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Drops & Disasters: Fantasy Baseball Roster Moves (5/12)

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As we head into the middle of May, fantasy league standings are starting to solidify. Wild, daily swings in standings still occur but are becoming less common. At this time, fantasy managers should be aware of categorical weaknesses, even if there are different philosophies as to how quickly or aggressively they may need to be addressed. With the season roughly a quarter complete, it is becoming increasingly difficult to shrug off underperforming players due to  slumps or bad luck. Without question, there is plenty of baseball left to be played, and many underperforming players will improve and finish with respectable – or even strong – season stats.

On the other hand, the die has been cast for some players, and the trick is to not allow them to tank our teams while continuing to underperform. League titles, and maybe overall championships, will be determined based on how well managers decide which underperformers should be held or dropped in FAAB. For tougher decisions, I sometimes use my bench as an on-deck circle for potential drops. For instance, an underperforming player may have done enough damage to my team stats that he no longer can be trusted to start absent improved performance, but I am not ready to drop him and risk one of my competitors benefiting from a fantasy resurgence. If, after a few more weeks, the underperforming player has not rebounded, dropping him (from my bench) feels much easier. Of course, thanks to a never-ending wave of injuries, the luxury of benching – but retaining – an underperformer simply does not exist for some teams. In deciding whether to drop certain players, managers may want to consult my introductory article, where I discuss many of the factors that should be considered in evaluating potential drops.

The criticality of determining which underperforming players to hold and which ones to drop highlights an overlooked aspect of the FAAB process: the critical evaluation of one’s own players. For instance, in doing FAAB each weekend, many managers conduct “deep dives” into prospective targets. In addition to players’ MLB statistics, dedicated managers will review, among other things, MiLB statistics, underlying metrics across multiple levels, Statcast data and upcoming schedules in search of favorable matchups and/or playing time edges to exploit. Thus, managers will spend a lot of time studying players who they may or may not ultimately want or be able to acquire in FAAB. But, in contrast, they often neglect to conduct similar deep dives on their own players before making drop decisions. In this, I speak from experience; in prior years, I routinely conducted much more thorough evaluations of potential targets than potential drops. Examined objectively, this is a poor process. There typically are far fewer potential drops to analyze than potential targets. Moreover, while spending hours examining potential targets guarantees managers nothing (because they often are competing with many other managers for the same players), managers are in complete control over their own drops and are able to retain any rostered player they so choose.

One reason why managers may fail to adequately evaluate their potential drops is a false sense that they “know” how each of their own players is doing. If, however, managers are relying solely on daily or weekly stats to evaluate their own players, they may not realize that a player is (i) slowly gaining (or losing) playing time, (ii) hitting (or pitching) with increased (or decreased) velocity, (iii) experiencing a stretch of lucky (or unlucky) BABIP, etc. Recognizing that all managers work on FAAB within their own time constraints, the recommendation here is to prioritize inclusion of a thorough evaluation of potential drops. Simply put, the best way to minimize regrettable drops is to analyze them before finalizing FAAB strings. Importantly, such evaluations often can be completed prior to Sunday, without the pressure of an impending deadline.

Some of the players who should at least be considered as potential drops this week are set forth below in the following two tables – the first includes hitters and the second includes pitchers. In addition to the player’s name, team and position, the tables include the player’s ownership percentage in the premier 15- and 12-team contests: the NFBC’s Main Event and Online Championship, respectively. Finally, the tables list my rankings as to how strongly – or not – I feel each particular player should be dropped in those 15-team and 12-team formats, respectively. The key to these rankings, from 0-4, is as follows:

  • 0 = Do not drop
  • 1 = Team context dependent; probably should not be dropped on most teams
  • 2 = Team context dependent; compelling arguments to drop and not drop
  • 3 = Team context dependent; probably should be dropped on most teams
  • 4 = Drop

