Stock Watch


Stock Watch: Open for Business

In one of my fantasy leagues (like you care, I know), I've had a top team all year--first place in my division two weeks ago. Since then, I've lost all my matchups and dropped at least 10 games in the standings (yes, our format is unusual). I say "at least" because I'm afraid to look at the standings page too closely. Clearly, mine is exactly the sort of team that should be making changes, so I'm open for business. Hopefully, not everyone in that league reads this article and finds out how many lemons are hidden on my roster.

With the trading deadline coming up on the 19th (in many leagues at least), I suspect there are quite a few teams out there in desperate need of doing business. Whether you and a trading partner can set out to offset each other's category weaknesses, or you need to swap pitchers for hitters, or veterans for prospects, now is the time to get a deal done. 

Trade For

Alex Rios was just dealt to the Rangers, and he'll see a modest bump in value thanks to the new lineup and even friendlier park. I don't yet know where he'll slot in the batting order, but expect his Runs or RBI's to go up, but probably not both. Don't expect the Ballpark in Arlington to ratchet up his power output, since U.S. Cellular was already a great place to hit homers.

Speaking of White Sox hitters and trades, Adam Dunn is smacking the ball for a great average and OBP this month and just passed through waivers. A new team environment might be just what the slugger needs, and he's got more than enough power not to worry about which park he's hitting in.

Manny Machado and Nick Markakis have endured pretty brutal months, so maybe these talented players will come at a discount just in time to revert to form. Dustin Pedroia's strong brand might keep his price up, but maybe you can persuade a trade partner that his production drop is thanks to that fat new contract and he'll just laze his way through the rest of the year. Okay, maybe not, but it's worth a shot.

Jose Altuve and Nick Franklin have had bad months in the average department, but Altuve has continued to steal (eight bags) and Franklin has kept up the power (four homers). Evan Longoria is the superstar version of that, putting up just a .200 BA in the last 30 days, but still clubbing five homers. Pedro Alvarez spent the last month on the downswing of his boom-and-bust cycle, which tells me he might just catch fire for the pennant run. It's better he does that on your team than on your opponent's.

Ben Zobrist and Brett Lawrie have disappointed their owners all season long, but both are hitting the ball well lately. Maybe they've finally hit their stride. Their upside is definitely worth the risk.

Some big names in pitching to trade for this time. Speaking of big, CC Sabathia is up first. He hasn't been quite right all year, and he's been downright dreadful for the last month (8.33 ERA). The good news is that his FIP is just 5.23 and his xFIP 4.46. Still plenty bad, but much more reasonable. Combined with CC's years of success, there's a good chance he helps a lot of teams down the stretch.

Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez haven't looked like aces for a while (4.94 and 4.97 ERA's), but their strikeout rates are both over 10.00. Strasburg has a healthy 3.27 FIP and an excellent 2.71 xFIP. There's no better time to buy him than now. Gonzalez is the lesser version with a 3.57 FIP and a 3.10 xFIP.

Kris Medlen might be my top target in trades right now. Between his disappointing season numbers, the rumors that he might hit the bullpen, and his 5.40 ERA in the last month, I have to think a lot of owners will be happy to deal him away. But he's got a 3.68 FIP and a 2.77 xFIP to go with a K/BB of 5.20. In short, he's pitched really well lately and has gotten terrible results in ERA. It happens. Trade for him. Unfortunately for those of us who want to trade for him, he has won his last three starts, despite the ERA. So if his owner likes wins, this deal might not come to pass. At least, it didn't for me when I tried to finagle him out of my father.

Trade Away

Kyle Lohse is one of my top trade-aways this week, thanks to the differences in his ERA and FIP on the season (3.23 to 4.16, sixth highest among ERA qualifiers) and in the last month (2.37 to 3.87). Since ERA and WHIP are his only strong categories, I'd move him. Lohse had a pretty big differential last year too, so maybe he can keep it up, but the upside isn't worth it in most fantasy formats. (Unless healthy Brewers pitcher is a category.)

Mike Leake is in a similar situation as Lohse, though he's a better bet for wins. With a 2.94 ERA and a 4.04 FIP, he's got the fourth-worst such differential, just a little behind the trade-worthy and oft-mentioned Jeff Locke. Chris Archer is a little banged up right now, but he's coming off a luck-happy run, and Rays pitchers always seem good in trade offers.

Francisco Liriano may be having a renaissance year with the Pirates, but that doesn't make his 4.09 BB/9 over the last month very good. He's a good one to trade off if you need WHIP help, but hang onto him if you need the whiffs. Speaking of strikeouts, Dillon Gee isn't getting any: his K/9 is just 3.57 over the last month, which might be why he's rocking a 4.32 FIP to offset his shiny 1.53 ERA. Zack Greinke is another good arm to move, as his reputation belies his 6.95  K/9. With a 2.29 ERA in the last month, he should look good to trade partners. (And be good--just not ace-level.)

Just as Pedro Alvarez is on the downswing of his cycle, Justin Upton is back to the top of his. It's a good time to trade him for a more stable producer. Please not that my comparison of Alvarez and Upton does not mean that I condone a one-for-one swap of these guys. Upton owners should hold out for a substantial return.

Brandon Belt is hitting the ball with authority...but he's put together months like this before. I say sell. Maybe he's breaking out and maybe he isn't, but if you can deal him for an established player do it. If it turns out he broke out and he keeps hitting through September, you'll have still used him to fill a need.

Chase Headley looks like he's finding his old stroke with a .293/.396/.451 triple-slash line over the last month of play. The key is "looks like," because he's he hit just one home run in that time and sports a BABIP of .434. If you drafted him and you've been waiting for him to hit like this all year...well, the time has come to cash in your chips, because that BABIP could take everything else down when it crashes.

Pick Up

I'm always a little afraid to tell people to pick up Chris Capuano, because he's been a favorite of mine for a long time. (I'm a sucker for lefties that don't throw hard but do strike people out, what can I say?) But this time, I've got a Fangraphs article to back me up, and yeah, it looks like a good month to own Capuano coming up. Speaking of my favorites, Marco Estrada is back from the DL and pitched well in his return. (Yes, I'll probably be picking him up, and other deep-leaguers should too. In a shallow league, I'd probably give it another start before nabbing him.) 

I don't usually suggest one-off pitchers (also known as streamers, I guess), but Bruce Chen has been pitching well and gets to face the Marlins in his next start. It's a match made in heaven. Just don't keep Chen around too long. Michael Wacha may (or may not) be back into the Cardinals' rotation for good, so he's worth an add. He should spend more time on your team than Chen. Charlie Morton has been rather shockingly good lately, with an 8.33 K/BB in the last month.

I don't usually talk relief in this spot, but Dane De La Rosa got the most recent save for the Angels. I have a feeling there will be more.

For hitters, Avisail Garcia looks to be the beneficiary in Chicago of the Alex Rios trade. He doesn't have power upside, but talented rookies could always have a hot month and be worth a lot. Travis D'Arnaud looks like he's coming up for the Mets, so there might finally be some catching help on the waiver wire to go with Yan Gomes, who seems to be able to hit and might get more playing time in the wake of Mark Reynolds' release. 

 

 


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Stock Watch: The Real Trading Deadline

Major League GM's now have to try passing their players through waives if they want to make any moves. We learned last year that big trades can still happen in the Big Leagues, but still, their choices have been severely limited.

Ours are about to be gone altogether.

That's right, the real trading deadline is August 18 -- the fantasy deadline. It may vary from league to league, but that's the average in my representative sample.* I've made the mistake of letting the deadline sneak up on me before, but with a slate of teams on the fantasy playoff/money bubble, I feel kind of like the Orioles: I need to make some deals. Chances are, you've got some holes to fill too.

Whether you drafted Albert Pujols in the first round (did that) or you've got Nelson Cruz and Everth Cabrera waiting for Biogenesis suspensions, or Jose Veras and Ernesto Frieri were the last closers left on your team, chances are you've still got some holes to fill. Get your trades in while you can.

