Don't discount Helton
Of course in the eternal search for inspiration -- or at least metaphors to help me start my columns -- I started thinking that fantasy owners tend to be very afraid of pitchers and hitters who deal with their own power outages. But why? Isn't a player who helps a team in three categories pretty valuable as long as you don't have a team of them?
Today, let's reset our alarms and wake up to the value of players who aren't reliable in the power department.
Casing the joint
We're prejudiced, and by "we" I mean the fantasy baseball owners of the world. For years, we've looked down our roto-noses at guys like Mark Grace, Sean Casey or Dmitri Young. You know, the ones that play power positions but don't have pop in their bats. Sure, they all did a fine job providing batting average, scoring runs and driving in batters, but their lack of thunder made them significantly less desirable than a comparable guy who hit 25 homers a year while batting in the .260s.
On the pitching side, a lack of strikeout skills has devalued Joe Saunders and Derek Lowe, regardless of great records and ratios. Meanwhile, the Oliver Perezes and Jonathan Sanchezes of the world only need a good month before watching their trade stock rise since they tantalize with their whiffs.
Power really is the only area on either side of the stat sheet we feel comfortable discriminating against openly, as it it's an absolute truth that needs no explanation. "Yeah, Mark Buehrle's having a great year, but he doesn't strike anyone out." But when looking at team construction, you have to take a step back and realize that a team whose top two starters are Buehrle and Javier Vazquez has received 201 strikeouts from them, only four less than a team featuring a pair of "power arms" in Josh Beckett and Josh Johnson.
Now re-read the previous paragraph, replacing "homers" for all strikeout references. It's the same thing when you realize that having the unbalanced tandem of Scott Rolen and Prince Fielder at your corners provides you with the same 28 homers you'd have gotten so far from Evan Longoria and Kevin Youkilis.
Obviously, if you need to move up in homers or strikeouts, then fishing for powerless players makes no sense. But if you're looking for a way to build balanced production, players without power can energize your roster for less. Just make sure you find the ones who have what it takes to keep lighting up the other categories.
Three I'm stealing
Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies: Gone are the days of 30 homers a year, but Helton has had a hell of a bounceback this season. With a lifetime batting average of .328, his current mark of .317 is perfectly sustainable. But it's his run-scoring and run-producing prospects I like just as much. The Rockies are currently second in the NL in terms of run scored, and Helton has batted third in all but eight of his at-bats this year. With guys like Hawpe, Barmes, Stewart and Tulowitzki all bashing the ball for power, Helton will continue to get pitches to hit and come up with men in scoring position. Play up the age and injury history and get him on the cheap compared to his actual production.
Bobby Abreu, OF, Angels: Abreu is on pace to steal more than 30 bases, bat better than .300 and flirt with 100 runs and RBI for the season. But many of his owners don't have him on an "untouchable" list because he's a four-category guy who used to be a five-category player, plus he's stolen only three bags since the end of May. That's fine. We all like players who have room for improvement, and that's not Abreu. But if what you see is what you get with Abreu, that's still a lot. He's a guy to grab as long as you pay a price for a moderate return of his speed, without expecting a return of the power.
Nick Blackburn, SP, Twins: Much like a Mark Buehrle or Joe Saunders, some guys prove, over the course of a career, they can be effective despite not striking guys out, usually because they also refuse to walk people. Blackburn is walking in their footsteps and I'm a believer that in deeper leagues, he's a guy to target. Since the start of June he has allowed only four homers, and he's had only one start where he has walked multiple batters. When you are limiting baserunners and big flies, you can succeed, and that's why Blackburn is among the league leaders in ERA.
Three I'm dealing
Felipe Lopez, 2B, Diamondbacks: Established middle infielders who are batting better than .300 are always of interest, even in shallow leagues. But Lopez's average might as well have David Blaine holding it up. Lopez is a lifetime .265 hitter and his current average of .303 is 12 points higher than he's ever batted in a full season. As a leadoff man, Lopez doesn't drive in runs, and he no longer steals bags with any regularity. So do you really want to give a roster spot to a guy with an inflated average who's on pace to score a middling 80 runs in about 700 plate appearances? Maybe Jose Reyes' owner is still looking for some help in the middle infield.
Jason Marquis, SP, Rockies: Before you start e-mailing and commenting on the fact that I'm telling you to sell a guy who's available on the waiver wire in more than 60 percent of ESPN.com leagues, understand that I'm actually saying you should go pick him up for free and then wait a few weeks, as he's among the most added players around. Marquis really should have made the All-Star Game as the NL's win leader in the first half. There will be some talk about that. But if Marquis has a few more strong starts coming out of the break, win-hungry owners will start sniffing around him, or at least counteroffering. Don't ask for a ton, and know that his numbers will slip. Look for upgrades rather than studs.
Kevin Millwood, SP, Rangers: It's one thing to bet on a player who has never been a strikeout pitcher. It's another to take a chance on a pitcher who once was a solid citizen in the K department. But what we don't do is put our faith in a starter who pitches to contact in the Texas heat. Millwood has averaged better than seven strikeouts per nine innings in his career, and this year he's at a paltry 5.37 whiffs per nine. He's also on pace to walk more batters than he has in any year of his career. I'm dealing him now, while that 3.34 ERA is still there, leading others astray.
Pulling the job
Lots of activity in The S.T.E.A.L. lately, including yours truly recruiting my old friend and felony mentor, Zach Messler, to run a team when an owner wasn't able to stay active. But I was able to pull a few deals since we last chatted, including following my own advice.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about punting from in front in regard to my big lead in saves. Well, within 48 hours of the article going live, I'd made a pair of trades. First, I dealt Trevor Hoffman to Joel "Vanilla Ice" Rasho for Pablo Sandoval, praying that he keeps up the hot hitting and maybe gets catcher eligibility at some point, though the latter hope is far-fetched. Then I sent Joe Nathan and Randy Winn to "The Crushinator," aka Andrew Lerner, in exchange for Nick Blackburn and Torii Hunter. So far I still have a 19-save lead on my nearest pursuer, Sandoval and Hunter have each batted better than .300 for me, and Blackburn gave up only three earned runs total in his first two starts for me while striking out 10 batters.
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.