Potential Hitter Drops

Name Team Position Roster% (15tm) 15tm Drop? Roster% (12tm) 12tm Drop?
Willson Contreras STL C 100% 3.5 100% 4
Parker Meadows DET OF 21% 4 14% 4
Wyatt Langford TEX OF 98% 0 87% 1
Pete Crow-Armstrong CHC OF 97% 2 34% 3.5
Paul Goldschmidt STL 1B 100% 0.5 100% 1
Brandon Drury LAA 1B/2B 91% 2 69% 3
Jorge Polanco SEA 2B 100% 1 95% 2
Tyler Black MIL 3B 100% 2.5 90% 3.5
Tim Anderson MIA SS 67% 3.5 13% 4
Harrison Bader NYM OF 95% 1.5 35% 3
Tommy Edman STL 2B/SS/OF 91% 1.5 69% 2.5
Alejandro Kirk TOR C 63% 3 40% 3.5

Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras suffered a broken arm on a J.D. Martinez swing that was painful to watch. After an initial recovery time estimate of 6-8 weeks, that timeframe was extended to 10 weeks. The elder Contreras was having an excellent season, with 6 HR, 32 R+RBI, 2 SB and a .280 AVG in 31 games. Replacing someone as good as Contreras in two-catcher formats is really challenging and virtually impossible to do without a noticeable drop in production, especially in 15-team leagues. Thus, managers may be tempted to try to wait out Contreras’ recovery and stash him. Given the 10-week timeframe, however, I think that would be a mistake in most cases. Even if his recovery goes well, Contreras probably is out until early-August. That is a really long time to manage a team with reduced flexibility, not to mention all those FAAB Sundays with one less player who could be added.

Another popular player hitting the IL this week was the Rangers’ Wyatt Langford, who injured his hamstring last Sunday. The following day, Texas placed Langford on the IL with an anticipated 3–4-week recovery time. Given the relatively limited duration of that recovery period, Langford should be a hold in all formats. Yes, Langford’s production to date has been underwhelming, to put it mildly. Fantasy managers chasing Langford up draft boards surely were expecting more than 1 HR, 1 SB and a .224 AVG at this point in the season. Managers are reminded, however, that: (1) this is Langford’s first stint in MLB; (2) he’s only 22 years old; (3) Langford was one of the most highly regarded college hitters in a long time, and he was the fourth overall pick in the June 2023 amateur draft (thus, he’s had only very limited experience in professional baseball); (4) the Rangers appear committed to him, giving him a full-time role out of spring training; and (5) Texas has a strong lineup and when Langford gets going, he should be capable of posting strong numbers. To some extent, the discontent with Langford’s performance probably can be attributed to managers over-drafting him. In the Draft Champions format, for the period Oct. 1, 2023, through Feb. 29, 2024, Langford had an ADP of 159.6. (11th round). By mid-March, Langford was experiencing “draft helium” and had a Main Event ADP of 72.56 (fifth round), with a minimum pick as low as 48 (early fourth round). Managers expecting a dominant offensive force from Day 1 surely are disappointed, but I think Langford’s skills and upside places him above any “drop line” in 15- and 12-team formats. He would be a target for me in any league where he becomes available.

Parker Meadows was demoted by the Tigers this past week, a move that should not have surprised any fantasy manager still rostering him. Meadows has been bad all season. While he homered twice and swiped three bags, Meadows was hitting a horrific .096 with a strikeout rate approaching 38%. Meadows’ .128 BABIP would suggest that he was unlucky – and maybe he was – but he also was hitting virtually everything softly into the air, a profile that practically guarantees low BABIPs and averages. Meadows’ fly-ball rate went from 42% in 2023 to 75% this season with a miniscule 2% line drive rate. His exit velocity also plummeted from 89.3 mph to 84.6 mph. Diving into Meadows reveals a player in need of major adjustments who seems unlikely to be recalled quickly by the Tigers or achieve success were that to occur. Let me help anyone still on the fence about Meadows – he’s a drop in all formats.

