Get on the Hamels bandwagon
Let's say you go to a brilliantly reviewed restaurant for the first time and you get violently ill within hours of finishing your meal. Fair or not, it's doubtful you're going back to see if it was the food or the flu that sent you praying to the porcelain altar.
If you are set up on a blind date with someone who has been touted as "perfect for you" and then your date doesn't show, it'll take a lot of optimism to give them another chance. Even if they swear they were actually stuck on an elevator at work, are you buying it? Probably not.
But what if you see a baseball player who jilted his owners and came out putting up nauseating numbers for a month, only to turn things around for the past four weeks? The overall results look mediocre, but in truth, you'd be staring at a delicious dish in both senses of the word.
Time to give some players a second look.
Casing the joint
Every year, there are dozens of major leaguers who explode out of the gates and then fade, but their owners stick with them, believing they'll recapture that glory. That one month of a 1.000 OPS or an undefeated record is written in indelible ink. The same is true if a well-respected hitter is batting less than .200 or a pitcher is winless come May Day, even if he then turns things around. Maybe a great May gets him off the bench, but it certainly won't make him untouchable.
But the fact is that if you took the names off both players, the early stud and the early dud, and put them next to each other, they'll look like twins.
PLAYER A: 6-3, 3.49 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 41 strikeouts.
PLAYER B: 4-3, 3.42, 1.14 WHIP, 48 strikeouts.
Separated at birth? Player A is Derek Lowe, who sported a 3.10 ERA in April but has struck out only 16 in 40 May innings, while Player B is CC Sabathia, who overcame a wretched April to post a 3-1 record in May with a 2.33 ERA heading into his start Saturday. One is moving in the right direction while the other isn't. Granted, this is an extreme example because even at the end of April, very few owners would've traded their slumping Sabathia for Lowe. But in cases with less iconic names, guys who started out on fire still have a little more trade value because there are still people who remember looking at the league leaders and seeing their names there.
While most owners are focusing on the "SHABL" crowd, making offers involving guys with unsustainable numbers or betting on star-named slumpsters, I encourage you to search out the middle-of-the-road guys who quietly have been in the fast lane for a month without getting so much as a speeding ticket.
Three I'm stealing
Michael Cuddyer, OF, Twins: If I had a poster boy for this whole theme, Cuddyer would be it. His April was dismal. We're talking about a .224 batting average and only one more homer than I hit in the month. But then things turned around. His April OPS of .634 was lower than his May slugging percentage of .683 as he has hit eight bombs and batted .327. Being part of a crowded outfield is not a great situation, but his hot streak has him playing every day. Get him now, while his overall line of .283 with nine homers and 33 RBIs has him looking like a fringe contributor.
J.J. Hardy, SS, Brewers: When Hardy ended April with a batting average that looked like my freshman weight (.156, for the record), he might as well have had wood glue on his butt because he was stuck on the pine by thousands of owners. But in May, despite battling some back spasms, he found a way to bat .321 with nine extra-base hits in just 78 at-bats. Remember, Hardy started out slow in 2008 and then posted an OPS of .872 or better for three straight months starting in June. Look at his past two seasons and you know that he has 20 more homers left in him, easy. Between the middling numbers and the recent injury scare, now is the time to get him cheap.
Cole Hamels, SP, Phillies: Dinged up in spring training, out to an awful start and left for dead on the fantasy turnpike by a few foolish owners, Hamels sent out a league-wide e-mail in May that read, "I'm baaaaaaaaaaack!" The 4.68 ERA and 2-2 record mean nothing. They're like a memo written in Sanskrit. Totally dead language. The real message is his May stats, which read like this: 2.88 ERA, 2-0 record and 28 strikeouts in 25 innings. I'm not saying I would trade Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum or Johan Santana for him straight up. But I am saying those are the only four guys I would consider a true upgrade from Hamels.
Three I'm dealing
Nyjer Morgan, OF, Pirates: Everybody loves a rookie who explodes in his first trip around the majors. But then the league adjusts and it's on him to see how he can adjust to their adjustments. Right now, Morgan's adjustment is to curl up in the fantasy fetal position. His overall numbers (.275 average, 28 runs, 10 steals) paints him as the new Juan Pierre. But in May, Morgan has stolen only four bags in seven attempts, and he is batting more than 60 points below his .307 mark for April. Yes, he takes walks. But he's also on pace to strike out 100 times and his OBP is higher than his slugging percentage. If there's someone who needs steals in your league, deal him.
Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers: It's hard not to notice that there are some batters who have lost their oomph since Manny PED'd his way out of Dodgertown for 50 games. Ethier went from an OPS of .976 in April to a mark of .607 in May with his homer total shrinking from five to one. He produced 45 fly balls to only 30 grounders during this month, but they simply won't go over the fence, and he needs to stop trying to make it happen. With his fly ball rate and strikeout rate topping his previous career highs, he is the portrait of a guy trying to fill Manny's void. I'm just not convinced he will snap back when Ramirez returns in July.
James Shields, SP, Rays: Shields has been a GTR favorite for several seasons, but I do not like what I'm seeing right now. Despite having decent overall numbers and being owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, Shields is caught up in the Bermuda Triangle that forms over young teams a year after they unexpectedly outperform their own expectations. Right now, Shields is on pace to set career highs in hits allowed and walks allowed, while his strikeout rate has dipped nearly a full K per game below his career average. His ERA hasn't shown it yet, but Shields was outrageously hittable in May and I'm not sure everyone has noticed.
Pulling the job
With my squad in The S.T.E.A.L. fantasy league firmly rooted in the middle of the pack due to anemic run production, and Jose Reyes' injury creating yet another hole in my lineup, I had to get aggressive about acquiring some bats. About a week ago, I started negotiating with Jordan "Ally McSteal" Zeichner, in an attempt to deal my beloved Jake Peavy for guys who are scoring runs, hitting for average and stealing some bags, three categories where I can make up ground quickly. We ended up exchanging more than a dozen offers and counters before finally settling on a big deal. I moved Peavy, Joel Zumaya, Rick Ankiel and Chase Headley, and in exchange, received Justin Upton, Denard Span, Phil Hughes and John Maine. I may be foolish to keep believing in Maine, but I do think Hughes is pitching himself into position to keep his gig for a while, and I can't complain about the offensive production I got back. Still, I'd concede Jordan got the best player in the deal, so it's just a question of which of us sees a rise in fantasy points.
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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