Welcome back to Buy & Sell, where this week’s theme is sneaky sudden speedsters! I had figured that the new rules were going to lead to more stolen bases, but I figured the fringy speed guys would steal a handful, but they’ve grabbed a whole belly full. This really changes the calculus on how we strategize around speed in fantasy baseball entirely.
I’m going to try to keep the writeup shorter this week, as I just finished a Going Deep piece on one the players here, and also I’m feeling like my write-ups here might be getting too wonky for people to actually understand. At least, judging from the people on Reddit who, without fail, pile on to complain about my drop suggestion and clearly haven’t read the writeup. I mean, that’s fine, I just want to make sure those with hot takes don’t disappear when it’s time to take the L. I take the L like I’m still living in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
He’s back, and we’re all racing to roll out Royce. The soon-to-be-24-year-old former first-rounder has been snakebitten by injuries throughout his minor league and major league career, but when he’s on the field, like he is now, boy can he hit. After hitting .300 with 2 HR in 41 PA in the majors last year, he earned the call by hitting .333 with 4 HR and 4 SB in just 43 PA. We still haven’t seen a stolen base in the majors, but he did hit a homer in his one 2023 MLB game, and I expect the stolen bases to come. As someone who should help primarily in power (he logged an elite 114 mph MaxEV last year) and batting average, and who’s arguably the highest upside shortstop prospect not named Elly De La Cruz, he’s a must-add while you still can, if you still can.
Francisco Álvarez (C, New York Mets)
It’s quite tempting to look at his awesome surface stats (hitting .269 with 8 HR in 113 PA, and then look at his mediocre expected stats (.228 xBA, .433 xSLG), and call him a sell-high. And you may be right, in the technical sense, but if he’s on your wire, just stop being so cute and add him now.
Álvarez’s rolling xwOBA shows he has steadily improved as the season has gone on, from a .250 xwOBA below league average to an above-average .350 mark and climbing. Then you need to remember that he’s a top prospect for a reason, and has already logged an elite maxEV of 114 mph. And then, most importantly, he’s still just 21. While he still may hit some bumps, the talent level is incredible and could easily be a Top-5 offensive catcher the rest of the way. Add in batting average 10-team formats.
Amid a comment war in the comments of my article two weeks ago, I lamented “I didn’t expect this, I had expected us to be extolling the virtues of Zach McKinstry“. Well I did the work for you, and wrote all my reasons to add him here in my article that will be posted to the site later today. The more I researched him, the more I found things to like. Despite a previously lousy MLB track record, in 2013 he has displayed a great and potent combination of high contact, above average barrel rate, ideal launch angles, and excellent plate discipline. With his useful multi-position eligibility, he needs to be rostered in 12-teamers, especially OBP formats and daily formats since he’s still sitting against most lefties, though I don’t think that is warranted. If you think I’m overrating him, you can go to the global consulting firm McKinstry & Company. Look, I used all of my other McKinstry puns in the article, okay?
McMahon contains multitudes. He’s streaky yet also consistent, since despite his bombastic hot streaks and maddening cold streaks, he usually finishes the year with a more or less similar line. Well right now he’s definitely in the bombastic stage as he’s hitting bombs left and right, with a .500 batting and 4 HR in the past week. He does have a career-best 13% Barrel%, but the benefits of that are somewhat cancelled by his career-worst 31% K% that’s backed by reduced contact%.
Then again, just because his season line now makes him look similar to prior years thanks to the April slump weighing down on his numbers, it doesn’t mean he can’t stay hot and go on a barrel binge. I think he’s worth picking up to find out, but I consider Ryan more of a home streamer you ride while hot in 12-team formats, but especially in this injury landmine environment, his dual 2B/3B eligibility is definitely your friend, and he’ll help you McManage.