Following injuries to two of the Cubs’ starting outfielders – Cody Bellinger and Seiya Suzuki – Chicago promoted Pete Crow-Armstrong to man center field. Crow-Armstrong has some pop and speed, but his carrying skill really is his glove. Thus far, Crow-Armstrong has performed decently (1 HR, 3 SB in 17 games with a .227 average) and does not appear overmatched (18% K rate; last season, he had a 36.8% K rate in a brief 13-game stint). His prospects moving forward, however, appear limited in the near-term, and a demotion could come soon. Over the last few days, Bellinger and Suzuki were activated off the IL and, with Ian Happ, the Cubs now have their starting outfield back, as well as Mike Tauchman, an experienced and serviceable fourth outfielder. Thus, Crow-Armstrong’s days of regular playing time likely are coming to an end (he did not start on Saturday). Managers believing in Crow-Armstrong and/or pessimistic that the Cubs outfielders will remain healthy may want to hold for now but, if needing a roster spot, managers should consider getting ahead of the curve and dropping Crow-Armstrong now.

Now, let’s turn to a trio of veteran underperformers. I find this category of players to represent some of the toughest hold-versus-drop decisions. Such players have a track record that suggests they should be much better, but Father Time is undefeated, and some players’ skills deteriorate faster than others.

The first such player I want to discuss is perennial all-star, Paul Goldschmidt. In 2021, Goldschmidt posted a fantastic stat line (31/102/99/12/.294). While many expected some age-related decline, Goldschmidt followed-up his strong 2021 by winning the 2022 NL MVP award at age 35 with an even better season (35/106/115/7/.317). Last season, Goldschmidt predictably took a step back but still was quite serviceable (25/89/80/11/.268). Even accounting for continued age-related deterioration, no one could reasonably have predicted that Goldschmidt would be a shell of his former self (thus far, 2/16/11/1/.190 in 161 plate appearances). When I look under the hood, there is little to like about Goldschmidt’s performance this season. He is walking less than usual, and his strikeout rate has spiked to almost 32%, well above his career-average rate of 22.5%. Throughout his career, Goldschmidt’s HR/FB rate has ranged from 14.2% to 24.8% except for the 2020 season shortened due to COVID-19 (when it was 10.7%); this season, it is 6.3%. Goldschmidt simply is hitting the ball with less authority; his 4.3% Barrel% is barely a third of what it was last season, and in addition to his 2 home runs, he only has 3 doubles. Right now, he is tough to roster; indeed, his single last night was his first base hit of the month. Part of me simply cannot believe that Goldschmidt can be so bad, but I have him on a big team and have the statistical damage to prove it. For now, I think Goldschmidt is a hold – the track record is too strong, and historically he has tended to get off to comparatively slower starts – but I also recommend that fantasy managers consider benching him if they are able to do so, at least until he shows some signs of life. Managers rostering Goldschmidt also may want to start thinking about potential alternatives, if necessary (for instance, being a little more aggressive on Kyle Manzardo bids this weekend).

The other veteran underperformers I want to discuss are Brandon Drury and Jorge Polanco. Drury is coming off two remarkably similar seasons – in 2022, Drury had 28 HR, 87 RBI and hit .263; last season, he had 26 HR, 83 RBI and hit .262. Fantasy managers expecting more of the same surely have to be disappointed. Going into today’s games, Drury has 1 HR, 6 RBI and is hitting .173 through 113 plate appearances. On Thursday, Drury was placed on the IL with a hamstring injury, but news reports do not suggest it will be a lengthy absence. Based on Drury’s recent track record, there’s a case to be made for patience and that improved performance will occur. Dual-eligibility at first and second base also makes Drury an attractive fantasy asset (when he hits). On the other hand, Drury: (a) does not have a great health record; (b) his 2022-2023 seasons were by far his career bests; (c) he will be turning 32 later this season; and (d) the Angels are likely to be a below-average hitting team the rest of the way, especially without Mike Trout. Analyzing Drury more deeply raises an additional, serious concern. Drury’s launch angle, which averaged almost 11 degrees throughout his career, has collapsed to 1.1 degree thus far this season. Consequently, Drury is hitting everything on the ground, and his ground-ball rate has increased from a career average of 45.6% to 59%. Drury’s BABIP has been unlucky (.207 compared to a career-average BABIP of .292), and so I would expect some batting average rebound as his BABIP normalizes. That noted, managers needing the roster spot can safely drop Drury without fear of missing a huge rebound (which will require a major swing path adjustment on his part).

