Grand Theft Roto: Using on-base to determine value
Every year, I write a column two weeks into the season, and every year, I try to find a new way to say that this is the most dangerous time to be trading. There are enough stats now that they feel indicative, even though they aren't. People are ready to abandon their preseason assumptions, which can be a good or bad thing. And then there are the standings, which couldn't mean less right now.
I've tried extended metaphors, cigarette-label-style warnings, and even a complex rebus but I'm still not sure people understand that patience is a virtue. But that got me thinking: Does patience necessarily mean trading is verboten? What if it actually means that now is the time to trade for the virtue of patience and to target those owners who have the most compelling reasons to be impatient?
Let's start with the impatient group since they can't wait. The first thing you have to ask yourself before you make any offer is "Why would they do this?" Even if the answer comes back with more plot holes than a Michael Bay film, you have to have some reason to believe they'll want the deal. Thus, I want you to look at your league's standings and immediately rule out making offers to any team in the top three or four for this week unless one of those owners has suffered a subtle but substantial head injury.
But when you look at the other end of the standings, especially in roto leagues, you find some people who may consider "prudence" to be nothing more than a character from a Beatles song. Find that last-place team's worst category and pick at it like it's a scab. Make sure you point out that they don't want to go into May with that kind of gaping deficit. Prey upon the fact that the only thing they are lacking more than roto points is patience.
On another front, while most stats don't mean a thing this early, there are some numbers that are leading indicators, and one of them involves a different kind of patience. When a player shows a marked increase in his willingness to work counts and prioritize getting on-base, that's a change in approach. Sure, it may lead to a few more strikeouts, but at the end of the day, it usually results in better at-bats and more time on base. Then again, when a player who has shown patience at the dish before suddenly starts swinging earlier in the count, that's not what I'm looking for.
So this week, rather than focusing too much on a player's results, I'm looking at players whose patience has me ready to act, one way or another.
Fred Lewis, OF, Giants: Lewis strikes out too much for someone with such limited pop, but that doesn't hurt you as a fantasy owner. However, you can't ignore the fact that Lewis is second the majors in pitches per plate appearance. Unless Lewis is really Barry Bonds in disguise, his OBP isn't staying better than .500, but he's taking more walks and he certainly has enough speed to turn all those trips to first into 20 or more steals during this season. In mixed leagues, he's likely free on the waiver wire, but in NL-only formats, he's a guy I'd start sniffing around.
Daniel Murphy, OF, Mets: With fewer than 180 total at-bats in The Show, Murphy doesn't have a lot of hard data behind the buzz he has created by winning a starting gig. He has established a good approach at the plate, though, with 21 walks and 34 strikeouts in his young career. Forget the notion he has to develop patience, because Murphy already has it at age 24: He tops the majors in terms of pitches per plate appearance. Murphy will take some walks this year, and on a team as offensively potent as the Mets, that will lead to runs coming in bunches.
Akinori Iwamura, 2B, Rays: Iwamura has been a solid on-base guy since he arrived in the United States, with a very respectable .354 mark in his first two seasons. However, he has posted only 20 steals over those same two seasons despite being on a team that loves to run. This year, he seems determined to up his walk total, ranking in the top 10 of pitches per plate appearance, but it's the four steals in his first 12 games that I'm liking most. A year ago, he was a hot commodity who underperformed. This year, he's under the radar and attainable, even in AL-only leagues.
J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox: It pains me to say it as a Sox fan, but he has not looked right this year. His hallmark is his willingness to take a walk in any situation, even to the detriment of his team. But before Friday's games, Drew ranked 145th in the majors in terms of pitches per plate appearance, and when he does wait at the plate, it's turning into K's. Throw in the ever-present risk of chronic injury and he's officially a guy whom I'm offering around like the shrimp platter at a cocktail party.
Miguel Tejada, SS, Astros: I don't know whether the swallows have returned to Capistrano, but it must be spring because I'm talking smack about Miguel Tejada. We all know he's in a player in decline, but do your leaguemates realize just how steep it is? We're talking about five years of falling homer totals, from 34 in 2004 to 13 a year ago. He's coming off a 2008 when he took only 24 walks, the fewest he's amassed in any season in which he's played in 100 or more games. This year, he's seeing only 3.07 pitches each time he goes to the plate. I implore you, while he's hitting better than .300 and still has some cachet, shop him to anyone who needs a shortstop.
Cristian Guzman, SS, Nationals: I was all prepared to tell you to pick up Guzman, owned in less than 30 percent of ESPN leagues, while he's leading the NL in batting at .515, just so you could immediately dangle him in front of someone who is easily distracted by shiny objects. Of course now he's on the DL with the old hammy whammy, but I still think the strategy holds if you have room on your DL or bench. The fact is; he's a man with a lifetime batting average of .272 and a disdain for plate patience. Guzman has zero walks year and even though he's batted better than .300 during the past two seasons, his entire value is tied up in whether his unrepentant swing-addiction results in hits. As soon as he's off the DL, he's lovely trade bait.
'Twas an active week for both The S.T.E.A.L. and myself. In one of my several "anonymous" public leagues, I made a blockbuster, dealing away Rafael Furcal, Vladimir Guerrero, Mike Cameron and Brett Myers for Jason Bay, Adam Jones, Elvis Andrus, and Scott Baker. Essentially, I dealt for four players on the upsides of their careers for four I think have had their best seasons. I particularly wanted to deal Myers, whom I'm not fond of on many levels, and I felt that Baker's early-season injury had depressed his value. If Elvis can steal enough bags to keep up with Furcal, I really like the chances of Bay and Jones to give me everything I'd have seen from the combo of Cameron and Vlad, with a bit more batting average and a lot less injury risk.
In The S.T.E.A.L., the big move was between Alex "L.L." Byrnes and Jonathan Dilger, owner of "Frank Dux Roundhouse." Dilger dealt Paul Konerko, Dan Uggla and Joel Hanrahan to Byrnes for Ryan Howard, Clint Barmes, and Derek Lowe. Needless to say, the swap got the message boards boiling, but for my money, I think Dux landed the slightly stronger roundhouse on this one. Ryan Howard's issues in the past have been slow starts, and this year he's hitting for average until he finds his power stroke, plus Dilger had the saves to deal because he has Brad Lidge and Jonathan Broxton on his roster. If Konerko has a great year and Lowe's strong start wanes, it ends up being even. But if Howard and Lowe both go off, Uggla will have to have a career year to balance the scales.
So that's it. Have patience. Buy patience. And don't just win your league. Steal it.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.