Welcome to “Patience or Panic”, a column where Ben Palmer takes a look at some of the widely-owned players who are struggling and tell you whether you should be patient, or start to panic.
Let’s dive in:
Jason Heyward – .233/.318/.329, 5 HR, 44 R, 31 RBI, 8 SB
I’m not sure if there is a player this year who has been more disappointing and more damaging to fantasy teams than Jason Heyward. He was drafted as a double-digit home run, high-average, 20+ steal guy, and he has provided literally none of that. His average is pitiful, his power is non-existent, and his steals have vanished, yet still he’s widely owned.
Heyward hasn’t been unlucky, that’s not what the stats say. He’s been making awful contact, he’s completely lost at the plate. His strikeout rate has gone up from 14.8% last year to 17.2% this year. His ISO has plummeted to a miserable .096 and he’s slugging a laughable .329.
To go even deeper than that, Heyward’s hard hit rate is pretty rough, at 27% and even worse, his soft hit rate is an absolutely awful 27.4%. In fact, Heyward is the league leader this year in soft hit rate, just above Jose Iglesias, John Jaso, and Alcides Escobar. Yea, it’s that bad.
Ruling: This is panic. This is more than panic. There’s nothing suggesting that Heyward has been getting unlucky or that he’ll turn things around. Until he makes a major adjustment, this is what he is, and that’s not someone who’s ownable. I’m not just saying panic, I’m saying get rid of him, dump him, give up. You take his name off the jersey and we wouldn’t even be talking about him. That’s not to say he can’t turn thing around, but it’s going to take a lot of time, and until then, he’s not worth owning.
Mark Trumbo – .267/.320/.537 30 HR, 58 R, 75 RBI
Mark Trumbo came out of nowhere this year and became one of the most valuable players in fantasy for the first half of the year, but over the past month, he’s cooled off significantly, batting .220 with six home runs and 13 RBIs. Before that, Trumbo owners were enjoying tons of power with a .300+ average, and now that’s changed a lot.
This was completely expected though, especially the average. Trumbo has never been an average hitter, his best year for that was in 2012 when he batted .268. With a strikeout rate as high as his is (this year it’s 26.2%), the average just wasn’t going to keep up.
Trumbo also has a long history of having very cooled off second halves, not many players have first and second half splits that are as distinctive as Trumbo’s. On his career, Trumbo is batting .265 with 105 home runs in the first half of seasons, and .237 with 55 home runs in the second half. That’s a huge difference, and he does it consistently every year, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now. For the first half this year, he batted .288 with 28 home runs, and so far in the second half, he’s batted .162 with two home runs.
Ruling: This one is hard, because it depends on what you expected out of Trumbo. If you were expecting him to keep up the batting average and power together and not to slump in the second half, then panic, because that’s exactly what he’s doing. But hopefully, you were smart enough to realize that the batting average you were getting was just a nice blessing that was mostly based in luck. This is the Mark Trumbo you’ve got for the rest of the year, let’s just hope he doesn’t slump that much.
Bryce Harper – .235/.380/.443, 20 HR, 58 R, 56 RBI, 15 SB
At the beginning of this year, you could have made the argument that Bryce Harper deserved the number one overall pick, ahead of Mike Trout, and you would’ve been completely justified in that. After last year’s insane .330, 42 HR season, it seemed like anything was possible for Harper, but so far this year, he’s been a difficult player to own.
On the one hand, the power and speed have been great, but the batting average has been miserable. Over the past month, he’s batted .148 with three home runs. That’s not a number one overall pick, that’s barely a player worth owning. But don’t worry, better days are ahead for Bryce.
Harper has been the victim of some very bad luck in the average department, and that is most noticeable in his BABIP, which sits at .237. That will most definitely go up, Harper is too skilled of a hitter to not bring that average up, and he will likely bring it up significantly. Everything else looks pretty normal for him, I don’t think he’s going to have the year he had last year, but few players do. His ISO is still a very good .209, his strikeout rate is down, his walk rate is roughly the same, and while his hard hit rate is down from last year, it’s still a pretty good 31.8%. The only thing that worries me a little with Harper this year is the fact that his soft hit rate has shot way up to 22.4%, which is really bad. I think he’ll be able to correct it though.
