Patience can be important for dynasty managers. However, patience also keeps you holding onto players longer than you should such as Jarred Kelenic. Encarnacion-Strand’s name and prospect pedigree still hold plenty of value in the dynasty community. The biggest difference for CES is that he is already 24 years old. While there is plenty of time for him to turn things around, we have a detailed track record of him failing to make changes in his approach. He is likely to continue struggling with strikeouts leading to low batting averages. Dynasty managers should not be looking to buy low on CES but rather his managers should be selling him even at a discounted value.

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