One of the toughest calls for a fantasy baseball owner is determining whether or not a player’s short term performance is a reflection of their true skills or if they’re just on a streak.
Remember Chris Shelton? Fantasy owners everywhere were burned if they bought into him back in 2006 after he hit 10 home runs in April; he went on to hit just six for the rest of the season and when he retired from baseball in 2010 he did so with just 37 career home runs to go with a .273 career average in just 299 major league games.
On the contrary, remember when Jose Bautista emerged? Heading into 2010, he had hit just 59 home runs in 575 major league games. In 2010 he had 16 home runs by the end of May but that wasn’t enough to convince every fantasy owner that he was the real deal (in my long time keeper league he was added and dropped all throughout the season, as soon as he went through a two week cold stretchm he could’ve been found on the waiver wire).
Bautista went on to hit 54 home runs that season and he has hit 169 bombs since the start of 2010, including 17 through 90 games this season.
Two players that fantasy owners have bought into so far in 2014 are Brock Holt of the Boston Red Sox and Marlon Byrd of the Philadelphia Phillies. Can either of these guys sustain their current performances, like Bautista did in 2010? Or are they going to flame out like Shelton did back in 2006?
Time to play some fantasy buy or sell.
Holt has been a Swiss army knife for the Red Sox this season. So far this season he’s made at least one start at first base, third base, right field, left field, center field and shortstop; in ESPN standard leagues he qualifies at third base and outfield.
Entering the All-Star break, Holt is hitting .323 to go with three home runs, 36 runs, 21 RBI and six steals. Among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances, Holt is 45th in baseball with a .353 wOBA and he’s tied for 56th with a 120 wRC+ (meaning he’s created 20 percent more runs than the league average).
When Holt makes contact — which is quite often, his 87.0 percent contact percentage is 30th in baseball — he’s driving the ball, his 26.7 percent line drive percentage is 12th in MLB. Couple those skills with Holt’s above average speed and you’ve got the makings of a pretty good hitter.
That being said, I’m selling Holt if the opportunity presents itself. Even with his excellent line drive rate, his .383 BABIP is almost certain to come down and when it does his batting average should drop right with it. Also, he has a below average 6.6 percent walk percentage so when his average falls I fear he won’t be able to get on base enough to remain an above-average run producer.
Byrd has been one of the few — if not the only — bright spots in the lineup this Phillies season. Heading into the break, the veteran outfielder is hitting .264 to go with 18 home runs, 49 runs and 54 RBI. Byrd is 51st in baseball with a .346 wOBA, 20th with a .218 ISO and like Holt, he has a 120 wRC+.
Unlike Holt though, I believe Byrd can sustain this level of production for the rest of the season. Byrd reconstructed his swing prior to the 2012 season and since he made the adjustment he’s hit 42 home runs in 240 games (a home run in 17.5 percent of his games) after hitting 82 home runs in the first 1,104 games of his 13 year career (a home run in 7.4 percent of his games).
From 2010 through 2012, Byrd had one of the highest groundball rates in baseball. Since the start of 2012 though, he has one of the highest fly-ball rates. Byrd has completely revolutionized his swing and at 36 years old I think we can officially label him as one of the better power hitters in baseball.
Also, Byrd is a must-start anytime he’s facing a left-handed pitcher. His .403 wOBA against lefties is 23rd in baseball, his .296 ISO is 13th and his 159 wRC+ is 25th.
The Phillies will likely be looking to sell high on Byrd this month, as a fantasy owner though I’m holding tight unless the offer is overwhelming.