Trader’s corner: week fourby Mark Himmelstein
April 25, 2012
Welcome to Trader's Corner, your one-stop shop for bargains and busts. I've partnered with our good friend Oliver to look at the recent performances of a few players and why they could present a major profit opportunity for you. This won't just be your typical buy high/sell low column, though. As much opportunity as those situations may present, we'll also try to identify the hot streaks that figure to last and the cold spells that could spell doom.
Every two weeks, I'll look at a pair of players in each of four categories: Buy High, Buy Low, Sell High, and Sell Low. The first player will be my own selection and the the second based strictly on the Oliver projections.
Each entry will include the player's 2012 stat-line through April 23, plus their "Rest of Season" Oliver projection in the standard rotisserie categories (average, runs, RBIs, homers, steals for hitters; wins, saves, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts for pitchers).
Also provided will be the accompanying projected dollar values according to THT Forecasts' Custom Price Guide for both the standard Yahoo! and ESPN formats. Dollar values are based on a $260 draft budget with $2 allocated to each bench spot and a 70/30 hitter/pitcher split.
Now, in week four, early performance trends are starting to weigh on our judgments. Though most should still be largely ignored, many won't be, and there are even a few that shouldn't be. With that in mind, this will be a transitional edition Trader's Corner. We'll begin to factor 2012 performances and discuss their potential relevance or lack thereof.
As always, I'll keep a tally of all my recommendations, the date I made them, and the players' performances from that point forward. From time to time, I'll share the results in an attempt to evaluate how I'm faring and if there are trends to be found.
Buying high is one of the most difficult and frequently overlooked strategies at a fantasy manager's disposal. We all love to discuss player trends that look promising in the offseason, but somehow, once the season begins, every sample size becomes too small and every unexpected performance a matter of mere luck. The consensus bias shifts from heavily weighting recent performance and "upside" to nigh unshakable temperance and prudence. For the savvy, risk-seeking owner, this can present a great deal of profit opportunity.
This week we'll look at a former superstar showing surprising signs of life on the basepaths and an overlooked slugger eligible at a couple positions he won't often play.
My pick: Carlos Beltran
So far: .279-13-9-5-3
Oliver RoS: .299-68-69-18-6
Oliver Yahoo value: $12
Oliver ESPN value: $15
There are few players I'm kicking myself over ignoring in drafts this year. Carlos Beltran is one of them.
Beltran was a fantasy machine from 2002 through 2008. He was one of the few players in the game who could be relied upon for at least four category production, and more often than not the full five. Leg injuries always seemed to hold him back from becoming a 40-homer, 40-steal holy grail of a fantasy asset, and in 2009, they finally began taking a toll on his ability to stay on the field as well.
After missing much of 2009 and 2010 with knee problems and subsequent corrective surgery, Beltran returned to play a full season in 2011. He played quite well, producing solid numbers in a pair of difficult offensive environments. His .300-78-84-22-4 line was once again legitimate four-category production, though one of the staples of the earlier parts of his career was now gone—speed.
Most considered Beltran's 2011 production to be instructive of what he'd be capable of as he settled into the twilight of his career. He had always been productive at the dish, even while only intermittently able to stay on the field. But we all assumed his days of stealing more than a handful of bases were over.
Beltran has come out of the gates in 2012 set to prove us wrong. It just 16 games he's already attempted four steals, and succeeded three times. That's after attempting only six steals all of last year, and only two in the first half.
Throughout his career, Beltran has been a historically efficient base stealer. He's never been overly aggressive, never a gambler, but someone who combined situational intelligence with his raw athleticism for an incredible 87.5 percent success rate on the basepaths in 338 attempts. Few basestealers ever post single-season marks that high, let alone do it over a whole career.
This suggests that his early inclination toward running may be more than a mere aberration. Beltran likely wouldn't be running if he didn't think he could do so effectively, or if he was feeling lingering discomfort from a two-years-past knee operation. He still probably won't approach the totals he reached in his heyday, but suddenly 15 or even 20 more steals this year seems plausible.
