(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)
Welcome Back! It’s been a few weeks since our last edition of Patience or Panic due to a tornado tearing up the northeast and causing me to be without power for what seems like a year. I wasn’t able to get my daily baseball fix for a while, but at least we are back and I am finally all caught up in the happenings in the baseball world. As always in this series, I will be attempting to look under the “sabermetric hood” so to say and try to determine if there are greener pastures ahead or it is finally time to cut bait on that former sleeper you were so enamored with only a few short months back.
This week we are going to look at three players, all of which have shown flashes of fantasy greatness. Rougned Odor has the “potential” to put together a 35HR/15SB season like he did in 2016, Byron Buxton has the upside for 20HR/40 SB after stealing 29 bases in 500 plate appearances last year and lastly, Sonny Gray already has a top-3 Cy Young finish in 2015. As you would expect from players featured in this article, they are all scuffling in the first few months of the season. Let’s take a deeper dive and determine if better times are ahead.
Byron Buxton – .156 AVG, 0 HR, 8 Rs, 4 RBIs, 5 SBs
To put it extremely lightly, Byron Buxton has been atrocious with the bat so far in 2018. He has dealt with a multitude of injuries, including fracturing his toe while on a rehab assignment for migraines. He was placed back on the 10-day DL Wednesday for the same toe fracture, it looks like the toolsy center-fielder was never fully healthy when he returned a few weeks ago. When in the lineup Buxton is currently producing a -3 wrC+ in his first 94 plate appearances. You read that right, a -3 wRC+. His current slash of .156/.183/.200 is among the worst in the major leagues, and his counting stats are not much better. He has failed to produce a home run this year and he has scored just 8 runs while hitting predominantly in the 8 or 9th position in the Twins lineup leading. But, the real question is will he turn it around this season?
If you look at Buxton’s batted ball profile you won’t see many glaring differences from his 2017 season. He has roughly the same hard-hit rate, he is hitting more line drives but slightly fewer fly balls. What really jumps out at you is when you glance over his plate discipline. His O-swing rate is currently 39.4% which is over 9 percent worse than league average, his O-contact rate 58.8% is 4 percent below average as well. Basically, Buxton is swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone than the major league average and is still making less contact than is typical. That is a deadly combination. His current 30% k-rate should hover around that level if he can’t cut his whiff rate down from the 14% it has drifted around his whole career. Buxton just doesn’t have the bat-to-ball skills to produce an average that doesn’t weigh you down and while he hits at the bottom of the order the runs and RBIs will be hard to come by. He may run into a few and hit 10-15 home runs and still has the speed to swipe 20+ bases but is it worth it at the expense of all the other categories? I say no.
Sonny Gray – 49.2 IP, 3-4, 5.98 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 44 Ks
Owning Sonny Gray is a runaway train that no one seems to be able to predict right now. In his last three starts, he has two 5 earned run clunkers that sandwich an 8 inning, 5 K gem versus the Royals. Right now the Yankees starter is looking more like waiver wire fodder than any real valuable fantasy asset. His K-rate is down to 18.6, meanwhile, he has seen his walk rate jump way up to 11%. A key to Gray’s success during his career has been his ability to generate ground balls at a high clip. Hitters have an average launch angle of 6.7° against Gray during his career, but so far in 2018, it has been much higher at 12.3°. Pair his elevated launch angle with an average exit velocity of 89.5 MPH and you have a recipe for disaster. Gray has some very odd day and night splits so far in 2018. He has currently thrown 25.2 innings at night and has allowed 26 (!) earned runs, meanwhile during night games he has allowed just 7 runs in 24 innings. If you participate in any day game only formats, Sonny Gray may be the starter for you. On a more serious note, with lack of strikeouts and a FIP that indicates he is more of a mid-4 ERA guy, I would be okay with dropping him in favor of chasing some high-upside plays.
Rougned Odor – .214 AVG, 1 HR, 10 Rs, 14 RBIs, 1 SB
Like Buxton, Odor has missed time due to injury, but when on the field the polarizing second baseman has failed to produce. In his first 108 plate appearances, he has combined for just 2 HR + SB after producing 45 in 2017. A lot of Odor’s value lies in the power at a typical power starved position. However, 2018 seems to be trending in a different direction already with 6 different second basemen already producing 9 or more home runs only two months into the season. Outside of power Odor is lacking in other skills, his batting average continues to be a drag, hitting .214 with an xBA of .209. The 24-year old has seen his exit velocity plummet way down to 84.9 MPH in 2018, which is well below his career 87.8 MPH mark. Since returning from the disabled list Odor has been hitting predominantly in the 7th or 8th position. The Rangers offense is 10th in runs scored, Odor, stuck at the bottom of the lineup will struggle to sniff the 89 runs he scored in 2016. ZiPS Rest of season projections is projected to finish 16HR/48R/50RBI/9SB. For reference, Yolmer Sanchez of the White Sox projections from ZiPS is 9 HR/58R/64RBI/10SB. As much as it pains me to say it as a former Odor truther, he may be better off discarded to the waiver wire and left for other managers to suffer his torments.