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Mets, Cubs and Red Sox will be MLB's big buyers this trade season
3:16 | MLB
Mets, Cubs and Red Sox will be MLB's big buyers this trade season
Wednesday June 15th, 2016

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Certain developments are always going to ring the sell-high alarms. A 27-year-old in his first full major league season is among the league leaders in home runs? Sell high. A player is greatly exceeding expectations despite a strikeout rate near 30% and a walk rate south of 4%? Sell high. A hitter is deriving literally all his fantasy value from two categories, at least one of which is team-dependent? Sell high. 

It really only takes one of those coming to fruition to raise an eyebrow. When all three can describe the same player, the typical fantasy owner would be doing everything in their power to make a deal before things took a turn for the worse. That’s what makes Adam Duvall our most interesting sell-high case of the season since the incipient days of the Trevor Story breakout.

On the one hand, Duvall has been one of the brightest surprises of the 2016 season. He’s tied for fourth in the majors with 18 homers, trailing Mark Trumbo, Nolan Arenado and Todd Frazier. Duvall is tied for 11th in the league with 44 RBI. He’s fourth in slugging (.589) and second in isolated slugging (.330), behind only David Ortiz, who’s having not only one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame career, but also arguably the best age-40 season in MLB history.

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On the other hand, Duvall’s season is a teetering house of cards. His 29% strikeout rate is the 11th-highest in baseball. Why is that a problem when the fantasy community is fine dealing with Chris Davis’s 31.9% K-rate. For one thing, Davis has a track record of being a wildly productive fantasy player while striking out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances. For another, Davis also has a 14.8% walk rate, keeping his OBP and run-scoring upside high. Duvall’s walk rate is a putrid 3.2%, the seventh lowest in baseball. He’s the only player in the majors with a top-11 strikeout rate and bottom-10 walk rate, and the 25.8-percentage-point spread in his strikeout and walk rates is far and away the worst in the league.

Despite sitting fourth in the majors in homers, Duvall is the 47th-ranked hitter and 71st-ranked overall player in standard 5x5 fantasy leagues. Of the 19 players with at least 15 homers—and remember, Duvall has 18—he has been the four-least valuable, ahead of only Chris Carter, Matt Kemp and Khris Davis. Among the five players with at least 18 jacks this season, Todd Frazier is nearest Duvall in the rankings, and he’s the No. 22 hitter and No. 30 overall player. That’s what happens, even with all those home runs, when you hit .258 with a .286 OBP.

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There’s no question that Duvall’s power is for real. He spent almost all of last season at the Triple A level—mostly with the Giants but partially with the Reds after he came over in the deal that sent Mike Leake to San Francisco—and hit 30 homers in 125 games. He left the yard five times in just 72 plate appearances with Cincinnati last season. Duvall is tied with Yoenis Cespedes for 21st in the league in hard-hit rate, and his average fly-ball distance of 305.37 feet is good for 22nd.

At the same time, pitchers are figuring out Duvall—to get him out, they just pitch down the middle. To be fair, most right-handed pitchers feast on pitches up, and don’t have nearly as much power on low pitches. The difference between Duvall and other right-handed power hitters, however, is that he doesn’t do a thing with low pitches. He’s hitting .202 with a 19.1% whiff rate against low strikes or pitches just below the zone. What’s worse, he can’t lay off those pitches, evidenced by his swing rate by zone.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant, we can see that Duvall has considerably less power when he puts low pitches in play. The following is Duvall’s exit velocity by zone this season.

The question for Duvall’s fantasy owners is whether or not his legitimate, bankable power is worth rostering a rate sinkhole. For many the answer will be yes, and that’s completely fine. If you are a Duvall owner with power to burn, however, he’s the first person you should be looking to trade. Pitchers are going to attack him down now more than ever, and he’s going to have to prove he can both cover that part of the zone, and lay off low pitches that would be balls, if not for his swinging at them. If he fails to do that, we could see his power decline, as well.

You may not be able to charge full price for Duvall. Everyone can see this sell-high deal coming a mile away. Still, that shouldn’t necessarily dissuade you from making a deal. Eighty cents on the dollar is a respectable price for a player like Duvall. If you can get that, and you’re not desperate for his power, take it.

