Last week in this space, we told you that Trevor Story was one of the most interesting “do you trade him or not?” cases we’ve seen in fantasy baseball in a long time. That assertion received even more corroborating evidence over the last week. Why? Well, because we’re still talking about the idea of selling Story, with reasonable minds on both sides of the argument.
What Story has done to this point of the season is undeniably impressive. Even when you get beyond the first-week power binge, Story has continued amassing numbers. He has five extra-base hits in his seven six games, and two of those would have left the yard last year, before Coors Field raised the fences in certain parts of the outfield. No one simply lucks their way into a .746 slugging percentage with 12 extra-base hits, including eight homers, in 63 plate appearances. That must be acknowledged. He also has 75 more games to play at Coors Field, and that fact cannot be ignored.
And yet, the Buy, Sell or Hold Committee still believes in selling Story. To begin with, the fact that he has kept hitting even when the ball has stayed in the park means that the return you can get in a 1-for-1 deal likely has only risen since last week. That can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, however, and depends on how Story is viewed within your league. What holds true regardless of your league, however, are all of Story’s numbers. While some of them tell the greatest early-season tale we’ve heard in a long time, others reveal the grisly reality of what might be looming for the rest of the season.
Story, he of the .746 slugging percentage and .458 ISO, also has a ridiculous 38.1% strikeout rate. He has come to the plate 63 times this season, with 24 of those ending in a strikeout. What’s more, his walk rate is just 4.7%. In 2015, a 38.1% strikeout rate would have been the highest in baseball by seven percentage points, while a 4.7% walk rate would have ranked 125th out of 141 hitters who qualified for the batting title. That spread is, in a word, terrible.
Last year’s leader in strikeout rate, Chris Davis, fanned in 31% of his plate appearances. He also posted a 12.5% walk rate. Kris Bryant struck out in 30.6% of his trips to the plate, but earned a free pass in 11.8% of them, too. Players who walk a lot can get away with striking out a lot, too, because pitchers know they can’t get them to chase every junk offering they toss up there. In 2015, there were six players with strikeout rates north of 25% and walk rates south of 7%. The unfortunate six? Michael Taylor, Ian Desmond, Ryan Howard, Marlon Byrd, Chris Owings and Nick Castellanos. Remind me how any of them performed last year.
Story is going to have to prove he’s willing to take walks, or pitchers are going to be able to induce ugly swings at chase pitches. Even if he cuts his strikeout rate by 25%, a monumental in-season adjustment, he’d still be fanning about 29.3% of the time the rest of the season, which would have been the fourth highest K-rate in 2015. Through 13 games last year, Joc Pederson was hitting .300/.462/.550, but also had a 34.6% strikeout rate. We know how that turned out. The strikeouts are almost certainly going to catch up to Story at some point.
David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks
Peralta has yet to hit for much power this season, but he’s doing everything else you’d want him to do if he were on your team. Through 14 games and 58 plate appearances, he’s hitting .302/.362/.472. His strikeout rate is down to 17.2% from last year’s 20.7%, and his walk rate has remained flat at 8.6%. Peralta has cut two full percentage points off his whiff rate, is swinging at pitches outside the zone less often, and has seen his line-drive rate jump north of 25%. While he doesn’t have a homer to his credit in 2016, he does have five doubles and two triples, and it’s only a matter of time before those balls start leaving the yard. One of my bold predictions for this season was that Peralta would be a top-15 outfielder. I’m not budging off that one bit. I’d be trying to buy him anywhere I could.
Vince Velasquez, SP, Phillies
Courtesy of the invaluable Baseball Reference Play Index, the following table shows every outing since 1913 in which a pitcher struck out at least 16 batters, walked none, and didn’t allow a run. You’ll see Velasquez’s start against San Diego last week nestled in at No. 9
That’s pretty great company for any pitcher, let alone a 23-year-old making his ninth career start. Quite simply, you don’t have a start like that and go on to be a bad pitcher. You may not be an otherworldly pitcher, but anyone capable of a 16-strikeout, 0-walk shutout is going to have a good season. The 11 other pitchers on that list combined for two Rookie of the Year Awards (Dwight Gooden and Kerry Wood), two Cy Young Awards (Vida Blue and ’98 Roger Clemens) and one MVP (Blue). In their careers, they would combine for 18 Cy Youngs and a pair of MVPs. This doesn’t happen by accident. Don’t worry about the clunker he put up against the Mets on Tuesday. Velasquez is for real.
