There are so few players hitting well right now that the idea of selling high on any of them feels foolish. The league as a whole is hitting just .232/.306/.370 right now, with just 18 qualifying hitters sporting an OPS above .9000 through the first month of the season, so moving one of them would feel like an unnecessary, unforced error.
But, as with all things at this time of the season, you have to remember that just because someone is doing well right now doesn’t mean they’re going to keep hitting well moving forward. Sure, last season’s huge April was a sign of Vladimir Guerrero’s breakout, and he remained one of best hitters in baseball after hitting .350/.490/.663 in April, the third-best mark in the game. But you also had Yermin Mercedes hitting .415/.455/.659 last April before ultimately losing his job.
Mercedes is the outlier, of course, but he wasn’t the only one. J.D. Martinez looked to be at the start of a significant bounce back last April, ranking second among qualifiers in OPS; he would rank 61st from May 1 on. Kris Bryant was in a similar spot, hitting .322/.412/.667 in April to rank seventh in the majors, only to flounder to the tune of a .254/.341/.444 line from that point on, good for just 77th.
In fact, of the top-20 in OPS last April, only seven were even in the top 40 in OPS from May 1 on – five didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify, while the likes of Bryant, Nelson Cruz, Justin Turner, Jazz Chisholm, and J.T. Realmuto all ranked in the lower half of qualifiers. While it’s nice to see a hot start, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good rest of the season.
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Of course, that doesn’t mean every unexpectedly hot starter is a sell-high candidate. And, “sell-high” doesn’t mean, “Just trade him now.” Some of the hot starts are surprising but aren’t so out of the realm of possibility that they can’t be sustained to some degree. And some have so little value that there probably isn’t much reason to try to sell them, anyway – sure, Yandy Diaz might have the 16th-highest OPS in baseball, but nobody’s gonna give you much for him in trade even with that knowledge.
But here are five hitters I think you should at least consider moving on from if you can find the right deal.
- Mike Trout – I think Trout is still the best hitter in baseball, and that’s what he’s been so far, so I’m not skeptical about what he’s doing right now. The underlying numbers back it up, too – his .490 expected wOBA is the best in baseball. He’s earned this. Trout doesn’t steal bases anymore, but when healthy, he’s as good as anyone, so this is definitely not one of those situations where you’re just looking to get out from under him. However, that “when healthy” part is, obviously, huge; the 30-year-old missed most of last season with a calf injury, and injuries remain a serious concern at this point. I would have to be blown away to consider trading Trout, but I’m also generally less concerned about injuries than most people. However, if you are worried about Trout’s chances of staying healthy, moving him when he’s productive and available isn’t a bad idea. But you need a first-round type of player in return – maybe try for someone like Bo Bichette and another struggling player, like Robbie Ray.
- Nolan Arenado – Arenado is a tough player to judge right now because in many ways, he defies a lot of the analysis we typically rely on these days. For a power hitter, he doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard – he ranks in the 37th percentile in average exit velocity and 36th percentile in hard-hit rate, only a slight improvement on last season. However, because he makes so much contact and has such a pull-heavy approach (when he hits the ball in the air, especially), he can get away with middling (or worse) raw power – you don’t have to hit the ball as far when you hit it to the pull side. That approach can work, but it will tend to make Arenado a pretty all-or-nothing power hitter like he was last season. That player has value, but Arenado looks like a lot more than that right now – he looks like the Rockies version of himself. He’ll come back down to earth before long, so see if you can find someone who is buying the hot start as a return to form.
- Eric Hosmer – I don’t know if Hosmer is one of those players who actually has any trade value. He’s a big name, but he’s been so mediocre over the past few seasons that I’m not sure anyone values him. But I would be doing everything I could to try to move him right now because I just don’t buy it. Hosmer has never lacked for talent – he usually hits the ball hard, and has a HR/FB ratio over 19.4% in seven of the past eight seasons, a good sign that when he puts the ball in the air, good things tend to happen. The problem is, he doesn’t put the ball in the air enough, and that is as true now as it has ever been; his 59.4% groundball rate is the second-highest of his career. Hosmer has solid expected stats, but he’s still not squaring the ball up well enough often enough (6.8% barrel rate, compared to 5.8% last season) or hitting a ton of line drives (23.4 vs. 23.2), so I don’t see much reason to think he’s a suddenly changed player. Hosmer is the one name on this list I would be trying to trade before the bottom does fall out.
- Jazz Chisholm – Chisholm is such a talented player that nobody would be surprised if he broke out in a big way, but if you were going to predict a breakout for him coming into the season, it would have looked a bit different than it does so far. Chisholm hasn’t really cut his strikeout rate much, and he’s still swinging and missing a ton – though he is chasing fewer pitches out of the zone, for what it’s worth. No, Chisholm is mostly just getting better results from largely the same approach as last season. That’s not to say it’s a fluke – his quality-of-contact metrics are all way up, so he’s earned this hot start – but it is to say that I’m not sure I buy him being an all new player. I think Chisholm is just hot, in the traditional sense that he’s locked in, and I want to see what things look like when the inevitable cold streak happens and he has to adjust. This is about the time last season when things went sideways for Chisholm, and I still think that could happen this season. I’ve moved him up a few spots in the rankings, but I still view Chisholm largely like I did coming in. You’ll have no trouble finding someone buying the breakout.
- Anthony Rizzo – This is what we thought it would look like when Rizzo got traded to the Yankees last season. His pull-heavy approach to hitting fly balls was perfectly suited to the short porch at Yankee Stadium, and we got an excellent show of that with Rizzo’s three-homer game – which featured an average distance of fewer than 360 feet. Rizzo’s homers have been almost exclusively hit to the pull side, and Yankee Stadium will help him get the most of his power, but you can’t count on him to hit homers at anything like this pace even at Yankee Stadium. Rizzo should be a solid starting first baseman, but has already started to slow down a bit of late – two hits over his past five games – and his value will likely never be higher. Rizzo and Chisholm are probably the two biggest examples of players where the underlying numbers back up what they’re doing, but I just don’t buy it yet — I think we’re seeing both of them locked in and getting the best results possible, but that’s not something I’m willing to bet on continuing just yet.