For this reason, Stock Watch will be focusing on trade targets for the next couple weeks, but shift exclusively to waiver wire catches after that. 'Cause what good will trade suggestions do after that?

Before we get right into the Trade For's and Trade Away's, what you really want to deal for and give up depends highly on the situation. I just completed a trade of Mike Trout for Clayton Kershaw and Austin Jackson because I was leading most hitting categories and running away with a minimum of second place in steals...and dead last in ERA. In another league, I shipped off Adam Wainwright and change for Troy Tulowitzki and someone else because I had the opposite problem. 

Trade responsibly (or don't), but check out last week's article and the one from the week before for mildly out of date category-specific advice. (Canny readers will note that steals and saves are absent from these articles; this author trusts your ability to identify which players will produce in those areas.)

*My three Yahoo! leagues comprise this statistical survey.

Trade For

Jose Bautista and Prince Fielder are the biggest trade targets, with Fielder coming off a lousy month, and Bautista's batting average fluctuating again towards its nadir. Neither slugger will come at bargain price, but a modest discount might be possible.

Nationals teammates Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon were supposed to spend July improving, but both were snakebit by .175 BABIP's. Both are talented players and could be had for low cost at the moment.

Mike Moustakas and Jason Heyward are both showing signs of life; those interested in taking a risk could pry them from owners happy to sell high.

J.J. Hardy and Brandon Phillips have been high-value players all year, but low BABIP's in recent weeks make them viable trade targets.

Jurickson Profar may get increased playing time for the rest of the season if Nelson Cruz is indeed suspended for 50 games. He may or may not capitalize on it, but it's worth checking out.

Speaking if suspended players, if you're looking to replace some of Everth Cabrera's steals, consider Eric Young, who nabbed 13 in the last month. Actually, he's probably on the waiver wire. Too bad he won't give you that sweet 2B/SS eligibility....

Tim Lincecum, Gio Gonzalez, Mat Latos, and Chris Sale have all been putting up great strikeout numbers recently and good or better xFIP's. Also, they've all put up mediocre or worse ERA's in that timeframe. Don't expect consistency from Lincecum or Gonzalez, or wins from Sale, but any of these pitchers look like good bets for the rest of the season.

For the cost-conscious, Ivan Nova has pitched quite well lately, but doesn' come with much reputation. Ian Kennedy has not pitched terribly well, but getting traded to San Diego should help his rate stats.

Trade Away

If this list ends up looking a lot like the best players of July, don't be shocked. I'm not predicting that most of these guys have their value crater--just that they're probably worth more now than at other points in the season

Jonathan Lucroy and Brian McCann are good catchers, but slugging over .600 is probably more than we should expect in August.

Kyle Seager and Hanley Ramirez were two of the top three hitters by WAR (Fangraphs-style), with the other being Mike Trout. Seager is a great trade candidate if you actually have 3B depth, because chances are most of your league has a serious need at the position. Ramirez is trickier, because he's been carrying fantasy teams since his return from injury, and he's got first-round history. I'm not trading him unless I get superstar-level return.

Jose Iglesias might be the odd guy out on this list, as he hasn't hit very well of late. I'd deal him anyway, because his hot start may still be remembered and the trade to Detroit isn't likely to help his luck return.

Colby Rasmus has been unbelievable lately. I mean, really. I don't believe he'll continue hitting like this. Your trade partners won't either, but they might be tempted to take the risk. Veterans Jayson Werth and Torii Huner might have more value, and are similarly unlikely to continue hitting with the best players in baseball. 

The best outfield trade chip might be Wil Myers, as there's nothing like a stud prospect tearing the cover off the ball to net a large return in trade.

Matt Harvey, Shelby Miller, and Jose Fernandez are all likely to face innings limits or restrictions of some kind. I don't know the details of such plans, but I know I'd rather these guys play for other teams when we find out.

Matt Moore and Jeff Locke have had success thus far with matching BB/9's of 4.15. They may continue to be good, but walk rates like that are better left to other peoples' fantasy teams unless they come with elite strikeout numbers.

Mike Minor, Patrick Corbin, and Hiroki Kuroda are good pitchers coming off too-good-to-be-true months. Deal them to your pitching-needy leaguemates.

Pick Up

Rookie Junior Lake is smacking the ball around the park for the Cubs with SS/OF eligibility. He's well worth a pickup anywhere he's still available.

Oswaldo Arcia is back from the minors, where he was hitting well. He could perform as a 5th fantasy OF.

Xander Bogaerts may hit the Boston's lineup sometime soon, with Iglesias traded to Detroit. Top shortstop prospects are always worth adding to your team.

Back from Injury

They probably aren't on your waiver wire, but Curtis Granderson and B.J. Upton are back from the DL. Those in shallow leagues should check on their availability, while those in need of some more risk and potential may want to trade for them just in case they come back hot.


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Stock Watch: More of What You Need

So, you're in the top three of your Roto-style league, but you just can't seem to crack the real money spots. Your pitching is pretty good, but nothing you do seems to help you climb up the standings in Runs. Time to make a trade.

You're in the lower half of your Head-to-Head league, with a couple good players on the DL. You know your team should be competitive in September...but getting there might be another story. Each week you seem to split, winning most of the hitting but always falling short in WHIP. Time to make a deal.

Last week on Stock Watch we checked out some players you should target if you're in need of Homers, Batting Average, Wins, or ERA. This week we check out Runs, RBIs, Strikeouts, and WHIP and highlight trade and pickup candidates that might fly just under the radar. 

Runs

Runs are a tough category to win--indeed, the best most common strategy is to draft good hitters and hope things work out. That's what I usually do, at least. So if you're stuck in a Runs rut, here are some hitters to target in trade. Unfortunately this category is unlike stolen bases (or even home runs) in that there are some pretty bad (and therefore cheap) players who can help you a lot; no, you'll have to target players who can actually hit a little.

When searching for potential high-scorers, I went looking for players who hit at or near the top of powerful lineups, like those of the Rays, Tigers, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Orioles. Also the Braves, somewhat, but they need better top-of-the-order hitters.

Austin Jackson has sort of become the Runs poster boy, and RA's Mark Polishuk has a great write-up on him, so I won't say any more. Fellow Tiger Torii Hunter might as well be Jackson's elder clone this season--something tells me that hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder is good for your runs total.

The Rays sit Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist on the top of their batting order most days, and while both have proved disappointing this year, both should keep scoring runs. Matt Joyce doesn't play every single day, but he tends to score when he does.

Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava benefit from hitting before David Ortiz. If Nava gets to keep hitting on top of the order, he'll have Runs value.

Matt Carpenter is one of the hottest names at second base for his batting average, but if you need to help yourself in two categories, he's your guy. Matt Holliday ought to be coming off the DL soon and he may come at a discount. 

Nate McLouth and Nick Markakis have been setting the table for the O's, while Chris Davis and Adam Jones have been among the best in clearing it. McLouth's steals will drive his price up, but, as with Carpenter, at least you get to help yourself in multiple categories.

In the last month, Chase Utley and Jason Werth have been high-scorers. In fact, Werth has been hitting the cover off the ball.

Alex Rios keeps hearing his name in trade rumors, and I'd bet that if he gets moved, it will be to a team that puts him at the top of the order, making him a good Runs candidate. Of course, this advice could backfire when he gets stuck hitting sixth and scoring RBI's...but maybe you need those too.

RBIs

Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo, and Joey Votto are all among the league's top run scorers. Why do we care in the RBI section? Because you should pick up or trade for anyone who hits behind these guys. Brandon Phillips is having a perfectly pedestrian season--and yet he's among the league leaders in RBIs with over 80. Why? Just look at the names above.

You'll notice that a lot of top RBI guys come from the same lineups as the top run scorers. Take Jhonny Peralta. Between his crazy BABIP and the Biogenesis link, there's every reason to trade him away. And yet, he's hitting behind Prince and Miggy, so if you need RBIs and a shortstop upgrade, he could be your guy. Similarly, Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are hitting behind Ortiz. 

