This article is part of our The Z Files series.
For some, "buying high" involves going through the drive-through of their favorite fast-food chain, or perhaps heading into a convenience store to satisfy the munchies. Trust me, you don't want me mellower… or hungry. But I digress.
Several years ago, I conceived the term "buying high" as it relates to fantasy baseball.
This is the time of the season everyone is looking to buy low and sell high. The idea is to take advantage of hot starts by exchanging them for a better player slow out of the gate. On paper, it makes sense. Truth be told, I've probably authored a few pieces with this theme over the years.
Here's the deal. Yes, there are a myriad of leagues where this happens. I don't mean to disparage people playing in these leagues. After all, they're in large part responsible for keeping bill collectors off my back. However, I don't want to play in a league where you can deal Didi Gregorius for Carlos Correa. As such, given my druthers, I'd prefer not to write a column discussing buy-low, sell-high targets. Don't worry, others will pick up my slack.
Instead, one of my favorite ploys is buying high. You and I both agree the player will slow down. The difference is the landing point, as I'm more optimistic where he ends up. Often, this can be leveraged to swing a deal.
On a recent SiriusXM show, Jeff Erickson and Chris Liss were discussing Patrick Corbin when the subject of dealing him for Dallas Keuchel came up. Jeff used it as an example of my concept of buying high.
A few weeks back in the NFBC Main Event, Keuchel's ADP was 66, compared to 214 for Corbin. Is it possible for a 16th rounder to be a better choice than a sixth rounder for the rest of the season? Is three weeks of a schedule crushed by a record number of postponements and historically cold weather enough to make the decision? You betcha.
This is more about Corbin than it is Keuchel, though Keuchel's low strikeout total and injury history play a part. It appears Corbin has decided to increase the use of his slider, despite the fact he's a Tommy John returnee and sliders are known to increase the chance of injury. It also helps that Corbin's sliders, yes, plural, are plus pitches. Add in the humidor reducing runs in the desert, and I'll take Corbin's higher strikeout ceiling.
Here's more players to consider buying high on.
Gerrit Cole, SP, Houston Astros: Part and parcel to writing a column of this nature is putting forth plausible scenarios. Chances are, most drafting Cole had an inkling this might happen. OK, maybe not to this extent, but some combination of moving to the best pitcher's venue in the league (in part because it increases strikeouts while reducing walks), enjoying better run support and heading to a team suited to maximize the efficiency of his repertoire, most notably his curve, rendered Cole a sneaky pick.
However, there are some focusing on Cole's bloated ratios last season who may look to get out before the regression they expect kicks in. Sure, Cole will regress. He won't maintain a 47 percent strikeout rate nor a 100 percent left-on-base rate. But, if Cole's owner anticipates an ERA over 4.00, there's plenty of room to swoop in.
Sean Manaea, SP, Oakland Athletics: The news came out as the 2017 campaign came to a close. Back in the spring, Manaea had been diagnosed with ADD. The prescribed medications had side effects, including loss of appetite. Over the course of the season, the burly southpaw lost 25 pounds, along with several ticks off his fastball. Though he righted the ship down the stretch, a horrible August bloated Manaea's seasonal numbers.
Manaea's appetite is back, but his stuff is still lacking, which is where the buy high window comes into play. His velocity is down, availing a talking point in negotiations. Manaea's strikeout rate reflects the drop in velocity, though his swinging strike rate portends an improvement, tempered by the punchout-suppressing nature of Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum. The lefty is sporting an unsustainably low .169 BABIP, especially considering an above average hard-hit rate.
It may seem like I'm making a case to avoid Manaea, but it's all about expectations. Low strikeouts, more hits, that's a bleak picture. However, I'm anticipating a return of velocity that generates more whiffs. It's a leap of faith that he'll also continue to exhibit excellent control, but one worth taking. The key is it shouldn't take much to acquire Manaea, especially if the other party is unaware of the medication issues, now under control.
A lot of times, the best way to buy high is in a 2-for-2 deal with the buy-high target disguised as a throw-in to even the swap. For example, base the trade on your good pitcher for their good hitter, but ask to include a lesser hitter for their lesser pitcher to keep the rosters legal. In this instance, their balancing pitcher would be Manaea.
Matt Chapman, 3B, Oakland Athletics: Sticking with the A's but moving to the hitting side of the ledger, when asked for a bold prediction in the spring, I said in a battle of Matts, Chapman would have a better season than teammate Matt Olson. This isn't a declaration of victory, as there's 23 more weeks of production on the way. I mention it to set the scene, as I was higher on Chapman than most heading into the season, so my baseline expectation is likely higher than others.
It's narrative, but I've always had a thing for outstanding fielders who need to improve contact to become better hitters. My contention is the skills supporting the glove work, like hand-eye coordination, reflexes and timing could eventually translate to the batter's box. Obviously, it doesn't happen all the time, but there's ample anecdotal evidence for a numbers guy to have one soft spot for gut feel, not to mention a soft gut. But I digress.
To this point of the season, Chapman's plate skills have markedly improved. He's walking more while fanning less. As one may intuit from that combo, Chapman has been much more selective on pitches in and out of the zone. Last season, he saw 4.12 pitches per plate appearance. So far in 2018, that's up to 4.48, allowing Chapman to pick out a good one, and hit it hard.
To buy high, I want a tangible change. With Chapman, it's his approach. There's no guarantee he'll sustain this level of patience. But, it's a chance I'm willing to take. Point out Chapman has never maintained a strikeout rate at this level, but you need power, so you're willing to chance it.
DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Colorado Rockies: LeMahieu is perennially underappreciated. His primary contribution is in batting average, in a climate where everyone wants either power or speed. What's ignored is the ability to absorb the low batting average of those other hitters providing plus power or speed. LeMahieu chips in with runs and RBI, but he's never swatted more than 11 homers or swiped more than 23 bases.
To date, LeMahieu has left the yard five times. While still low, his fly ball rate is up. He's pulling the ball more. Granted, it's early, and LeMahieu is on record as saying he's happy with his swing and has no intention on changing it. Still, he's not a small guy. LeMahieu is six-four and 215 lbs., so he has the frame to take advantage of Coors Field.
Approach LeMahieu's owner with the pitch that you're looking for help in batting average, downplaying the power surge. You'll get the average, even if the power fails to subsist. And, if LeMahieu sticks at leadoff, you may even pick up some bags.
Tim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox: A common bond among the buy-high candidates is that I was optimistic on most of them in the spring, with Anderson no exception. They're all in process of validating the allure drawing me to them. In Anderson's case, many were wary of poor plate skills; he fanned too much while being allergic to free passes. I didn't share that concern. Well, I did, but I suspected the White Sox would give Anderson a long leash, not worrying about the excessive strikeouts.
Sure enough, Anderson is still fanning at a high rate. However, he's also hitting homers and stealing bases, as expected. The buying high part refers to an elevated walk rate as Anderson is sporting, a rate nearly four times his career average. Perhaps it's circumstantial, due to facing some wild hurlers early on. Or maybe it's a conscious effort to get on base more so he can utilize his speed. For his career, Anderson is an eye-popping 33-of-36 when attempting to steal, including eight pilfers without being caught this season.
If you need stolen bases, offer power or pitching. Point out Anderson's still high strikeout pace and weak hard-hit rate, conveniently ignoring the added patience. Tell them you're willing to absorb the low batting average. Who know, maybe you'll get a… wait for it… steal.