Small Ball: Fantasy Baseball Game Theory: Examining Drop Candidates


It might be hard to believe, but we’re closing in on the halfway point of the fantasy baseball season. There are a handful of ways to assess this new reality: 

  1. Wow, that was fast.
  2. Uh oh, there’s only 3.5 months left to make up ground in the standings.
  3. Well, actually, 3.5 months is still a decent amount of time.
  4. Man, this player stinks.
  5. On the other hand, this player has been awesome. Will it continue?
  6. Do I have injury reinforcements on the way?
  7. Should I drop this player? Trade this player? Acquire this player?

There are other thoughts that might be running through your head. And that’s a good thing. We need to constantly assess our team on a weekly (and sometimes even a day-to-day) basis.

The good thing about the halfway point of the fantasy baseball season is we now have pretty large sample sizes to draw from. It doesn’t mean a struggling player won’t turn it around and have a strong second half. We’ve seen plenty of examples of struggling players turning into league-winning assets in July-September. It also doesn’t mean a pleasant surprise (like a Ranger Suárez) won’t turn back into the old (but still solid) Ranger Suárez in the second half.

My goal in this week’s Small Ball article is to assess the fantasy baseball player pool and guide you through some of the tough midseason decisions you might have to make. Some of the questions I’ll address below are:

  1. Which players are near-universal drops?
  2. Which players are league-specific drops?
  3. Which players should you hold?
  4. Who are some targets to buy?
  5. Who are some targets to sell?
  6. How can I maximize these final 3.5 months of the season?

Let’s get started.


Our own Mike Mager writes a great Drops and Disasters series every week here at FTN. While I won’t be stealing his work, I want to piggyback on this conversation, because some of the most popular questions in our Fantasy Baseball Discord are about player drops.

Mike focuses on the premier 15- and 12-team NFBC contests – the Main Event and Online Championship, respectively. I’d like to go deeper than that. Many of you play in home leagues or head-to-head points leagues. In this section, I’ll highlight players you can drop in almost any league/format. I’ll be focusing on players who are rostered in the majority of leagues. You don’t need me to tell you to drop Rowdy Tellez.

Near-Universal Drops

Note: There are certainly some deeper leagues where these players could hold some value. Also, in 15-team NFBC leagues, depending on categorical needs, some of these players still could be worth a roster spot. 


  • Jeff McNeil
  • Keibert Ruiz
  • Spencer Torkelson
  • Wyatt Langford
  • Ke’Bryan Hayes
  • MJ Melendez
  • Andrew Vaughn


  • Chris Paddack
  • Kenta Maeda
  • James Paxton
  • Graham Ashcraft
  • Ryne Nelson
  • Griffin Canning
  • Taijuan Walker

In an effort to keep things brief, here’s a rapid-fire recap.

Hitters: McNeil doesn’t hit for power. He’s not hitting for average either (his only redeeming quality). Same goes for Ruiz. Torkelson is still widely rostered despite being optioned to AAA after a horrendous first half. Just cut your losses and use the roster spot for something else. I’m not banking on the same second-half resurgence he had last season. Langford was a helium draft pick who hasn’t figured it out. I’m not waiting around to see if/when he does. I’ve been burned by Hayes for seemingly three years straight. The moral of the story is: Don’t listen to spring reports about how he’s “retooled his swing.” He’s never going to be an impact bat. Melendez’s only value came when he was catcher eligible. Even if he still was, he’d still likely be a drop. Vaughn isn’t producing on an awful White Sox team. I’m avoiding mostly all White Sox unless you’re in trade discussions or named Tommy Pham (because anyone willing to throw hands on a last-place team will always play hard).

Pitchers: Paddack just gave up another 8 hits as I wrote this article. Maeda is often hurt, can’t strike anyone out and is prone to blowups. Same goes for Paxton and Ashcraft. I don’t care if there’s win equity there. Nelson, for some reason, gets some love around the industry and has put together a few good outings. He’s not long for the Snakes’ rotation and is also allergic to K’s. Canning and Walker are still rostered in some leagues due to name recognition. Don’t bother. They aren’t good pitchers. Let someone else take the bait.

