Welcome back to Buy and Sell, where this week’s theme is triumphant returns! Some of these guys were seen as worthless in April/May (and in many cases, they really were) but have now rounded back into form. However, since their early slumps pulled their season stats down, a lot of them are still being undervalued, sort of like Bojack Horseman was after the first season. Or Schitt’s Creek, if you have an aversion to humanoid animals. But I’m feeling bullish on these names the rest of the way. On to the list!
Nathaniel Lowe (1B, Texas Rangers)
Nathaniel (“Don’t call me Nate”) Lowe has been punishing impatient owners by turning into an entirely different hitter in June. Maybe it’s his mysterious “Nate” alter ego who’s taken over. After hitting just 1 homer in April and 2 in May, he’s exploded for 7 home runs with a .320 AVG in June, raising his season line to .282/.332/.447 with 10 HR and 1 SB in 274 AB. And yet, at 46% Nathaniel’s rostership rate is far too… small. Nope, not going for the low-hanging dried fruit there.
So, what changed? A lot, apparently. For one, he’s been a lot more aggressive, with his 52% Swing% much higher than his 44% career mark, which has led to a 75% Z-Swing% but also a 34% O-Swing%. So if you were wondering why the usually patient Lowe’s walk rate was sliced nearly in half, it’s not a fluke, it’s a stylistic choice. It’s hard to cast aspersions on it, as it hasn’t hurt his ability to make contact which has held steady at 76%. So while his Swinging Strike Rate of 12% is a career-high, thanks to fewer called strikes his 26% K% is a career-best.
Oddly, in terms of most power metrics, this is actually his worst year yet. His 113 mph maxEV, 8% Barrel%, and 42% HardHit% would be enviable for most other hitters but are all career-worsts for him. Lowe always excelled in these but generally failed to translate them into production. Now that he overcame the dead ball spring, in the Texas heat, he should continue to get lots of action in hot ball summer. With how hot he’s been, he should be rostered in 10-team AVG leagues, and yes it feels weird to call him anti-OBP.
Alex Verdugo (OF, Boston Red Sox)
If you find him on your waiver wire, you might find yourself losing your sense of orientation due to a case of Vertugo. The Red Sox outfielder has for a while now been considered one of the safest high-floor hitter bets in fantasy, and in April it looked like he was about to breakout before cratering in May. But sure enough, in late June he’s been on fire with a .354/.415/.521 line with 2 HR and 10 RBI in 48 AB in the last two weeks, raising his season line to .263/.310/.380 with 5 HR (0 SB) in 266 ABs.
Still, you might be asking yourself “Is this really who I should be excited about?” Isaac Paredes did the same with double the power in half the playing time. And while that’s fair, I think Verdugo should still see hotter days ahead. From the peripherals alone, I would expect him to be having a career-best batting average, as his contact% is a career-best 88%, and has also increased his swing frequency on strikes in the zone while maintaining his average chase rate, leading to a career-best 23% CSW%.
As far as the barrels, exit velocity, and all that jazz, Verdugo is the same as last year, which combined with the better contact rate would be great, if only he wasn’t so unlucky. Statcast gives him an xBA of .295 and an xSLG of .506, which of course must be taken with a grain of salt. But it backs the idea that the hits aren’t falling, and although we know the league-wide context for this, is still encouraging. Perhaps the biggest anchor pulling his value down is the fact that he’s docked into his bases, and hasn’t stolen a single base yet, and I’m not so optimistic that the handful of bags is coming back for the 26-year-old. He’s a fine stream for batting average in 10-team batting average leagues thanks to his ample run production.
Garrett Cooper (1B/OF, Miami Marlins)
If he’s still dangling on your wire, it’s time to start Hanging with Mr. Cooper. He’s been a big average boost in June, hitting .344/.397/.443 with a homer in 61 AB over the past 3 weeks to raise his season line up to a robust .315/.380/.460 with 5 HRs. Similar to Verdugo, the power total is rather disappointing, but while he has a far better surface batting average, he gets far less respect in fantasy circles due to his spottier track record. Where Verdugo’s roster% is up to 90% in ESPN, Cooper’s is just 21%.
