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Fantasy baseball: Buy or sell some early-season surprises

Can some of baseball's hottest stars sustain these numbers all year?
Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge prepares to take his hacks during a 2016 game. (Getty Images)
Aaron Judge took to Bryant Park in a far-less recognizable suit and quizzed Yankees fans about their favorite team and players. (Photo: Getty Images)

Last week, we covered the rest-of-season outlooks for three established fantasy stars who have gotten off to slow starts. Today, we’ll look at three of the most surprising elite performances and try to determine those players’ values moving forward.

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Washington Nationals

Looking at the top of the hitter leaderboards, you see plenty of the usual suspects: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt. But the name at the top, while a familiar one, stands out. It’s Zimmerman, of course. The veteran was a reliable fantasy producer earlier in the decade, but chronic injuries and diminished results had him off of most owners’ radar in 2017. All he’s done is hit an absurd .435/.472/.907, with 13 home runs and 34 RBI. If the season ended today, he’d win the Triple Crown. Alas, while his peripherals do suggest legitimate improvement, nobody is this good. Zimmerman’s .472 BABIP and 39.4 HR/FB% are both wildly unsustainable, and he hasn’t played a full season since 2013. It’s all downhill from here. Sell.

 

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Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees

Tied with Zimmerman for the MLB lead in homers, Judge has already proven himself to have learned a thing or two from his terrible September cameo last year. The hulking 25-year-old has drastically cut down on swings and misses, making more contact and drawing plenty of walks. This improvement has allowed Judge’s massive power – always his calling card as a prospect – to be fully felt by opponents, as his .320/.416/.773 line makes abundantly clear. Still, expectations moving forward should be tempered. Judge still strikes out too much to be a legitimate .300 hitter, and more importantly, his 50.0 HR/FB is, to be collegial, completely insane. Only one player has ever even managed a 35 percent mark in a full season. The frontrunner for AL Rookie of the Year honors is due for regression, but he’s got a big cushion before he loses fantasy value. Hold.

 

Jason Vargas, SP, Kansas City Royals

A 34-year-old journeyman with a career ERA over 4.00 and Tommy John surgery in his recent history, it’s safe to say fantasy owners weren’t reaching for Vargas in drafts this year. Yet he’s been among the best pitchers in baseball so far, boasting a sparkling 1.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP through six starts. You might suspect good fortune is involved, and there is some of that. Vargas will see corrections in his strand rate and home run rate going forward. He’s also only averaging 86 miles per hour on his fastball, which gives him less margin for error than most pitchers. But there are real reasons for optimism as well. Vargas has always had a quality changeup and good control, and now he’s getting more swings and misses than ever on his fastball and curve despite the lack of velocity. That’s thanks to a distinct change in approach where he’s attacking the zone, particularly the inner half. It remains to be seen if the inevitable hitter adjustments can put a damper on Vargas’ newfound success. Hold/Sell.

 

Kyle Bishop is a lead MLB columnist at RotoBaller.com. His articles and Fantasy Baseball Rankings are your secret weapon for winning fantasy leagues.

 
 
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