Welcome back to Buy & Sell, where this week’s theme is buying low on slow starters (especially those already rebounding from bad years)! Late May is when owners’ impatience starts to get the better of them, and we have enough data to be able to take advantage of this with the underlying peripherals they may be ignoring. I’m also aggressively cutting bait on some top 100 picks and some early-season gems that turned out to actually just be plastic. On to the list!
I just knew that when the Red Sox traded him to the Dodgers that he’d become great again. It took him a while to warm up, but JDM has rapidly rounded into form, and if you have any doubts about that. Just look at his Statcast page. Although you may not be blown away by his .261/.306/.575 line with 9 homers, he’s dealt much of that damage this week after hitting .346 with 4 homers and an incredible 11 RBI in just 26 AB. I think the good times will keep rolling like a freight train.
Believe it or not, Martinez’s current 19% Barrel% would be the highest of his career (at least since 2015). Granted, his 28% k% is also at a career-high, but it’s close enough to his norms that I’m not concerned, especially with the new happy fun ball. I’d much rather have a J.D. who is crushing baseballs at the expense of a bit of contact than last year’s version that couldn’t muster a double-digit homer total. As someone who rosters J.D. Martinez, I haven’t noticed how good he has been until recently, which means he’s probably still a great buy-low opportunity. His expected stats, which say he deserved a .309 xBA and .626 xSLG certainly seem to agree. He could be one of the most impactful power hitters in the game and while he’s unlikely to be on many waiver wires, he can still likely be acquired for a very fair cost, especially with how people tend to overreact to the whole DH-only thing. Add in all 10-team leagues, especially batting average leagues.
This year, there’s nothing so-so about Soler, so don’t be so leery. Although he’s been thought of as a set-it-and-forget-it low batting average 20-25 homer bat, he’s showing he’s ready to do more than that. He’s hitting a sturdy .246/.323/.526 with 13 homers, and the homer total is enough to get him rostered in most shallower leagues. But I think for the rest of the year, he can come closer to his 2019 than he ever has before, and for those of you who don’t remember, let’s just say it was a pretty good year for him.
What leads me to this oh-so-bold conclusion? Lots of things! For one, he’s going down splash mountain in a barrel, with his highest barrel rate of his career (yes, including 2019) at 18%. Although his max exit velocity isn’t as high as some past years, he’s accomplishing this with a career-high 48% FB%, which pairs nicely with his five-year high pull rate of 54% pull%, which all combine into mostly no-doubter longballs. That’d be great if he did this even if selling out contact for power, but he’s managed, quite impressively, to improve in that regard as well. He’s sporting a career-high 74% Contact%, with an 85% Z-Contact%, that is solid for even non-sluggers, and with league average plate discipline, gives him the lowest SwStr% of his career.
So what does this all mean, really? Well, we know Soler has a penchant for being streaky, but also has a penchant for cold starts, and without weighing that at all, he has all the makings of a 40+ homer campaign, and with a batting average that shouldn’t hurt like many other pop-up sluggers. I’d go with the most generous ROS projection of TheBatX, which projects him for a .249 AVG and 22 HR in 379 PA going forward, which would leave him with 35 total homers… but I think he can beat even that projection with 25 homers and a .260 AVG ROS. That makes him a must-add in all 10-team formats, especially in OBP.
It turns out his brother Bo was called up just to be Josh’s cheerleader. Naylor got off to a dreadful start this year, but it had always been mostly fueled by bad luck dragons that have done a flip turn in May, as he’s hit .345 with 4 HR, 1 SB and a whopping 13 RBI over 29 AB the past two weeks, raising his season line to a still unfortunate-looking .222/.272/.403 with 7 HR and 3 SB in 144 PA, and I think there’s still plenty of reasons to buy (still relatively) low.
He’s hitting the ball harder than ever this year, with a 45% HardHit%, but what matters to me more is where he’s hitting it. Much like Hayes above him, Naylor’s had a groundball rate above 49% every year of his career, although unlike Hayes, Naylor still managed to slug 20 jacks despite it. However this year, he’s lowered it to a career-best 42% GB%, with much of that contact going into a great 41% FB%. Much of these improvements in hard contact and launch angle have actually happened slowly but with gradual improvements every year before the jump in 2023, which is a trend I love to see.
I also love that like Hayes, he’s showing he doesn’t need to sacrifice contact to join the launch angle revolution (which I don’t think can be called a revolution this point but more of a ruling launch angle military junta). In fact, Naylor is rocking an elite 22% CSW% that should help him become a batting average asset, and his xBA of .289 and xSLG of .519 sure seem to agree. Add in all 15-team leagues in which he’s still available, though I think he’s also quite viable in 12-team batting average leagues with his dual 1B/OF eligibility.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Ke’Breezy may have left you cold this wind, but will be refreshing when the winds of change arrive this summer. At this point most people who roster him have grown frustrated at the perennial “sleeper” who keeps sleeping, and it seems this way this year as he’s hitting just .232/.290/.350 with 1 HR and 6 SB and 5 Caught Stealing) in 177 AB. That’s pretty awful! But he’s actually been making some intriguing improvements in his game that could lead to a second half breakout despite being shrouded by those lousy surface stats, and I’ll help you see through the Hayes.
