- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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All this week, we're examining trade possibilities as we count down the hours to the ESPN fantasy baseball trade deadline. Here's the bad news: Since the first of our big-three rankings columns, "60 Feet, 6 Inches," published on Tuesday, another 24 hours have rolled off the clock. There are now less than 48 hours until the deadline, which arrives Friday, Aug. 10 at noon ET. Get those trade offers in now!
Just as in "60 Feet," this week's "Hit Parade" identifies players who seem especially attractive trade targets, or overpriced comparative to expected value from this point forward. I'm not terming them straight "buy-low, sell-high" candidates; most of these are name-brand players. They just happen to be players I view as worth their price tags (or more) on the "buy" side, or not quite their perceived value on the "sell" side.
Go get 'em
Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians: When seeking underpriced trade candidates on the hitting side, look for proven players who, for the vast majority of the current season, have dealt with a specific problem in need of fixing and appear to be on the road to correcting it. This is somewhat similar to colleague Matthew Berry's "proven players off a bad year" theory from his Draft Day Manifesto, merely adapted for in-season bargain hunting.
Santana is one such player. Projected to make a run at No. 1 status in fantasy at his position this preseason, Santana's season was interrupted briefly by a concussion in late May/early June, after which point he managed .180/.302/.247 triple-slash rates in 26 games between his return and the All-Star break. Since then, however, he has batted .284/.437/.630, hit seven homers and driven in 20 in 25 games, much more in line with his preseason projections. Now take a look at his next-level numbers during those two time frames:
June 5-July 8 (26 G): 26% Miss, .176 well-hit AVG, 20.0 K%
July 13-Aug. 7 (25 G): 15% Miss, .296 well-hit AVG, 13.6 K%
Though Santana's true value lies somewhere in between -- a .296 well-hit average and 23.3 home run/fly ball percentage (also in the latter period) are unsustainable -- the latter group illustrates that whatever ailed this backstop immediately following his return to action dissipated in mid-July. His full-season paces are currently .237-18-73, but his preseason projection was a .250-23-83 stat line. The latter line is the correct valuation going forward, and that's well worth the price of any player ranked 15 spots higher than him downward, or a starting pitcher from Tuesday's "60 Feet, 6 Inches" ranked 22nd or lower.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Shane Victorino, Los Angeles Dodgers: I sang his praises in last week's "Hit Parade" and, despite his 5-for-25 start with the Dodgers, Victorino still gets every bit the endorsement I gave him a week ago. New places mean a new routine, and any player challenged with a change of scenery deserves more than an eight-day grace period before fantasy owners begin questioning him.
In Victorino's case, there's one set of stat splits that stand out:
Versus RHP, first half: .224/.287/.302, .078 ISO, .142 well-hit AVG
Versus RHP, second half: .309/.333/.509, .200 ISO, .236 well-hit AVG
As with Santana, Victorino's numbers in these situations are bound to decline -- he managed .271/.333/.456, .185 and .203 stats in those categories against righties in 2011 -- but if the criticism of him pre-trade was that he was slipping into the classification of bad-side platoon mates, he seems to be addressing it since. There is a perception Victorino is no longer close to a top-100 fantasy player overall. If that's what his owner thinks, this is the prime time to swoop in.
Los Angeles Angels
Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels: Before getting hurt, Aybar was a poster boy for what ailed the Angels' offense early in the year; he was a .215/.248/.278 hitter with five stolen bases in his first 57 games. It cost him his spot in the upper third of their lineup, and between that and the fractured toe that cost him two weeks, his value might never be lower than it is right now.
Granted, Mike Trout's breakthrough almost assures Aybar won't return to the first or second spot in the lineup, adversely affecting Aybar's run production, but his .328/.373/.525 triple-slash rates in 34 games before landing on the disabled list show that he might be able to make up for it with his bat. He's 5-for-8 with a home run in his first two games back, meaning this is likely your final opportunity to acquire him at a discount. Aybar has more power than people think, he's capable of hitting for a high average and he can steal a base. There's every reason to believe he'll be a top-10 fantasy shortstop the remainder of the year.
Through Aug. 7, 2011: 97 G, .253/.311/.388, 10 HR, 39 RBI
Through Aug. 7, 2012: 99 G, .244/.319/.419, 15 HR, 52 RBI
Aug. 8, 2011, until year's end: 42 G, .283/.366/.592, 12 HR, 29 RBI
It's selecting arbitrary endpoints, yes, but Wieters does have .286/.353/.471 lifetime rates with 12 homers and 44 RBIs in 76 career games in September -- both his 2009 and 2011 were solid -- so it's not unthinkable that he has plenty left in his tank. He won't (or shouldn't) cost you even the price of a top-five fantasy catcher, but on skills alone, he should well be worth one the rest of the year.
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates: There won't be a player included on any of my lists all week who earns me more hate mail than McCutchen, and I'll start out by advising you listen to Tuesday's "Fantasy Focus" podcast, where the topic of the expected trade return for a fantasy stud came up. The quick take for here: The only time you should trade a top-flight fantasy stud -- think unquestioned first-rounder -- is straight up for a similarly valued player, or for multiple, slightly lesser-valued players if said stud is in the midst of an unsustainable full-season pace.
