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Schadenfreudian Slip

Ask Rotoman: April 26, 2006
 by Rotoman

Send your toughest fantasy questions to Rotoman.

ROTOMAN'S LIST:
2006 Extra-base hits
Chris Shelton, Albert Pujols, Morgan Ensberg, Luis Gonzalez, Jay Gibbons, David Ortiz, Travis Hafner, Paul Konerko, Nick Swisher, Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, Eric Chavez, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Glaus, Derek Jeter, Austin Kearns, Xavier Nady, Phil Nevin, Alfonzo Soriano, Jim Thome.


TRADE

Dear Rotoman,

I am reeling after the loss of my first-round draft pick, Derrek Lee, with a broken wrist which could keep him out 2-3 months or longer. My team has been very solid up to this point and I want to keep it going, but I think I need to make some kind of a trade to replace, (at least partly), Lee's production in the lineup. I currently have Marcus Giles and Brian Roberts as second basemen and I am strongly considering trading one of them to get a power-hitting first baseman. Any suggestions for possible guys I could acquire with both of these talented players?

"D-Pressed about D-Lee"

Dear Double D:

Of course you're depressed. It's tough to recover from the loss of a No. 1 pick.

Which is why I'm sorry I can't tell you who Giles or Roberts will get you. It isn't that I don't want to help, but the market varies widely from league to league. A guy in one league who loves Marcus Giles and sees a buy-low opportunity, is paradoxically going to be willing to pay more for him than a cautious owner in a dogfight for first place in another league. Which is why in this space we make comparisons rather than suggest deals.

But you are in the same situation one team in every fantasy league is in right now, so it may be worth taking a look at how badly losing Lee will actually hurt -- and evaluating the depressing options.

The first of these is panic. Start hyperventilating. Imagine your team sinking one position in the standings each week Lee is out. Try to think positively and imagine he'll only be out eight weeks. Scream.

Your second option is to go into hyperdrive. Assume the worst and figure that you have to make up an insurmountable deficit. Now. From your letter, Double-D, my guess is this is how you're feeling. Now is the time -- you feel strongly -- to imagine trades, talk trades, make trades. Maybe it is. But first, scream.

Your third option is unorthodox, but worth a shot. Look at your roster carefully. Keep your breath rate slow and steady. At this point you want to stay focused, assuming what I like to call a yogic David Cone Pose. Stand up, spread your legs about shoulder-width apart. Put your hands on your knees, like you're a shortstop waiting for the pitcher to start his windup. Now, take a deep breath. Think of Derrek Lee, and exhale slowly. Bend all the way over, put your head between your knees as far as you can and kiss your season good bye.

Kidding. The real lesson here, I think, is to remember that you are not alone. Yes, your loss of Lee was the first major injury of the year (Nomar doesn't count, and anyway he's back already, same goes for Griffey), but there will be others. Those who've lost CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon and AJ Burnett don't have the same dark prognoses to deal with, but they're not getting anything from players they spent a fair amount on. And we're just 12 percent through the season. There is plenty of time for others to get hurt, too.

Not that it all evens out, but it probably won't be as dark in the end as it seems to be right now. Everyone is going to lose some players over the course of the season, so what feels cataclysmic now is actually a little less so. If you avoid other injuries, that is.

In his book Fantasyland, Sam Walker describes a study his research partner, Sig Mejdal, did after their first season playing in Tout Wars: "Sig ran some linear regressions and made a startling discovery. When you compare the number of catastrophic injuries each Tout Wars team suffered to its final place in the standings, there is a 36 percent correlation."

To explain what that means, if the standings actually measured who got the most injuries, the correlation would be 100. While it's dubious to draw broad conclusions from a study of one league, my experience tells me that it isn't wildly out of line to think that the damage injuries cause has a 33 percent impact on the final standings. The problem for someone who has just lost a first-round pick is what to do with that information, and my contrarian advice is to be patient.

Not that you shouldn't make a deal (or a series of deals) if you can find an edge, but as we know, dealing when it looks like you have to deal isn't any fun at all. Which is why I think it pays to look at what's available for free. In a mixed league, like yours, it's possible to hang in there when a star goes down. For instance, in Tout Wars Mixed, Creative Sports rep JP Kastner was able to pick Adam LaRoche off waivers to replace Lee.