Allen Craig and Freddie Freeman have disappointed in homers, keeping them from truly elite first base production, but don't make the mistake of thinking the RBIs aren't there. Dan Uggla joins Freeman in a Braves lineup that keeps generating runs.

With his trade to the Yankees (and batting cleanup in his first game), Alfonso Soriano just saw his RBI potential go way up. Now, these Yankees aren't exactly Murderers' Row, but they're better than the Cubs. Hitting behind Robinson Cano shouldn't bother anyone.

Strikeouts

You can get to the top of the standings in Strikeouts just by pitching the most games, but there are all kinds of obstacles to that: innings limits, anti-streaming rules, and the poor performance of volume-heavy pitching staffs. So here are some guys who can help you compete in K's. Many of them are widely available, so that's nice too.

Hector Santiago (13% owned in Yahoo! leagues), Corey Kluber (29%), and Tony Cingrani (49%) are all striking out more than a batter per inning without killing your ERA. (They aren't all great for your WHIP, I admit.) As you can see, there's a good chance that one of them is available on your league's waiver wire.

Francisco Liriano, Jeff Samardzija, and Justin Masterson are a step above Santiago and company, and they'll require a trade to go after.  They will probably be better for your rate stats. Ubaldo Jimenez, is a step below, but only owned in 17% of Yahoo! leagues. He will kill your WHIP, though.

In the last month, several pitchers have stepped up their strikeout game: Tim Lincecum and Mat Latos are striking out over 11 batters per nine IP. John Lackey and (to my great surprise) Jeremy Hellickson are whiffing more than a batter per inning. 

On the lower end of the scale, Jose Quintana (18% owned in Yahoo! leagues), Tom Gorzelanny (5%), Jonathan Pettibone (5%), and Erik Bedard (2%) are screamingly available and all generating strikeouts over the last month. If you're in position to play the hot hand in a deep league, these are the guys to look out for.

WHIP

I can't do much about the hits part of WHIP--it's notoriously luck-dependent, all the more so over as short a time span as what remains of the season. So, let's take a look at the BB/9 half instead.

Jordan Zimmermann hasn't pitched well in his last few starts, but he's still got a 1.34 BB/9 on the season. If you want to risk that his recent slump is temporary (I would), he could be a big help to anyone's WHIP category.

Hiroki Kuroda's 1.76 BB/9 looks good, but his ERA is already so lucky that you should be prepared for it to rise even if he helps your WHIP. 

With Tim Hudson's injury, the chatter about Julio Teheran getting dropped from the rotation with Brandon Beachy's return from the DL has ended, though his 1.89 BB/9 suggests that such talk might never have been serious.

Ervin Santana and A.J. Griffin share 1.95 BB/9 marks, though if Santana gets traded he'll lose the benefit of baseball's top defense.

Rick Porcello (1.86 BB/9) is only 14% owned in Yahoo! leagues, and Eric Stults (1.98 BB/9) is only 31% owned. 

Some pitchers who've been hot this month include Bronson Arroyo (49% owned), Bartolo Colon, Kyle Lohse, John Danks (3% ), and Scott Feldman (41%). All five have BB/9 rates of 1.10 or below in the last 30 days, though Colon comes with significant baggage.

Some Guys Worth Picking Up

Christian Yelich is owned in every daily and keeper league, I know. But don't give up on him in weekly formats.

David DeJesus is returning from the DL, as should be half the Yankees' infield. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez aren't exactly who they used to be, but both could pay dividends for a waiver claim. Long-term, we can expect Biogenesis fallout for A-Rod, but don't be shocked if the appeals process lets him play most of the rest of the season. Whether or no he hits is another story. 

Warning: A previous version of this article contained an unintelligible section. It has been altered from that sorry condition. 


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Stock Watch: Buy What You Need...Even If It's Not Very Good

By the time you read this, Matt Garza will already be a Ranger.

Or he'll be something else, I guess, maybe even a Cub. If Garza does get traded, his value will go up, because he'll be playing for a better team and likely to get wins at a higher rate. (Unless Houston pulls a fast one.) No! His value is sure to go down, since Texas is in the AL and in a hitter's park, as is Boston. Arizona may be in the NL, but it's not a good place to pitch either, so the Dodgers are the only team mentioned in talks that won't kill his ERA and WHIP--deal him while you can! Whether or not you want Garza depends on what you need, and the format of your league. So will it be for any other category.

Instead of the usual breakdown of Buy, Sell, and Pick Up, this week we'll examine some players you should think carefully about and either buy or sell depending upon your needs.

Homers

Chris Carter stands out big time here. He may have the highest K% in the Majors, but he's also got a .240 ISO and 18 HRs. Even better, he's only owned in 45% of CBS leagues and 26% of Yahoo! leagues. Pick him up or trade for him if you're on the cusp of grabbing another point to three in the HR standings. Stay far, far away if you're in the thick of the BA competition, as he could easily give away more from that category than he takes in longballs. He's best if you're at the top or bottom of your league in average, or if you've accumulated a ton of ABs.

Similar players include Matt Reynolds, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, and J.P. Arencibia.

Pedro Alvarez profiles similarly, but with higher highs and more complete playing time. He's got the most value of this group, and will probably be the most expensive. Keep that in mind if you need to help your BA category, as Alvarez could be a point of addition by subtraction.

Adam Dunn is probably the most extreme of this type of hitter, but also the most consistent. His homers and his terrible average are both pretty much assured. His name brand and history will probably raise his price, so consider some of the above hitters if you aren't getting a good deal for him.

Batting Average

When you aren't making deals for superstars, you're usually sacrificing power for average, or average for power. That's just how it goes. If you're in need in both categories...hopefully you have some spare pitching or an elite base stealer. Better yet, both. We're plenty far enough in the season to start looking at semi-high BABIPs as short-term trends instead of confusion. Feel free to trade for someone with a BABIP between .320 and .340 if you're hoping for some help in this category.

Austin Jackson has a .347 BABIP and a .280 average; normally that wouldn't be too exciting, but Jackson has a history of better BABIPs than that and could actually add to that number. Of course he (like teammate Torii Hunter) doesn't help you at all in homers. Thankfully, the strength of their lineup allows these Tigers to contribute at least some in Runs or RBIs.

If you like position flexibility, try Marco Scutaro. His .334 BABIP isn't unbelievable, but his .316 BA is great from your MI slot. Also up the middle, Jed Lowrie was supposed to be a power hitter, but he got just seven longballs. Luckily for you, if you need average, as his .330 BABIP has led him to a .295 BA.

Gerardo Parra and Daniel Nava are still getting things done in average, with .329 and .327 BABIPs, respectively, leading to BAs of .285 and .288.

James Loney is a Known Bum, but that will keep his value low as you try to sneak his .315 average onto your team. Even if his .338 BABIP comes down a tad, he's still useful for any team in need of points in this category.

Wins

Matt Garza and his soon-to-change value brought about this column idea, so I'll just quickly reaffirm that you should try to swing a deal for him if you need wins. If his current owner likes him for his ERA, he or she should be pleased to deal him now. There's no reason both teams can't win trades in this part of the season. (It's more valuable to rob your opponents early in April and May anyway.) Let's examine some other pitchers who might be able to help in wins. Unfortunately, there's nothing close to a sure thing in this category, and all the moreso over just a couple months. 

The best ways I've got to predict wins are to combine three things: high IP totals, high-scoring offenses, and being at least a decent pitcher. Since we aren't trying to find the best pitchers in fantasy baseball, let's try to keep that last one to not much more than "decent."

With the Red Sox scoring the most runs in baseball, pitchers like Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster are good candidates for wins, though neither is among the IP leaders. Tigers pitchers Doug Fister and Rick Porcello profile similarly, as does anyone called up by the Rays.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Angels and Indians are among the leading teams in wRC+, so pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez and C.J. Wilson might be expect to get some wins. Justin Masterson might be a bit high-end for this exercise, but he could be pried from owners hoping to improve their team ERA.

