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Fantasy baseball buy & sell: Add Kevin Kiermaier, Ian Kennedy

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Heath explores the trends in fake baseball.

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It has been “a minute” since our last buy and sell. Time to get back up on that horse, though. When this is done I’m going to finish watching Kikuchi’s start against Minnesota...yikes!

BUY

OF Kevin Kiermaier, Rays (20% owned)

I know there are a ton of outfielders at your fake team’s disposal, but I ask you humbly: How many of them can offer you double-digit steals without sacrificing power? Currently there are 10 outfielders in the MLB with 10+ steals. Of those 10, you aren’t getting any pop from Mallex Smith, Jarrod Dyson, Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, or Delino DeShields (who likely won’t have a job when Gallo returns, anyway). That leaves Christian Yelich (25/14), Starling Marte (10/11), Kiermaier (8/11), Byron Buxton (9/10), and Whit Merrifield (7/10). And honestly, you’re probably starting Merrifield at the keystone, anyway. Kiermaier isn’t as powerful as Buxton, but he walks more and strikes out less. Buxton hits far more fly balls and is a better bet to “out-homer” Kiermaier, but I don’t think there should be such a massive disparity in their ownership rates. There’s always the risk that Kiermaier sacrifices his body to lay out for a amazing defensive play that causes him to get injured...but until that time I am adding him into every fake lineup I have and enjoying the all-around production.

RP Ian Kennedy, Royals (26% owned)

Fantasy baseballers who have lost Scott Oberg (Wade Davis is back) and who are about to lose Pedro Strop (when Kimbrel is ready) should look to Kennedy. Over his last four innings Kennedy has notched three saves, eight strikeouts, zero walks, and allowed only one hit. I don’t think you can afford not to add him if you’re in need of saves help. What looks different this year is a healthy 47.3% ground ball rate, by far the highest of Kennedy’s career and an extreme change for a guy who was formerly an extreme fly ball pitcher. Kennedy has also trimmed his walk rate considerably, down to 3.5% this year (also a career-best). Lastly, his 30.1% strikeout rate is elite and also the highest mark of his career.

One big difference I can see is health—Kennedy suffered through a strained oblique last year that cost him some velocity (he was down to 91 mph on his heater). This year he is back up to a 93.7 mph average on his fastball, which is a career-high. As a result, he is throwing more fastballs—his 65.3% usage on the pitch is a top-5 rate for his 13-year career. His swinging strike rate is up to 10.2% after being mired in the eight and nine percent area for the last three years. There’s enough to “hang your hat on” here. Kennedy could keep this role for some time. Add away and don’t wait too long, as his ownership is up 20% over the last day on Yahoo.

OF Jorge Soler, Royals (39% owned)

I’ve talked up Soler in this space before, to no avail. He’s still too widely available for a guy who has bombed 17 home runs already. That, and you don’t have playing time concerns with Soler as you do with guys like Hunter Renfroe or Joc Pederson. Let’s put it differently—Soler is tied for 10th among outfielders with 17 homers, keeping company with names like Pederson (18), Renfroe (18), Ketel Marte (17), and Max Kepler (16). The big difference is ownership, as even Renfroe is over 50% owned. Compared to Renfroe, Soler has six more runs, one less homer, 12 more RBIs, and two more points on batting average (.244 to .242). Explain this ownership to me!

Just so I’m on the record, I’m buying Austin Riley everywhere if owners are selling. I’ve seen a little chatter recently about selling high. Don’t do that. Yes, there’s a lot of swing-and-miss to his game. But there’s also insane power. I’m betting on Riley to adjust to MLB pitching once they begin adjusting to him. He’s that good. In the words of William Wallace...hold!

Also, Scott Kingery (3B/SS/OF) is another bat I’m adding everywhere I can (if I haven’t already). The playing time is there, and Kingery has low-key been the Phillies’ best hitter in 2019. Not joking.

SELL

2B/3B Jose Ramirez, Indians (97% owned)

It’s time, okay? Stop kidding yourselves. You can’t make the therapeutic drop with a guy you likely drafted in the first round, but I’d be exploring therapeutic trades. Ramirez has essentially been a .200 hitter for nearly a full season’s worth of at-bats now, dating back to the last six weeks or so of 2018. And while his batted ball profile, strikeout rate, and walk rates all still look really solid, what has changed is the authority that he drives the ball with. In his breakout 2017/2018 years, Ramirez was inside the Top 5% of the MLB in wOBA. Now his .263 mark is in the bottom 7% of the league. Additionally, Ramirez is well below average in exit velocity (39th percentile), hard hit rate (13th percentile), xwOBA (37th percentile), xBA (32nd percentile), and xSLG (30th percentile). In fact, according to Statcast data the only metric that Ramirez is above-average in is sprint speed, and just barely—52nd percentile. His instincts on the basepaths are intact, as he’s only been caught twice on 18 attempts. But his 26.0 ft/sec sprint speed is below average. This year’s outlook and the long-term outlook are grim for Ramirez. I’d be selling in every format. Recent one-for-one trades involving Ramirez on Yahoo involved these guys: Joey Gallo, Daniel Murphy, James Paxton, Michael Conforto, Trevor Bauer, and Luke Voit. Getting Gallo for Ramirez right now would be a slam-dunk move, in my opinion.

SS Corey Seager, Dodgers (94% owned)

If people are still into Seager’s name brand, I’d sell him as quickly as possible. For a guy who used to consistently hit the ball harder than all shortstops, he’s just not been right after 2018’s absence due to Tommy John surgery. He’s still young at only 25, but I think this is a guy we can buy into next year after he’s had more time removed from TJ. 2019’s numbers aren’t encouraging, as he is striking out more, barreling the ball less, and mustering a 88.0 mph average exit velocity—down from his career average of 90.2 mph. I’m not saying he’s bad, I’m just saying he’s not himself. And he doesn’t run (especially not after this recent hamstring injury). If you can get anyone to buy Seager while he’s on the shelf over the next few weeks, I’d do it. Today at Yahoo he was traded straight up for Tommy Pham, and packaged with Mike Soroka to bring back Javier Baez and Chase Anderson. Someone also played for the future and returned Austin Riley and Jarred Kelenic in one deal. I like all of those trades.

SP Yusei Kikuchi, Mariners (46% owned)

We can sell off the majority of my pitching staff in TGFBI, honestly. Unfortunately there’s no trading in that format. Anyway, Kikuchi is on a horrible “cold streak.” Here are the lengths of Kikuchi’s three starts heading into Thursday: 3 13, 3 13, and 3 13. Nearly the very definition of futility. So far against the Twins, Kikuchi has worked out of trouble in four of five innings, and he’s over 90 pitches through only five innings. He has a pedestrian 16.6% strikeout rate, which is backed by a well below average 8.1% swinging strike rate (11.1% is average). Kikuchi allows a lot of contact and he doesn’t get hitters to chase, as the poor 24.9% chase rate shows (MLB average is 30.8%). Kikuchi’s 49.8% zone rate would lead the MLB if he qualified, too. In summation: Kikuchi works in the zone more than anyone, hasn’t shown good swing-and-miss stuff, and hitters aren’t chasing anything out of the zone against him. Sounds like a horrible recipe...unless you’re stacking against him in DFS.