Deduct two months of LaRoche from two months of lost expectations from Lee and ...

ABAVGRHRRBISB
Lee184.3063312324
LaRoche133.259166210

You lose 54, .428, 17, 6, 11, 4

The advantage of Lee is clear, but on a practical level what difference does it make? Batting average would go up .0008 points (good for a point in last year's Tout Wars Mixed standings), half a point in runs, one point in HR, no points in RBI or steals. A total of 2.5 points.

The point here isn't that this is little. This could be huge in the final standings, but clearly it isn't cataclysmic. That 2.5 points would move last year's third place Tout Wars team to second and break a tie for 10th place. Otherwise, the standings would remain the same. Which is why the worst thing you can do is panic.

Now is not the time to take on risk. Figure instead that the loss of Lee removes your margin of error. It probably hasn't cost you a place in the standings, but it has made it that more difficult for everything else you do to advance your position. So now is the time to get efficient, to maximize and economize, to try to scrape out every last bit of value from your squad.

To do that you have to honestly go through your roster and decide whether you have enough speed and saves to compete, whether you're shy of at-bats or innings pitched, and decide how to maximize your point totals by getting rid of players who may have more value to someone else other than you. You don't have to dump any categories, necessarily, but if you can shift a closer for a player who is likely to get you more points, you probably shouldn't battle for every point in every category.

How effectively you figure out your surpluses and your needs and are able to rationalize them will go a long way to determining how well you're able to battle through the loss of Lee. Well, that and avoiding other injuries, of course. The point to remember is that this is the time to play safely and rationally, not a time to get all risky. There will be plenty of time for that when you lose two or three more key players.

Aversely,
Rotoman


ADVICE

Dear Rotoman:

With the problems Carlos Beltran has been having with his hamstring, it has been widely reported that his ability to run will be affected, reducing his value enormously as a multi-tool outfielder.

Is now the time to shop Beltran in hopes that fellow fantasy managers still perceive him as an elite OF or would you recommend patience to see how this injury will play out for a few more weeks?

"For Whom Beltran Tolls"

Dear Tolls:

A Beltran without speed looks eerily like last year's model. Not a bad ballplayer, but not the reason you spent elite dollars on him. If you did.

I don't think many fantasy players this year spent their money expecting Beltran to bounce back to pre-2005 expectations. Still, he was still expected to bounce back from his disappointing first season in New York. That perhaps made him a second-round draft pick, rather than a first-round pick, or a $30-$34 player rather than a $40-$44 player. After a slow start that had Mets fans very worried, he was starting to hit when he got hurt. He's had only three at-bats since April 16th, but he's expected back later this week. Is this a good time to shop him?

The answer is rather common-sensically dull. If you can find someone who will trade you other stuff as if Beltran was worth a lot you should certainly make a trade. But more likely everyone else is going to be as down on Beltran as you are, though they'll have a bit of schadenfreude you won't. After all, right now you're the one sucking wind.

If you can't find someone who will give you a lot for Beltran, you're probably better off holding onto him. He probably won't run all that much upon his return, to protect his hammy and because he's hitting in front of a lot of good power hitters, but he can still be a very valuable player with his power. And as we saw last year, when he's healthy, he can still steal a base.

Thee-ly,
Rotoman


CHATTER

Chris Shelton: It is too obvious to say that Chris Shelton isn't going to keep up what he's been doing. So I'll put it this way: He is very talented and it wouldn't be a surprise if this year turned out to be his career year. My preseason projection was very low, based on the possibility that he might get figured out and collapse. It's not looking so good for that projection, but even though his numbers still look spectacular he's had a .416 OPS the last week. He's not going to be a star.


