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Friday Five: First Half Busts - Buy Low?

Though the All-Star break is still over two weeks away, we’ve just about hit the halfway point of the 2018 season. At this point, your league’s situation – and your place in it – has begun to take shape. There’s still time to turn things around, but if you’re staring up at a bunch of rivals in the standings, your margin for error is already thin and getting thinner.

Whether you’re making decisions about a player on your own roster or eyeing a potential trade target, one way to put yourself back in the race is to correctly assess the rest-of-season outlooks of players who underperformed over the first three months. To that end, today’s column focuses on five first-half busts and ponders if they can turn their fortunes around – and with them, your fantasy championship hopes.

Let’s hit it.

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Buy Low or No?

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

Donaldson aggravated his calf strain while fielding grounders at the Jays’ spring training facility and now isn’t expected back with the club until the end of July. It’s his second stint on the disabled list this year. He’s played just 36 games, and they haven’t been good; Donaldson’s 2018 line stands at .234/.333/.423. He’s hitting fewer fly balls, and fewer of them are leaving the yard. That’s when he actually makes contact, which he’s doing at a career-worst frequency. It’s obvious that the veteran hasn’t been 100% healthy at any point in 2018, and this latest setback calls into serious question whether he ever will be. Optimistic owners might point toward his second half recovery last season, and there’s no denying Donaldson’s talent and track record. But he wasn’t nearly as bad in 2017’s first half as he has been so far this time around.

Confidence level (1 – 10): 5

 

Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles

Schoop’s breakout last season had him drawing favorable comparisons to longtime fantasy stalwart Robinson Cano. Cano’s had his own problems this year, but at least he was producing before his injury/suspension double whammy. Schoop has been straight awful all season. His Statcast metrics are way down across the board, and it’s hard not to wonder if he came back too quickly from an early-season oblique strain. That sort of injury tends to linger, and it would certainly provide a plausible explanation for Schoop’s inability to barrel up the ball in 2018. A lackluster plate approach and an awful team around him make it tough to advocate for buying the hope a second-half surge.

Confidence level: 3

 

Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds

It should surprise no one that Hamilton has continued to be one of the worst hitters among the league’s everyday players. What is shocking is that he has just 16 stolen bases in 19 attempts as we come to the end of June. Based on his career numbers entering the year (81 attempts per 600 plate appearances) we’d expect him to have essentially doubled his actual output by now. Fantasy owners who made him a top-100 pick this spring sure did, because there is legitimately no other reason to own Hamilton. Six of those steals have come in the last two weeks, though, and given no indication of injury, it’s hard to fathom the Hamburglar remaining inert on the base paths. We’ve seen him rack up steals in bunches plenty of times before, and despite his perpetual ineffectiveness as a hitter, he’s pacing toward 80+ runs for the second year in a row. You’ll get nothing in the other cats, but Hamilton is a great buy-low target if your needs line up.

Confidence level: 7

 

Dallas Keuchel, SP, Houston Astros

The defending champions have predictably been outstanding again in 2018, and one of the major reasons why is the performance of their starting rotation. It wasn’t so long ago that Keuchel was the ace of their staff, but he’s now the weak link. Most teams would kill for their worst starter to sport a 4.22 ERA, but after posting sub-3.00 marks in three of the last four seasons, Keuchel’s performance certainly qualifies as a disappointment. Fortunately, his peripherals aren’t far off his career averages, and it’s reasonable given the quality of the team backing him up to expect better than a 4-8 record going forward. Keuchel’s recent Jekyll and Hyde routine (ER in last five starts: 7, 5, 0, 0, 6) could create a discount buying opportunity.

Confidence level: 8

 

Jon Gray, SP, Colorado Rockies

Gray’s outing on Thursday night was a microcosm of his 2018 season. In four innings, he piled up seven strikeouts, but also allowed nine baserunners, five of whom crossed home plate…and this was against the middling Giants lineup at AT&T Park. Overall, he’s whiffed 119 batters in 92 innings, placing him in the top five qualified starters in baseball in K/9. Despite reasonable walk and home run rates, however, his ratios are disastrous (5.77 ERA, 1.49 WHIP). A sky-high BABIP and low strand rate would normally buy a guy some benefit of the doubt, but these have been hallmarks of Gray’s career so far. It would be great to see what he could do freed from the shackles of pitching half his games at Coors Field, but the Rockies aren’t likely to oblige anytime soon. Things should get better for Gray moving forward, but how long have we been saying that?

Confidence level: 4

 

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