This is where McCutchen's pace comes in: He has the major league's leading BABIP (.421) and a 11th-ranked 20.9 percent home run/fly ball rate. He is on pace for a .372 batting average, 34 home runs, 103 RBIs, 21 stolen bases and 111 runs scored.
Care to guess how many players in history have managed a .350-30-100 season of at least 20 steals and 100 runs? One: Larry Walker, in 1997 for the calling-Coors-Field-home Colorado Rockies. How about how many have managed a BABIP greater than .421? Five, not one of them since 1925, and all of them all-time greats: Ty Cobb (.444, 1911, and .425, 1912), Rogers Hornsby (.422, 1924), Shoeless Joe Jackson (.434, 1911), Babe Ruth (.423, 1923) and George Sisler (.422, 1922).
Can McCutchen complete a 2012 season that would rank among the all-time greats? Certainly he can, but the odds against him are great, and regression to the point where he's more like the 10th-best than second-best -- that's his current Player Rater ranking -- is pretty likely. So if you can by any means trade him for two second- or third-tier studs, like Curtis Granderson and Starlin Castro, to address a pressing need on your club, it makes plenty of sense to do so.
Josh Reddick, Oakland Athletics: Sorry, I just don't buy that he's a 37-homer -- that's his full-season pace -- slugger. Let's go back to his May, when he hit 10 homers in 26 games, and adjust what was a 24.4 home run/fly ball percentage to a more realistic 10 percent (his precise rate in both April and June). He'd have hit four home runs in that month to go along with four in April, four in June and four in July. The guy's a mid-20s, not mid-30s, homer hitter, and that's a pretty big difference in a season in which only 14 players are on pace for as many as 35 homers, while 47 are on pace for as many as 25. Reddick is also on pace for 84 RBIs and 91 runs scored, while batting .260. He's in this week's Top 125 because he's well worth owning in any fantasy league. He's at the back end of said Top 125 because he's a back-of-your-lineup mixed-league player.
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals: What Harper has done this season has been extraordinary, considering he's only 19 years old. If he remains on his current full-season pace of 15 home runs, 19 stolen bases and 85 runs scored, he'd become only the second teenager in history to go 15/15 (Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989 was the other), and he'd finish tied for the third-most single-season runs by a teenager. Still, Harper has hit a rough patch of his rookie campaign, batting .210/.288/.297 with only two homers in his past 34 games. Considering the media scrutiny he has faced his entire professional career, a slow finish would be forgivable, and the Nationals might prepare accordingly. After all, they now have a healthy Jayson Werth, affording them the outfield depth to rest Harper occasionally down the stretch. In re-draft leagues, consider dealing Harper now, playing up his extraordinary rookie feats from several weeks back.
Happy birthday, Mike Trout -- You're No. 1
TOP 125 HITTERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 125 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued.
Mike Trout's historic rookie season evidently is without limits. He celebrated his 21st birthday on Tuesday with his 20th home run of the season; it made him only the fifth player in history to homer on his 21st birthday, as well as made him the youngest player to ever manage at least 20 homers and 30 stolen bases in a single year, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
It also marks a stage in the "Hit Parade" rankings at which handing him the No. 1 spot overall would be foolish. Surely you have heard all the calls for his BABIP to regress, or for him to inevitably slow his pace. Such claims are rarely ever substantiated with anything greater than an, "Oh, he just has to." Take a look at his month-by-month statistics since May:
May: .324/.385/.556, .390 BABIP, 15.2% HR/FB, .241 well-hit AVG
June: .372/.419/.531, .438 BABIP, 11.1% HR/FB, .212 well-hit AVG
July: .392/.455/.804, .412 BABIP, 28.6% HR/FB, .320 well-hit AVG
August: .276/.389/.517, .353 BABIP, 40.0% HR/FB, .207 well-hit AVG
Where is this so-called "regression"? If it's a conversation regarding Trout's long-range prospects -- think projecting his next 3-5 seasons -- then yes, naturally he's going to have a difficult time sustaining a .314-32-96-51 per-162-games seasonal pace. But over 51 games, the Los Angeles Angels' remaining amount, where is the sign that a cooling-off period is imminent?
Yes, the same caveat about McCutchen above applies to Trout. If you can deal Trout for two to three fantasy studs, by all means pursue it in a re-draft league. But there are two critical differences between them: Trout leads McCutchen on our Player Rater by a significant margin, taking their actual scores into account. I'd imagine that McCutchen probably has more "trust" built into his owners due to his lengthier experience at the major-league level, meaning he'd command more in a trade. I might be wrong about that, but that's my impression.
