Commentary

Rollins' luck to turn around

Updated: August 2, 2009, 11:42 AM ET
By Shawn Peters | Special to ESPN.com

Grand Theft Roto

There are three things that always run out.

Ice at a barbecue, money in Vegas and luck in baseball.

Up until Thursday, my beloved Red Sox had been blessedly untouched by PED scandals, which had many Yankees fans crying conspiracy. But with The New York Times citing sources that David "Big Papi" Ortiz tested positive during MLB's 2003 survey testing, that all changed. Red Sox Nation's luck ran out, and now we get to listen to the catcalls and criticisms about the two World Series championship teams powered by Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.

Statistically, it had to happen at some point.

The good news is that the same axiom applies to players who have been lucky or unlucky so far in 2009, and identifying them can reap rewards in the trade market.

Casing the joint

There are two kinds of luck, and they're exactly the same in most regards. Granted, bad luck might not seem as though it ever exhausts itself, because once a player gets enough of it, he loses his starting gig or his roster spot. But the fact is, if a player has been lucky or unlucky, eventually things will even out, at least a little.

There are many ways you can measure luck, but line drives are one of my favorite indicators. Some fly balls are popups, while others barely miss going out of the park. Some grounders are weak dribblers, while others are hot shots in the hole. But to a hit a line drive, whether it's a low liner or a high drive, a batter has to center the ball on his bat. Not surprisingly, the statistics say that a line drive results in a hit 73.3 percent of the time, more than three times as often as a ground ball or fly. Likewise, if a pitcher is allowing a lot of line drives, eventually it will catch up with him, since it means his location, pitch selection and speed aren't fooling the batter.

My evidence for this philosophy? Of the 20 MLB leaders in line drives through the end of July, only two -- Jimmy Rollins and Randy Winn -- are batting worse than .280. On the pitching side, I identified 18 starters who have logged at least 132 innings and allowed fewer than 80 line drives this year. Every single one of them is in the top 40 starters in ESPN.com's player rater. That's no coincidence. So when I see Brett Anderson falling a little outside that list -- he has allowed 48 liners in 108 innings -- but sporting an IP/LD ratio better than any of the guys in that elite club, I get excited and start looking to trade for him, or better yet, grab him for free, since he's available in more than 90 percent of leagues.

The logic is simple: If a hitter is hitting lots of line drives and isn't seeing results, he's a bit unlucky. If a successful pitcher is allowing a ton of line drives and isn't mitigating it with strikeouts or extreme ground-ball tendencies, he's getting lucky.

In all cases, there's a degree of common sense that must be applied. Roy Halladay has allowed 94 line drives, the third highest total in either league, but we all know he's a spectacular pitcher who pitches to contact in an effort to be efficient and finish games. He's not getting lucky. He's good.

But once you filter out the obvious, looking at liners will let you find a few players to target and a few to deal in an effort to change your team's luck for the better.

Three I'm stealing

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: It's time. All season long, you've been waiting for him to wake up and smell the production. July was simply stellar -- .315 BA, 21 runs, and 10 steals through July 30 -- and people have started to notice. But as I mentioned earlier, Rollins has been arguably the unluckiest player in the league for the year. Only two players have had more line drives caught than Rollins this year, but they're starting to fall in. Paying anything less than full price for a top-5 shortstop is a steal.

Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs: This one is for slightly deeper formats, as the Cubs outfielder is owned in less than half of ESPN.com's public leagues. But with the Cubs sitting him against lefties, Fukudome is in a position to succeed, and I think there's more to come. The poor guy has hit 61 line drives in his first 300 at-bats and is batting nearly 100 points below the league average for liners. He should start getting more hits, and with all those walks, he could post a .400 OBP and score a ton of runs the rest of the way.

Ubaldo Jimenez, P, Rockies: There was a time when a fantasy baseball columnist could be fired for recommending a Rockies starting pitcher. Hopefully times have changed and I'll be back next week. In 135 2/3 innings, Jimenez has allowed only 75 line drives, and just as important for a guy pitching in Colorado, he has induced nearly twice as many grounders as fly balls. That plays anywhere, especially when you mix in 120 strikeouts. Jimenez is still owned in only a little more than half of ESPN.com leagues. See if you can get him "thrown" into a larger deal if he's owned in yours.

Three I'm dealing

[+] EnlargeKevin Youkilis
Stew Milne/US PresswireYoukilis' June and July average are not what you expect from a top-5 first baseman.

Kevin Youkilis, 1B, Red Sox: Before 2008's true breakout season, Youk had a history of fading a bit in the second half. Indeed, even including the post-break bashing of a year ago, his three-year splits still reflect a 93-point drop in OPS after the Midsummer Classic. This year, he hasn't looked great since the All-Star Game, and a look at his line drives suggests that even his slipping batting average may still be inflated. First off, he's hit only 44 liners all year, a middling number overall. But only six of them have been caught. Perception puts Youk near the top of all fantasy first basemen, but the Player Rater has Youk as 10th. See if you can sell him at the perceived value.

Nate McLouth, OF, Braves: McLouth's line drive numbers are actually very similar to Youkilis', but what's really got me worried about his worth going forward is the way he's hitting at Turner Field. His batting average at the home of the Braves is .190, and his OPS of .579 is only 58 points higher than his slugging percentage was at PNC Park for the season. His power-speed combination is nice, but I don't see a batting-average bounceback, and I worry that playing at Turner is going to get in his head. See what kind of market there is for him.

James Shields, SP, Rays: It's been more than two months since I said Shields was trade bait, and I feel even more so now. His ERA of 4.23 since that column is middling enough to suggest he's been OK, but he truly has been fortunate all year. Only four pitchers have allowed more line drives than Shields, and his ground-ball/fly-ball splits don't paint a picture of someone who's intentionally pitching to that kind of contact. The Rays are a good team and he will win games, but when the winds of luck blow the other way even a little, his ERA and WHIP are due for inflation.

Pulling the job

I want to clarify last week's "Pulling the Job," in which I said I'd dealt Tim Hudson for Colby Rasmus. That deal had been done nearly a week by the time Matt Holliday went to the Cardinals and forced Rasmus into the fourth outfielder slot. Sadly, between the time I wrote the column and it went live, my trade went from decent to deadly.

The biggest trade in the S.T.E.A.L. this week was unquestionably Frankie Four Fingers (aka Jamie Keefe) sending Sox speedster Jacoby Ellsbury to Alex Byrnes' "Laura Linney" squad in exchange for Chad Billingsley. Star hitter for star pitcher swaps are tough to gauge, but in this case, it was clear each side had stats to spare. Four Fingers has a 16-steal lead on second place, while Ms. Linney is unlikely to lose any points in strikeouts with a 31-point cushion separating her and the next team in line. Very fair deal, as much as my thieving heart hates to say it.

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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