League-Dependent Drops


  • Cal Raleigh
  • Ian Happ
  • Oneil Cruz
  • Jorge Soler
  • Colton Cowser
  • Jackson Chourio
  • Shea Langeliers
  • José Caballero
  • J.D. Martinez*
  • Ceddanne Rafaela
  • Cedric Mullins
  • Will Benson
  • Paul Goldschmidt*

I won’t go through every name individually. This group has value in category leagues where they produce at an above-average to elite level in at least one category (think Caballero for steals). But they are drops in points leagues that penalize for strikeouts. I put an asterisk next to J.D. Martinez’s name because he’s very league-specific. If you roster Martinez (typically a DH-only asset) in a league with just one utility spot, he may hurt your roster flexibility if you already have more consistent players in that spot. Don’t hold Martinez in that case. Lastly, Goldschmidt is on this list because I believe his skills are actually diminishing. There’s also a decent chance you can (or already do) roster a first baseman who is more valuable. It’s a relatively deep position. 


  • Patrick Sandoval
  • Clarke Schmidt*
  • Kyle Harrison
  • Triston McKenzie
  • Aaron Civale
  • Miles Mikolas
  • Cal Quantrill 
  • Carlos Estévez 
  • Jalen Beeks
  • Michael Kopech

Pitchers are pretty self explanatory. The starters above are expendable in most leagues. Deep leagues are the only exceptions. I included Clarke Schmidt as an injury example. If your league has multiple IL spots, I can see holding him. In NFBC formats, he’s a drop, as are most pitchers expected to miss multiple months. The final three names are closers who might have some value in category leagues for saves. But they are risky assets who don’t hold much value otherwise.

Definite Holds

This is where leagues are won or lost. Below are players I believe are “must-holds.” The last thing you want to do is drop one of these players, watch your opponent pick them up and have them cook the final 3.5 months of the season. Don’t let that happen.

KANSAS CITY, MO – AUGUST 14: Seattle Mariners center fielder Julio Rodriguez (44) hits a go ahead RBI single in the ninth inning during a MLB game between the Seattle Mariners and the Kansas City Royals on August 14, 2023, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City


  • Corbin Carroll
  • Josh Bell
  • Nolan Arenado
  • Yainer Díaz 
  • George Springer
  • Nick Castellanos
  • Bo Bichette
  • Gabriel Moreno
  • Randy Arozarena
  • Julio Rodríguez 

Most of these are obvious holds. I drafted this article shortly before Díaz went nuclear last week. But if you’re still on the fence about him, he’s absolutely, positively a hold. I included Arozarena and Rodríguez because in most points leagues, they are near the bottom of the barrel and are actually doing more harm than good to your lineup. I’m still not even thinking about dropping them.

Other players, like Moreno and Springer, have great plate skills that I believe will result in second-half rebounds. Carroll is probably the name that sticks out most on this list. Not only is he a “must-hold,” I believe he’s actually a great target to buy. What a great segue.

But first, here’s a quick list of “must-hold” pitchers.

HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 04: Houston Astros starting pitcher Hunter Brown (58) throws a pitch in the top of the sixth inning during the MLB game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros on October 4, 2022 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)


  • Luis Severino
  • Brandon Pfaadt
  • Zack Littell
  • Reese Olson
  • Chris Bassitt
  • Jesús Luzardo
  • Hunter Brown
  • Tanner Scott
  • Yimi García 

Targets to Buy

OK, back to Corbin Carroll. I doubt anyone has dropped him in your league. If the person who drafted (or kept) Carroll hasn’t dealt him yet, I’m actively trying to acquire the young outfielder.

He’s shown some pretty positive signs of late – notably, putting together a handful of balls hit with exit velocities well over 100 mph. The main reason I view him as a great buy-low is it won’t take too much to acquire him. Most people are still frustrated with Carroll, especially considering the draft capital they used to land him, that they are willing to cut their losses to some extent. They won’t outright drop him, but if you can dangle at least some sort of tantalizing piece (perhaps you can consult my targets to sell list below), you might be able to nab Carroll at a reasonable price.

Even in a worst-case scenario (where Carroll goes back to struggling ROS), as long as you didn’t cough up a major asset, is it really a loss on your end? If anything, it’s much closer to a wash if you part ways with a player who mostly underwhelms anyway. In a perfect world, you end up trading a regressing asset for a player who rediscovers his NL Rookie of the Year form. That’s the type of move that can win you a league, and I believe it’s worth exploring.

