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The Week That Was: “Selling High on Cueto”

The case for selling high on Johnny Cueto highlights this week’s Week That Was: 

Johnny CuetoJohnny Cueto was great again Thursday, throwing a complete game shutout while allowing just three hits while striking out eight. Let’s give credit where credit is due.  His numbers are just ridiculous: 1.25 ERA, 76K in 72 IP with a 0.71 WHIP.  Should you ride this horse all the way to fantasy nirvana and first place at the finish line?  No.  Yup, you read that correctly – the answer is no.  Of course, we are all rooting for Cueto to stay healthy and continue his magical season (especially my unabashed Reds fan colleagues Doug Dennis and Jeff Erickson).  However, the reality is that Cueto is on pace for about 230-240 innings and is simply unlikely to accomplish that feat.  In the last six years, Cueto has pitched 200+ innings only once and 175+ innings only twice.  Thus, the odds are that the hard throwing diminutive righty is likely to miss some time and/or wear down somewhere along the line.  Add in the fact that a crazy low .170 BABIP and crazy high 93% strand rate say some degree of correction is coming and you have a poster child for selling high.  Will Cueto be good when he is on the bump?  Yes.  Will he be this good?  Probably not.  If you can get a more reliable 200+ innings guy for Cueto (read Cliff Lee type) or a major bopper, do it.  You have already banked substantial profit on Johnny so why bear the substantial risk going forward? 

Tommy Milone:  Tommy Milone stayed true to form this week, giving the A’s a quality start at home – 6 IP, 5H, 1ER, 1BB, 4K.  Last week, we told you all you need to know about Milone.  His start this week is just further support for same:  “Tommy Milone repaid his manager’s faith by tossing eight scoreless innings while giving up just two hits and striking out seven against Drew Phelps’s Nationals Friday.  Many believe that the A’s should have replaced Milone with Pomeranz and left Straily in the rotation.  I am not one of them.  In real baseball, Milone is solid innings eater who is really good at home.  In fantasy baseball (the reason many of you are reading this), Milone is the classic streaming option.  WHIP at home last three years:  1.00; 1.26; 1.05 v. 1.57; 1.28; 1.52 on the road.  ERA at home last three years: 1.93; 3.44; 2.74 v. 6.23; 4.69; 4.83 on the road.  These stats and trends are so powerful they cannot be ignored.  Start him at home this week against the ChiSox.  Fantasy managers SMART enough to stream Milone at the back end of their rotation this spring and summer will be smiling come October.”  Got it?

Drew HutchisonDrew Hutchison was great last night hurling a complete game six hit shutout while striking out six Rangers.  Some may not be convinced that Hutch (even without Starsky) is the real deal.  Thus far this year, he sports a solid 3.64 ERA and 1.16 WHIP and is averaging just over one strikeout per inning.  In this writer’s view, these numbers are real.  His velocity is up 1mph over his pre TJS season of 2012 and his swinging strike rate of over 11% shows he does have swing and miss stuff.  Yes, he pitches in the AL East.  Yes, he pitches in a home park that is nothing short of a launching pad.  And yes, he is likely to have his innings limited especially, if as expected the Jays fall out of the race.  However, if he can be had at any kind of reasonable price, Hutch will return a handsome profit before being shut down.  Of course, those in a keeper league have even more motivation to go git em. 

Chad Qualls:  According to reports, Houston manager Bo Porter has named Chad Qualls the closer.  Yes, I know that it has been a carousel in the 9th on a team that gets fewer wins than most of their competitors.  However, I still think Chad represents a buying opportunity.  First, there is no serious competition as Josh Fields has been bad, Anthony Bass is out a few weeks and the “Jessie Crain” is almost ready rumor seems is just that – a rumor.  Oh, as to Qualls himself, he has actually been better than many say.  He has 15K and just 3 BB in 12.7 IP this year.  Yes, the WHIP of 1.66 is bad.  However, take out the 5 base runners in 1/3 of an inning against Oakland a month ago and that WHIP plummets.  Moreover, given that he is throwing 93 on average, his GB/FB is a stellar 4.40 and his BABIP is a dramatically unlucky .451, there is every reason to think that Qualls can pitch well and hold the job.  Oh, and as Schultzie will surely remember, closers on bad teams still get saves.  See Jones, Doug and the 1988 Indians.