Do you have a Need for Speed? If so, Jake can pillage the bases like McCarthage. After a rather surprising demotion, he hit an excellent .333 with 4 dingers and 4 stolen bases in 105 PA to earn the call (granted, the struggles of Alek Thomas also helped). He’s truly hit the ground running since his return, hitting .357 with an eye-popping 5 SB in 14 AB. That’s more stolen bases than singles! How is that even possibe?
For now, McCarthy can provide massive speed and arguably be the lite version of Startling Marte, though some frustrated Mets fans will say that he doesn’t need the “lite” label. While he’s currently batting lower in the lineup, I think at this rate it won’t be long until he’s reclaimed a spot as leadoff hitter, which could make him an easy 30 SB+ threat, with plenty of hits and runs to boot. Picking between the pure speed of McCarthy, raw power of McMahon and balanced profile of McKinstry feels like choosing your starter McPokemon.
If you managed to scoop him up before he actually reached the majors, you definitely earn some Brownie points. Brown is still under the Mendoza line, making him look like last year’s great season was a fluke, but I think he’ll be fine. His current 18% Barrel% is borderline elite (given the smaller sample) and it also comes with a career-best 46% HardHit%. He’s managed to do this while hardly sacrificing contact, and although it’s down a smidge it’s cancelled out by Brown making better pitch decisions (career-best 76% Z-Swing%. He’s a great buy-low for 15-team and perhaps even a stash in deeper 12-team formats, as it might not be long before he shows us why he’s underrated as one of baseball’s most unheralded cleanup hitters.
Apparently this is month of the utility Tigers infielder! Castro has long been a disappointing prospect, although he was never projected for much. But believe it or not, there’s lots of signs of a big breakout. He’s always had excellent raw exit velo, showing off a 114 mph MaxEV, but this is the first year he’s displayed that he can translate it to game power with a career-best Barrel% (11%) with a HardHit% of 40%. He’s also flashed his wheels in a big way, with four nabbed bags to go with two dingers and a .444 AVG this week. His current line of .265/.324/.441 is backed by Statcast, and while Roster Resource still considers him to be a backup, his quadruple-eligibility (in most leagues) and sudden surge makes him an intriguing option when he’s in the lineup, which has been more often lately. You’ll have a whale of a time in the waiver pool if you pick up Free Willi.
The Tigers would have a lot of confusion with two utility Zacharys, but they found a solution when they cut the names of Zack Short. This is diving really deep as he’s been terrible in his prior two cups of coffee, and still doesn’t even have 50 major league plate appearances this year, but thus far there are very encouraging signs that Short can go the distance this year. He’s hitting .308 with 3 HR and 1 SB, with 5 Barrels (18% Barrel%) and a 46% HardHit%. But his real improvement is a huge improvement in his contact ability, with an 86% Contact% and 95% Z-Contact%, an improvement of over 10% in both from his larger sample in 2021 (I know I love small samples, but I’m not going to read into his 13 PA in ’22). He also has improved his already excellent plate discipline with a truly elite 15% O-Swing% as well as a healthy 70% Z-Swing%. Add in the fact that he’s not afraid to take the occasional bag and you have someone who could certainly provide deep league valuable and could be a sneaky utility play in 15-tean OBP. I think he should be rostered far more than he currently is, that’s the long and short of it.
I’m Jonesing for more Nolan. Sure, he also has a 38% K%… That’s what I’m using as leverage to acquire him in leagues in which he’s owned. Because I think it will go down, and when he’s not striking out, he’s really mashing. His contact rate is actually better than you’d expect at 70%, with a solid 85% Z-Contact%. Perhaps it’s inflated due to his passivity at the plate with a 50% Z-Swing% and 21% Called Strike%. But this is fixable, and the swinging strike rate of 11% is decent enough to give him wiggle room.
As for the contact, he’s already displayed above-average raw pop with a 111 mph maxEV, and he’s hitting the ball at the right angles nearly all of the time with an absurd 78% SweetSpot%. He’s viewed as a short-term stream only for C.J. Cron, but given that Cron hasn’t yet resumed activities with his back issues, I think it’s safe to be rollin’ with Nolan, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him do well enough to stick around even after Cron returns. He’s a must-add in NL-only but a fine spec play in 15-team as well.