Bud Norris is expected to be traded, with the Red Sox the destination most often mentioned. If you need wins, trade for him or pick him up before that happens. Even if he's traded elsewhere, it will help his value in this category.

ERA

The formula for getting a better than expected ERA from you pitchers is similar to the one used to acquire a few extra wins, though it's rather more dependent on the pitcher actually being good. Team fielding and park factors take the place of pitching deep into games or getting run support. 

This year's All-Star venue, Citi Field in New York has been the strongest pitcher's park. Though this is probably accentuated by the fact that they have some good pitchers and a terrible offense, their staff is still a good place to start looking for ERA help. The Indians, Cardinals, Pirates, Padres, Giants, Dodgers, A's, and--shockingly--the Diamondbacks all play in parks with factors of 0.899 or less. (Maybe trading for Garza is an even better idea than we thought, especially when we note that Wrigley Field has been the worst place to pitch in 2013.)

With four of the five NL West teams showing pitcher-friendly park factors this season, pitchers from that division are even more attractive thanks to the unbalanced schedule.

Of the teams above, the D-Backs, Giants, Pirates, and A's have notably above-average UZRs.

We can see that there's some method to the madness of luck-leader Jeff Locke's success, but I still wouldn't count on someone whose ERA-FIP difference is that extreme. Patrick Corbin looks more reasonable though. Bartolo Colon and A.J. Burnett should be able to help as well. Strugglers like Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum have good environments for improvement, though I'm not prepared to guess what might happen with those guys. 

Worth noting is that the Royals have baseball's best defense by that measure (by a lot), so pitchers like Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana might be more able to post good ERAs than you'd normally expect, not to mention ace James Shields.

With under three months left in the season, you don't have to have the best players on your team to win your league--you just have to have the ones in the best position to capitalize on this year's particularities. If a hitter is putting up a great BABIP in April, it's luck. In July, there might be a reason, and that reason could very well carry through September. If a pitcher is overperforming his peripherals, there's probably a reason for that--and it could continue too. Use the trends you see and offer trades accordingly.

 



Stock Watch: All-Stargazing

Each year in the middle of July, the fantasy community lets out a collective groan. Like any other game-addicts, we're loathe to experience even a single day without our fix. Three in a row...ouch. Not only that, but our schedules are distorted, truncated or elongated according to our commissioners' caprices. It makes for a weird week, to say the least.

That said, I've always loved the All-Star game. Maybe because my longest-running league always holds a party at which trades flow even more freely than the beer. Sometimes the best players to trade are the ones in the game: after all, what adds to a player's trade value like seeing him dominate the best players in baseball. And Jhonny Peralta. In this spirit, let's take a look at a few selected All-Star participants and speculate on what kind of investments they are going forward.

J.J. Hardy
All-Star or not, Hardy is the homers and nothing else guy that he's essentially always been. If you need power desperately, trade for him, but if you've got someone else competent at short, this might be a great time to deal him away. Yes, the homers are great, but everything else is not. His low triple-slash stats will keep his Runs and RBI's down, even in that potent Orioles lineup, and his .253 BABIP is an exact match for his 2012 mark.

David Ortiz
The ageless Ortiz is killing the world in just about every way (save steals, obviously). If your leaguemates are into giving DH or age related discounts, he's a great trade for candidate, as I see little reason for his production to drop appreciably.

Hisashi Iwakuma
The wheels have been coming off for Iwakuma in the last few weeks, a storyline which may or may not get coverage during the All-Star broadcast. I'd trade him away before problems get worse. He may right the ship at any moment...or he may fall to drop status. Either way, it's doubtful that he belongs among the best pitchers in baseball.

Justin Masterson
The Indians' ace has finally harnessed the strikeout stuff he'd flashed throughout his career and it's got him an All-Star slot. His ERA isn't great (3.78), but his FIP and xFIP are both a bit better (3.42/3.40). Whoever drafted him probably wasn't expecting the strikeouts to be this good and maybe waiting for the other shoe to drop. If you need whiffs, definitely try to trade for him. If you're good in that category, I'd stay away, because, while he doesn't hurt you in the other categories, he isn't really an asset.

Torii Hunter
I do not know why Hunter is an All-Star. (Particularly with Raul Ibanez not getting the honor.) Hope for him to hit a home run, and then immediately trade him to anyone in your league that you happen to know likes to drink while watching the All-Star games. Those in anonymous online leagues may have difficulty, but check over the league's message board and you might find some suitable takers. 

Bryce Harper, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Gonzalez
These All-Stars are all great hitters having great seasons. They're exciting players and they often get hurt. Wait, that last thing isn't good? In fact, it makes them good players to trade away if as they all carry significant injury risk and all play well enough to anchor a serious trade. Note that this is only a good idea if your team is good and you need to lower your risk. If you're sitting in the bottom half or third of your league, this is the type of player to trade for.

Brandon Phillips
The Cincinnati second-sacker's season has thus far featured a 2% drop in his walk rate and a total disappearance in his stolen-base ability. Name recognition and a dearth of other good second basemen has him starting in the All-Star game, and now is as good a time as any to hope those same qualities will be enough for you to turn him into a more productive player. Trade him.

Jose Fernandez
The Marlins' phenom was a high-upside, high-risk play when Miami called him up early in the season. It's paid off and I have nothing bad to say about his production. (Because I don't believe in lying in this space.) That said, the Marlins would be foolish not to limit his innings somehow this season. They are foolish, but they'll probably still find a way to keep him from pitching in September. Outside of Roto formats, trade him away.

Patrick Corbin
Raise your hand if you really believe that this is Corbin's real talent level. No? I can't believe it. But I would trade for Corbin, because chances are his owners don't believe it either. Hopefully he allows a three-run home run in the game and nets you a discount. He's not an ace, but his 3.28 FIP tells me that he's a very useful pitcher anyway.

Jeff Locke and Travis Wood
Neither of these pitchers' results match their peripherals. Wood's 3.56 FIP makes him look average, and his 4.36 xFIP makes him look even worse than that. Locke's 3.82 FIP and 4.27 xFIP do the same. Trade these guys away.

Michael Cuddyer
Cuddyer has been pretty quiet about putting together a great year. Of course, it's buoyed by a .373 BABIP and home games at Coors Field. That said, he's been plenty good on the road, and he hasn't drawn huge attention to himself. While you should expect his BABIP to slip during the second half, he's still a pretty good trade target, as his owners are as likely as anyone else to expect a decline in his production.

Allen Craig
Craig has certainly been a power disappointment, and for that reason I was surprised to see him on the All-Star team, and fairly sure that I'd recommend dealing him. But, actually, no. Though his BABIP is high (.374), he's shown himself to be a high-BABIP/high-average hitter, and I'd trade for him confidently if I were in need of batting average.

Bartolo Colon, Nelson Cruz, Everth Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta
All of the above are implicated in scandal and all may end up serving significant suspensions this season. Peralta should be traded regardless, but your strategy with the other three depends largely on how much risk you want to take on. Cruz has surged back from a lousy 2012, Colon is having maybe the best season of his career (and he's a Cy Young winner), and Cabrera is baseball's best base-stealer. If you need to take on risk and upside, trade for these guys and hope for light punishments, long appeals processes, or innocent verdicts. Because he steals so much, Cabrera is particularly worth trading for in Roto formats, as even a month of his production will help you in the category. Of course, if you're sitting at the top of your league, you should deal them away and let someone else absorb the risk.



Stock Watch: Guys Named Davis (And a Surprising Quantity of Mets)

Real-life baseball is ramping up for its most exciting months. All-Star rosters come out today, and when the Game ends the trade deadline's clock will start officially counting down. Chances are, your fantasy league's deadline comes sometime after that, but we know the time to deal is upon us. Since trades in reality can have a big effect on fantasy value, we'll be dealing a lot of the same players in our fake game as in the real one. The effect is perhaps most pronounced on pitchers, with the importance of their teammates and parks. 

