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Grand Theft Roto: Understanding the Standings

7/18/2008

I'm pretty sure I have mentioned the special keyboard shortcuts that all fantasy sports columnists have in past columns.

You know, like the fact that I can press "F1" and the words "It's still early" type themselves. "F2" results in "Buy low and sell high" appearing on the page without all those annoying extra keystrokes.

"Never pay for saves," "You're trading for what a player will do, not what he's done" and "Moises Alou is headed for the DL" also have one-touch options designed to save fantasy writers from early-onset of carpal tunnel syndrome.

But wedged into these clich├ęs is the old adage, "Trade from strength." Of course, it's absolutely valid, but I recently came to realize it's a presupposed idea that everyone actually knows how to identify their strengths when it comes to making deals. Maybe that's not something that should be presupposed.

Casing the joint

Quick quiz.

Roto League Owner A is in first place in strikeouts in his league with 860. His three nearest pursuers have 850, 844 and 838 strikeouts.

Roto League Owner B is in fifth place in strikeouts with 790. Fourth place has 838, while sixth place has 735.

So which of these players has enough "strength" to trade a high-strikeout starter like Ervin Santana for groundball artist, a la Derek Lowe, and a hitter to address other needs?

The answer is Owner B, even though he's only middle-of-the-pack in terms of whiffs. He's not likely to move up in the category without pulling a big deal for a power arm, and with the fifth-place team 55 strikeouts behind, he shouldn't get caught with less than half a season left to play.

But if Owner A made a deal that cost him even 25 strikeouts for the balance of the season (the move from Santana to Lowe would result in at least that), he'd lose three points in strikeouts alone, meaning any deal he made would have to push him ahead more than that in other categories to be considered at all helpful.

So take a long look at your standings because in roto leagues, at this time in the season, while your greatest strength for trading might be the category in which you're lapping the field, it also could be the one in which you aren't going to go up or down more than a point no matter what you do. Embrace the security and make a move.

Three I'm stealing

J.J. Hardy, SS, Brewers: Ladies and gentlemen (OK, mostly men, and very few qualifying as "gentle"), I give you the only full-time shortstop with a higher OPS than Hanley Ramirez since June 1. We know Hardy's a streaky player, and as he conveyed to ESPN.com's own Nate Ravitz at the 2007 All-Star festivities, he's not a true power hitter. But this year's All-Star Game came at the right time for Hardy, as he was slumping with a .105 batting average in the week leading up to the break. Now he's rested and refreshed as he and his teammates face a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way. Consider his hot June and torrid start to July a correction after a strangely poor start, and pay attention to his season-long improvements in terms of plate discipline. He definitely can match or exceed his strong overall numbers -- 26 home runs, 80 RBIs and 89 runs -- from 2007.

Mark Ellis, 2B, Athletics: Mark Ellis is due to raise that .238 batting average he was sporting going into the break. First of all, that mark is 30 points worse than his career batting average. Second, he has sported an unusually low 25 percent hit rate, so it would appear he's getting unlucky. And finally, Ellis is the only second-sacker right now who has walked more often than he has struck out, and batters with that kind of eye generally figure out a way to get it going. But even if Ellis' batting average doesn't spike to a respectable level, chances are your team's overall batting average isn't going to be drastically affected by another 250 at-bats by Ellis. However, the chances of you finding another cheap option at second base who could give you double-digit homers and steals the rest of the way are even lower. Especially in AL-only formats, I'm buying.

Kevin Slowey, SP, Twins: Minor league stats don't count in the majors, but minor league trends do count in terms of sorting out which young players are playing way over their heads and which ones can keep it up. In 359 1/3 minor league innings, Kevin Slowey struck out 351 batters while walking only 50. Feel free to reread because the numbers are right. So when I see the Twins' starter has a strikeout-to-walk ratio close to five, the only correction I see coming is one in which he starts striking out a few more batters. The Twins are in the hunt for the rest of the year and Slowey will start winning more games soon. In deeper leagues, he's gold, so dangle some iron pyrite for him and then skip town.

Three I'm dealing

Jeremy Guthrie, SP, Orioles: Mr. Guthrie has a better ERA than the previously mentioned Mr. Slowey, more strikeouts and their respective WHIPs -- 1.19 for Gurthrie, 1.13 for Slowey -- are close enough to call it a wash. So why am I selling Guthrie while lusting for Slowey? For me, it's a matter of Guthrie's control being shakier -- his strikeout-to-walk rate of 83-to-37 is decent, but not dominant -- and Guthrie getting luckier so far. Guthrie has allowed 152 fly balls and 15 have turned into homers. Of the rest, only 13 have dropped in or bounced off walls for a hit. Pitchers who don't strike out that many batters and give up lots of flies eventually watch their ERAs climb. Plus, I wouldn't count on the Orioles to rack up the wins in the second half.

Brandon Lyon, RP, Diamondbacks: I'm not saying that Lyon is walking the "Todd Jones tightrope," with his job in danger every time he takes the ball. The fact remains, however, that Lyon has either blown a save and/or lost the game in half of his past six appearances. Granted, there have been a couple of unearned runs in that stretch, but Lyon isn't having a ton of clean innings and his strikeout totals aren't stunning. It's not that you should dump him necessarily, but if you can swap him for a "shaky" closer (as if they aren't all shaky at heart) and improve elsewhere, I don't think you're losing much.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox: Oh man, I'm going to get hate mail from my chowdah head buddies for this, but I can't ignore three facts. First, Pedroia is a streak hitter and he's coming off a 153 at-bat stretch in which he piled up 56 hits. That's a streak, and all streaks end. Second, Pedroia isn't a power hitter even though he has nine dingers so far, yet during the months of June and July, only 10 hitters in baseball hit more fly balls than he did. Even with the Green Monsters looming for all his home games, Pedroia's due to watch more of them result in outs. And finally, it's a question of selling at peak value. What could Petey do to make himself worth more? So if you can sell him for full price, it's OK to do it. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go become a Yankees fan so I can hate myself more.

Pulling the job

Last week I reported a deal from my AL keeper league. But in the interim, my recent trading partner watched Rich Harden migrate to the NL, and with another year on his contract, he's not coming back anytime soon, so he is unkeepable in our format. Meanwhile, I had Dustin McGowan go on the DL, but he got good news that surgery isn't necessary. With me having the most points to gain in strikeouts and ERA, it was a match made in keeper-league heaven. So once I threw in Mariners prospect Carlos Triunfel, we had a deal.

Now I'm counting on Harden staying healthy and my leaguemate is praying McGowan gets healthy. If both happen, it's a win-win.

Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.

Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball, football and golf analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.