Delino DeShields, OF, Rangers
DeShields has the look of a player who does not want to lose his job in a few weeks. In his last five games, he’s 12-for-26 with two doubles and two RBI. Unfortunately, one of the players who would hone in on his playing time, rookie Nomar Mazara, has been just as good. In the first seven games of his career, Mazara is 12-for-29 with a homer, double, five RBI and two walks. When Shin-soo Choo returns, there’s going to be a squeeze in Texas’s outfield. Ian Desmond is off to a brutal start this year, but he’s playing every day. DeShields or Desmond could be the odd man out. We know for certain it won’t be Choo or Mazara. Prince Fielder is the everyday DH, and the team likes Mitch Moreland at first, so there won’t be a significant number of at-bats available there. We can’t be sure what Jeff Bannister will do with DeShields and Desmond when Choo returns, but it stands to reason that both will lose playing time. It only makes sense to at least put DeShields’s name out there while he’s swinging the bat well.
Adam Wainwright, SP, Cardinals
Realistically, you’re not going to get much, if anything, for Wainwright after his disastrous start to the season. This is about the reality that could very well be facing you, the Wainwright owner. It might be time to sell him at a discount, because things could still be getting worse. Wainwright has already surrendered 15 earned runs on 22 hits and nine non-intentional walks in 16 1/3 innings. What’s more, he has just seven strikeouts. Wainwright’s strikeout rate was never eye-popping and had been getting worse before this season. However, he still found plenty of success by inducing weak contact. This year, hitters are tattooing the ball, posting a 41% hard-hit rate and a single-digit soft-hit rate. We could be watching the wheels fall off, and a few more data points in that direction will close the sell window that is still just barely open.
Michael Brantley, OF, Indians
Brantley has been progressing well from a shoulder injury that required surgery this off-season. At one point in the spring, it looked as though he might be ready for Opening Day. That did not happen, but it wasn’t necessarily a setback. All along, the prognosis for him was to miss about a month of the season. It appears that’s exactly what will happen. The Indians will likely activate Brantley by the end of April, welcoming back one of the best all-around hitters in the game. Now is not the time to get cute and start considering trades. Over the last two seasons, Brantley has posted 162-game averages of .319/.382/.494 with 20 homers, 22 steals and 101 RBI. He probably won’t reach those levels in the counting categories after missing about a month’s worth of games, but there’s no reason to believe he’ll fall short of the per-game averages we’ve seen from him for two years running.
Lance McCullers, SP, Astros
McCullers is in the same boat as Brantley, though there’s a little less reason to be optimistic about his recovery. He had to be scratched from his second rehab start, though he was able to get back to his throwing program on Sunday, and is on track to start with Double-A Corpus Christi this week. He could make one more rehab start after that, but absent another setback, he should be with the big league club either at the end of April or beginning of May. McCullers was a revelation for the Astros last year, compiling a 3.22 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 1.19 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings. If he stays healthy, he’ll be one of the breakout pitchers of 2016.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Mariners
There was a sell window for Cano after he hit four homers in the first three games of the season. That has likely slammed shut. Since then, Cano is just 8-for-39 with three extra-base hits and seven strikeouts. It’s entirely likely that his price tag on the trade market has dipped too low to make it a worthwhile selling endeavor. He’s still too good to sell at a significant discount, and that’s likely the only way you’re moving him at this point. Remember, he hit .331/.387/.540 with 15 homers in the second half last year. There’s still plenty of hope for him this season. If and when he starts hitting again, he’ll be able to fetch a much greater return.