Trade For

Ricky Nolasco is a great pitcher to trade for, as he couldn't be leaving a worse offensive situation than Miami. Any team that might trade for him should give him a lot more help getting leads and then keeping them. Of course, a trade to Colorado might negate a lot of that value, but he's still well worth the risk. 

Yovani Gallardo has been as big a disappointment as any this year. While I can't say what the cause of his struggles has been, a change of scenery almost certainly wouldn't hurt. Arizona is the top trade destination mentioned, so his park effects might not get any better, but pitching for a contender ought to help with the wins. Who knows, maybe the adrenaline will spark some improvement for him....

Matt Garza won't be toiling for the Cubbies much longer, that's almost for sure. It's good news for Garza owners, too, since the teams that might be interested are likely to be heavy hitters. Expect AL East teams to show interest, since he's had success in that division before. Let that temper any expectations of improved stats in any category but wins.

Kyle Gibson is not on the trading block in MLB, but after a disastrous second start, he might be in your fantasy league. Actually, he might be back to the waiver wire, in which case he's worth picking up. With his value depressed (who doesn't get roughed up by the Yankees every once in a while, anyway?), he's a great "throw in" in a bigger trade.

Mark Reynolds hasn't hit a lick since his torrid start, but he's still got a lot more power potential than anyone you're likely to find on the waiver wire (with one exception, see below). Obviously, target him at a low price, but he's the kind of gamble you should make if you could benefit from a power increase.

If the Price Is Right

Some players might be in the Trade For category for some...and the Trade Away for others. I suppose that's the best way to get a deal done. Our own Andrew Gephardt detailed some of the factors that go into a good trade on Monday, and the circumstances of your team make all the difference in the world. Here are a couple players worth dealing for with the right price and situation...or dealing away in others.

Eric Hosmer has been setting the world on fire for the last month or so, and it has been suggested that he's finally breaking out. It has also been suggested that some of his homers haven't been off the world's best pitchers. So is Hosmer a buy or a sell candidate, a star who's inexpensive for the last time in his career, or someone to toss after month of playing over his talent level? Honestly, I don't know, but that wouldn't stop me from taking a risk on him one way or another.

If you've got an excess of power or 1B production, then I'd say try to sell high. If you can get a quality return from someone who feels more confident that Hosmer has turned the corner, go for it. On the flip side, if your team is need of power, try getting him from an owner that expects regression. In either case, don't go overboard. If the other owners in your league are similarly ambivalent about Hosmer--or happen to be valuing him the same as you are, don't go too many extra dollars to make a deal.

Elvis Andrus is in much the opposite situation as Hosmer, but you can approach it in a similar way. Texas has moved him down to eighth in the batting order, with manager Ron Washington citing Andrus' place in the leadoff spot as the reason for his troubles. I can't say if that's the case (though I'm usually skeptical about such assertions, I have little or no inside information about Andrus' psyche, certainly less than Washington). Whatever the reason, Andrus is a player with a history of useful (if overrated) fantasy production coming off a horrid last month.

If you're in need of MI or SS help, or really need steals, Andrus is probably a good trade candidate. He's not a true-talent .100's hitter, so his production has no reason not to improve. Unfortunately, Andrus cost many owners high draft picks and comes with a lot of brand-name value. You won't be able to avoid paying a premium for that brand, but he's been so bad lately that he could still come at a reasonable price. Of course, it's that very brand that makes Andrus a trade-away candidate. With everyone in your league expecting some sort of positive regression, Andrus ought to bring back a useful piece. If you're otherwise set at short, deal Andrus.

Trade Away

I've suggested dealing Matt Harvey before, but the reasons are different this time. No, it does not look like Harvey will be regressing from his ace form anytime soon, but that won't stop the Mets from finding some way to limit his innings and pitch counts from here on out. MLB Injury News speculates on the Mets' many options to limit Harvey's injury risk, though New York hasn't given any definitive indication of their plans. As a fantasy owner, I actually don't care what their plans are: Harvey's value will almost certainly go down with any plan they implement. Fewer innings might not be a big deal in roto leagues with innings caps, but you should deal him in any league with a playoff format. The Mets will have nothing to play for in September, but Harvey is a huge part of their future.

It's not the fault of Hanley Ramirez or Jason Kipnis that they're on this list. It's just that any player hitting like they are should be dangled in trades. Maybe nobody in your league will bite and overpay, but maybe someone will. Both are high-quality infielders. Neither one is Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout. Or Willie Mays, for that matter.

Pick Up

Martin Perez has been on my fantasy teams before, and it hasn't gone well. His last two starts certainly suggest that he's figured out the Major Leagues an while that may not be true, it's well worth a waiver claim. Nab him while you still can. If you still can. Also, he's scheduled for two starts next week, if you care about that sort of thing.

Randall Delgado has been a prospect for awhile, but striking out nine Mets and walking none is enough to put him on the map. With the Diamondbacks pursuing a division title, they'll use him as long as he's good, which is the only case you'll have kept him anyway. He's well worth a try.

Carlos Villanueva was on a lot of successful fantasy rosters last September, but hasn't had the same success this year. Or much of any success, really. Still, he's slotting into Scott Feldman's place in the rotation, and with Matt Garza likely to go too, he ought to stay in as long as he's remotely successful. His strikeout potential is worth checking out.

Eric Young is stealing bases and hitting the ball for the Mets. (A lot of Mets in this one. I don't know why.) He's even gotten some playing time at 2B. In deep leagues and for those who need speed, he's worth a try. He'll be worth a try almost everywhere if he does get that 2B eligibility.

Ike Davis came back to the bigs yesterday, and the mere chance that he found his power stroke again on his trip to AAA makes him worth a waiver claim. I do suggest keeping him on the bench until he shows that he can hit Major League pitching again, but homers aren't easy to find on the waiver wire.

Rajai Davis (I told you there'd be guys named Davis) was one of the most prodigious base stealers in the Majors for the last several years, but relegation to a bench spot might have made him available in leagues this year. If he's still out there in your league, he's an obvious source of speed now that he'll be playing every day again.


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Stock Watch: Ritual Self-Assessment

The season is no longer young. We don't get to pretend anymore that it's the early season, or that so-and-so will snap out of his slump, or that what's-his-name will come back to earth. No, the season's midpoint is a time for sober reflection, a time when fantasy baseball writes must come clean about the predictions they've made over the course of the season, admitting the hits and the misses alike.

Well, maybe we don't have to, but we sure do. So, while I indulge myself in a bit of back-patting while I take enormous credit for some luck-dependant results, I'll balance it out by mentioning my worst misses as well. I was going to go position-by-position, but it turns out that most of my infield predictions have turned out little better or worse than OK, so we'll look at it week by week. Note that my columns came at the end of the mentioned week.

Week 1

Best Call: Pick up Jean Segura. In fact, this is by far my best advise of the column, as Segura's owners have enjoyed 11 homers, 23 steals, and a .334 AVG on the season. More recently, I advised that you trade him away if you're content in the stolen base category, as his homers are probably a bit of a mirage, but keep him if you depend on his speed. I'll stand by that: in fact, I've already dealt him in league that doesn't reward steals much and kept him in a standard format. 

Good Calls: Gerardo Parra got to fill in for injured members of the Arizona outfield, but he ran with the opportunity after a good first week, and he's been the team's best OF since, battin .311 with seven homers. He's not a superstar, but he made a good fill-in. Bartolo Colon has given owners a 1.10 WHIP and a 2.93 ERA, thanks to great control. I wish I hadn't dropped him soon after picking him up.

Bad Call: Franklin Gutierrez has been injured basically all season after that good first week. So that didn't work out too good. He's back now, but no less fragile.

