In professional golf, Saturday is dubbed “Moving Day” because players must go low to give themselves a chance on the final day. Without positioning themselves near the top of the leaderboard with a good round on Saturday, it becomes very difficult to challenge for a championship.
I’ve always thought the month of May in fantasy baseball was kind of like Moving Day in professional golf. Sure, it’s early in the season, but it’s the month in which owners can take advantage of the trade market to improve their roster for the championship push. Many owners can become impatient with players who experienced unexpected slow starts in April, which is prime time to buy low — if done correctly.
While buy-low options inherently carry risk, it should be mitigated by the low price tag. A year ago in mid-May, I targeted Rickie Weeks as a buy-low option at second base and acquired him in a pair of leagues for next-to-nothing. Weeks underperformed for the rest of May, but hit .260/.344/.445 from June to the end of the season and was a nice power/speed upgrade for my roster.
This year, Rickie Weeks is once again a buy-low candidate for fantasy owners. With his early-season struggles for a second-consecutive season, though, owners may be unwilling to pursue him. Perhaps a better buy-low target is Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians.
The 26-year-old second baseman has spun his wheels out of the gate, hitting only .224/.287/.414 in his first 130 plate appearances of the season. His .299 wOBA ranks 14th amongst qualified second basemen — behind the likes of Howie Kendrick, Dan Uggla and Jedd Gyorko. By most objective measures, he’s been below-average and owners could be getting anxious.
His overall numbers hide a recent upswing at the plate. In the month of May, Kipnis is hitting .261/.314/.609 with three doubles, two triples and three home runs. The batting average isn’t remarkable — and likely won’t ever be — but the power has returned and his worrisome strikeout rate has dropped to 21.6% in May.
Obviously, his 11 games in May is an obscenely small sample size. The key, however, is that his numbers in May are beginning to match what many fantasy owners expected prior to the season. He’s beginning to produce the results that could lead to a 15-20 home run, 20+ stolen base season — and with the unexpected potency of the Indians’ lineup, his run and RBI totals may also take a step forward.
Fantasy owners also have to like the fact that his O-Swing% has dropped to 19.4% this season. Only A.J. Ellis, Nate McLouth and Norichika Aoki swing at fewer pitches outside the strike zone. That suggests his strikeout rate should come down from his lofty 24.6%, and as mentioned earlier, it’s already beginning to do so this month.
Some have pointed out that his contact rate has slipped this year. It has dropped from 83.3% last year to 79.0% in 2013, but most of that drop has taken place out of the strike zone. His contact rate on pitches outside the zone has dropped from 64.3% to 47.9%. His contact rate in the zone, however, has remained relatively consistent at 88.5%, which is only a drop of two percent from last year. And we’ve already established that he doesn’t chase out of the zone very often.
Both the ZiPS and Steamer projections see Jason Kipnis finishing the season with 15+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases. Only Dustin Pedroia, Danny Espinosa and Ian Kinsler accomplished that feat at the second base position a year ago. And Kipnis’ performance thus far in May suggests he’s beginning to live up to those projections right now. Fantasy owners should capitalize on his low full-season numbers and target him in leagues where an upgrade at second base (or middle infield) is needed.
After all, it’s mid-May. It’s Moving Day. It’s time to put your fantasy roster in position for a championship run, and Jason Kipnis would be a lovely addition to most teams — provided the price is right.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).