- Shawn Peters
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There are some statements so obvious that I weep salty man-tears for our world that they even have to be said.
You know, like when you watch a car commercial in which some slick sedan is power-sliding across the wetted-down streets of a totally empty city at 85 miles per hour and in the corner of the screen, it says, "Do not attempt: professional driver on closed course."
Or how about when a new diet infomercial shows you a 102-pound hottie who used to weigh more than Prince Fielder at an all-you-can-eat vegan buffet with the disclaimer, "Weight loss results are not typical."
Of course, the equivalent in the fantasy sports world is the ubiquitous advice, "Sell high and buy low." Can we just retire it, or at least turn it into an acronym to save time? I mean, everyone is doing it, and as a trade columnist, I realize that offering "conventional wisdom" for making deals is like offering Superman a kryptonite codpiece on his wedding night. Not gonna get it done. So sure, if you can buy a guy who's bound to get better by selling a guy who is doomed to drop, do it. But if everyone has got their "SHABL" on, you're better off going against the grain.
Casing the joint
The thing about the SHABL cliché is that it kinda paints every player off to a hot or cold start the same way. It's simply not true. A year ago, Chipper Jones was batting .433, and people were shouting "sell high" until the CDC announced a laryngitis epidemic. Jones went on to bat better than .400 in two more months and better than .300 in another two, and he slipped to only .270 during his injury-marred July. So anyone who sold "high" and didn't get full price for a guy who ended up batting .364 actually came up short.
Flip it around and remember that those who confidently bought "low" on Justin Verlander at the end of April, when his record stood at 1-4 and his ERA at 6.50. He went 10-13 the rest of the way with an ERA of 4.70 or worse in the final three months of the season.
However, even without dealing shooting stars for slumping studs, you can garner big rewards by successfully predicting which players are "sell high" options and dealing them for guys with "stay high" potential, just as you can avoid ruin by making sure you invest in only those "buy low" candidates who are actually due to turn it around.
The rules for these high-for-high or low-for-low deals are pretty clear. You have to try to match up players who have similar profiles. Trying to leverage Kevin Millwood's hot start into a deal that gets you Johan Santana is foolish. But using Dan Haren, a fantasy ace with a history of fading later in the season, as a major chip in a multiplayer deal to get Santana could be a perfect case of selling high and getting back someone who will stay even higher. The other guy has to at least listen to what else is involved.
Are you ready to target Jimmy Rollins, who is colder than an Eskimo's outhouse? Well, you won't get far offering up Howie Kendrick, a decent bounceback bet. However, if you offer up Brandon Phillips, another top-10 middle infielder whose bat has gone AWOL, you're going to get more interest, and possibly land the player who has the better chance of coming all the way back. After all, Rollins hasn't batted lower than .277 or stolen fewer than 30 bases in a year since 2003, while Phillips has had exactly one great year, and two very good years in his career.
Sell high, and buy higher. Buy low, but sell lower. It's not cliché, but if you do your research and pick right, it's a GTR you can pull without setting off any alarms.
Three I'm stealing
Raul Ibanez, OF, Phillies: I know he's 36 years old, but he went from playing in a pitcher's park in the AL surrounded by a light-hitting lineup to a hitter's haven where he has thumpers all around him. He won't bat better than .400, nor will his OPS continue to hover around 1.100. But I'm saying right now that his career high of 33 homers is in danger and that the 123 RBIs he posted in 2006 is attainable. I find his numbers much more sustainable than Adam Dunn's scorching start or Torii Hunter's four-digit OPS.
Erik Bedard, SP, Mariners: Bedard is Canadian, and hence a foreigner, and as Foreigner once sang, "Love isn't always on time." Healthy, confident and finally ready to pick up where he left off in 2007, Bedard is one of those guys whom some owners adore and others are terrified of. I'll take the risk with a 29-to-3 strikeout-to-walk rate in his first 25 2/3 innings and happily give you "safer" guys who have torn it up so far, like Aaron Harang.
Jake Peavy, SP, Padres: The list of highly touted starters with ERAs on the wrong side of 5.00 going into this weekend's games is long and distinguished. After all, you'd have been overjoyed if you came out of your draft with a staff of Carlos Zambrano, Scott Kazmir, Cliff Lee, Jon Lester, Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano, right? But it's Peavy whose ERA of 5.13 doesn't worry me in the slightest. He has struck out 26 in 26.1 innings and still pitches at Petco Park in half his games. Right now, opponents are batting .273 against Peavy, a full 31 points higher than in any season since his rookie year. That will even out, and Peavy's numbers will be outstanding soon enough.
Three I'm dealing
Edinson Volquez, SP, Reds: During his outrageous first half of 2008, Volquez struck out better than two batters for each walk he issued, and the opposition batted .212 against him. During his painfully mediocre second half of 2008, he kept his strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 2 to 1, but batters hit .260 off him. This year, the opposition is batting .228, but he has a K/BB rate of 22/20 in his first three starts. He's got ace stuff, but he's trending in the wrong direction and I don't like his chances to be a fantasy anchor at all. Liriano and Ricky Nolasco make for much better buy-low options.
Jarrod Washburn, SP, Mariners: Even after a 3-0 start with a WHIP that looks like Bluto's GPA in "Animal House," Washburn is owned in only about a quarter of ESPN leagues. Still, I think he's a better "sell-high" option than most of the other unlikely suspects populating the sortable pitching stats. Washburn is 34, and other than his 18-6 campaign in 2002, he has never won more than 11 games or struck out more than 126 batters. In short, we know this can't keep up. In deeper leagues, I'd rather take a chance on Paul Maholm or Glen Perkins, who are both still young enough to make me think they could be due for a breakout.
Nick Swisher, 1B/OF, Yankees: Call it the "Red Sox-Yankees bias," but when a player gets hot for either of those teams, unless his name is Tim Wakefield, everyone jumps on his bandwagon. Swisher is still part of a crowded outfield/DH picture in the Bronx, and while his four homers in his first 59 at-bats has earned him the right to play more often, his production simply isn't sustainable. Swisher's batting average isn't just more than 60 points better than his career average of .245, it's also more than 40 points better than his career high. The new Yankee Stadium certainly can boost Swisher's homer total, but Swisher won't ever look as attractive as he does now.
Pulling the job
While my reader league, S.T.E.A.L. (Serious Traders, Everything Allowed League), has slowed down with more owners kvetching about lopsided offers than making actual deals, I actually made a bona fide GTR in one of my anonymous public leagues this past week.
I found an impatient Grady Sizemore owner -- Sizemore was batting .214 at the time -- who had no closers at all on his roster. I offered up a then-healthy Vladimir Guerrero plus Oakland's Brad Ziegler for Sizemore and the recently rocked young starter Yovani Gallardo. I loved that deal for me right away, but within four hours of its being accepted, Vlad went on the DL. Somehow the deal survived the veto process, and Sizemore has nine hits, including three home runs, in his first 20 at-bats for my squad. Gallardo's six innings of shutout ball April 18 wasn't bad, either.
Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.
Shawn Peters offers his weekly trade thoughts and notes that "sell high and buy low" is a little cliche and should be retired.