Week 2

Good Call: Daniel Nava was the bright spot in an otherwise unimpressive week for this prognosticator; his .280 AVG with 10 homers is better than most off the waiver wire. 

Bad Calls: I suggested Chris Capuano and Roy Halladay after this week. Capuano immediately got hit hard and hurt. And he's been the better of the two, since at least he's come back since then. The clever suggestions didn't end there, as I promoted Chris Young (the outfielder) and Josh Reddick as buy-low guys. They've hit .192 and .217, respectively. I managed to go 0-3 on the A's outfield, as I recommended selling high on Coco Crisp. Though he sustained an injury, Crisp has been a fantasy force this season, with power and speed coming before and after the injury. Rough week in Stock Watch.

Week 3

Good Calls: This was my most controversial column to date, generating some fun discussions in the comments. Unsurprisingly, the overall results were mixed, but trading for Adam Dunn was one of the better ideas. Though his batting average has been putrid, you could have avoided the worst of his out-making while gaining most of his 20 homers by trading for him at this point. Julio Teheran was scuffling at this point of the season, and lost to a lot of waiver wires. If you picked him up, you got a pitcher who turned in a 2.60 ERA in May and a 2.39 mark so far in June, with a 51:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Unfortunately for owners, he still might head to the bullpen in favor of Brandon Beachy, but if you got him for nothing (or thereabouts), you still banked two great months.

Bad Calls: My worst calls of the week were related, as I suggested selling Matt Harvey and Shelby Miller. If you got a huge return, maybe you aren't kicking yourself for dealing these guys, but they haven't shown any signs of declining and both have cemented places among fantay's aces. If you have them now, treat them like you would any other ace.

Week 4

Good Calls: This week treated me pretty well, as my highest-impact advice was all pretty good. Too bad it isn't always this way. I suggested trading away both Bryce Harper and Justin Upton while they were both setting the world on fire. If you traded Harper at this point, all you missed out on was a .193 average in 57 May at-bats, and a bunch of time on the DL. Upton hasn't been a lot better than that since the end of April, with just three homers and an average of about .210. Either of these guys should have fetched a huge return, but you might have won the trade (so far) even if they didn't. Upton might actually be a good buy-low candidate now.

On the pitching side, I suggested dealing Matt Moore. While he continued to pitch well for most of May, June has seen him regress to the point where his ERA and FIP pretty much match. If you got a good return for him, it was well worth dealing him before the decline came. 

Bad Call: I did suggest acquiring Dan Haren this week, for some reason. Hopefully you didn't do that, because after a pretty decent May, he's pitched wretchedly and gone on the DL. Too bad for the Cubs that he still would have been worth trading Carlos Marmol to get in the offseason....

Week 5

Good Calls: This week wasn't one of my best--in fact, I did pretty awful. But, at least I suggested that you pick up Domonic Brown, who was available in about 75% of ESPN an Yahoo! leagues at the time. This call would have been even better a week or two earlier, but who's going to argue with 17 May/June homers? Not me. Also on the bright side of the week, I suggested grabbing Francisco Liriano for his return, referencing his high upside. Actually, he might be my best pitching suggestion yet, with a 2.30 ERA, a 2.50 FIP,  and a 10.04 K/9 in 54.2 IP.

Bad Calls: I was sure that we'd start to see B.J. Upton begin regressing upwards to the mean, but even his "hot" .247 June batting average hasn't been enough to get his season number even close to the Mendoza Line. At least he's finally starting to trend upwards, so if you've still got him, I wouldn't drop him in most formats. Unfortunately, I also suggested acquiring Will Middlebrooks, who has played bad, been on the DL, and gotten sent down to the minors since this recommendation. Is it possible to do worse than that? Yes--see below.

Worst Call: When I suggested cutting bait and selling low on Jay Bruce, he had just finished April with one homer, a .252 average, and a bloated BABIP. Something seemed wrong (and probably was). But he fixed it, to the tune of seven May longballs and 10 more so far in June. He was untouchable when I tried to get him last week in one league. In that league (a points format) he's been the ninth-highest scoring hitter, including April. Hopefully you didn't find a taker for Bruce.

Week 6

Good Call: I suggested selling low on Jonathon Niese, which would have worked out well if I'd followed my own advice. He's been useless since then, so pretty much any trade you made was a winner.

Bad Call: I advised staying away from the surging Jeff Locke, as his success appeared to be smoke and mirrors. It still does, but here he is still pitching well over a month later.

Week 7

Good Call: I'm pleased to have gotten Kyle Blanks in one league shortly after making this recommendation. He was supposed to be little more than a fill-in player, but he's been better than the guys that got injured in front of him. His eight home runs and .284 average have played very well.

Bad Calls: I suggested low buys on Josh Beckett and Marco Estrada, and both of those guys have spend most of the time since then either getting shelled or being shelved. Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli both started great, slumped, and then got only a little better. Neither was a good investment at this point in the season, but both have lots more potential than most catchers. If you traded for them, the deal might still work out.

Week 8

Good Call: Pedro Alvarez seemed to be just beginning one of his famous hot stretches when I suggested going after him. The results since then have included a .313 average and nine homers in June. If you were patient (or stubborn) and hung onto him through that dismal April and early May, you were well rewarded. Now is actually a good time to trade him, because he trades those hot weeks with cold ones.

Bad Calls: I was excited to pick up Kevin Gausman and Jake Odorizzi. Hopefully they were already owned when you read the article (as they were in my leagues when I wrote it).

Week 9

Good Calls: The "Week of the Prospects" proved a pretty good one for me. The Dodgers telegraphed that Yasiel Puig was coming up, and he's been an amazing surprise so far. I shouldn't accept full credit for the suggestion, but I will anyway. Second basemen Anthony Rendon and Nick Franklin have been well worth owning too, making this a pretty good week for my retrospective ego.

Bad Call: I made the ill-fated suggestion that Jackie Bradley, Jr. might come up and play for a couple weeks with the chance for me. He didn't, costing me a week's free agent pickup in a couple leagues. There's a reason he was available in leagues Puig wans't.

My suggestions after Week 9 have yet to play themselves out, but hopefully they turn out like Segura and Alvarez... not like Bruce and Middlebrooks.


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Stock Watch: AL Central First Basemen and the Back of the Braves' Rotation

As the season goes on, we've started to sort out which hot and cold starts we believe in. Most of the unbelievable ones have already regressed to the mean (think Justin Upton or Matt Moore), while others are showing signs that their new levels of production might be real, for better or worse. That said, there are still plenty of values to trade for, and plenty of chances to sell on players likely to still regress. But you better get it done quickly, because your trade offers will probably have to get fairer and fairer as the season goes on....

Trade For

Felix Hernandez just endured a brutal game, wherein he gave up seven consecutive hits and lost a seven-run lead. To the Angels. Any Felix owner rightfully expects greatness every time the King pitches, and there's a chance his value is down just a touch after a bad outing like that. It's not so much that you'll get an amazing deal for him from most owners--just a slight discount. If you were already looking to acquire an ace, though, he might be the one to get, and this is the time to get him.

I was not a huge proponent of Andrew McCutchen before the season started, largely thanks to his declining steals numbers and low SB%. I didn't see him as a big speed threat anymore, but I liked the way his power had been increasing over time. Reality hasn't matched my predictions, or McCutchen's recent trends: he has already stolen 15 bases (three-quarters of his 2012 total) and has been caught just four times, but the power has been a big disappointment, as he's hit only seven homers through two and a half months. Not exactly what owners were looking for with their first-round pick.

McCutchen's strikeout rate is down noticeably, and his walk rate is down a little, so he's putting the ball into play more often. He's hitting slightly fewer fly balls than last year, but the biggest difference is in his HR/FB rate: after spiking at 19.4% last year, it's down to his 2009-2010 levels, at 8.6%. While his increased contact is probably causing part of his decrease in homers, it's worth noting that he only had a handful more longballs last year at this point of the season (he didn't hit any last April). Perhaps his power heats up with the weather. Either way, a powered-down McCutchen is still a strong fantasy asset; the chance that he reclaims even some of that power makes him a great trade target.