A base-stealing Beltran would be an incredibly valuable commodity. Add around 10 stolen bases onto his Oliver projection and you have more than a $20 player. While age and a history of leg ailments are certainly risks, the payoff is looking quite a bit higher than we assumed going into the season.
It would be wise to see what it would take to pry Beltran away from his owner before the price increases to match his projection.
Oliver's pick: Edwin Encarnacion
So far: .303-9-13-4-3
Oliver RoS: .262-73-86-26-5
Oliver Yahoo value: $21
Oliver ESPN value: $18
The man not-so-affectionately known as E5 has quietly been a productive hitter for years. The problem has always been that his fielding has held him back from consistent playing time. He finally found a home in the DH slot last year, and the result for fantasy purposes is a dual first base, third base-eligible slugger who wasn't on many radars heading into the year.
You might be surprised to at what you find with just a bit of basic arithmetic applied to Encarnacion's career totals. He's hit .262 with 121 home runs and 31 steals in his career spanning 3,141 plate appearances. That breaks down to roughly 23 home runs and six stolen bases per 600 plate appearances. The problem is that he's never actually gotten 600 plate appearances.
The good news for fantasy owners is that the Blue Jays have gone from a team in transition to a potential fringe contender. Their roster, particularly around the corners, is much more settled than it's been the last few years.
Juan Rivera has departed to the senior circuit. Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind have settled into either corner of the infield. Eric Thames is scuffling to keep Travis Snider in Triple-A. That leaves DH wide open for the defensively challenged Encarnacion. The coveted 600-plate appearance season may finally be within reach.
Encarnacion is already off to a rollicking start this year. He probably won't hit .300 over a full season, but he's actually a decent contact hitter. His strikeout rates have stayed between 16 and 19 percent over the last few years, very reasonable marks.
Since he relies a somewhat fly-ball heavy approach to produce his power, we can expect his BABIP to drop, but he's not a traditional all-or-nothing slugger. A neutral to slightly positive batting average is well within reach.
Add to that around 25 home run power, a few stolen bases, and a boatload of RBIs batting in the middle of the potent Blue Jays lineup, and Encarnacion may be one of the best values from this year's drafts.
If you need help at the hot corner or corner infield spot, E5 makes a fine target, even if you have to pay his owner more than draft-day price.
Everyone loves a buy low candidate. The problem is the owner who owns the buy low candidate usually loves him too, so you may not be able to buy as low as you wish you could. Still, it's always helpful to identify guys who could see their performance improve in the not-too-distant future.
For today's Buy Low we'll look at a pair of scuffling former top prospects who should break out sooner than later.
My pick: Jesus Montero
So far: .241-3-8-4-0
Oliver RoS: .267-58-69-18-0
Oliver Yahoo value: $1*
Oliver ESPN value: N/A*
*assumes utility-only eligibility
Like Encarnacion, Montero is lousy defender freed by the DH. However, unlike Encarnacion, he doesn't have positional eligibility yet. That will change soon, and when it does, Montero should instantly become a top 10 fantasy catcher, if not better.
Many owners who drafted Montero in the Yahoo! format were likely hoping he'd have picked up catcher eligibility by now. With both Miguel Olivo and John Jaso on the Mariners roster, those owners may be starting to get nervous about how long it's taking.
What they may not realize is that Eric Wedge is following the deployment plan for Montero almost to the letter, but that the opening series in Japan disrupted the schedule in a way that gave him less incentive to put Montero behind the dish during the team's first few games.
Since coming stateside and completing the disjointed first week of play, Montero has started four times at catcher. All four have been in the last 10 games.
In Yahoo!, where only five games started are required for positional eligibility, Montero should get there by the end of the weekend. In ESPN, where 10 games are required, it will take a bit longer, but he'll still likely get there around the second week of May.
The other issue in play is that Montero is off to a slow start. He has hit a pair of home runs, but he's also hitting just .241.
This is almost entirely a BABIP mirage. His strikeouts and swinging strikes are both down a touch, not just from the short sample with the Yankees last year but from his numbers in the high minors as well. He also has a history of consistent high BABIPs in the minors.
