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Stock Watch: Do You Feel Lucky?

With the season's first month done and played, it's time to take a look at who's hot and cold starts are due to skill (or lack of it), and which are due to luck. A star plagued with a low BABIP makes a great trade target, while a young guy playing over his head is a great player to sell. Below, we'll take a look at some players who should be moving on or off your team.

Trade Targets

B.J. Upton is off to a start as bad as his brother's is good. Always a drag on batting average, he's killing owners like me Adam Dunn-style so far, while putting up little of his trademark power or speed. It's hard to steal bases with a .223 OBP. In fact, he's been so frustrating that I almost put him on the Trade Away list because I've grown to hate seeing his name in my lineup. That's an emotion you can use. His BABIP is a frightening .185, over 100 points below his career norm, much of which can be traced to his eye-popping infield fly rate of 29.6%, well over double his highest full season number. The two options seem to be that he figures out how to cut those popups down, or he's all washed up at age 28. The former seems much more likely.

Will Middlebrooks isn't so bad off as B.J., but he's still dragging averages down with a .198 mark. A .217 BABIP seems to be the problem, while the major change in his batted ball data is that he was a groundball hitter last year and a flyball hitter this year. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as his six homers will attest. His BABIP ought to normalize, at which point he could be a four-category monster in a heavy lineup. The upside is clear, and the downside is mitigated by the weak and injured status of third basemen around the league.

Gio Gonzalez is a risky trade proposition, as with slightly lowered velocity and a walk rate over 5.00, his troubles haven't been entirely due to luck. His ERA sits at 5.35, but his FIP is better at 4.09, and his xFIP better still at 3.51. So, some bad luck seems to be exacerbating things. With a K/9 over 10.00 and a quality lineup, there's still plenty of upside if you can trade for him at a significantly reduced price.

Clay Buchholz has been almost too good to trade away, but if his owner is looking to sell high, consider being the buyer. His years of sub-mediocrity make him look like a sell target, with his 1.01 ERA, but the underlying story says otherwise. He's got a sparkly 2.26 FIP and a very good 2.99 xFIP, to go with a strikeout rate of 9.47. The indications are that he isn't the same pitcher that has filled Red Sox Nation with disappointment for the last few years. If you're still skeptical, check out this article from Fangraphs. If you're still skeptical after that...um, don't trade for Buchholz, I guess.

Trade Away

Carlos Gomez went from disappointing speedster to power/speed fantasy gold last season, and he's kept it up this year. Owners were bullish on him in drafts, and they've been vindicated so far, as Gomez has delivered five homers and seven steals. His usually low average sits at an impressive .367. Okay, I understate. It's at an unbelievable .367. How'd it get there? Try a .419 BABIP, with help from a line drive percentage up four points from last season. Even if his hit profile has changed (and one month of extra liners doesn't prove much), he hasn't magically transformed into Joey Votto with speed. Deal him, as he could fetch a pretty serious return.

Jay Bruce is the sort of slumping superstar that I would have expected to advise you to trade for...until I looked under his statistical hood. He's got just one homer and 43 strikeouts through 30 games--his HR/FB has cratered to just 4.1%, while his popup rate has more than doubled. Everything seems to be going wrong...except his batting average. It's low--just .258--but actually better than last year. Thanks to a BABIP over 100 points higher than last year, at .388. When the BABIP goes, the results will be horrifying. Exactly what's wrong with Bruce, I couldn't say, but I can say that he's actually been lucky. Trade him while you can.

Matt Kemp is experiencing a power outage of his own, which I worried about before the season. Probably because of his surgically repaired shoulder, things are actually worse than I expected and it looks like a loss of flyball distance  could be the culprit. His batting average is a mediocre .267, buoyed by a fortuitous .351 BABIP. That could easily drop before his shoulder heals, but it's still early enough to recoup a good return for him.

I mentioned Matt Moore as a trade candidate last week, and I'll just back that up now by pointing out that his 4.08 FIP compares unfavorably with his 1.98 ERA.

Pick Up

Brandon McCarthy's ERA sits at a whopping 7.22, but his FIP is just 4.04. A skilled pitcher, he ought to be able to improve on that FIP, let alone the ERA. His ownership rates are just: Y!: 30%/ESPN: 16.5%/CBS: 28%. If his is owned, he makes a sneaky-smart throw in, in a larger deal.

Hector Santiago (Y!: 2%/ESPN: 0.1%/CBS: 8%) briefly closed for the White Sox last year, but now he'll be moving into the rotation. His first start was successful, and, with Gavin Floyd out, we could be seeing lots of the hard-throwing Santiago in the rotation. Very interesting waiver wire opportunity.

Francisco Liriano (Y!: 5%/ESPN: 0.2%/CBS: 25%) has been mowing down the International League for the Indianapolis Indians on his rehab assignment, but he's should be up with the big club again soon. He's got as much upside--and downside--as anyone on the waiver wire.

Chris Tillman (Y!: 17%/ESPN:  2.3%/CBS: 34%) has rattled off three good starts in a row, making four of six. The mere possibility that he's finally harnessing his talent makes him worth a speculative add.

Nick Hundley (Y!: 8%/ESPN: 5.2%/CBS: 23%) is batting over his head, with a .421 BABIP, but he's got three homers and nine doubles. He's shown some power in limited playing time before, and he could be a very useful stopgap option if you're having trouble at catcher. Unlike most such options, he's got a bit of upside.

Domonic Brown (Y!: 24%/ESPN: 22.5%/CBS: 73%) was a hot pick after his torrid spring, but he saw his ownership rates drop after a relatively slow start. Well, he's got five homers and an average that won't kill you--pick him up unless you have a great outfield. Not that you have that option in CBS leagues....

Just Say No

Scott Feldman is a hot pickup lately, after whiffing 12 Padres in a complete game on May 1. It was a truly dominating performance, but remember, it was against the Padres, and his overall game isn't impressive. Stay away.

Ricky Romero once pitched over his head all season and made an All-Star team. Once he was even a pretty decent pitcher. Last year, he was basically the worst starter in the Majors. Nothing about his return to the bigs indicated otherwise. He'll probably get some pickups based on the familiarity of his name alone, but don't get sucked into that. His best-case scenario is no better than being average-ish, without strikeouts. The downside is that he bombs your ratios for several starts and gets sent back to the minors. Nota good bet.




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