Look, I know it’s hard to believe that I’d recommend dropping someone who has 6 HR and 15 SB. I’m sure I’ll hear things like, “I mean, batting average aside, isn’t this the level of production you’d expect from top-5 pick Trea Turner?” or “He’s on pace to go 18-45!” The important thing to remember is that fantasy is not real life. I mean, by definition they are opposites.
Even for fantasy, over the past 3 weeks he’s hit just .109/.153/.109. with no homers and just 3 stolen bases. Not even a single extra-base hit! Granted, you may remember that he had a terrible slump last year, with his batting average nosediving below .200 when suddenly his game picked up again. Theoretically, yes that could happen again. Cedric Mullins‘ unfortunate injury also gives him some breathing room as they are considering him to take over in center field. Still, the fact remains that from a real life perspective, with his low OBP, Mateo has been below average, with a terrible 79 wRC+, with all of his 0.6 WAR coming from his defense. With the Orioles in contention and multiple prospects tearing apart the upper minors (in particular, SS Jordan Westburg and OFs Keston Kjerstad and Coby Mayo), Mateo likely won’t be left much time before the call-ups begin and he becomes a speedy role player a la Jon Berti. Even if that doesn’t happen, with speed being so plentiful this year, it’s wise to focus on players that can also hit, especially in 10-team formats.
You had a nice run while you were in your lineups, but now you’re out man. He was formerly more popular than fellow power/speed post-hype outfielder Josh Lowe, but my oh my how they diverged. Outman’s line collapsed to just .234/.323/.469 with his 9 HR and 6 SB, and hitting just .137/.207/.216 with 1 HR and 2 SB over the past 3 weeks. Now his line is looking like a poor man’s Jack Suwinski. I am not so surprised, as unlike Lowe, even when he was hitting hot, underneath his flashy barrel-rate, he had a dangerously low Contact%, with which it is is very hard to sustain success over longer periods of time… and that rate has only gone down.
His expected stats say he actually deserved worse than this with just a .204 xBA and .370 xSLG. Given the now rather pedestrian 11% Barrel% and 40% HardHit% that’s a hard pass in 12-teamers. If you’re having trouble pressing the drop button, just say “64% contact rate” three times and it turns into a That Was Easy button.
If you want a story of something that transforms into a pumpkin at midnight, it will involve the evil Stepmother, Stepsisters, and one Stephenson. To be honest, I’ve never understood the hype, as he was advertised as a batting average guy who would grow into power, but his batting averages weren’t supported by contact rate and his power growth seemed like wishcasting without evidence. This year, he’s been lousy at both, with his K% careening to 28%, and with his power also going in the can with a .094 ISO.
As far as the batting average is concerned, I’m concerned, as his 72% Contact% is a career-worst and a big drop from his 83% Contact% in 2021. I do think the power could improve, as his HardHit% and Barrel% are career bests, and most intriguingly, he set a new MaxEV of 111 mph, nearly 5 mph higher than his previous best of 107 mph. Still, although he still plays fairly regularly now, it might not last with his -0.2 WAR, and there are many more interesting and valuable catchers available (Patrick Bailey, for example). Time to ship out this noodle-bat muppet Stephenson to the estate of “Jimhenson”.
Maybe Drew Waters should put the bat down and take up painting lakes and rivers. It’s only been 16 at-bats, but if you can flip him for anything just for the name and prospect-y sheen alone, I think I’d do that now. Not only is he hitting the ball very weakly at just 25%, more importantly, he’s making legendarily bad swing decisions, with a 53% O-Swing% and a 60% contact%. That gives him a 23% Swinging Strike% but since he also lets over 20% called strikes drop in, he has an even worse, hilariously disastrous 44% CSW%. Small sample my suspenders, there’s no coming back from that.