Then when you consider his line drive rate is a respectable 19 percent and he's yet to hit an infield pop-up, it becomes clear that this is more an issue of well hit balls finding gloves than of anything Montero is doing wrong at the dish. It shouldn't take long for that his BABIP to climb back toward .300.
There's never been a better time to strike on Jesus Montero, and there may never be again. If you can get him for a reasonable price, you'll soon have a catcher-eligible player who can give you a decent average, good power, and a 600-plate appearance season. Even playing half his games in Safeco Field with a meager supporting cast, that combination of rate production and volume at a position notorious for lacking it should yield quite a bit of value.
Oliver's pick: Giancarlo Stanton
So far: .255-4-5-0-0
Oliver RoS: .265-73-88-30-5
Oliver Yahoo value: $24
Oliver ESPN value: $21
Like Montero, Giancarlo Stanton is off to a slow start. In fact, in the previous edition of Trader's Corner, there was a comment asking if Stanton is a good Sell Low candidate. At least according to Oliver, it's the opposite that's true.
Stanton's game is a bit one-dimensional, but that one dimension is pretty impressive. Few players in the game have Stanton's prodigious power. According to ESPN Hit Tracker, only one player in the majors averaged longer home run distances last year—Justin Upton.
The problem is that Stanton's yet to hit a home run this season. Some of this may be related to a sore knee that's led to occasional days off for the struggling slugger. Ozzie Guillen and Co. have even experimented with dropping him out of the cleanup spot. Being that fantasy owners drafted Stanton for his power, it's understandable that they may be growing concerned.
This article from the Florida Sun Sentinal well describes the problems Stanton and the Marlins are going through in the early season.
Take a close look at that article, though. There are a few inconsistencies, at least in how it relates to the current season. The first is that it names Edwin Rodriguez as the Marlins manager. The second is that it was written April 19, 2011.
Last year, it took Stanton 14 games to hit his first home run. Those 14 games occurred while Stanton was recovering from a hamstring injury. He ultimately hit just two April home runs before going on to average more than six home runs per month from May onward.
Stanton has played in only 14 games so far this year. Two instances do not a pattern make, but it's also far too early to panic. At the very least we know that he's capable of overcoming a slow start to post elite power numbers.
The one issue that Oliver can't account for here is injury. While it does see that Stanton missed time last year and therefore deducts a few plate appearances from his projected total, this year's knee injury sounds like it might be a bit more of a long term concern than the hamstring problem from a year ago.
There may be a bit more risk here than Oliver is seeing. I'd might shave a dollar or two from his expected value. But his ceiling is still so high and the evidence of his demise so weak that he still makes an excellent target if his owner is ready to hit the panic button and dump him on the cheap.
There may be nothing more satisfying in fantasy baseball than selling a player at his peak value just to watch him crash and burn for another owner while you reap the benefits of that owner's former studs. It happens every year—whether it was Michael Pineda's second half swoon in 2011 or that time that closer saved 20 games in the first half only to blow four in a row and lose his job. You remember that guy, right?
Let's check in on a couple well-regarded pitchers off to fast starts who might be worth more in trade than in your lineup.
My pick: C.J. Wilson
So far: 2-2.37-1.05-15
Oliver RoS: 13-3.21-1.19-161
Oliver Yahoo value: $18
Oliver ESPN value: $18
One of the more polarizing figures among fantasy pundits going into the year, Wilson creates an excellent selling opportunity due to his fast start. The heat of the debate between supporters and detractors combined with strong surface numbers leave judgments on the Halos' pitcher wide open for favorable bias.
Those who entered the 2012 draft season high on Wilson saw him as a left-hander leaving the pitcher's nightmare that is the Ballpark at Arlington for much friendlier confines, and a starter who had established a track record of out-performing his peripheral statistics.
Those who weren't so high on him argued that two years of data isn't strong evidence of a trend and that beneath the apparent improvements he made to his strikeout and walk rates in 2011 there was little to be excited about. His swinging strike and first pitch strike rates were both merely average, and the trademark ground ball dominance of his relieving days had declined since he'd converted to starting.