So what is Cooper’s secret to finally being really good? Well, mostly not getting hurt. The 31-year-old really doesn’t have anything particularly eye-popping under the hood, as his 113 mph maxEV is not a career-high, and nor is his 10% Barrel% or 45% HardHit%. But that’s okay because those are all really good rates. The improvement has been mostly in his plate skills, with a career-best 81% Contact% driven by a career-best 87% Z-Contact% that has helped his hard contact play up. While his 31% O-Swing% is tied for his career-best, his Z-Swing of 63% isn’t great and leads to a 21% Called Strike% that undermines his contact gains somewhat. Still, what he’s doing is legit, and validated with an xBA of .304 and xSLG of .514 that suggests the power could start coming through in the hotter summer months.
In retrospect, Cooper was a crazy draft day value with an ADP of 438, as he’s one of the rare players that has maintained their contact rate while building their power (particularly MaxEV and Barrel%) year over year, and getting no respect for it. Then again, his current 266 PA is already the second-most he’s logged in a season, with his max being 421 in 2019, so we probably should expect another injury at some point. But until then, I think he’s an underrated batting average play with untapped power upside, and if he stays on the field, I wouldn’t be surprised if by season’s end he surged to 20 total homers with .300. And that deserves to be rostered in 10-team batting average leagues.
Vinnie Pasquantino (1B, Kansas City Royals)
To some, he’s known as Italian Beef. And that goes great with country breakfast, though I hope he musters a better career than Billy Butler. The Royals definitely have delivered him to the majors on a silver platter by clearing out Carlos Santana who had been sucking up air at the position by flipping him to the France-less Mariners. Pasquantino is a great story as he was essentially a no-name depth guy until his big season in the minors last year, but has continued to mash wherever he’s gone, hitting .280 with 18 HR and 3 SB in 296 PA. Sure, 24-year-olds often can put up big seasons in the minors and stumble in the majors, but he’s built different with a 13% walk rate and 12% strikeout rate. Mmm… beefy.
Vinnie P. is far from an athlete at 6’4 and a listed 245 that is likely, well, generous. He does, however, seem to have a preternatural feel for hitting, and I think this gives him a higher floor than most 24-year-olds. While he might have been scooped up in your league already, a few hitless games can trigger buyer’s remorse and make him a great buy-low. I think he can maintain a double-digit walk rate in the majors while hitting around .280 with league-average power, though obviously there’s upside for more. Just don’t expect any stolen bases, and he could be a fine add in 12-team OBP formats and you can hope he’s the next Alejandro Kirk.
Seth Brown (1B/OF, Oakland Athletics)
You might need to change your trousers after this Brown note. He quietly continues to find ways to provide value, hitting .306/.338/.613 with 5 HR, 2 SB, and 13 RBI in 62 AB over the past three weeks, and an even hotter .409 with a homer and a bag this week. After a rather dreadful start to the season, he’s managed a line of .230/.289/.446 with 10 HR and 7 SB with 36 RBI in 222 AB (242 PA), making him a surprising value for those who took an end-round gamble on him.
The power was more or less expected, even if it’s less than his 2021 when he quietly slugged 20 home runs in just 307 PA in a platoon role. But the average is actually a positive considering he hit .214 last season and seems legitimate as he bumped up his K rate from a not nice 69% to a more passable 72%. But even beyond that, he changed his batted balls from an extreme 50% FB% in 2021 to a more balanced 43%, and even better, he converted all of it into line drives, with a career-high 25% LD% (19% in 2021). That’s big when you have his excellent raw power, with a 112 mph maxEV and 12% barrel%. This all portends well for both average and power, which may be why Statcast calls him unlucky with a far better xBA of .275 and xSLG of .527.
Hopefully, now you’re trembling with excitement because we haven’t even addressed the most surprising element of his game, the stolen bases. While many were touting Kevin Smith and Cavan Biggio as the SB sleepers, Brown lapped them with 7 bags, and even more impressively, hasn’t been caught stealing once. That’s a nice jump from 2021 where he did steal 4 bases (1 CS). It might seem fluky but his sprint speed is better than you’d expect at the 68th percentile. He could easily finish the year hitting .260 with 25 HR, 15 SB, and plenty of RBIs, which was the optimistic projection for Austin Meadows. Okay, now I need to change. In all 15-team formats and yes, even 12-team average formats, it’s time to ask what Brown can do for you, because his batted balls have UPS.
