Commentary

One-category wonders will rebound

Updated: May 9, 2009, 10:25 PM ET
By Shawn Peters | Special to ESPN.com

Grand Theft Roto
In this life, versatility is a blessing, but it certainly isn't a prerequisite for success.

Don Rickles is brilliant at insulting people.

Mrs. Fields knows her way with making cookies.

Michael Buffer is so good at saying "Let's get ready to rumble" that he trademarked it. He really does little else.

It's all proof that in this world, if you can be excellent at any single endeavor, you can make a career out of it. The key is finding that thing, honing it and making the most of it. Heck, even Dirk Diggler knew it when he said, "Everyone is given one special thing ... right?"

Fantasy baseball's equivalent is the classic one-category player who is roster-worthy only because he supplies a single commodity you need. Most often, these are closers, speedsters, strikeout pitchers or classic sluggers.

But what happens when, like Mr. Diggler in the third act of "Boogie Nights," one of these specialists isn't able to do the one thing that pays the bills? Is it an opportunity to buy, or should you be selling before it gets worse?

The answer depends on the player, the category and the reason behind the player's flaccid stats.

Casing the Joint

In truth, there is no such thing as a "one-category player." Even Juan Pierre eventually hits a home run. But the fact remains that there are some players you roster because you need their specialty, and thus, when they aren't delivering, it's an issue. Just don't treat all of them the same way.

When a power hitter isn't getting the ball over the fence, is it because he has been unlucky or injured, or is it something more permanent? Personally, I look at a couple of things in these cases. First, have his strikeouts jumped above his career norms? That can be a sign that he's getting beaten by pitches he used to hammer. Second, I check out his fly-ball rate because sluggers who are grounding out eventually start lifting the ball. If the fly balls are coming but the homers aren't, that's a worse sign for me.

For a player who suddenly isn't stealing bases, you want to see whether the player has an injury or simply isn't getting on base enough. But the one sure red flag is if he's attempting steals at a decent rate, but is getting caught more often than not. Orlando Cabrera is the poster child for this one. More on him later.

On the pitching side, I'll admit that I'm terrified by any strikeout pitcher whose strikeout ratio dips suddenly, because it's usually an injury. Even when it's not, it means said pitcher is going to have to learn how to get guys out in new ways. This was part of my gripe with Aaron Harang a week ago. The only exception for me is if a guy's walk rate declines with his falling strikeout numbers because that may just indicate that opposing hitters are swinging earlier in the count. That's one reason I'm not worried about Gil Meche's slightly depressed strikeouts-per-nine numbers, since his ratio of whiffs to walks has never been higher.

Finally, there are saves. Personally, I'm a big fan of seeing what it'll cost to poach any healthy closer who is about to lose his job. Unless the next-guy-in-line turns out to be the second coming of Dennis Eckersley, there's a decent chance he'll get another shot at closing later in the year. We've already seen it in Colorado, Chicago and, to some degree, St. Louis, where Ryan Franklin reclaimed his role from the end of 2008.

So which guys do I think are on the verge of getting their "one special thing" back?

Three I'm Stealing

Kerry Wood
John Williamson/Getty ImagesKerry Wood is off to a slow start, but he should be fine the rest of the way.
Kerry Wood, RP, Indians: Yes, his ERA stands at 6.55, a number that could drop California into the Pacific if it were on the Richter Scale. Yes, his WHIP of 1.64 is just as bad. But the thing is, he's still the best pitcher in the Indians' bullpen, and he hadn't blown a save until Monday. With 16 strikeouts in his first 11 innings, he's still got swing-and-miss stuff. The Indians have no one to replace him, so feel free to play up his health concerns and his one save since April 26.

Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers: Furcal has only three steals in 2009, despite being healthy for the first time in a long while. But he hasn't lost his speed. The Dodgers entered the weekend second in the majors in both batting average and runs scored, so Joe Torre has been happy to let the top of the order get on and play it safe until those guys are driven in by the robust middle of the order. However, with Manny Ramirez now spending 50 games in the PED penalty box, I'm betting there will be more green lights as the Dodgers have to manufacture their runs. Furcal still has 20-plus more steals to give.

Hunter Pence, OF, Astros: Pence hasn't hit a homer since April 22, and there's a reason. He's hitting more ground balls in 2009 than he has ever hit before. In many ways, the fact that he even has four dingers in 2009 is remarkable. But Pence is not a guy with a swing built for pounding the ball into the dirt. He's made for power and all the grounders are a passing fad. Don't pay for his better-than-.300 batting average, but do lasso him for the power that will show up when his line-drive and fly-ball rates both return to his career norms.

Three I'm Dealing

Orlando Cabrera, SS, Athletics: The A's aren't known as a running team to start with, ranking 27th in the league in steals. But when O-Cab gets thrown out in three of his first four attempts, his base coaches start wearing red lights on their caps, just in case. Throw in Cabrera's sub-.300 on-base percentage and there's reason to believe he's no longer going to offer enough of the one commodity that made him worth a roster spot. Even in AL-only leagues, you should see if anyone believes he's "buying low."

Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs: While Lee's stock has fallen mightily from his days as an elite first baseman, he's still owned in just under 97 percent of ESPN leagues. After all, he's averaged 21 homers, 86 RBIs and a batting average north of .300 over the past two years. Don't be fooled. His power is all but gone thanks to a bulging disk in his neck, and while he claimed Thursday he wasn't headed for the DL, I'm saying today that he should be headed to someone else's team in your league. The batting average may bounce back to respectability, but he is among the top 25 in the NL in terms of fly balls hit, and only three have left the yard. Bad sign.

Matt Cain, SP, Giants: I've been a Cain-iac in the past, loving his stuff and thinking he merely needed a little better control to break out. But after striking out at least 7.33 batters per nine inning in each of his past three seasons, his 2009 mark is 6.63 strikeouts per nine, and that's after his six innings of seven-strikeout, one-hit ball Thursday. Cain's ERA is down to 2.61, so there will be people who want him. But with his strikeouts falling and his walk rate actually elevated, I believe that ERA is an illusion.

Pulling the Job

The S.T.E.A.L. had plenty of deals and some controversy this week, as the league's youngest owner, Danny "Wrong Braun" Heifetz, made a slew of trade proposals in the space of a few minutes and accidentally offered Randy Johnson up without asking for any players back. Needless to say, Jamie "Frankie Four Fingers" Keefe accepted it before it could be rescinded. Danny has been chastised strongly by the league and me, but we're chalking this one up to growing pains.

In the more conventional realm, my offense has been struggling, but I'm flush with four closers. So I dealt Ty Wigginton, Kenshin Kawakami and Chad Qualls to Matty "Meatballs" Cederholm for Mark Reynolds, Andy Pettitte and Carlos Villanueva. Wiggy has been hitting the ball with the authority of a McDonald's assistant manager, while Reynolds' pop is on the rise and Pettitte certainly upgraded my rotation a little. Villanueva is simply my Trevor Hoffman-handcuff. The real question will be how much will I miss Qualls' qualities?

Personally, I think this was one of those deals that helped both sides -- a true GT-aren't.

Until next week, 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.

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