If your first baseman plays in the AL Central, chances are you've been pretty disappointed with his production. Unless he plays for the Tigers. Three of them make good trade targets: Billy Butler, Nick Swisher, and Paul Konerko. Butler introduced a lot of new power last year, but it has disappeared so far this year, with just five homers. His average is down too, but his OBP and walks are actually up. Maybe he isn't getting any pitches to hit in the moribund Kansas City lineup, but even a slight improvement in his power could vault him to among the top first basemen in baseball again. Swisher has had a rough year in many ways, but his OBP is still .100 points better than his average. Having been hampered by injuries, but keeping most of his batted ball profile intact, he seems like a good candidate to improve over the course of the year. Konerko should command the least trade value of the three, as his season has mirrored the White Sox's overall offense. He's actually produce negative WAR on the season, and the gamble is basically that the 33-year-old isn't completely done. The upside is worth a shot, but don't give large amounts for him.

Trade Away

Carlos Gonzalez has been pretty much the best player in the National League this year. Wherever you drafted him, he's been the best player on your team. He's already earned the second highest WAR total of his career and he's one homer away from matching his season total from last year, in just barely over half as many games. So trade him already. 

Why? Well, there's certainly the chance that he keeps this up and wins the NL MVP for his greatness. Or, he could do what he always does, and hit the DL for some significant portion of the season. Don't sell him in desperation; there's no reason you shouldn't hold out for a huge return, but it's hard to think of him without seeing a little clock over his head, counting down to the next injury. Unlike his similarly injury-prone teammate Troy Tulowitzki, his production is replaceable in the outfield, so you're better off mitigating your risk and dealing him for several good-to-great players. If he stays healthy all season, maybe you'll regret the deal and maybe not. But if he gets injured, you'll really regret not making a move.

Jean Segura is setting the world on fire right now, with five-category production. The steals look completely real, and if you're relying on him for your team's speed, don't send him packing. The homers, however, aren't so believable: of his 10, eight are classified as Just Enough by ESPN's HitTracker. He's certainly one of the best shortstops in baseball...but he's not this good. 

Segura's Brew Crew teammate Yovani Gallardo has had a pretty miserable year, but he's strung together three good starts in a row. In fact, he hasn't allowed an earned run in those starts. The trouble is, two of those starts were against the worst teams in baseball. Sure, one came against Cincinnati, but it's hard to get too excited over shutting down the Astros and Marlins. His next start is scheduled against the Cubs, so he's got a good shot at making it four good ones in a row. Wait till then, and deal him. Maybe he's righted the ship and ready to produce like the inconsistently dominant strikeout machine he was the last couple years, but he isn't showing real signs of that yet. 

Usually, when we say a team has a "good problem," it's not a problem at all. For the Braves and the return of Brandon Beachy, that's not really the case. They haven't indicated what they'll do with him when he's ready to return, and he may even start out in the bullpen. Or Julio Teheran or Kris Medlen may get sent to the 'pen, with a lower probability that Paul Maholm or Tim Hudson get removed. Without knowing the Braves' solution to their problem mine is this: trade away Beachy, Teheran, or Medlen if you've got 'em. You might get full value for the pitcher, when each has some unknown probability of having his value reduced to basically zero.

Pick Up

When RotoAuthority mentioned on Facebook that Roy Oswalt had been signed by the Rockies, the response was unenthused, to say the least. I can't say I blame anyone for their lack of excitement over that prospect, but Oswalt put the fantasy world on notice yesterday by striking out 11 Nationals in his Colorado debut. Does that mean he's automatically the old Oswalt? Obviously not, but you still couldn't have gotten much better of a first outing. He's well worth a speculative add.

Maybe Esmil Rogers is just excited to pitch in Rogers Centre, but he appears to have turned a real corner in his career with the Blue Jays. His improved slider should get the credit for his success, and there's a good chance that much of it is sustainable. He's got more upside than most free agent starters.

Cody Ross was a productive outfielder last year, but this year he's been a real disappointment, even since returning from injury. After a three-hour visit to the eye doctor the other day, Ross is claiming that the blurred vision that plagued his season is cleared up. He punctuated that by hitting a homer against the Marlins. If the vision was his main problem, he could be in line for a big improvement. 



Stock Watch: Trade Your Prospects

Real-life Major League teams are getting more and more sensible these days, holding onto prospects like a miser with a bag of pennies. Sure, sometimes they still trade away next year's top shortstop for a mid-season rental, but those Jean Segura warning stories just seem to make most teams all the more protective of their best prospects. 

You, on the other hand, should do no such thing. There's no next year in fantasy (unless you play in a keeper league, in which case this advice has little to do with your situation), so deal away. Because it makes a much easier transition, let's shake things up and start off with some great prospects to trade away....

Trade Away (All Your Favorite Prospects)

I suggested nabbing Zack Wheeler last week--and I spent nearly half my yearly FAAB budget to get him on one team--so why am I telling you to deal him away now? I mean, he hasn't even gotten to pitch yet! The reason is that now could very well be the peak of his value. For every Shelby Miller, there are several Kevin Gausman's (Gausmen?). If Wheeler pitches poorly in his first start, his value drops by a lot, but right now he's still got that new-car smell, that untainted, sky's-the-limit, prospect essence. If you sell now for a proven commodity, there is a real chance that you undersell his value. And a real chance that you win the deal big. What you can get, though, is the safety of acquiring the kind of proven player that can't be found on the waiver wire. 

Like Wheeler, it would have been a safe (and usually advisable) play to deal Gerrit Cole before his first start: though Cole is a higher-level prospect, uncertainty still remains with any pitcher in their situation. Owners are obviously glad they didn't trade him, as his value has gone up. Now he's proven to be able to handle big league hitters. I bet there are plenty of leagues in which you can get a star caliber return for Cole right away. Most of you probably already know which owner to offer the trade to....

Yasiel Puig is another prospect like Cole, who might be able to fetch a serious return. His early success really might carry into continued great hitting...or it might not, or he might slump just in time to get squeezed out of the outfield when the better-paid Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford return from the DL. Sell him while you can!

Jurickson Profar is another sell-high candidate another prospect worth trading. I actually released him in one league the week before Ian Kinsler got injured. I'm not exactly kicking myself for that decision, though I certainly did at first. Profar may or may not be "ready" for the Majors, but he hasn't hit like it, and certainly not well enough to push Kinsler to the outfield. While Texas hasn't said what they'll do when their second baseman is back from the DL, don't be shocked if Profar wanders back to AAA. Fortunately, his name value alone might be enough for you to get a usable fringe starter in a trade.

I mentioned above that you don't want to make trades like these in keeper leagues, but you also shouldn't make them in another situation: last place. If you're at or near the top of your league, then it makes sense to deal upside for likelihood of usefulness. Even when you're in the thick of the pack, that strategy makes sense (though you might want to hold out for better return). But when you're at or near the bottom, you need upside. If you get offered one of these players, or most other prospects, in a deal (except Profar) try to swing a trade, and remember that teams higher in the standings can still benefit from low-upside returns.

Trade Away (BABIP Heroes)

Two players stuck out to me as BABIP-induced sell-high's. Sometimes when a player's high BABIP is inflating their numbers, you know that everyone knows it's a big fluke. Seriously, nobody's going to give you anything good for Jhonny Peralta. (But take it if they do!) Instead, high-expectation players with high-BABIP's look much better when dangled in trade. If I told you Joe Mauer would have a high batting average, and derive most of his value from it, would you be surprised? Of course not. But that doesn't mean you should expect him to keep the .410 BABIP that has led to his .332 AVG. Similarly, Freddie Freeman entered the year with high expectations. He's only hit six homers, but his .314 AVG mitigates the sting of lost power somewhat. Unfortunately, a .314 AVG isn't that high when you consider that Freeman's BABIP is .381. Deal both of these guys, while their averages make them look elite. 