Here are some other opportunities on the market that I’m actively looking to buy:

Note: Keep in mind, some of these players also appeared on the “must-hold” list for similar reasons.


  • Matt Olson (if the manager is frustrated)
  • Bo Bichette
  • Yainer Díaz 
  • George Springer
  • Gabriel Moreno
  • Gleyber Torres

Most names appeared on the must-hold list. The others are starting to heat up a bit (like Torres) or proven commodities who have been a bit underwhelming (Olson). If you can buy these players for below market value, I’d do it.


  • Pablo López 
  • Zach Eflin
  • Chris Bassitt
  • Justin Steele
  • Jesús Luzardo
  • Walker Buehler
MESA, AZ – MARCH 08: Chicago Cubs pitcher Justin Steele (35) pitches to the plate during a Spring Training exhibition game against Team Canada at Sloan Park on March 08, 2023 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire)

López still has really good strikeout stuff. He’s had some rocky outings, but I’m not too concerned long-term. Eflin has been injured and his strikeout numbers are down. I still believe he will toss a handful of quality starts in the second half, and he pitches most of his innings in a pitcher-friendly park. I’m a well-known Bassitt lover, and he makes this list because I’ve been in leagues this year where he was outright dropped. If that’s the case, the market is much lower on him than it should be. Steele and Luzardo have been knocked around a bit, so check in on them. Buehler is giving up too many home runs thus far and it isn’t sustainable. I also think it might take him another month or two to really get back into a groove. Again, if the manager is uber-frustrated with him, see if you can leverage that.

Targets to Sell

For the sake of time, I won’t go in depth here. I will just stick with the list formats. Suffice to say, I believe most of these players will come back down to earth in the second half. That, or they won’t provide as much value as most believe they will. Also note that you don’t have to sell these players. Some of them have been awesome, but it’s worth checking in on their helium levels in case someone wants to offer you a tantalizing package in return.


  • David Fry
  • Salvador Pérez 
  • Luis Arráez 
  • Heliot Ramos (“Helium” Ramos)
  • Elly De La Cruz (points leagues only where you are penalized for Ks)
  • Giancarlo Stanton


  • Ranger Suárez (see what the market is like)
  • Luis Gil (value will never be higher)
  • Bryan Woo
  • Seth Lugo
  • Reynaldo López (innings)
  • Jordan Hicks (innings)
  • Jared Jones (check value, innings)
  • Tyler Anderson
  • Erick Fedde

Final Thoughts

As promised, I’ll finish this article with tips on how to maximize the final months of the season. Well, actually I lied. We aren’t quite at that point yet. I’m still a big believer that patience needs to be practiced, even midway through June. We don’t want to seek out mediocre two-start pitchers to make up a gap in strikeouts just yet. While that might help you rise the ladder in K’s, it might equally harm your ratios, making the strategy mostly a wash.

Like I mentioned before, there are many examples of players who were awful the entire first half of the season before turning it on in July, August and September. That doesn’t mean it will happen, but it’s a good lesson that we should remain patient with proven commodities who are “down bad.” 

The one major tip I’ll leave you with is this: If you’re in trade leagues, establish a dialogue with as many managers as possible. And really listen to what they are saying about their players. I’ve discussed psychology in this column many times before. If you can hear the pain in their voice when they talk about a certain underperforming stud, they are probably ripe for a buy-low, sell-high deal. I’m always willing to take a stab at a Corbin Carroll if my opponent is giving him away out of frustration. What’s the worst that could happen?

In category leagues with trades, take a good look at every manager’s roster. If you’re struggling in a category like steals, look at the manager who’s at the top of the leaderboard in steals. Are they struggling in the HR category? Perhaps you have someone like J.D. Martinez who you can’t fit into a utility spot. That would be a great player to offer that manager for, let’s say, José Caballero. They might have Caballero on their bench since they are all set in the SB department.

Martinez for Caballero would typically be an awkward deal. But in this case it helps both parties. That’s a quick-fix type deal for those in category leagues who are looking to make a move halfway through the season.

That’s it for today. As always, check out our Fantasy Baseball Discord where we’re answering all of your questions – including player drops that I didn’t mention above.

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