Ruling: Harper’s had some bad luck, but he’s still an excellent player and will likely start getting hot soon to bring up that average. Could he knock in another 12-13 home runs while batting .280-.290 the rest of the season? Of course he could, he’s Bryce Harper. I’m recommending patience.
Sonny Gray – 5-10 (10 QS), 5.84 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 91 K
The past two years, Sonny Gray has been a really solid pitcher to own in fantasy. He’s kept the ERA down and struck out enough batters to make himself really relevant, especially with the 2.73 ERA he put up last year. But this year has been rough to say the least for Gray, and I’m really worried that it’s not going to stop.
Gray has always been a guy to outpitch his FIP. Last year, with an ERA of 2.73, he had a FIP of 3.45. Year before, an ERA of 3.08 and a FIP of 3.46. There are just some guys out there who consistently pitch better than or worse than (hello Michael Pineda) their FIP. FIP isn’t perfect; it’s a good predictor of what’s to come, but it’s not perfect. This year though, Gray’s 5.84 is worse than his (still bad) FIP of 4.79, and there’s a handful of red flags to go along with that.
The most noticeable problem is the walks, which contributes to the high WHIP. Right now, he has a career-high 8.5% walk rate to go along with a career-low 18.5% strikeout rate. He’s also got a chase rate down significantly from last year, and a career-high contact rate (by a lot). Basically, Gray isn’t controlling the ball well, and when he does get it into the strikezone, people are making contact with it, and good contact too, his hard hit rate is at a career-high 34.7%, good for 16th-worst in the league.
Now, Gray has been beaten up by home runs at a ridiculous rate, his HR/FB rate is 18.9%, which is not going to continue. This explains why his xFIP is down at 4.10 while his FIP is at 4.79. Plus, his strand rate is pretty low, down at 63.8%, another number that should get better.
Ruling: Gray just doesn’t have it. Something is wrong, I don’t know if it’s injury or just a loss of control over the ball, but he just doesn’t have it right now. His ERA should get better, but not by that much unless he’s able to get the ball under control. Until then, he’s still going to be erratic and impossible to predict. I’m definitely in panic mode with him.
Chris Davis – .222/.333/.447, 22 HR, 66 R, 60 RBI
Look, you and I both know you didn’t draft Chris Davis for his batting average, but I think we can all agree that we hoped it’d be better than this. After an incredible year in 2013, Davis had an incredibly disappointing year in 2014, and a nice bounceback in 2015, so a lot of people were wondering which Davis we’d see this year. Unfortunately, he’s looking a lot more like 2014 Davis than 2015.
Over the last month, Davis has batted .145 with one home run. Now yes, that average is terrible, but one home run, that’s unacceptable for Davis. You drafted him for power and figured you’d take the hit on average, but in the past month, he’s given you neither.
Right now, Davis leads the league in strikeout rate, sitting at a miserable career-worst 33.6%. Oddly enough though, his walk rate is also at a career-high 13.3%. Davis is a true TTO (Three True Outcome) hitter. Whenever he comes up to bat, it’s probably going to be a walk, strikeout, or home run, but even the home runs are down this year, and part of that is because the hard hit rate is down to 37.6%, which is only slightly higher than 2014’s 36%. That’s still a good hard hit rate, but for Chris Davis, who generally has a hard hit rate around 40% when he’s crushing home runs like he does, this isn’t a good sign.
Ruling: If Davis can adjust himself a bit, things will get a lot better. The power is still there, his ISO is still a very solid .225. This isn’t 2014 Chris Davis, but it’s not far off. If he can bring the strikeout rate down, he could very easily bat .240-.250 the rest of the way and hit another 15-16 home runs. That’s what you drafted him for. But if the strikeout rate stays the way it is, he’s going to keep hitting in the low .200s, and personally, I just don’t see him making a major adjustment any time soon. With Davis, I’m in panic mode (that hard hit rate scares me), but I’m not dropping him or anything. My eyebrow is raised, and I want to see him improve, it’s something worth keeping an eye on.
Ben Palmer (@benjpalmer) is a writer for Pitcher List who’s obsessed with sabermetrics, virtually all Baltimore sports, music, and playing guitar. He currently lives in Annapolis, Maryland and spends his summers watching way too much baseball.