Hayes’s biggest complaint since his debut has been his high groundball rate, limiting what initially seemed like substantial power. Well this year, he’s finally taking off, as he’s rocking a launch angle of 14 degrees after averaging just 5 degrees from 2020-2022. The groundball rate is a career-low 42%, and the flyball% jumped from 29% to 41%. So is he the next Yandy lite? Well, maybe not that, but he is actually hitting the ball harder than ever, with a career-high 48% HardHit%, 93 mph eV, and a 113 MaxEV. With those numbers, you probably wonder why he has just a 7% Barrel%, but that’s still nearly double what he’s put up last year. Part of it is he’s still going oppo too much, with a career-high 37% Oppo% and just 21% Pull%. Still, that does make some sense as a righty hitting in Pittsburgh’s cavernous left field.
The number one culprit for his performance is a nearly impossible 2% HR/FB (and just 1.6% if not rounding). That simply shouldn’t exist for someone hitting the ball as hard as he is, regardless of park. As if that wasn’t enough to convince you, he’s also making contact at a career-best rate, with a superb 86% Contact% and 96% Z-Contact%, the latter of which is 5th best in baseball right ahead of Tommy Edman. I think Edman’s line is actually similar to what I see offensively from Hayes going forward, though I’m not counting on Edman-esque stolen bases with his sprint speed clocking in at 42nd percentile this year. Still, with the ability to hit for average and power, he’s a great buy-low at a thin position in 15-team leagues and also a solid depth add 12-team batting average leagues.
He’s best to buy now, before the Tork pops off. He’s quietly been productive and steadily improving , even though it’s not fully reflected in the surface stats. On the season, he’s hitting a quite pedestrian .234/.297/.366 with 4 HR and 1 SB in 175 AB, and hitting .240 with 1 HR over the past week. That being said, his expected wOBA has improved to .382 over the past 50 PA from .319 the previous PA, and a gander at his Statcast sliders give plenty of reason for optimism.
He’s hitting the ball harder than last year, with a strong 113 mph MaxEV (86th percentile) which goes nicely with his HardHit% of 49% (84th percentile). It’s not all being spent on wormburners either, with a encouraging launch angle of 16, with his groundball% down to 34% from 40% last year and it being spread to both line drives and flyballs. He’s also somewhat more than marginally improved his strikeout rate from 25% to 21%. None of these changes are eye-grabbing, but when you look at the full package you see a hitter with good power, launch angle, contact rate, and even a bit of speed (63rd percentile sprint speed, though don’t expect double-digit swipes.)
It’s at times like this you have to remember the pedigree and the fact that he’s still only 23, and you shouldn’t sit idly by when all of the indicators are there for a hot streak that turns into a surge, and you might either miss him or have to pay a high price if you wait until the big games arrive. The biggest disadvantage is the terrible home park, but if nothing else he’s a solid road streamer for 15-teamers, and will likely be a 15-team all-formats must-have by season’s end. Consider his low price now for dynasty leagues just one of Spencer’s Gifts.
Andy Ibanez (1B/3B, Detroit Tigers)
Yeah, I really can’t believe this one either. I mean, he’s hitting .181 with 1 homer, no speed, he’s currently mired in an 0-for-20 backslide and 2 for his last 37. Have I lost my mind?! Well, only sort of. As little sense as it makes, during this slump he’s actually gotten better according to Statcast. How is that possible?! Okay I need to stop yelling to the heavens on my keyboard. But really, he has a .382 xwOBA over his last 50 PA, a big increase from his .298 mark in his previous 50. If that seems crazy, just check his expected statistics: an xBA of .287 and an xSLG of .490. So basically, he’s secretly Nick Castellanos.
Actually, his way of getting to his success is similar to Casty in that it’s all about the hard hits, which is odd since he’s been a soft hit guy until now. Yet this year, his hard hit rate took a massive leap from 40% career to an elite 53% and a plus barrel% of 10%. Maybe that’s why he rates as baseball’s unluckiest hitter when he qualifies. The home park of Comerica certainly is a factor in stealing some of his would-be power away, but I also think a .207 BABIP for a player with a 53% HardHit% is bound to regress. In AL-only, you can do worse as he should continue to play due to lack of alternatives for now.
Romy Gonzalez (2B/OF, Chicago White Sox)
You may think Romy is an unpopular choice, but he did invent the Post-It note. Or was that Michele? Somewhat like Ibanez, to date, he’s been one of the worst hitters in the majors, with a pathetic .200/.212/.320 with no homers and 2 SB in 50 PA. He also has terrible plate discipline, with a 35% K% and a 2% BB% that makes him a bigger bust risk than the Adiyogi head. But look past that, and here lies the deep league dart throw talent you seek.