Trade For

Troy Tulowitzki is making his annual trip to the DL, this time for 4-6 weeks with a broken rib. If you've got depth at short and Tulo's owner is reeling, regretting using a second-round pick on a player who's always getting hurt, try sneaking him onto your roster--even discounting the injured time, there's still every reason to think the slugger will remain the top at his position when the year is out. Another injured shortstop, Jose Reyes, is beginning his rehab. This seems like a good time to swing a deal for him--though be aware he may be slowed by his injury after his return.

Anthony Rizzo started the year slowly, then hit like crazy, and now he's been slumping again for a while. It's early in his career to call him "streaky," but if he is, a low point in the boom and bust cycle is the right time to make a move for him. Not only that, but a .269 BABIP is suppressing his numbers at least a little.

Manny Machado should be traded for if you play in a points league. Owners might be mystified why a player with a BABIP-inflated .316 AVG, and just five homers and five steals is among the league's best. They might anticipate a drop in his overall production. They might not know that he's got 30 doubles already. That's a crazy amount, putting him on pace for 72 two-sackers, breaking the all-time record, and netting you a ton of points. Even in standard leagues, it's a sign that his runs and RBI's are more solid than they first appear--though owners in these leagues will be hurt more by any drop in his BABIP.

Pick Up

Brandon Beachy is a pretty obvious add, as his rehab stint is nearly done and even the small chance that he can return immediately to his former glory is worth FAAB money, waiver claims, and whatever else it might take to get him on your team. Another obvious choice is Seattle catching prospect Mike Zunino. While Zunino might be with the big club for only a little while, expect him to stay if he hits at all well. If he's good enough for your fantasy team, he'll be good enough for the Mariners.

Josh Rutledge is the beneficiary of Tulowitzki's injury. Sent down after getting his shot earlier in the season, he's been slugging in AAA (which is sort of a given in Colorado Springs) and will have another month or more to prove himself against Major League pitching. Middle infielders with any chance for power are rare enough that he deserves immediate attention.

Remember Rick Porcello? Well, he's pitched rather well well in four games in a row, and six of the last seven, and is worth claiming for your team. If he's ever going to turn his talent into results, that time might be now. Hector Santiago was an add last month, then a drop, and now he's an add again. The strikeouts he generates are worth the lousy WHIP he'll probably give you. Finally, Erasmo Ramirez might be the next pitching prospect up to the big leagues with Seattle, and could be worth stashing. And maybe dealing when he does hit the Majors....



Stock Watch: Scandalmakers and Struggling Shortstops

This week on Stock Watch, we're trying out something a little different. Not a lot different--don't worry--but there's been a bit of news out there that might affect your fantasy team....

Biogenesis Scandal

By now, you've probably heard more about this scandal than you care to, and--unlike the witch-hunting masses--your main worry is probably about whether your fantasy stars will be suspended and for how long. You're probably wondering what to do with players like ****** and ****, let alone *******. That's right--I didn't include their names! Why? Because none of the players involved has yet been proved guilty of anything, and none of them need their reputations tarnished by me any more than already has been. But I also need to provide useful fantasy advice, so I'll take the via media of linking to an article that mentions the players you should be concerned about. Among them are superstars, minor leaguers, rookies, veterans, and just about everyone else. 

Who will be suspended and for how long? I can't say. How long will the process take? Still don't know. Will players who've already received PED suspensions get more punishment? Tough to say, but the one bet I wouldn't make is for this process to be carried out in a way that's transparent or fair. Maybe I'm overly pessimistic about MLB's anti-PED unit, but that seems the safest route to me. While the players implicated haven't failed tests, they don't need to to get suspended. Many are mentioned by name in Tony Bosch's ledgers, but others are in by code name or mere association. It might be worth mentioning that Mr. Bosch has plenty of incentive to roll on Major Leaguers, the bigger the names, the better. More worrisome for owners is the report that MLB has" tons of witnesses" to corroborate the allegations. (Report from RotoAuthority alum, Mike Axisa.)

What to do if you own these players? I own several across a few leagues (though I did shy away from most during drafts), and I'm standing pat. Right now will be a very difficult time to trade these guys, because your leaguemates will be watching as much ESPN as you, and you aren't likely to get much value from them if you shop them. Trading for them doesn't seem like a great strategy either, as you may be paying for useless assets. If you want to shoot off some lowball offers, go for it, as the strategy could pay off big, despite a low probability of success. By the same token, if someone offers you, say, 70-80% value on a big-name player, make that trade and hope for the best. And, of course, keep following along with the news to see what happens next.

One guy you might not have to worry about--and whose name I don't mind mentioning--is Gio Gonzalez. Reportedly, he is mentioned but exonerated by the evidence found at Biogenesis, having only purchased legal and unbanned substances. Good news for Gio owners. If you happen to find yourself looking at a good deal for him, pull the trigger.

A final thought is that the suspensions handed out may be lengthy--perhaps 100 games, perhaps more--but they will probably not include lifetime bans. This may be a great opportunity to get quality players on your keeper roster for a low price--especially if you're already out of contention this year. Note that this is a pretty long-term plan, as some of the repercussions of the scandal may last into next season.

The most important thing to do is not to panic and make a bad deal, as any suspensions handed out may take a long time to end up happening--others may not happen at all.

Struggling Shortstops

Most shortstops are bad fantasy players--we all know this. That's why we spend so much auction money or used high draft picks to get the few who can hit. This year, not only are several injured (Jose Reyes, Derek Jeter, Asdrubal Cabrera), most of the other top choices have been pretty terrible.

Ben Zobrist
After putting up consecutive 20-HR seasons and enjoying Swiss-Army position flexibility, Zobrist was one of fantasy's hottest commodities going into the season. He's on most of my fantasy teams, making me glad that I decided to diversify and stay away from him in my final draft of the season. His slugging is down over .100 points, as he's hit just three homers. His batting average is down significantly, despite a BABIP in line with his career norms. His LD% is down and his HR/FB rate has absolutely cratered. The only good news is that his K%, BB%, and OBP haven't taken big hits, but the Rays care more about those numbers than our fantasy teams do. While Zobrist might well bust out of his protracted power slump, his age might be catching up to him. He may only be 32, but he didn't break out until age 27. Late  success is often an indicator of early decline. Sell him if you still can.

Starlin Castro
Another well-hyped early-rounder, Castro was drafted a bit for the success he's already had and a lot for the success he was expected to grow into. He may still grow into a superstar, but maybe the fantasy community was a bit premature drafting him like he already was one. His steals are down, his homers are down and his low-walk nature has kept him from getting on base in spite of his low average. Like Zobrist, his BABIP isn't bad (it's a nearly-average .296). Compared to last year, Castro is hitting slightly fewer line drives, popping up less, and grounding out a bit more. It's tough to be sure why his average is struggling so much, but slumps are a part of playing baseball, especially for young players. He's a good (but not slam-dunk) candidate to improve, so I'd call him a cautious buy.

Jimmy Rollins
At 34, Rollins is a pretty old shortstop, but unlike Ben Zobrist, he came up to the Majors at a young age and had a strong peak as one of the game's top stars. His years have been pretty up-and-down lately, but last year was an up, with 23 homers and 30 steals. This year has not been so good, with just four homers and six steals, despite a batting average and OBP better than what he put up last year. At .293, his BABIP is the highest it's been since 2007, but his HR/FB is his worst since 2003. Shortstops aren't expected to carry power or speed into their mid-30's and it's entirely possible that Rollins' bat and legs have slowed down. Then again, he gave us that impression for all of 2010 and managed to bounce back. Still, I'd say he's a cautious sell.

I was going to talk about Ian Desmond next, but his recent homers put his numbers in a pretty decent place--enough to make him one of the better shortstops this season.

Good luck navigating this week's muddy waters--and pick up Zack Wheeler and Gerrit Cole  if you still can.

 





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