Jake Meyers (OF, Houston Astros)
I thought Meyers might be in a good situation, but then it got better. And better. And better! Siri was demoted, then McCormick was demoted, and finally, Brantley got hurt (well, he had a good run). Meyers has a good running game with pop, as he hit .260 with 6 HR and 3 SB in just 163 PA last year after hitting .343 with 16 HR and 10 SB in Triple-A. He’s the kind of player who, despite his talents, is easy to overlook as a non-pedigree prospect who started the year hurt.
There’s not too much to glean in his 14 PA in the majors so far this year, though despite the fact he’s hitting .286, I don’t think his current 60% Contact% rate or 21% Swinging Strike% are encouraging. But this is also his Spring Training essentially and he’ll be allowed time to settle in. With injuries popping up left and right, taking a guy with power/speed ability and nearly guaranteed playing time is a bet I’ll take nearly every time. Add in 15-team leagues, especially five-outfielder leagues or ones with a bench where you can stash him for now.
Bligh Madris (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Is his name majestic? Yes, your Madristy. The lesser-known prospect has hit the ground running and run the ground hitting, rocking a .367 AVG to go with a homer and a stolen base in his first-ever 30 PA. While that’s impressive, the batting average is extremely inflated right now thanks to a .467 BABIP. The 26-year-old had a solid campaign in Triple-A, hitting .304 with 5 HR and 2 SB in 179 PA with a 20% K% and double-digit walk rate. So it’s been a mild surprise that he has yet to draw a walk yet in the majors and has a wild O-Swing% of 39%. Blegh.
While as a 26-year-old rookie, I’m not taking the minors stats too seriously, and it’s possible that he’s swinging a lot because the hits have been landing. But with a merely league-average 75% Contact%, I think luck will swing the other way shortly. Still, he’s playing regularly, and as long as the hits keep landing, the Pirates have zero reasons to take him out of their lineup, although I must say it’s far more exciting now than it was earlier this year, like how worm biology is more exciting than multivariable calculus. He’s a fine batting average streamer who can possibly pull off a Santiago Espinal (but in the OF) impression to remain relevant.
Cavan Biggio (1B/2B/3B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays)
I always felt that his perceived value was a castle made of sand, and sure enough, Biggio had a cave-in. But now there’s some value to be scooped in deep leagues, as he has two things going for him, one of which is his recent return to decency, with a solid .261/.393/.522 line with 2 HR in 46 ABs the past two weeks, although it raises his line to just .209/.363/.374 with 2 HR and 1 SB in 91 AB. The other thing going for him is that his primary competition (and former victor) Santiago Espinal has been slumping mightily, re-opening an avenue for him.
There are some encouraging signs, the biggest likely being his 12% that’s double his career marks, as well as a Statcast rolling graph that has been in the red for the past 50 PA and with an xwOBA that is steadily climbing. The other thing is, as an extreme flyball hitter, he may see more balls fly out as the summer humidor makes them fly further. With his high walk rate remaining rather safe, he’s a fair bet to provide value in deeper OBP formats, and is worth adding in all AL-only as well as deeper 15-team OBP leagues due to his combo of OBP, power, speed, and oh yeah, now he qualifies at as many positions as Luis Arraez. Neat!
Christopher Morel (2B/OF, Chicago Cubs)
When I suggested him as a 10-team buy several weeks ago, I noted how (and commenter Mario Mendoza highlighted how) his bad contact rate (under 75% Z-Contact%) could lead to strikeout problems rearing their ugly head (and commenter Mario Mendoza noted I should. Well, it turned into an ugly Cerberus (not that’s there a cute Cerberus). Over the past 21 days, Morel has hit just .205/.244/.329 with 2 HR and 1 SB in 73 AB. But what’s worse is the K/BB ratio (that could be a two-face head) of just 4 walks and 34 strikeouts in those 73 AB (77 PA).