Buy

Shin-soo Choo, OF, Rangers

Choo returned from his second DL stint of the season on Monday, going 1-for-4 with a home run. When Choo is healthy, he’s a known commodity. The best news was that he hit leadoff in his return, with Ian Desmond second, Jurickson Profar third and Rougned Odor fourth. Nomar Mazara didn’t play in the game, but it seems safe to bet that Choo will hit first or second when he’s in the Rangers lineup. Right now, Choo is owned in about six of every 10 fantasy leagues. That is bound to come up as he proves his health, meaning you have to strike quickly if you’re going to get him for free. He might be hard to trade for, given that his owner held onto him while he was on the DL and he came back with a home run, but it could be worth seeing if you can get him at an injury-related discount.

• ​Pitching report: Zack Greinke recovering from stow start to the season

Carlos Carrasco, SP, Indians

Carrasco has made three starts since returning from a month on the DL due to a hamstring injury. He has allowed nine runs on 24 hits across 17 2/3 innings in those three starts, striking out 16 while walking three. It’s certainly possible that Carrasco is still shaking off the rust, but this is not the sort of production his owners expect from him. That could potentially make him available, especially after he had to dance around 10 hits and a walk in six innings in his last start. You want to be on the side that bets on Carrasco the rest of the season, not the one that fades him. The numbers that really should stand out over his last two starts are 14 and 12 2/3. You can figure out what the latter one is. The former is strikeouts. That Carrasco has fanned a more than a batter per inning in his last two starts is as sure a sign as any that he’s getting back to his pre-injury self. 

Sell

Jason Hammel, SP, Cubs

We’ve seen this movie before. It begins with Hammel having an excellent first half. It happened in 2014 and ’15. We all know how both of those movies ended. Hammel fell apart after the All-Star break the last two years, first in ’14 after the Cubs traded him to the A’s, and then last year as a member of the Cubs. Hammel is throwing the ball well right now, and that could make him an attractive commodity on the open market. It’s certainly possible that Hammel has discovered something this season that will allow him to stay fresh all season, but you do not want to bet against history. Hammel has already thrown 68 2/3 innings this season, and is on pace to throw more than the 170 2/3 he did last year. You may not have many more opportunities to trade Hammel at full price. 

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Fernando Rodney, RP, Padres

All the even-year talk centers on the Giants, but what about Rodney. In ’12, he was an All-Star as a member of the Rays, and finished the season with a 0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 48 saves and 76 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. After a downturn the next season, he was back in the All-Star Game in ’14, this time representing the Mariners. His 48 saves that season led the majors, and he pitched to a 2.85 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with 76 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings. Rodney was terrible with the Mariners last year, but found his footing with the Cubs in the second half. He was able to parlay that into a closing gig with San Diego this season, and he’s once again having success in an even year. Rodney has yet to allow a run this season, posting a 0.81 ERA, 12 saves and 21 strikeouts in 22 1/3 frames. His performance, along with the Padres struggles, should make him one of the most obvious trade targets before the deadline. It’s incredibly likely that any team that trades for him would have an established closer in place, and would use him as a setup man. In that case, Rodney would lose a ton, if not all, of his fantasy value. 

Hold 

Jerad Eickhoff, SP, Phillies 

We’ll have a longer piece coming on Eickhoff, and one interesting change he has made with regard to pitch usage over the last month, later this week. We don’t want to give away too much of that here, but understand that you should not be considering cutting the lightly owned Eickhoff at this point. Furthermore, he’s good and bankable enough to hold out for full price in a potential trade. Through 13 starts and 79 1/3 innings, Eickhoff has a 3.40 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 1.17 WHIP and 67 strikeouts against 19 walks. In a better-than-expected season that should have the Phillies excited about the future, Eickhoff has been one of the team’s best players.

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Jake Lamb, 3B, Diamondbacks

Does the fantasy community really care this much that Lamb sits against lefties? All the guy does is rake against righties. That’s enough to make him a valuable commodity in all fantasy formats, and yet he’s barely more than 50% owned. Lamb is hitting .264/.351/.528 with 12 homers, 16 doubles and 40 RBI this season. Isolate for righties, and his slash line jumps to .292/.365/.561. Lamb needs to have a much higher ownership rate. Unless you have Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, Kyle Seager, or Matt Carpenter (as well as a top second baseman), you should be taking a long look at Lamb.

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