THE BIG QUESTION

Rotoman:

When do we start getting edgy about Matt Cain? Last year, he had a 2.33 era in a few starts and this year it's up in the high sixes. Is he for real this year or is he just another guy who walks too many batters to be an effective young pitcher? Also, how would you rank these pitchers (in order of who will contribute the most over the next two years, including this year):

Felix Hernandez
Zach Duke
Francisco Liriano
Brandon McCarthy
Justin Verlander
Ervin Santana
Scott Kazmir

"Blame It On Cain"

Dear Blame:
Blame it on Cain,
Don't blame it on me.
Oh, no, it's nobody's fault,
But we need somebody to burn.
--Elvis Costello

Elvis is a famous fantasy football player, or was, but this lyric has more biblical proportions. Still, those who looked at Matt Cain's 2.33 ERA in 46.3 innings last year, read about his potential, and ignored the number of walks he allowed last year, are no doubt looking to blame someone.

So blame Cain. But it may not be his fault.

LvlWalksIPRatio
2004AA40864.18
2005AAA731464.50
2005MLB19463.71
2006MLB8233.13

In what clearly are some small samples, Cain has actually been getting better about walks as he was promoted, a sign of incipient excellence. The challenge for guys like Cain, who have great stuff, can be learning to trust it to challenge hitters. Cain is averaging more than five pitches per batter faced, a sign that he's struggling to find his comfort zone. Some of that effort might be the reason he's allowing more hits (and homers) this year, after being awfully stingy on both counts last year.

In contrast, take a look at King Felix Hernandez:

LvlWalksIPRatio
2004AA21573.31
2005AAA48884.90
2005MLB23842.46
2006MLB10234.05


A good ratio, by the way, is less than 3.00. King Felix's success last year came with a profound control that he hadn't really shown above Single-A before. It isn't a surprise then that he's relapsed.

The thing about power-pitching youngsters like Cain and Hernandez, they are so obviously talented the only thing that can stop them is a bad elbow or shoulder. Or lack of control. Both have had their problems with control, and their success this year isn't guaranteed because of it, but both have showed enough edge that if they remain healthy they have to be considered the top two young pitchers for next year, too.

You just have to remember that doesn't mean they're sure things. Pitchers in their young 20s never are. As for your other picks, many of whom we've looked at in the preseason:

Zach Duke has allowed quite a few homers and seems to be trying to avoid more of that ugliness, leading to a bump up of walks. He may end up a good front-of-the-rotation guy, but right now he trails behind the best of his rivals.

Francisco Liriano is still working out of the pen and has allowed just one earned run while striking out 16 in 11.3 innings. He will enter the rotation at some point, sooner rather than later if Carlos Silva doesn't work himself out of his sinking funk, and will be immediately dominating unless he walks too many.

Brandon McCarthy is expected to spend the year in the pen, which should help him as a starter in 2007. He's considered a future ace, though he isn't nearly as dominating as Liriano or Hernandez.

Justin Verlander raced through the Minors last year, and while he got beat up in September in Detroit, it wasn't a surprise he made the rotation this spring. He's relatively inexperienced and despite his great arm and smarts he's likely to have some rough spots over the next two years.

Ervin Santana has been nibbling, but he's throwing strikeouts and hasn't been walking too many hitters. He's a fly ball pitcher, however, and the homers have been coming, too. So while he's gotten over the first hump with 134.7 innings last year, some rough times this year wouldn't be a surprise.

Scott Kazmir got battered by the Orioles in his first start, but has pitched better since. Still, he allows far too many walks at this point to be considered in the company of those listed above. Until he can cut down on the baserunners, something he hasn't shown he can do as yet, he's all potential.

All of these guys have great stuff, and could at any time take off. That so much of baseball history tells us that the youngsters aren't usually able to extend their success through their early 20s is a caution. All the talent in the world is only potential until the arm is ready to hang in there for 200+ innings every year.

What this little exercise convinced me of is Matt Cain's immediate potential, time to try to grab him, and Scott Kazmir's ongoing problems. If I were handicapping for the next two years I'd go for, in order:

King Felix, Brother Cain, Frankie Liriano, Magic Santana, Brandon McCarthy. Then I'd take a breath. Duke, Verlander and Kazmir (along with Zack Greinke, if he comes back) all have potential, but they don't yet have the full package. Despite their potential, they're far more likely to make their marks in a few years, maybe after some disappointments and surgery, than they are this year or next.

Until next time,
Rotoman

 

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