Anyone can tell you to buy low on the struggling Carl Crawford right now. Rather than point out the obvious buy-low candidates, here are three pitchers and three hitters that I am on board with for the rest of the season.
Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs (RHP)
I was rather critical of Garza’s fantasy potential in 2011, as he was moving from a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s park. Yes, the designated hitter would no longer be a problem (nor would the brutal lineups in the American League East), but his rising flyball rate would be problematic, and he would most certainly miss the excellent outfield defense the Rays provided him the last three seasons.
Oops. He has just two wins, but his ERA is at 3.72 and he has turned around that flyball rate in a big way: his G/L/F splits right now are 48/23/28, and he has given up just one home run in 55 2/3 innings pitched. In addition to the new groundball approach, his strikeout rate has taken a large jump from 6.6 to 11.0 already, and with only a slight uptick in his walk rate. His WHIP is 1.37 thanks to a career-high BABIP of .362 that is being fueled by that 23 percent line drive rate (19 percent career). That will normalize, though, and once that and his 62 percent strand rate improve, you are going to want Garza. Talk up his two wins and his 1.37 WHIP, and see if you cannot sucker one of your league mates into giving up what should be a very good pitcher moving forward.
Travis Wood, Cincinnati Reds (LHP)
Wood got off to a very rough start this season, with a 6.82 ERA and 49 baserunners allowed in 32 innings of work in April. His two biggest black marks were three different starts in which he gave up six or more earned runs, but May has been a different story—he has won his last two starts after going winless in his previous six starts. Wood has three wins, but owns a 5.01 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP that are masking his recent gains.
Overall, his 7.7 strikeout rate, 2.7 walk rate, and 0.9 home rate are all goo d to solid rates in those areas, making Wood another case of good skills being hidden by some early season implosions. I would not hesitate to trade a guy like Charlie Morton to acquire Wood in an NL-Only league, as I see those pitchers heading in opposite direction for the remainder of the season. Home runs may be a problem since he is a flyball pitcher in a cozy park, but Morton’s low K/9 is going to be tough for 5×5 leagues to carry throughout the season and run support in Pittsburgh is tough to rely upon.
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers (RHP)
For most of this week on Twitter and what not, I have been fielding trade questions from people related to trading away Axford and it puzzles me. Forget about the 4.42 ERA and 1.47 WHIP for a second and look at the peripherals: 11.3 strikeout rate, 3.3 strikeout to walk ratio, 0.5 home run rate, and a .267 opponents’ batting average. I will take those skills from a closer all day long while his .373 BABIP and 66 percent strand rate regress to better levels.
Axford had that giant meltdown to start April and another one to start off this month, but has given up a total of four runs in his other 17 outings. His 4.42 ERA looks a lot worse than his 2.26 FIP, and, if I have him, I am keeping him or trying to acquire him from a frustrated owner focused on the bad WHIP and ERA.
Juan Pierre, Chicago White Sox (OF)
Pierre had 138 steals from 2008 to 2010 while playing for both Los Angeles and Chicago, but has just six through his first 189 plate appearances heading into play Thursday night. In fact, Pierre has been thrown out more times than he has been successful in stealing bases. His on base percentage is down to a career low .311, and his line drive rate as well as his BABIP are also at low points.
Last season, Pierre had a 2.6 groundball to flyball ratio, as he hit 59 percent of his balls into the ground. This season, that ratio is at 1.9, as his flyball rate has risen to 29 percent—that is inexcusable for a guy that needs a strong gust of wind to hit one out of the park. Pierre needs to get back to scorching infields up with hard grounders and bunts, and stop hitting flyballs. As he does that, he will be back on base more often and running once again under Guillen’s aggressive style.
Pierre is a big risk in leagues right now, as he is not doing much of anything in any offensive category, but that should also have his value rather suppressed.
Kelly Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks (2B)
Johnson is easily one of the bigger disappointments this season, since he is coming off a 26 home run, 13 steal campaign. To date, he has a horrid slash line of .186/.244/.308 in 156 at-bats with four home runs, 17 runs, and six stolen bases. He is on pace to easily surpass his stolen base total from last season, but everything else is hurting—most of that is Johnson’s own fault.
Last season, he had a 12 percent walk rate and a 25 percent strikeout rate, but those have fallen to seven and 33 percent respectively this season. Additionally, his line drive rate has lived in the 19-26 percent range throughout his career, but currently sits at 14 percent. I am going to bank on a return of his hitting and his power somewhat coming back to form—look for Johnson to go double/double with home runs and steals the rest of the way in 2011.
Nick Swisher, New York Yankees (OF)
Swisher has hit 58 home runs over the past two seasons as a member of the Yankees, and had a very impressive .288/.354/.511 slash line last season that included 91 runs scored and 89 runs batted in. This season, though, he is suffering through a .215/.333/.304 line, and has just eight extra hits in 164 plate appearances, completely out of character for him.
The running joke in the Yankees fan base is announcers being overly critical of the Yankees “relying too much on the homerun,” but Swisher certainly has not been a part of that conversation. He has a career home run to fly ball ratio of 15 percent, but is currently at just five percent this season. This all while he walks even more than he did last year and maintains his historical contact rates.
Swisher has not admitted to any type of injury, so this is another example of an old-fashioned slump. Swisher will break out of it, and has the cozy park to help him to that end. He is not going to hit .280 again, as that was an outlier based on BABIP issues, but he could hit .260 and hit 17-20 home runs the rest of the way.