“Round Robinson”: Quit While You’re Behind (Not Every Struggling Star Is a Buy-Low)
Those who know me well will tell you I have a particular affinity for risk-taking behavior. That sounds a whole lot better than admitting straight up that I like to gamble, but I really like to gamble. Living most of my adult life in Virginia and now Texas, I haven’t been as close to a casino as I would have liked, so any chance I have to go, I usually find myself meandering through the doors (typically when I’m out in Phoenix). Being the self-described numbers geek I am, I’m sure you can figure out where the appeal comes from. You probably won’t be surprised when I tell you poker is my game of choice. The poker boom of a decade ago hit me and hit me hard. But somehow I always end up at the blackjack table at the end of the night. If poker is my game, blackjack is my vice.
I like to think I do alright for myself at the blackjack table. More often than not I come away with a small profit, at least enough to pay for some In-N-Out Burger on the drive back (only thing better than a 3×3 Animal Style is a free 3×3 Animal Style). But the nights I come out on the short end, those can become painful. I’m a competitive guy, an über-competitive guy, and I just cannot stand losing. In a casino setting, that mentality can get you into a lot of trouble.
If I’m down a little at the table initially, I don’t freak out too much. I understand it’s an up-and-down kind of game. I keep plowing away trying to at least recoup my initial stake. After a while though, continually looking down at a dwindling stack of chips starts to eat at me. That patience I exhibited at the beginning of the session starts to dissipate and is slowly replaced by a mounting pressure to walk away a winner. A care-free feeling of “tonight might not be my night” turns into a fuming response of “I’m going to make tonight my night”. The $5 or $10 bets I was placing become $20 and $30 bets. Occasionally, the risk pays off, I catch lightning in a bottle to get back even or better, and the weight on my shoulders is thankfully lifted. But when it doesn’t work out and the small hole I dug for myself becomes a deep, dark pit, I always look back and ask myself the same question: “Why didn’t I just walk away?”
You could be facing the very same problem on your team. There are a number of preseason studs who have performed below their lofty draft day expectations, and you’ve already taken a hit on your investment as a result. Most pundits will tell you to hang tight with your stars and they’ll eventually turn it around. Normally I agree. But there are a handful of guys this year that I don’t think are in line for a major course correction. You may be selling low on these brand names, but their reputations allow you to flip them to another owner who still believes in their past achievements. Rather than doubling down and taking an even bigger loss, cash out now and turn them into a valuable commodity that will help you in the season’s second half.
Evan Longoria, TB: A .276/.349/.524 triple slash, 16 HR, 40 RBI and 44 R. Those are the kinds of numbers you wanted to see at this point from Longoria when you dropped a top-30 pick on him back in March. Problem is, those stats all belong to Todd Frazier of the Reds. Longoria, like the rest of the Rays, has disappointed mightily this year posting a .265/.332/.408 line with 9 HR, 33 RBI, and 38 R. Not terrible production, but not at all what you expected from the best hitter on a team predicted by many (including me) to win the AL East. His slugging percentage on its own stands out as it’s over 100 points lower than his career average. In 2013, Longoria had 74 extra-base hits in 614 ABs, but this year, in 287 ABs, he’s hit for extra bases just 22 times, over a four percent drop from last season. Couple that with a career low BB-rate (8.7%) and a career high GB/FB ratio (0.90, compared to a career 0.63 rate) and it becomes difficult to ignore the downward trend.
Unfortunately for Longoria and his owners, none of those aforementioned stats are the most damning to his case. Jeff Sullivan over at Fangraphs ran a wonderful analysis on Longo’s struggles with inside pitches this year that illuminates a whole new set of problems. I highly suggest you take a look at the whole thing, but I’ll hit on some of the high points. From 2011-2013, Longoria had an AVG of .378 and an ISO of .428 against inside pitches, good for 19th and 4th respectively among all right-handed batters. This season, those numbers have dropped to .204 and .056, both second-worst in the entire league among right-handers. And he has hit just one home run on an inside pitch all season long.
What makes me believe this is a mechanical flaw as opposed to an injury is the subtle improvement Longoria has made against outside pitches. He seems to have made an effort to adjust to the outside pitch, especially the ball high and outside, but the tradeoff has been substantial as he’s sacrificed a lot of power in an attempt to cover the entire plate. Sullivan seems to think he could get this straightened out, but for fantasy purposes, I’m not willing to take that risk considering his situation. Tampa Bay is 27th in runs scored and will be without Wil Myers for at least another month. This will go down as a lost season for the Rays and I do believe they end up trading both David Price and Ben Zobrist before the deadline. One of Longoria’s strengths has been his ability to score runs, but after finishing second among 3B last year to Matt Carpenter, Longoria is only tied for fourth in the category, a distant 17 R behind Josh Donaldson. With the offense gutted, pitchers will have little reason to challenge him and his run scoring and RBI potential will not improve the way owners may hope.
