We are approaching the halfway point of the major league season, which means in H2H leagues with September playoff brackets, you might actually already be in your second half of the season. There’s less time remaining than you think to make a dramatic move in the standings, and to make matters worse we’re at point where, outside of a few remaining prospects and streaky players, the waiver wire doesn’t hold too much hope for those in need of those major improvements.
Take for example, our very own baseball professor league, which is a standard ESPN league with two catchers. Here are the most owned players at each position currently available on free agency:
- C: Tyler Flowers (4%)
- 1B: Ryan Howard (95%)
- 2B: Omar Infante (24%)
- 3B: Casey McGehee (82%)
- SS: Asdrubal Cabrera (96%)
- OF: Ben Revere (67%)
- SP: Josh Beckett (99%)
- RP: Hector Rondon (55%)
Sure there are some positives to owning certain hitters on this list so it’s not all bad. Some offer decent power and others nice speed, but are any of these guys really capable of jolting your team in the standings? I would guess not. Beckett deserves to be owned, but it’s a shallow league with only 230 players rostered so good pitchers are sometimes going to be available. The next most-owned pitcher is Phil Hughes (90%), who I believe is a significant drop-off compared to Beckett.
What I actually learned from this list, and what I hope to impart on you, is something more than just the fantasy value of those mentioned. I care more about what it says regarding the strategy you might want to take for improving your team and making up ground when small incremental gains simply won’t cut it. Look, at this point dropping a struggling Jed Lowrie for a “hot” hitting Infante just isn’t going to get the job done. You need to think bigger and instead of thinking your team is done, think trade and think upside.
Excuse the grab bag format this week, but sometimes that is just how my mind organizes things! Here are two ways you might be able to pick up big chunks in the standings.
Transaction Type #1: Trade for skill, not for names
I actually did make a trade in my 16-team dynasty league this past week, which is the only transaction I made that will be written about in this post: Justin Verlander was sent packing in a straight up deal for Dallas Keuchel.
One guy has had a historic career and may ultimately be just fine this year while the other has had an excellent half of a season, but could also turn into a pumpkin at any moment. I don’t believe either will be the case, but Verlander’s last start was a gem and Keuchel has now had back-to-back non-quality starts, plus it’s not like Keuchel has much of a track record to go on. The reason I bring this trade up is because some people (presumably the guy I traded with as well) thought I sold Verlander at the bottom of his value for a guy who is a virtual no-name. Don’t be fooled by my critics, because this in no way means I lost the trade!
I know there has been a lot of talk about Keuchel’s historic current ground ball rate (at least on our website), but I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity to point out how much value a name or brand attached to a player has. Consider the following…
|Dallas Keuchel||17 (pace)||7.43||2.07||0.47||15.0||63.7||21.3|
Any idea who player A is?
It is someone who I actually think is a perfect comp for who Keuchel profiles to become, if he hasn’t already. If you guessed Brandon Webb you would be correct, and specifically his magical 2008 season (his career numbers aren’t too far off from that season, though). Keep in mind, even this ground ball inducing god himself had to start somewhere before he earned his stellar reputation. Just because “experts” haven’t totally caught on to Keuchel and continue not to tout this uncanny reincarnation of a fantasy superstar doesn’t mean you can’t believe it to be true. This is not a Vogelsong-esque “breakout”, people. It’s the real deal!
Some people are brand collectors, though, and this type of trade highlights the fact that you can actually get a ton of value by dealing with those types of people. They look for the brand (e.g., star player just having a bad year) and are willing to give up a waiver wire pick up who is performing excellently just to acquire the guy they think they are supposed to be more interested in. Don’t be that guy.
Wouldn’t you rather have the player who is awesome now instead of the one who might be if he corrects this, tweaks that, fixes a flaw, dumps her, has a breakthrough with his sports psychologist, buys a set of voodoo dolls, etc?
A great place to begin your research to uncover these under-appreciated assets on the pitching side of the equation is by looking at SIERA (Skill Interactive ERA), which I, and many others, believe to be the most robust indicator of a pitcher’s true skill level. It’s no coincidence that Keuchel is 7th-best in the league on this measure and it this gives me great confidence that what Keuchel is doing is skill-based rather than luck-driven, and that is the key to pulling this off.
Although your analysis is based on skill rather than luck, I must point out that like all forecasting models the output is only as good as the inputs. In SIERA’s case, although it includes some pretty darn predictive inputs, it would be impossible to capture everything, especially intangibles. I bring this up because like most second-level stats, even the very best ones, SIERA is still most properly utilized similar to a club in your golf bag; they all serve a purpose, but you have to know which club to use when and when to modify your swing accordingly. Basically, you still need to do your homework. Should you trade Matt Cain and his 4.25 SIERA for Brandon McCarthy and his 3.07 SIERA, I would say that’s a bit too bold, but if you’re desperate for upside pitching maybe Cain nets you Ian Kennedy (3.12 SIERA) and another usable piece and you are off to the races.
Transaction Type #2: Trade for discounted upside
Because the first one was so much fun, let’s take a look at one more blind resume.
From these numbers alone, does it make sense why nobody talking about player A struggling, but everyone is freaking out about Player B’s slide?
After 1,000 words preaching you to pay more attention to underlying skill than anything else, I am forced to point out that Player A is a better hitter in real life in both past seasons and this year. Some key metrics I’ll cherry pick to make this claim is Player A’s 30-point edge in wOBA this year, plus a GB% and FB% that is six points better in the right direction over player B’s. However, if you are reading this it is because you need to make up some ground and Player B will come with a highly discounted price tag and, in my opinion, similar or even greater upside without the premium price tag of Player A.
If you guessed Player A is Shin-Soo Choo and that Player B is Starling Marte you would be right (and should also probably be giving psychic advice). I suspect, these two players have numbers closer than you might have thought.
The quick-and-dirty analysis here is that Marte should score lots of runs, right up there with Choo anyways, hitting ahead of Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, and as he continues to right his season-long batted ball profile that took an early season beating, those fly balls will start jumping off his bat. This would give his fantasy owners a major boost, as when he does hit fly balls he hits them deep. He currently ranks 24th in the league in batted ball distance, which tells me the home runs are going to start coming in bunches any day now.
I gave Marte a shot at 20/40 this year, and while he is very likely going to fall short of that, would you be the least bit upset with 10/20 over the next half season? I am not climbing down from my limb just yet because I honestly think he can come close to that type of half season. Don’t trade a player like Choo straight up for Marte because that isn’t protecting your value, but a player like Choo for Marte plus another decent piece would be an upside-packed haul.