Unlike Drury, Polanco currently is healthy (insofar as we know), but his performance has been equally disappointing. Polanco has 5 home runs but is hitting .186 with a 31.7% strikeout rate (compared to his career average of 18.8%). In his case, I recommend patience and holding him where possible. I anticipate that the Mariners offense, which is off to a dreadful start, will improve, and Polanco will come around. He continues to see the ball well (12.4% BB%), and is not swinging at a lot of bad pitches (28.3% O-Swing%). Polanco is still hitting the ball in the air, and his hard-hit rate, while modestly lower than last season’s rate, is right around his performance level in 2021-2022. In Polanco’s case, this feels more like a slump or slow start to the season than a long-term decline in performance. I definitely could be wrong in that assessment, but I think Polanco’s skill level and historic performance warrant a little longer leash.

Finally, Tyler Black is a great example of the “sunk cost fallacy” concept that I discussed last week. As a reminder, that fallacy describes the phenomenon where a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial. In the case of Black, many fantasy managers rostered him last weekend, and paid a pretty penny to do so, only to see the Brewers demote Black just a few days later. Black played in only seven games, and while he had two stolen bases, that was about all he did. Black still has a bright future, but right now he is in the minors and will need an injury or extended period of poor performance by one of the Brewers infielders to return. Thus, managers rostering Black may be looking at an extended wait until he becomes usable again, and there remains a question as to how well he will perform in the majors this year, if and when recalled. As painful as it might be, I think Black is a drop in 12-team formats. In 15-team formats, I would be inclined to drop him on teams needing the roster flexibility and/or prioritizing near-term reinforcements.

Potential Pitcher Drops

Name Team Position Roster% (15tm) 15tm Drop? Roster% (12tm) 12tm Drop?
Kenta Maeda DET SP 100% 3 74% 4
Edward Cabrera MIA SP 100% 3.5 91% 4
Kevin Ginkel ARI RP 93% 3 80% 4
Miles Mikolas STL SP 72% 3.5 10% 4
Gavin Williams CLE SP 79% 2 43% 2.5
Joel Payamps MIL RP 98% 1 84% 1.5
Keaton Winn SF SP 98% 2.5 70% 3.5
Jake Irvin WAS SP 75% 2.5 10% 4
Tyler Alexander TB SP 33% 3 1% 4
Spencer Turnbull PHI SP/RP 95% 2 89% 2.5

After seven starts, fantasy managers must be wondering what the heck has happened to Kenta Maeda. Following this week’s disaster start with seven earned runs in just two innings, Maeda’s ERA and WHIP are up to 6.75 and 1.40, respectively, which easily would represent career worsts. It was Maeda’s third disastrous start of the season (lasting only 2.0 to 3.1 innings and allowing 5-7 earned runs). Maeda is still owned in all Main Event leagues and about three-quarters of Online Championship leagues. At this point, it is difficult to recommend that managers hold Maeda. Yesterday, the Tigers may have made managers’ decisions easier – Maeda was placed on the 15-day IL with a viral illness. Even if his return as soon as allowed is likely, his performance to date does not warrant even a two-week stash. Maeda has lost a tick off his (already below league-average) fastball and, while possibly unrelated, his strikeout rate has plummeted, from 27.3% last year to 17.2% this season. Maeda is giving up less hard contact, but a lot more barrels, and currently is allowing 2.64 HR/9. Can Maeda improve? Sure, but will he? Or, more importantly, how likely is it that Maeda improves materially? He has a track record of solid performance but recently turned 36 years old. I think Maeda’s downside outweighs his upside right now.

