Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: Is Ryan Yarbrough underrated? Buy or sell Josh Bell? Is Jose Ramirez back?
From a struggling Josh Bell and Austin Riley to a streaking Sonny Gray and Jose Ramirez to speedy shortstops to advanced stats, Scott White tackles some of the biggest topics in Fantasy Baseball.
You know how millennials get blamed for ruining everything our society holds sacred and dear? The juice ball-fueled, power-laden environment of 2019 is sort of the baseball equivalent.
Next on its hit list: fantasy baseball trades.
How many have you made this year? I can only speak for myself, of course, but even if it's just as many as usual for you, you have to admit the experience has been different, right?
Everybody needs the same thing, and a hitter ain't it -- especially not an infielder and especially not a first baseman.
It's how one so high-end -- a top-10 hitter overall in standard categories and points leagues -- can meet with such a ho-hum response.
While soliciting questions for this column on Twitter, Josh Bell's name came up often. This particular question was the most to-the-point, but all were of a similar vein: "Oh my gosh, what do I do with this guy? He's killing me!"
Say what now?
Let's overlook the fact Bell entered Monday leading the majors in RBI since it's not at all a predictive stat. I'll note that in the context of whether or not he's killing you, it's relevant because it's a measure of what he's already done, but for the sake of argument, let's say it's not.
It's true he hasn't offered anything worthwhile since the All-Star break, going 5 for 32, but it's also true that the All-Star break wasn't even two weeks ago. If this cold stretch wasn't marked by such a well-defined endpoint, would you even notice? Probably not. His season includes several six- and seven-game stretches in which he's collected only three or four hits, and since he's struck out so infrequently during this latest cold spell, there's little reason to attribute it to a loss of skill.
Ah, but didn't it start well before the All-Star break? It's true his batting average has been in steady decline since mid-May, but with plenty of power along the way. He was also hitting about .340 at the time, so what did you expect? Yeah, he's regressed.
But look where that regression has brought him. He's still a top-10 hitter overall with numbers that seem perfectly sustainable. The wOBA matches up with the expected wOBA. The BABIP is right around .300. If you find a guy with top-five exit velocity who elevates the ball like he does and strikes out just 20 percent of the time, chances are it's an elite hitter -- one who helps in both batting average and home runs. The only argument for Bell being less than he has been, then, is that he never was before this year.
And maybe a contingent of Fantasy players never fully bought in, was just waiting for the other shoe to drop and is now convinced it has. Or maybe it's just that so few need a first baseman in a year of redundancies at all infield spots. True, not many have performed at Bell's level, but if you're convinced what you have is already good enough, you're not going to cripple some other part of his team for an upgrade.
You, sir, are probably expecting full value for Bell, as you should, and if you're not getting it, you should just enjoy having a top-10 hitter and trust in him to heat up again sooner than later.
The three-inning outings are frustrating, I'll admit. Most notable was that stretch before the All-Star break when Ryan Yarbrough had three in the span of four appearances. But the fact he has by and large pitched well in those outings makes it seem like a bigger problem than it actually is.The caliber of pitcher you'll find on the waiver wire probably has his share of short outings, too. It's just that he was bad in all of them.
And that's the fairest standard of comparison for Yarbrough: whoever else you could pluck off waivers. He's owned in only 47 percent of CBS Sports leagues, after all, and I submit it makes him one of the more under-owned pitchers in Fantasy. While he isn't a big bat-misser, which is usually how we see pitchers excel these days, he dominates in the other two areas most within his control: limiting walks and preventing home runs. And while he doesn't start most of the time, instead following an opener, it actually helps him rack up wins. For all the attention paid to his three-inning outings, he has thrown six-plus in seven of his past 11 appearances.
When you're leaving in the eighth or ninth, it's much easier to secure the win, and in traditional Fantasy play, wins are still the most valuable thing a pitcher can contribute. Keep in mind Yarbrough had 16 of them in a similar role last year.
It can get a little unwieldy, sure, and I think there's a tendency for those of us immersed in these numbers every day to assume our audience is too. Let's take a step back and assume you're not.
For a hitter, there's a relationship between how hard he hits the ball and at what angle -- namely, how often does it result in a line drive, which helps batting average potential, and how often does it result in a fly ball, which helps home run potential (but again, only if he's hitting it hard enough). Factor in BABIP and home run-to-fly ball rate and pull percentage and strikeouts and walks, and it's a lot to bite off. You'll get a more complete picture of a player if you understand how all those relationships work, but it takes time to get there. I think the best stat for summing it all up is xwOBA, which is scaled like on-base percentage in that .350 is pretty good and .400 is amazing.
The x in xwOBA stands for "expected." It's not measuring actual production but what all of those secondary measures suggest production should be. Actual production is wOBA, and so the difference between xwOBA and wOBA, whether positive or negative, gives you a sense of how "legit" the hitter has been.
For pitchers, xFIP and SIERA are similar to xwOBA. They're scaled like ERA and give you an idea what a pitcher's actual ERA should be based on all of the smaller factors most Fantasy analysts care about. They don't take into account how deep a pitcher pitches into games, though, which is becoming a major differentiator in 2019, so that's a secondary determination to make.
Late teens sounds about right to me -- and I'd say that's more for a Rotisserie league, where there are five outfield spots to fill and no direct consequences for Austin Riley's horrid plate discipline. A Head-to-Head points league was where I recently had to drop him, albeit with half a mind to drop A.J. Pollock or Jorge Soler instead.