Due to a lack of at-bats, he only has two numbers show up on Statcast sliders, and it’s enough to say everything: a 93rd percentile sprint speed and an 87th percentile MaxEV. Hello, next Jose Siri! The power isn’t just raw either, as he quietly is rocking a 16% Barrel% in his small sample with 5 barrels, yet not one has led to a homer. That’s rather odd given his hitter-friendly home park. He’s actually hitting better since his call-up, hitting .357 with 1 SB and 7 RBI in 14 AB this week, and he actually has a potential avenue to semi-regular or even regular playing time.
Andrus has been terrible and is now hurt, meaning there is now a massive hole at 2B, and it’s unlikely that Moncada or Burger can fill it well (though they may try). With Gonzalez in his age 26 season and the White Sox looking like they’re going nowhere, they may as well keep giving him reps and seeing what happens. His multi-eligibility makes him a super sneaky deep league power/speed play, so in AL-only, make Romy your homie.
Elias Diaz (C, Colorado Rockies)
This Rocky is at the peak, but you should sell high before he goes down the slalom. That might make me a killjoy, and I’ll gladly accept that label here if it prevents you from holding too long I did with Bitcoin in November 2021. He’s arguably been the best-hitting catcher in baseball, hitting an incredible .343 with 5 homers in what appears to be a breakout season at age 32. But appearances can be deceiving, as Elias Diaz 2023 has an alias of Diaz of 2022.
In 2022, Diaz hit a measly .222/.281/.368 with 9 HR in 381 PA, which isn’t terrible but certainly not a 10-team catcher, so why compare that to this year? This year, he has a lower MaxEV and average EV and only slightly higher HardHit% (41% to 39%). While he does have a career-high pull rate of 44%, he also has his second worst groundball rate of a whopping 51%, which is bad for power and also does not play well with a high pull rate (since pulled grounders are bad). As far as contact goes, his contact% is actually worse at just 76%, his plate discipline is mostly the same except allowing fewer called strikes.
Essentially, he’s the same guy as last year with only marginal changes that may or may not even make him better. If you’re trying to flip him in a trade, point out that his xBA and xSLG still indicate a good hitter. Maybe he did deserve those past hits! But all indications is he will be who we thought he was before, and not who is currently is. So in 10-team formats, go E-lease him to someone else at a premium rate while you still can.
Gunnar seems all out of ammo. Who would’ve imagined the Orioles would be a powerhouse and he’d be the guy dragging them down? He’s hitting just .206/.337/.390 with 5 HR and 1 SB (1 CS) over 136 PA, making him one of the biggest disappointments this year from a top 100 hitter. Then again, through all the preseason hype, the warning signs were indeed there, including his platoon struggles and lack of plate discipline, so everyone else who didn’t heed the warnings got carried away and now are paying the price (although a much smaller price in OBP formats thanks to his 16% walk rate.
The biggest culprit is his 31% K%, which would be problematic even if he were hitting the ball with authority. It’s no fluke with a lousy 68% Contact% and 32% CSW%, and his solid 11% Barrel% and 47% HardHit% simply aren’t enough to make up for that, especially playing half his games in a hitter’s nightmare. He’s likely to be sent down since he is just 21, and not only that, but they have multiple middle infielders surging in the minors, with Joey Ortiz already called up and the more impactful Jordan Westburg waiting in the wings. Cut in all 10-team leagues and 12-team batting average leagues, though he’s probably worth playing wait-and-see in OBP formats for now.
A true sign of wisdom would’ve been selling him sooner. He’s been ice cold, hitting a terrible .148 with no homers over the past two weeks, and to make it worse, he’s struck out 25 times in just 40 AB (42 PA). For those playing at home, that’s a 63% strikeout rate, which in technical terms, is very very very not good. Early in the year, he seemed to show signs of possible growth with improved plate discipline, contact and barrel rates, but those were essentially just signs of a hot streak and has now evaporated and then some. It doesn’t take a fantasy expert to know that his current 39% K% is not workable for a major leaguer, which is why the Cubs have already relegated him to part-time duty. Sure, he could turn it around at the drop of the hat, but with the new surging Cubs hitters, he might not get that chance. It’s time to take his soiled early season surge to the bank in 15-team leagues.
Dishonorable Mention: J.J. Bleday (OF, Oakland Athletics) – He’s in a platoon and not barrelling like we hoped (1 barrel) enough to meaningfully contribute.
Seriously, how does Jesse Stinker still have a job? He doesn’t have a single homer! Not one! In 99 at-bats (118 PA)! He’s just gotten worse as the season has gone on, hitting below the Mendoza line for the past three weeks and just .133 with 0 RBI this past week. He’s a first round draft pick in masochism leagues but otherwise it’s time to throw the towel in on him before the team does (which, given his poor defense, will also likely be soon).
Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)