This is a good lesson in why we can’t trust initial strikeout/walk rates and it’s much better to look at the per-pitch metrics. In May, he had a 13% BB% and 22% K%, but in June that collapsed to a 6% BB% and 36% K%. And even from a per-pitch standpoint, his Contact% of 66% is dangerous territory, but even more concerning is the Z-Contact% is down to 72%, which means he’s missing a lot of the opportunities for optimal contact. The good news is that he does still have power, with an excellent MaxEV of 113 mph with a Barrel% of 13% and a HardHit% of 40%. But frankly, it’s puzzling how he can manage to make so much barreled and hard contact with so much of his contact coming on pitches off the plate.
Of course, he could have a two-homer or three-homer week and I look stupid for quitting him early, but I don’t see how he can remain hitting leadoff with this approach. On Wednesday he was moved to the 9th spot, which perhaps is an extreme demotion and he belongs in the 6th or 7th slot, but obviously, if he stays anywhere outside the top half of the lineup, his value takes a major hit. Perhaps he should be happy he’s not on the bench while doing his impression of Javier Báez. It seems the stolen base surge may have mostly been a one-week thing, but I can’t be too bearish with the SB upside not going anywhere. He’s a cut only in 10-team formats for now, especially 10-team OBP, though I’d bench him in 12-team formats, if he can’t reverse this trend I’d also be willing to Morelegate him to waivers.
Jorge Soler (OF, Miami Marlins)
It seems that in order to obtain a World Series victory, he sold his Soler. Despite flashing his power in bunches this year, he’s been downright dreadful lately, hitting .203/.278/.281 with just 1 HR in 64 AB the last 3 weeks, dragging down his season line to .217/..306/.421 with 13 HR in 254 AB. So the good news is he’s still plodding his way on a path to 30 HRs, the bad news is, well, everything else.
He has the second-biggest drop in rolling xwOBA over his last 100 PA, as he averaged a .433 xwOBA and over the past 100, it’s been only .281. In other words, this may just be a typical massive slugger slump, but it is more than just bad luck. It’s possible that a minor injury may be messing with him, as he has missed a few games with back issues and has a long history with his injuries. It’s also possible he’s just making more sub-par contact, as while his overall contact rate is one of the best of his career, his Z-Contact% of 81% is below his career norms whereas his O-Contact% of 56% is among the highest.
Essentially right now he’s a one-category player, and power has arguably been the easiest category to find. It’s not to say a month or two from now he doesn’t heat up and be a must-own (he does seem to perform better in second halves overall) but with the spot you’re using on him, you may be missing out on a similarly-talented hot hitter or one with speed, multi-positional-eligibility, or something else that makes them a better gamble. So despite the massive talent, in 12-team batting average leagues, it’s probably time to tell Soler so long.
Carson Kelly (C, Arizona Diamondbacks)
With the way opposing pitchers are taking him for a ride, maybe I should call him Carseat Kelly. He may as well be strapped in at the plate because he’s swinging at air with a .129/.186/.194 line with 1 HR in 93 ABs. Maybe some people are excited that his one homer was this week, except he’s still hitting .200. Once a top prospect, Kelly had a solid bounceback season last year in which he hit .240 with 13 HR in 359 PA, giving hope that he could be a solid 20 HR catcher with more playing time. It hasn’t been many at-bats for him yet due to injury, but it’s hard not to cringe at his line so far.
When I saw that his strikeout rate of 24% isn’t that far off from the career norm, I had some hope that a larger sample would bring him more luck. But unfortunately, Statcast thinks his lousy rates are well-deserved, with a .143 xBA and a .241 xSLG. In fact, over the past 250 PA (including last season), he has been the biggest decliner in baseball. With Varsho on the team (though mostly at OF) and likely here to stay, the D-backs do have a contingency, but I think most 15-teamers can feel safe to cut the 27-year-old backstop while he’s looking this snakebitten.
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Cliff Welch & Mark Goldman / Icon Sportswire
Ha, thanks for the callout!
In turn, I have to tip hat to a comment on FG when an article recommended JD Davis. His xStats are so good that every hot streak looks like positive regression, but in reality, it’s just a hot streak. Z-contact is the missing ingredient, and it’s a killer flaw.