Riley is a flawed player,even as he was homering nine times in his first 18 games. The power was less the issue than how dependent he was on the power. A strikeout rate of worse than 30 percent (we're talking worst-in-baseball territory) suggested there wouldn't be much in the way of batting average, and it's not like he showed great on-base skills otherwise. So it stood to reason that when things went cold for him, as we've seen over the past month or so, they'd go really cold.
But I think by now, he's regressed to a point where the actual production (a .337 wOBA) matches up with the theoretical production (a .332 xwOBA), and the resulting player is still pretty good. Not exactly a game-changer, particularly in an environment overflowing with the one thing he provides, but good.
A lot can change from here, though. Maybe this slump takes a mental toll and Riley continues to spiral right into the abyss. Maybe a now-healthy Ender Inciarte steals more at-bats from him than I'm expecting. Right now, Riley's Fantasy stock is about on the level of a Franmil Reyes or Hunter Renfroe, but it wouldn't take much to slip from there. And those Padres outfielders are each owned less than 80 percent owned in CBS Sports leagues.
Really, sell is an option? I mean, in a deep enough league, I suppose you could get something for Zac Gallen, but only because able-bodied hurlers are so scarce that you probably need him for yourself.
In a more typical 12-team mixed format, the choices realistically come down to hold or drop, and I'm leaning toward drop.
His calling card was supposed to be command. While the stuff is good, his 1.7 BB/9 at Triple-A New Orleans represented one of the biggest changes from a year ago and helped explain how he dominated the most hitter-friendly league in professional baseball to the tune of a 1.77 ERA.
He has issued a combined nine walks in 10 1/3 innings over his past two starts for the big club, giving him 5.6 BB/9 across five starts.
Worse yet, none of those starts has lasted six innings, which is sort of the bare minimum for recording a victory. The odds are already so stacked against Marlins pitchers in that regard that Gallen has virtually no chance of making an impact in Fantasy if these tendencies continue. I haven't totally cooled on the upside -- it just doesn't look like it's in the cards for him this year. I'd rather take a stab at someone like Jose Urquidy, honestly.
While admitting he's been an especially confounding pitcher over the years, I'm not sure what case could be made that Sonny Gray isn't legit. For the better part of April, May and June, the encouraging skill indicators were easy enough to ignore because the Reds weren't permitting him to throw more than five innings and change -- at least not with any regularity. But that's changed here recently. Monday marked the fifth straight start of six innings or more, with three falling into the "more" category.
He has long been an extreme ground ball pitcher, which makes him one of the best at preventing home runs, and the FIP and xFIP both suggest the ERA is legit. The K/9 is up significantly, which factors into that calculation, but then again, so is the swinging strike rate.
There were reports this offseason that Gray and the Yankees often disagreed on pitch selection, particularly with regard to his best swing-and-miss pitch, the slider, but he's using it to maximum effect now, forming a nice contrast with his sinker to help put hitters away. Yeah, I'm buying.
Sure, it's possible, but I think we'd also have to consider how valuable it'd actually be. As of right now, Amed Rosario is on pace for .274, 18-18, and it's made him only the 18th-best shortstop in Head-to-Head points leagues and 21st-best in 5x5 categories. It's worth noting the per-game production is significantly lower, too, given the number of high-end shortstops who've missed time due to injury.
That's part of the problem. Shortstop has become such a deep position, particularly at the high end, that an also-ran like Rosario rarely has reason to enter a mixed-league lineup. Part of it's his own crummy on-base skills. They keep him confined to the lower third of the order, especially now that Jeff McNeil appears settled at the top, which limits Rosario's totals apart from the home runs and steals.
Granted, if he does steal 30 bases next year, as you suggest, it'd be a significant enough improvement in a scarce enough category to move him maybe a dozen spots up the Rotisserie rankings, if nothing else, but there's no evidence he's equipped to make that sort of leap. After an encouraging June in which he went 5 for 5 in stolen bases, he's 1 for 4 in July.
Yes, it's worth noting he's a 23-year-old with, as you say, an excellent pedigree, so it's possible he blows up one of these years (sort of like we've seen from Josh Bell this year, but more befitting his own skill set). It'd be a total blind-faith play, though, and hardly telegraphed by what we've seen so far.
When a player is coming out of a historic slump, most of us are looking to see a reciprocal hot streak that corrects the numbers and then some, making it so only those who suffered through the day-to-day of it can even remember such a slump happened. Jose Ramirez's return to normalcy, if we're ready to call it that, has been more of a slow and steady climb -- one that might go unnoticed if you don't examine it independently of his season numbers.
So pulling it aside, you'll see he's batting .311 (37 for 119) with six homers, two triples, 10 doubles and four steals over his past 30 games, his OPS pushing .950. He has struck out just nine times during that stretch, so fittingly, the BABIP would suggest nothing is amiss here and he has performed exactly as expected during that stretch.
But of course, even at his worst, he wasn't striking out. BABIP is a metric that can't be trusted for him. He is, more notably, hitting the ball harder and also pulling it more, which was a key to his success last year. His fly-ball rate isn't as exaggerated either, which might suggest he's not selling out for the home run as much. I think all of it indicates he's not thinking as much, instead letting his natural tendencies play out, which is generally the better way to play this game.
Considering he hit under .200 for close to a full calendar year, I'm as hesitant to buy into the Ramirez turnaround as I was the initial collapse, but the chance for five-category production is too appealing to sell him short now.
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