Edward Cabrera was put on the IL this week with a right shoulder impingement. It is the same injury that cost Cabrera time earlier this season, and there currently is no clear timeline as to when he will return. Cabrera has tantalizing stuff, but I think it’s time for fantasy managers to move on, barring some late news that his recovery time will be limited. Cabrera has a lengthy injury history, and something clearly is not right with his shoulder. Moreover, while a strikeout rate over 30% this season normally would be worth trying to hold onto, the story is not that easy here. Cabrera combines a high strikeout rate with a very high walk rate (14.4% so far this season), which has contributed to a 1.36 WHIP over the course of his career. Through five starts, and despite 31 strikeouts in just over 21 innings, Cabrera sports a 7.17 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP. The Marlins have a pitcher-friendly home park but are a terrible team. Some have speculated that Cabrera may be traded at some point this season, but that is not a compelling reason for managers to hold him indefinitely; besides, I am skeptical that the Marlins can extract anything of value for Cabrera before he demonstrates better health and performance (in other words, they would be selling low now). Put simply, despite occasionally gaudy strikeout numbers, Cabrera is not a particularly good pitcher at this time, his team context is terrible and he is on his second IL stint of the season related to his pitching shoulder. To me, he is not worth holding in either 12- or 15-team contexts.

As expected, with Paul Sewald back from injuries, the Diamondbacks have moved Kevin Ginkel back into his traditional set-up role. Fantasy managers can argue all day as to whether Sewald is better than Ginkel (a close call; I like Ginkel’s skills a little better), but what matters here is that Arizona prefers Sewald as closer. Sure, Ginkel may get an occasional save opportunity when Sewald needs a rest day, but if needing saves, this no longer seems like a good place to speculate. From 2021-2023, Sewald was very durable, making at least 62 appearances each season. If you want a reliever who will provide good ratios and the occasional win or save, Ginkel is a fine option, but I would not hold him waiting on a Sewald injury or change in roles.

The case for owning Miles Mikolas used to be clearer. Lacking amazing stuff, Mikolas is durable and typically has excellent control. Fantasy managers willing to forego a high strikeout arm would roster Mikolas for wins and a strong WHIP, as well as the hope for a league-average or better ERA. Mikolas still has excellent control, but the value proposition has changed. Mikolas’ stuff now is so hittable, and the Cardinals are playing so poorly, that it is difficult to discern a path whereby Mikolas can help fantasy teams. Thus far, through 8 starts, Mikolas has a 6.43 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP, with only 2 wins and 32 strikeouts through 42 innings. Compared to most starting pitchers, Mikolas is actively hurting fantasy teams in all four of the categories he can impact. As Mikolas closes in on 36 years of age, it is difficult to see a major turnaround coming this (or any future) season. While I can almost understand managers in 15-team formats electing to hold Mikolas for certain select matchups, at this point I would rather start a skilled middle reliever than trust my ratios to another start by Mikolas.

Earlier this week, the Guardians moved Gavin Williams from the 15-day IL to the 60-day IL. I want to emphasize here that such designation should not impact fantasy managers’ actions with respect to Williams. In spring training, Williams reported elbow pain from throwing a heavy ball. The Guardians shut him down and then, when Williams resumed throwing, he experienced renewed pain and was shut down again. Williams now is throwing and, if all goes well, he should be ready for MLB action in about four weeks. Changing Williams’ IL designation gained a roster spot for the Guardians while having no real impact on his recovery period. The case for Williams is that he was a high-level prospect and solid in 16 starts (3 wins, 81 strikeouts in 82 innings, 3.29 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) in his rookie debut in 2023. Many managers, including me, expected an even higher level of performance from Williams this season. The case against Williams is that it is difficult to hold a pitcher – or any player – for another month, and there are no guarantees he won’t have another setback or perform disappointingly. I think whether a manager should hold Williams is team dependent; if a team has the roster flexibility and could use a starting pitcher that should be better skilled than the vast majority of starters available in FAAB, Williams could be worth stashing. Managers without such roster flexibility and/or lacking confidence in Williams’ health or future performance should drop him. Importantly, I do not think the change in Williams’ IL designation really impacts this decision, other than to eliminate the unlikely scenario of a return to action before early June.

