3 AL Starting Pitchers You Can Actually Sell High On

The buy low and sell high strategy has been a favorite one of fantasy leaguers for as long as fantasy sports has existed, I would imagine. Unfortunately, it’s nearly dead given the wealth of freely available information and the deeper knowledge we now possess about how to evaluate player performance. Nearly dead, not completely dead. To buy low or sell high on a player, you need a story, a narrative that essentially offers up confirmation bias and makes the owner you’re dealing with feel all fuzzy inside when agreeing to the trade.

Through Wednesday’s games, Nick Martinez leads all AL starters in ERA-SIERA differential, with an ERA a whopping 4.47 runs below his SIERA. Do you really want to read that he’s a sell high candidate? Seriously, who the heck is buying Martinez? No one. That’s because there’s no narrative here and no reason to believe he’s going to keep up this pace, even if you don’t look past his ERA.

However, there are three guys with both the surface stats and the exciting narrative that could be sold high if you’re so brave to do so.

Shane Greene | 0.39 ERA vs 4.33 SIERA

After posting an ugly 4.61 ERA at Triple-A last year in the Yankees organization, Greene enjoyed a skills surge after his call up to the big leagues. His strikeout rate jumped, his ERA tumbled below 4.00 and his SIERA stood at an impressive 3.41. The Yankees rewarded him by trading him to the Tigers, and a guaranteed rotation spot made him a very trendy sleeper. I was more bullish than the projections on Greene heading into the year, and agreed he was a nice late round target in deeper leagues.

So far this year, it appears as if he’s making good on his sleeper promise given that minuscule ERA. The problem is that the strikeout rate has collapsed. His minor league strikeout rates certainly didn’t suggest he was capable of what he did last season during his debut. And although it has been just 23.0 innings, you wonder how much regression he’s actually in for. His xK% sits at 16.9% — better than what he has posted, but nowhere near what most likely expected. Since I think his strikeout rate will rebound somewhat, his SIERA should settle into the high-3.00 range. That’s respectable, especially in AL-Only leagues, but is near replacement level in a shallower 12-team mixer. Given his story and “hot” start, you should have ample opportunity to sell him for more than what a high-3.00 ERA pitcher would ever fetch.

Jesse Hahn | 2.12 ERA vs 4.53 SIERA

Hahn’s story is very similar to Greene’s, though it includes a better strikeout rate track record. Like Greene, Hahn also induces grounders and possesses respectable control. Last year Hahn was essentially a two-pitch pitcher with just the fastball and curve. The curve was fantastic at generating swings and misses, but its SwStk% has plummeted this year, dropping by nearly half. He has offset its relative ineffectiveness by increasing the usage of his change up, which is suddenly generating a SwStk% above 20%, more than triple what it did last year. Incredibly, his four-seam fastball has induced zero swings and misses in 41 pitches! And his two-seamer sports just a 2.7% SwStk%. That’s odd considering his fastball velocity is up two miles per hour.

Heading into spring training, Hahn wasn’t a lock for the rotation. We assumed he would make it, but it wasn’t a guarantee. It likely kept his price down in earlier drafts. He obviously did end up making the rotation and has ridden a .228 BABIP and no homers allowed over 17.0 innings to a 2.12 ERA. But WHERE ARE THE STRIKEOUTS?!?!?! Five in over three starts? Seriously? Hahn has been the anti-three true outcomes, striking out no one, issuing few free passes and not allowing a homer. Let’s get Adam Dunn out of retirement and see what happens in a Hahn-Dunn matchup. Hahn’s xK% is 11.5%, so clearly he’s not that this pathetic at punch outs, but it does validate that he has been rather poor.

Obviously, more strikeouts will be in his future. But given his strong start, buzzy sleeper status, and excellent performance last year, I’m fairly confident you could trade him for much more than he’ll earn the rest of the way. Oh, and he pitched just 115 innings last year, so how many do you realistically expect him to eclipse this year?

Sonny Gray | 1.91 ERA vs 3.82 SIERA

Gray is sticking it to the BABIP dragons again. Following up on his strong debut back in 2013, Gray was fabulous during his sophomore campaign, though some defensive help made him look better than he was. This year, his strikeout rate and SwStk% are both down, and he’s suddenly allowing nearly 38% fly balls, after a fly ball rate around 26% last year. But a tiny BABIP and HR/FB rate have made it appear as if he’s taking another step forward and moving into the upper echelon. He’s not.

His xK% sits at just 16.5% as his swinging strike rate has dipped and an increased rate of strikes thrown hasn’t been enough to offset the decline. Part of the problem is he’s throwing his fastball more, and at the expense of his curve ball, which has been his secondary offering of choice. The curve is generating fewer swinging strikes that it was in the past, though his lesser used slider has made up for it with its nearly 26% SwStk%.

Gray went for $17 in my shallow 12-team mixed league auction, which I thought was outrageous. It was the same price as Jon Lester, just $2 less than Jordan Zimmermann and more than Jeff Samardzija, all of whom I valued well above Gray. So owners went gaga for Gray heading into the season. Imagine how they are feeling now!

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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7 years ago

I really don’t understand all the hype on Gray. The projection systems did not like Gray based upon where he was ranked/drafted. He doesn’t have much upside nor does he play for a high scoring offense.