Odds are someone in your league was in the former group. There's a good chance that owner will look right at Wilson's two wins and low ERA and feel vindication. What he'll ignore is that his walks are up, his strikeouts are down, and he's allowing more contact that ever before.
Wilson's ERA is almost exclusively a product of his minuscule .189 BABIP. Even if you believe he's one of baseball's oddities who can outperform BABIP expectations, that number is clearly unsustainable.
Of course, we're talking about only three starts so far, so there's not a whole lot we can infer from what Wilson's done thus far in 2012. If you thought his strikeout and walk rates would be better than they are coming into the year, there's little reason to divert from that opinion and tremble at the thought of BABIP regression.
The point isn't that you should be looking to exploit a divergence between Wilson's 2012 ERA and xFIP, but the potential bias of those who were expecting him to have a career year. He's a perfect example of a player for whom expectations may have increased disproportionately compared to his projection.
If anything, the fresh evidence is slightly negative in regard to Wilson's 2012 projection, albeit nearly meaningless. But the combination of a charged preseason debate and quality ERA could well lead to quick judgments on the part of his supporters.
You shouldn't sell Wilson for less than you paid for him, but now is a great time to shop him around and see if you can get more.
Oliver's pick: James Shields
So far: 3-2.76-1.09-20
Oliver RoS: 12-3.72-1.22-170
Oliver Yahoo value: $9
Oliver ESPN value: $10
Shields is another pitcher who had a career year in 2011 and is again off to a fast start to 2012. But after putting these performances in the context of his career, Oliver remains skeptical.
Although there were fewer who doubted Shields' stock increase for the 2012 draft season than Wilson's, that may have been a bit of an oversight. The reason is a confirmation bias of a different kind.
Shields posted a brutal 2010 ERA over a strong xFIP, so we expected to see his performance increase dramatically in 2011. When it did, there was little reason to call for scrutiny, even though there were some signs that he also wasn't as good as he appeared on the surface.
While 2011 was a career year for Shields, he substantially outperformed his xFIP. Most of the actual improvement can be credited to career-best strikeout and swinging strike rates. Most of the illusory improvement can be credited to a .264 BABIP.
Rather than assuming Shields would simply replicate the improvements in strikeout rate, it's worth asking whether this was the beginning of a new trend, or simply a small outlier and the high water mark of an otherwise good-not-great career.
The early returns for 2012 are not as promising as they might seem upon first glance. Although Shields has once again started with a bang in terms of ERA and allowing baserunners, his strikeouts and swinging strikes are both down not only below his 2011 rates, but his career rates as well.
The lesson that follows from Wilson follows here as well. We shouldn't necessarily treat anything about Shields' early performance as strong evidence, but we also shouldn't ignore the strength of Shields' 2011 season compared to his career scope. Oliver is particularly cognizant of this issue, hence the very modest projection.
If someone in your league is looking at Shields ace-like 2011 and strong ERA and WHIP to start the year and willing to part with a high value piece to acquire him, it would be wise to oblige that owner. Shields could well post ace-like numbers again, but the better bet is that he's a second or third-tier starter who you may be able to sell for top-tier value.
If selling high is one of the most enjoyable acts of a fantasy baseball season, selling low is one of the most painful. Admitting sunk cost is difficult, but there is opportunity in these situations when the admission is managed. Many times other owners will pay above a player's projected value out of a misguided instinct to buy low or on name value alone. Even if the return price is below the price you paid, it may still be well more than the price you'd earn in keeping a broken player on your roster, and that's really all that matters.
We'll wrap this edition up with a look at the struggles of a couple of former top prospects for whom a rebound may not be on the horizon.
My pick: Alex Gordon
So far: .177-5-5-2-0
Oliver RoS: .273-68-65-16-8
Oliver Yahoo value: $5
Oliver ESPN value: $10
The once top prospect turned post-hype sleeper success was not only overrated in this year's drafts, but is off to about as a bad a start as a hitter can be.