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays: One game, during which he was 1-for-3 with an RBI while he was serving as the designated hitter and exited early for a pinch runner, might not seem enough to vault Longoria several dozen spots in the "Hit Parade" rankings. But admit it: Isn't it nice to simply have him back, the hit hinting that he shouldn't take extremely long to recapture his prior form? Three-plus months of rehabilitation and setbacks with his hamstring caused Longoria's owners plenty of frustration, but let's not forget that he was a .329/.433/.561 hitter in April, plus plays a position that has suffered several injuries (Jose Bautista, Alex Rodriguez) and slumps (Michael Young, Mike Moustakas) in recent weeks. A week from now, Longoria might be making a compelling case to join the top 20.
Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox: The time has come to remove Rios from the "streaky" class and put some faith in him sustaining a healthy amount of fantasy value through the remainder of the year. Two things stand out as substantial gains for him this year: Though his 12.1 percent strikeout rate is practically identical to his 2011 number (11.9 percent), a drop in swing-and-miss rate, from 15 to 13 percent, shows that he's making more consistent contact. Rios also has made strides in terms of plate coverage; he's a .327/.374/.430 hitter on pitches on the outside third of the plate this season, up from .155/.218/.204 in 2011. There are simply fewer holes in his swing this year than last, and it's for that reason that his 27/24 pace with a .300-plus batting average looks legit.
Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals: Referenced above, Werth has shown no ill effects of the broken wrist that cost him nearly three months, hitting in six consecutive games -- Tuesday's pinch hit included -- since his activation. Considering the risks involved with that injury, specifically the prospect that such a player needs weeks, not days, to recapture pre-injury form, that's quite encouraging. So is the fact that the two things most responsible for his early-season success appear to have remained: he's 5-for-10 with three walks versus left-handers, and 3-for-6 with a walk on pitches on the inner third of the plate. When Werth is at peak performance levels, those are strengths of his, and they signal that he might already be nearing a return to top-50 form.
Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians: He's in the midst of a 42-game homerless streak, during which time he has .220/.331/.273 triple-slash rates and only eight extra-base hits. What's more, Kipnis is 4-for-7 in stolen-base attempts during that time, meaning he has let his fantasy owners down in terms of both power and speed. The power outage, at least to some degree, should've been expected. During his first 101 career games, he had a 15.1 percent home run/fly ball rate, his 19.4 number in that category in 2011 alone widely criticized as unsustainable. Through 107 games of 2012, he has a 9.1 percent rate which might actually be low considering his skill set. Kipnis is probably in the midst of an adjustment period in his young career, but let it remind you that he's more of a 20-homer than 30-homer candidate over the long haul (e.g. future seasons).
Juan Pierre, Philadelphia Phillies: He has long been described a "one-category" fantasy player, but lately that has been literally true. While during his prime, Pierre's contributions in terms of runs scored and, yes, batting average were overlooked by those who applied that label, what made the difference between then and now was the requisite at-bats to influence his counting numbers. Since the July 31 trade deadline, that the day both Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were shipped out of Philadelphia, Pierre has one start, three pinch-hitting and/or pinch-running appearance in eight games. The Phillies have started Domonic Brown in left field in seven consecutive games and seem comfortable with a Brown-John Mayberry Jr.-Nate Schierholtz outfield, relegating Pierre to pinch-hit/pinch-run duty. He's scarcely even going to help NL-only owners in such an arrangement.
Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves: At some point his elevated strikeout rate was bound to catch up with him, and in this, his age-32 season, it appears it finally has. Struggles aren't completely new to Uggla; he endured an awful .185/.257/.365 first half of 2011, but unlike last season, he has been unable to get out of his funk in 2012. Here's a telling statistic: Uggla is a .225 hitter with a 24.4 strikeout rate and 24 percent miss rate on swings against fastballs clocked at 90 mph or faster this season; he had .286, 17.2 and 16 numbers against those pitches from 2009-11. That could signal declining bat speed, and it's enough to warrant concern that he'll never quite recapture his past 30-homer form this year.
New position eligibility
The following players have become eligible at new positions -- it's 10 games to qualify at a new spot -- in ESPN standard leagues during the past week: Alexi Amarista (SS), Robert Andino (3B), Emilio Bonifacio (2B), Miguel Cairo (1B), Pedro Ciriaco (2B), Daniel Descalso (SS), Ryan Doumit (OF), Yan Gomes (1B), Josh Harrison (2B), Scott Moore (3B), Marco Scutaro (3B), Donovan Solano (3B, OF), Michael Young (2B).
Nearing new position eligibility
The following players are nearing new position eligibility: Dustin Ackley (8 games played at 1B), Jeff Baker (8 games played at 2B), Yuniesky Betancourt (8 games played at 3B), Ronny Cedeno (9 games played at 2B), Steve Clevenger (9 games played at 1B), Brooks Conrad (9 games played at 3B), Jason Donald (8 games played at SS), Elliot Johnson (9 games played at 2B), Munenori Kawasaki (8 games played at 2B), Donnie Murphy (8 games played at 3B), Drew Sutton (8 games played at 2B), Chad Tracy (8 games played at 1B), Mark Trumbo (8 games played at 3B), Justin Turner (8 games played at SS), Omar Vizquel (9 games played at SS).
Tristan H. Cockcroft discusses some high-profile players who could be potential trade targets in the final days before the fantasy trade deadline.