Trevor Bauer:  Trevor Bauer is in. Danny Salazar is out.  Bauer will start on Tuesday against the Tigers while Salazar will take his raw talents to Columbus.  Does this change present fantasy opportunity?  Yes, Bauer has a 4-1 record with a 2.35 ERA and a 44/14 K/BB rate in 46 innings at AAA to go with his 6 inning start in the bigs where he gave up just one run while mowing down 8.  [While I do think Bauer will be a positive add overall, I would exercise restraint and avoid exposing your ratios to his results this week vs. a rejuvenated Miguel Cabrera, red hot Victor Martinez and the Tiger crew].  As to Salazar, there is a fantasy lesson that bears repeating.  Rick Wolf and I annually publish our Rules of Engagement which make it clear that one should not pay full value for a guy without a track record.  Danny Salazar went for as much as much as stalwarts such as James Shields and Jon Lester in many drafts despite having never thrown more than 100 innings in a season EVER.  Yes, ever.  The Rules of Engagement exist for your safety and the safety of your fantasy team.  Violate them at your own peril. Those who did so by paying full price for Salazar hopefully will not make that mistake again in 2015.

Zach Britton:  The closer carousel spun in Baltimore Thursday as Zach Britton notched his first save of 2014.  Will Britton become the O’s closer and hold the job for a long time?  I just cannot see it.  I concede that the .8 ERA and .8 WHIPs are pretty.  However, the 6K per 9 does not turn me on and the 94% strand rate and .187 BABIP say Zach has been pretty darn lucky.  All that said, the main reason I do not see Britton becoming closer is I see Tommy Hunter reclaiming the job.  Yes, he ran into a bad streak by blowing two saves in a row and giving up runs in four straight games.  However, Hunter saved 11 out of 12 before that bad streak, has an average fastball velocity of almost 96MPH, has been victimized by a severely bloated .414 BABIP and oddly, righties are hitting .380+ against him as opposed to the .141 they hit last year.  I blame bad luck for a lot of that.  I am buying low on Hunter and now you know why.

David Murphy After my good friend and fantasy baseball expert Jeff Erickson tweeted out that Rick Wolf and I are currently winning AL Tout Wars because of games like David Murphy had this week, I just had to write about him in TWTW (note that I typed that sentence with my toes crossed to ward off evil spirits).  Not only has Murphy been on fire lately, he has been strong all year long.  As of today, Murphy’s full year numbers are as follows:  .279, 3HR, 16R, 25RBI and 3HR with an OBP of .352.  Can he keep this up?  Heck yeah.  Careful observers looking at his .220 average of a year ago would have also noticed that he hit double digit dingers for the 6th year in a row and that the low average was a fluke.  Murphy posted a BABIP 109 points lower than 2012 and 77 points below his career average despite striking out less in 2013 than he had in ANY of his prior major league seasons.  The signs of rebound were there for those who looked carefully.  Lesson learned?

And last and but not least, this from the Baron of the Bottom of the Page.  Schultz says:  “Mid-May is usually the time of year when the standings of most leagues stop fluctuating wildly on a daily basis, giving the perception that the cream has risen to the top and the dead weight has sunk to the bottom. This becomes one of those circumstances where perception and reality can be oceans apart. Before getting too comfortable with your supposed success or discouraged by early failure, Schultz' sage advice would be to take an honest look at your team and try to discern why you are where you are.
If you're sitting in last place because your team is stocked with underachievers like Prince Fielder and Pablo Sandoval or beleaguered with injuries from potentially key producers like Ryan Braun and Josh Willingham (I'm using the term "key producer" quite liberally here) or counting on young talent like Danny Salazar, Kolten Wong and George Springer that isn't maturing as quickly as expected, things may not be as bleak as you are imagining. It doesn't take a genius to conclude that a team that has their best assets underperforming won't skyrocket to the top of the standings.
On the other hand, if you're sitting in first due to surprising starts from the likes of Emilio Bonifacio, Yangervis Solarte, Aaron Harang and Alfredo Simon or unsustainable levels of production from Troy Tulowitzki, Charles Blackmon and Nelson Cruz, perhaps it would be prudent to curb your enthusiasm.
For underperformers, resist the urge to panic and make unnecessary course corrections, for overachievers, make the bold move to trade players while they at the peak of their value. Fortune favors those with vision not those who refuse to see what's right in front of them.”

Response:  Wow, philosophical Schultz.  Maybe now I have seen everything!  That said, Schultz is right about one thing – if you have over performing assets, sell high while you still can.  See Cueto, Johnny.

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