The temptation to select Gordon in the late single-digit rounds of drafts was understandable. He was one of the few players to put up positive value in all five categories last year. That alone made him an incredibly valuable asset, even without the lingering third base eligibility. However, there were some big warning signs that hinted at regression.
First, his 2011 BABIP was .356, a career high by a very wide margin. His strikeout and walk rates didn't see appreciable change, meaning it was always much more likely he'd hit closer to his career .259 mark than his 2011 mark of .303.
Second, he's a pretty poor base-stealer. He's discussed as 20-steal threat, but that number's well above his career pace. Even worse, smart money is on his attempt rate decreasing. He was successful on steal attempts less than 70 percent of the time in 2011, and had just one successful steal in six attempts in 2010 as well.
The good news is that the 20-home run power is much closer to his career pace, even while he was struggling prior to 2011. A .270-20-10 projection isn't unreasonable, and as long as he remains in the leadoff spot of a quietly respectable Royals' lineup, you could add a solid run total to those numbers as well.
That brings us to to this year's early struggles. Thus far, Gordon's strikeouts and whiffs are both way up, at 28.2 percent and 11.0 percent, respectively, and his BABIP all the way down to .225. The latter will surely improve, but for the moment is supported buy an unsightly 33 percent infield fly ball rate, so it's not all a product of luck
Like all small sample size results, most of this is not objectively meaningful, but that won't prevent others from reading too much into them. In this case, the potential culprit is Royals manager Ned Yost.
With Lorenzo Cain on the mend, the Royals soon may have another option for the leadoff position. If Gordon loses his spot atop the lineup, he loses not only potential in runs, but possibly the green light on the basepaths as well. A move to fifth or sixth would add a few RBIs to his projected total, but not nearly enough to offset the difference.
Even if Gordon retains his leadoff position, its worth seeing if anyone in your league is still willing to buy into the five-category potential he's not likely to replicate. If Yost loses patience and moves Gordon down in the order, be ready to quickly enter full-on sell mode.
Oliver's pick: Matt Moore
So Far: 0-5.12-1.66-11
Oliver RoS: 9-4.52-1.43-176
Oliver Yahoo value: N/A
Oliver ESPN value: N/A
One of the most hyped pitching prospects to reach the majors this side of Stephen Strasburg, Moore is having difficulty with command in his early major league career. While the sample size is small, Oliver simply isn't surprised.
If Moore had a blemish in the minors, it was command. After posting walk rates north of 10 percent in full seasons at both Low-A and Hi-A in 2009 and 2010, he seemed to correct the issue in 2011 with an above average walk rate in Double-A and nominal one in Triple-A.
Considering his video game-like minor league strikeout totals, most drafters were willing to look past the command problems of the past and pay a hefty price on Moore's gaudy potential.
Right now, Oliver's giving us all a big "I told you so." The system sees Moore striking out plenty of batters, but also walking 87 over 169 more innings this year. Strikeouts are great, but it will be nearly impossible for Moore to post positive marks in ERA and WHIP with that many walks.
Oliver has a strong reputation for handling players with limited major league experience. Considering his pure natural ability and the Rays' strong history of handling young pitchers, I'm more optimistic than Oliver that Moore can make the necessary adjustments as he goes. But those of us who weren't expecting any growing pains are probably in the midst of a very real wake-up call.
If other owners in your league are still drooling over Moore's potential, transfer the cost of these growing pains to them while you reward yourself with what should be a more valuable fantasy asset.
If you're curious about the projections and dollar values provided, make sure to check out the THT Forecasts section. For $14.95, you get full access to the Oliver projections for thousands of major and minor leaguers, including six year Major League Equivalency forecasts on every player card. And best of all for us fantasy junkies, you get full access to THT's Custom Fantasy Price Guides, which allows you to create your own price guide based on your league settings and play-style preferences using the Oliver projections, with projections and dollar values updated throughout the season.
Mark Himmelstein is a philosophy student studying at SUNY Empire State who chooses to employ his analytical mind towards the wonderful world of Fantasy Baseball, rather than wasting it on something superfluous. He welcomes questions and comments via E-mail.
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