Joel Payamps of the Brewers went on bereavement leave this week. Based on recent usage, it seems that Trevor Megill gradually is wrestling the closer role away from Payamps, at least until Devin Williams returns. While that might be the case, I would not rush to drop Payamps, at least just yet. Megill is not an experienced closer, nor is he viewed as the Brewers’ long-term option. Thus, upon Payamps’ return, the Brewers easily could go back into a job-share at closer. Payamps possesses solid skills, and it seems premature to give up on him right now. Managers rostering Payamps should monitor his usage upon return; if it looks like Megill is going to get the lion’s share of future save opportunities, then it would be time to drop Payamps.

Finally, I am including Jake Irvin on the potential drop list through no fault of his own. Irvin is an example of the need to constantly evaluate your own team. I think of Irvin as a marginal starting pitcher, on a bad team, who is performing really well this season. While Irvin only has 2 wins in 8 starts and a mediocre 19.6% strikeout rate, he’s a gamer who has provided unexpectedly strong ratios thus far this season (3.55 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). Unfortunately for Irvin’s fantasy managers, his upcoming schedule looks brutal. Over the next four weeks, he is lined up to pitch: at PHI, v MIN, at ATL, v NYM and v ATL. If managers really believe in Irvin, they could chance some or all of those starts. To me, it feels like a good time to cash in your winnings, free up a roster space and maybe try to reacquire Irvin in a few weeks.

Potential Disaster Starts

Set forth in the table below are starting pitchers I believe have real disaster potential for the coming week. In order to make this section of the column as actionable as possible, pitchers who are sparsely rostered have been excluded. Instead, I am going to challenge myself by focusing solely on pitchers who are at least 90% rostered in the Main Event or at least 60% rostered in the Online Championship. The pitchers are ranked from 1 to 10 for disaster potential in the coming week, with the highest numbers reflecting pitchers I am highly unlikely to start and who strike me as the biggest potential disasters.

Pitcher Team Matchup #1 Matchup # 2 Disaster Level Notes
Javier Assad CHC @ ATL 7.5 I don’t fully understand Assad’s success, but predicting it ends here
Graham Ashcraft CIN @ ARI @ LAD 8 Escapes Great American Ballpark but gets a two-step against very good lineups
Tyler Anderson LAA @ TEX 6 He’s been better than expected, but I do not like this matchup for him
Keaton Winn SF v LAD 9 After fantastic start, has struggled in last two; this one could get him sent down
Chris Bassitt TOR @ BAL 5.5 Hate the matchup, but I’ve struggled to call Bassitt’s gems and duds; feels like a dud coming
Mitch Keller PIT @ MIL @ CHC 6.5 Keller is solid, but two tough road starts and little run support makes me nervous here

Looking backwards, even with Michael King pitching the game of his life against the Dodgers on Friday night, this was one of my best weeks picking potential disaster starts. With two starts left to go for the week, my selections have zero wins in eight starts, an ERA north of 4.50 and a WHIP approaching 1.40. In the interests of accountability, set forth below are the results of my “Disaster” picks thus far. Week 7 shows results through yesterday’s games and will be updated next week.

Week IP H+BB ER Wins Strikeouts ERA WHIP
Week 2 55.2 (11 GS) 69 28 2 60 4.53 1.24
Week 3 33.0 (8 GS) 55 14 2 30 3.82 1.67
Week 4 40.0 (8 GS) 55 21 3 36 4.73 1.38
Week 5 36.0 (6 GS) 32 11 2 38 2.75 0.89
Week 6 46.2 (8 GS) 56 19 4 34 3.66 1.20
Week 7 41.2 (8 GS) 58 21 0 37 4.54 1.39
Season Totals 253.0 (49 GS) 325 114 13 235 4.06 1.28
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