by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
When we walked out of our drafts/auctions with rosters studded with stars we were happy. How do you feel today, when that star is struggling more than a month into the season? It’s frustrating and it would be easy to sell low and move on, but in most cases doing so would be a mistake. What about those of us who missed out on the player? Taking advantage of those frustrated owners is how fantasy titles are won. Let’s take a look at three struggling stars and see if they are worth buying:
Josh Bell – Pittsburgh Pirates
There were high hopes for Bell entering the season, but thus far he’s failed to deliver hitting .243 with 4 HR and 32 RBI over 214 AB. Interestingly it’s not an issue with his strikeouts or walks, as he entered Sunday with an 18.8% strikeout rate and 10.5% walk rate (right in line with his 18.9% and 10.6% in 2017). That said, opponents have been throwing him fewer fastballs in 2018 (59.98%) in favor of breaking balls, and he’s struggled with a 16.88% Whiff% on those types of pitches (up from 11.47% in ’17). The fact that he’s kept the strikeouts consistent provides hope and it’s the drop in power that’s been the biggest issue.
Last season the bulk of his home runs came against fastball variations (12 HR against fourseam fastballs, 4 HR against sinkers and 2 HR against cutters), so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the power is down. Seeing fewer fastballs justifies a drop in power, but is it enough of an explanation? It’s a drop in his HR/FB that’s the big stumbling block:
- 2017 – 19.1%
- 2018 – 6.7%
Last season saw Bell spike in his power production, though even in 2016 he showed more than he has this season (13.0% at Triple-A, 9.4% in the Majors). It’s been a disappointment, but all it will take is one power surge to make you forget.
Prior to the season we had this to say about Bell, and it still rings true:
Bell was supposed to hit for a strong average, with the concern being his power. What we actually got in his rookie season was the opposite, hitting .255 with 26 HR over 620 PA. It’s interesting, because he showed a strong approach (8.8% SwStr%, 26.7% O-Swing%) and his worst Whiff% was a 12.90% mark against offspeed pitches. He also wasn’t swinging for the fences, with a 31.2% fly ball rate, and the power came from a growth in his HR/FB (19.1%) and was consistent (10 HR over 248 AB in the second half). He posted a .274 average in the second half, thanks to a .307 BABIP, and with more upside in his line drive rate (17.7% in ’17) he could bring the total package. He will likely fly under-the-radar, but consider him an ideal post-hype sleeper.
Maybe he doesn’t grow into a 30+ HR hitter, but seeing him go .260+ with 22-26 HR is still a realistic expectation. For now, stay the course.
Verdict – Buy ‘Em
Rafael Devers – Boston Red Sox
Prior to the season we talked about the risk of struggles this season, as we described him by saying:
The Red Sox appeared determined to leave Devers in the minors, but ultimately he forced their hand and delivered upon reaching Boston (.284, 10 HR, 30 RBI and 34 R over 222 AB). You can argue a little bit of luck, with a .342 BABIP despite a 15.3% line drive rate, and that’s fair. You also have to wonder if the strikeout rate (23.8%) will rise considering his 12.4% SwStr%. Interestingly his worst Whiff% came against offspeed pitches, but was still a modest 16.67%, though a 10.9% SwStr% in the minors supports the elevated mark. His power does appear to be growing, which would help to offset the increased strikeout rate, but any step backward in his 17.2% HR/FB could result in poor results. This isn’t to say that he won’t have value, but a sophomore slump isn’t unthinkable either (plus he could sit against tough southpaws).
Dever has regressed in the strikeout department, with a 27.1% rate courtesy of a 14.7% SwStr% and 37.3% O-Swing%. He’s seeing just 54.29% fastballs, not that it matters from a strikeout department as he’s struggling against all types of pitches (Whiff%):
- Hard – 16.42%
- Breaking Balls – 15.17%
- Offspeed – 15.46%
He also appears to be taking a more home run-centric approach, with his fly ball rate climbing from 35.6% to 40.3%. That helps to support his .274 BABIP, and while there’s still hope for a rebound in his .226 average the approach is going to limit him.
Obviously he’s been at least a little bit productive (9 HR), but there’s a cap in his value. Always projected to be an overdraft, it’s very possible he continues down this path for the entire season.
Verdict – Not A Must Buy
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, CBS Sports
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