Three Pitchers To Sell Before It’s Too Late (Ervin Santana & More)

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Knowing when to sell a player is always a tricky proposition.  In some cases you want to hold a player for as long as you can, even though you know an implosion is coming.  At the same time, there are definitely times that you’d rather sell a week too early as opposed to a week too late.  Here are three pitchers that you’d be better off selling now, because once they go down the chances are their value will disappear:


Ervin Santana – Minnesota Twins
Long viewed as a solid starting pitcher with a much higher ceiling, Santana has seemingly put things together over the first two months of 2017.  With a 1.75 ERA and 0.84 WHIP, it is easy to become infatuated with the production.  However, when you start diving in there are some significant warning signs:

  • Strand Rate – 91.2%
  • BABIP – .143
  • Line Drive Rate – 15.5%

He owns a career 20.1% line drive rate, and there is little question that all three numbers will ultimately normalize.  If that regression wasn’t enough, he’s also struggled to generate swings and misses (8.5% SwStr%), and therefore has watched his strikeout rate fall (6.55 K/9).  There hasn’t been a big change in approach, he simply has been less effective with his pitches.  He did carry a lower strikeout rate in the first half of ’16 (6.58 K/9), only to rebound after the All-Star Break (8.31 K/9).  While that does bring promise, is it enough?

The luck metrics are a significant concern and even an increase in strikeouts and reduction in walks (3.39 BB/9) won’t be enough to overcome it.  Sell now, before the bottom completely drops out.


Derek Holland – Chicago White Sox
It’s amazing that he’s been fantasy relevant over the first two months, isn’t it?  You likely picked him up off the scrap heap, only to see him post an impressive 2.37 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over his first 10 starts.  There has been a little bit of luck involved (.257 BABIP), but the bigger key has been an inflated strikeout rate.

Of course a 7.71 K/9 isn’t going to ring any warning bells, and it isn’t far off from his career mark (7.25 K/9), but he also hasn’t truly been fooling opponents:

  • SwStr% – 8.7%
  • O-Swing% – 23.4%

He has increased the usage of his curveball (21.81%) and slider (18.86%) this season, and those are his two best swing and miss pitches (Whiff% of 16.28% and 15.05%, respectively).  That said, are we really buying off that alone?

A home run prone starter (1.19 HR/9), things could actually get worse as the season progresses.  It’s easy to envision an implosion, and with a slew of high upside youngsters waiting in the wings once the bottom drops out his rotation spot will quickly be in jeopardy.


Jason Vargas – Kansas City Royals
The owner of a 2.39 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 10 starts, does anyone really believe that he can maintain it?  The big keys have been an 11.5% SwStr%, helping him to a 7.61 K/9 (career mark is 6.01), and a bit of luck (83.9% strand rate).  We know it’s likely that the luck turns, but can he maintain the strikeout rate?

He’s throwing his curveball more than he has before, though it’s still being used just 18.81% of the time.  Maybe that little bit is helping to keep opponents off balance, because it doesn’t help explain the strikeout rate (7.91% Whiff%).  It’s his changeup that’s his key put away pitch, just as it’s always been (24.44% Whiff%).  With unimpressive fastball velocity, averaging 86.2 mph, it’s hard to see him maintaining the improvement.

Couple that with the luck and the likelihood of more home runs allowed (33.9% groundball rate, 6.3% HR/FB, 0.75 HR/9) and sooner or later the numbers will turn.  Sell him now, if you can, before we get to that point.


Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

Make sure to check out all of our updated rankings:

CatcherApril 25
First BaseApril 26
Second BaseMay 1
Third BaseMay 4
ShortstopMay 8
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  1. aardvark says:

    in your own words: “does anyone really believe that he can maintain it?”

    No, no one believes any of these 3 can keep it up unless this is their first year playing fantasy and they haven’t bothered to look up anyone’s career #s

    therefore none of these 3 players actually have much, if any, trade value even with their great starts – if my league-mates were that dumb, i could beat them without reading your analysis

    • Mike says:

      i mean there are years when random pitchers finish super high… RA dicky… Porcello… we’re in june I wouldnt have issues getting value if I were to trade santana to someone desperate for pitching… not to mention santana crushed after the all star break last year

      easy sell for value IMO, depends what you define value as though

    • Alex says:

      It’s true that this article is probably not necessary to people who have seen this act before from suddenly reborn pitchers. However, perhaps it’s just more of an article to warn managers of getting too cozy with the results. I’m not looking to sell these hot starts, however.

      In this year when healthy, quality pitching can be difficult to find, one may prefer to actually just ride out the arm so as to build up some stats. As long as the manager doesn’t start relying on these three as their #2 or 3 starter and uses them instead as a temporary support piece then they should be all set. That’s what I’m doing with Vargas, as I really don’t think anyone believes in him. So, hopefully playing match ups will get some decent stats before he likely falls apart sometime in July.

  2. Mike says:

    Will paulino be short term or last?

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