David Wright, NYM: We stay at the hot corner but head up the east coast to New York. The Mets, like the Rays, find themselves in the cellar of their division and the face of the franchise has been underwhelming this season. Wright, who slashes a career .299/.379/.499, is down to .266/.328/.377 in 2014. He hit just his sixth HR of the season on Thursday night and has added only four steals. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Wright has a BB-rate of just 7.8%, his lowest since his rookie year of 2004. He also has a BABIP of .324, not too dissimilar from his career .340 number. With all of this information in tow, let’s piece together what to expect from Wright the rest of the way.
I think we first have to wave goodbye to the days of Wright being an above-average contributor to your team’s stolen base count. He’s 31 years old and this is his 11th full season in the majors. That’s a lot of games under his belt and I can’t imagine a team with no real shot to make noise this season wants to see its best player swiping meaningless bags. That, along with just a 50% success rate, has me believing that Wright’s final tally will be closer to 10 than it is 20. But that still leaves an elite hitter with good power, doesn’t it?
Not if you consider his massive regression against the most common pitch in baseball, the fastball. Coming into this season, Wright had created 204.5 runs in his career over the average player against the fastball (commonly referred to as wFB), including a 40.9 wFB in his 2007 campaign (.325/.416/.546, all career highs). in 2014, Wright’s wFB is -4.6 (no, that’s not a misprint) and he has just one home run off a fastball. Not only has Wright been worse than a replacement player against the fastball, he’s been significantly worse. Anytime I hear about a hitter struggling against a fastball, I immediately flashback to Chris Davis’ 2009 season when the chatter was similar. That year, Davis posted a wFB of -10.6 and ended up batting .238 with the Rangers. Right now, Wright is on pace to approach that figure this year. I still think the AVG has a chance to return somewhere in the .280s if he can sort himself out, but if it’s going to come with diminished power and speed, I’m not too excited to own him and neither are the computers. Currently, ZiPS is projecting him to finish at .269 with 15 HR and 12 SB. No. Thank. You.
Dustin Pedroia, BOS: If David Wright’s production has a doppelganger at 2B, it’s Pedroia, a high-AVG hitter with a nice power/speed combo to satisfy all five categories. Deep down, I think we all root for Pedroia – the everyman, the little guy – to succeed (except maybe Yankee fans) because it looks like he really shouldn’t. And this year, he really hasn’t. To go along with a career high K-rate of 11.8%, Pedroia is slugging just .388 this year, continuing a precipitous drop that started after the 2010 season. The 30-year old has just 4 HR and 27 RBI and I think it’s clear that the thumb and hand injuries of the last two seasons have had a lasting effect on the Boston second baseman.
Pedroia had also been a consistent source of steals, notching at least 17 in five of the last six years. The only year he failed to reach that number was 2010 when he missed the majority of the season with a broken foot. Through 70 games in 2014, Pedroia is just 2-for-6 in stolen base attempts and, hopefully you were paying attention, Red Sox manager John Farrell made it clear back in May he doesn’t plan on sending Pedroia that much. With all this evidence in front of us, I still can’t make sense of how some pundits still rank Pedroia as high as fourth or even third on their 2B rankings. Cano, Kinsler and Kipnis are all obvious names that have to be ahead of Pedroia, but I’d also put Dozier, Altuve, and probably Daniel Murphy above him as well. And we all know my love for Dee Gordon. Depending on team needs, I could easily make the argument he belongs ahead of Pedroia too.
Yadier Molina, STL: There’s a fair number of catchers I could have put in this spot. Let’s face it, the position has been a mess this year and, unless you’ve owned Lucroy, Gattis or Montero the whole time, you’re probably not too thrilled with the production out of your backstop. Molina, to his credit, hasn’t exactly had a terrible year himself, but you were hoping for more than just a .284/.332/.407 line when you drafted him top-4 at his position. The six HRs are fine, but for Molina to be the asset you hoped he would be, he has to deliver that elite AVG and, through 63 games, he hasn’t.
It’s not that I don’t think he could. I absolutely could see a scenario where he gets back to being a .300+ hitter. His LD% is a tidy 28%, not far off last year’s 30% clip, and while he is striking out more than last year, he’s also walking at a slightly greater clip as well. So why am I saying stay away? The answer is twofold.
First, a mantra I’ve often heard and subscribe to myself in fantasy is the idea of “jumping off the bandwagon a year too early rather than a year too late”. Molina turns 32 next month and he has logged A LOT of innings behind the plate (10491.1 to be exact). It’s entirely possible all those years behind the plate are catching up to Molina, and we are starting to see him enter the post-prime phase of his career.
Second, as I mentioned above, catcher has been a wreck this season almost across the board. Most leagues only employ one catcher, so if someone is willing to toss you a deal to improve somewhere else, I say go for it and roll with a Derek Norris or Yan Gomes type behind the plate. Likewise, don’t be the guy giving up a stat-stuffer at another position just to grab Molina for a perceived boost at C. The improvement he gives you over whatever waiver wire fodder is out there won’t be worth the price you have to pay.
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