It’s still early in the 2007 fantasy campaign, but there are already trends worth taking note of. There are also some to ignore. Nobody likes to check the standings in the morning and see they’re in the middle of the pack or lower, and now is about the time when impatient and inexperienced owners are starting to buy into this season’s rankings and numbers.
The fact is, three and a half weeks simply isn’t a large enough sample size to draw significant statistical conclusions. Sure, pitchers may be showing decreased velocity, position players may have earned everyday jobs, and closers may have lost them. You can react to that kind of information. But with players who have hundreds or thousands (or 8,109 in the case of one guy on the list) of at-bats, any stretch of 70-80 plate appearances is meaningless. For a proven player who has terrible 2007 numbers, just keep this in mind: if this slump happened mid-season nobody would even notice.
ETB takes a look at some prime early-season candidates to buy low, sell high and stick with:
Michael Young: Young has only 13 hits in his first 79 at-bats for a miserable .165 average, .195 OBP and .486 OPS. I own him in a league with some close friends, and you better believe the offers are coming in. I haven’t even considered one of them. Why? Forgive me if I’m a lot more concerned with the fact that Young has hit .297 in 3,755 major league at-bats than I am with his last 79. This guy is a professional hitter who could compete for the batting title any given year. If the Young owner in your league is the least bit concerned, make an offer. Even if you can buy him at the modest discount 80 cents on the dollar, do it. There’s no way he finishes below .295, so he’s in line for some serious regression to the mean and you have my personal guarantee this guy will be just fine.
Garrett Atkins: Atkins hasn’t been living up to that early third-round draft status yet. No doubt, his owner in your league is concerned that last year may have been a bit of a fluke. His .260 BA, 10 runs and 9 RBIs are giving him some concern. The day off yesterday isn’t helping. Remind that owner that he only had 13 homers while batting .287 in 2005 and that he has a career BA of .273 outside of Colorado and he may start asking if you’re interested. Well, sure, maybe you’d be willing to do him a favor and take the risky prospect off of his hands for 5th or 6th round pick. You’ll be smiling all the way to the bank. He’ll be hitting third all season ahead of Matt Holliday and Todd Helton, where he’ll see a lot of pitches to hit, score a ton of runs and where he had a .353 BA last season.
Brian Roberts: Roberts was off to a terrible start, started to rebound in the last week, then missed two games over the weekend with the flu. As a result, his rank may never be lower. His blend of speed and power is extremely rare and valuable, especially at 2B. Second base may be the most difficult position to staff this season and when 2007 is over it wouldn’t surprise if Roberts is the second-best of the bunch. The guy only played in 138 games last season and stole 36 bases, so 40 steals should be a given if he’s healthy all year. It looks like Brian is coming on over the last week, so make some last ditch efforts to buy low while you still can.
Gary Sheffield: Well, if there has ever been a buy-low candidate Sheffield is it right now. We’re talking about a guy who is physically healthy and has a 456 career home runs and .296 lifetime batting average. While he started his major league carer in 1988 and is 38 years of age, I’m just not worried about Gary physically. He works incredibly hard and is as healthy as an ox. However, his owner in your league has to be wondering if time has caught up with him and thinking about moving Sheff or dropping him outright. There may never be a better time to pounce. Yeah, he’s 10-for-67, but he may still have the quickest hands in baseball, only Barry Bonds has a better eye and Gary will hit 30 homers. He looks to be heating up, so buy right now if you can. With a regression to his 20-year mean sure to come, there’s plenty of time for a 100 RBI and .300 BA season.
Eric Byrnes: We’re not going to spend a lot of time on these guys because the veteran fantasy owners know a fraud when they see one. If you look up the definition of ‘streaky’ in the dictionary, it’s likely to feature a color picture of Byrnes. He’s just not the real deal. Talk him up a bit and see if you can get another useful player in return for Eric, because you may not be starting him in a month or two. Byrnes likely won’t improve on last year’s totals, so his value may be as high as it will get right now.
Torii Hunter: Torii is the poster boy for why fantasy baseball can never emulate real baseball. Hunter has made a name for himself as the best defensive outfielder in the MLB over the last decade. That’s put Torii in his fair share of All-Star games and headlines over the years, but the fantasy value simply isn’t commensurate. It’s always easier to trade a guy with this kind of name recognition though, so peddle his .304 BA, league-leading 12 doubles, 4 stolen bases and 15 RBIs now. He’ll finish around .270, with 90 RBIs, 80 runs, 20-25 HRs and 13 SBs.
Juan Pierre: Maybe I’m letting a personal bias leak in, but when I watch Pierre I just don’t see a good baseball player. He’s a one-trick pony who will only make a significant contribution on one or two categories. Once you’ve owned Juan for a while, you come to realize just how limited he is- perhaps that’s the reason he’s playing for his third club in three years. The notion that scarcity makes stolen bases the most valuable star in fantasy is simply false. They are very valuable, but they can’t make a player great on their own. Every category is equally important. I mean, we don’t draft closers in the first few rounds, and saves are even more rare than SBs. That said, I know there’s an owner in your league who is just dying to add a steals specialist to his team. He’s convinced that he’s in on the stolen bases secret and he’ll be buying low no matter the rank. Indulge him and trade Pierre for an outfielder who can contribute significantly in several categories.
Carlos Lee: The book on Lee is that he’s a first-half player who trails off late in the season. Many fantasy columnists will tell you to sell high. But in looking at his splits you see that he hits about .275 in April and May and then goes on to hit .296, .293, .287 and .296 in the remaining months of the season. The only thing that declines are his power numbers. However, hitting in Texas and behind Lance Berkman should change that. He signed a big contract and will want to perform in the first year of it. Don’t listen to anybody who tells you he’s bound to fade, hold on to Lee.
Curtis Granderson: I mentioned it before the season, but with his speed on the base paths and the dearth of steals in MLB right now, his power from the leadoff spot, and an improving lineup behind him young Curtis was a great low risk/high reward pick. Grandy could still be good for 25+ steals this season, but in a lineup that looks sharp and added Gary Sheffield he will score a ton of runs. On top of that, Granderson has displayed greater patience at the plate and some nice pop in his bat. Be happy you got a nice OF cheap and don’t try to move him just yet.
Aaron Hill: Hill’s production may seem like it’s coming out of nowhere, but it isn’t. He has been one of the top prospects in baseball for the last two years. On top of that, Aaron is hitting in what could be one of the better offensive lineups in baseball. The addition of Frank Thomas should really help. Hill went 4 of 5 with a two-run homer and a pair or doubles to lead the Jays to a 7-3 win over the Red Sox on Monday night. You may be thinking ‘sell high’ right now. The odds are that nobody wants to overpay for a guy you picked up out of the free agent pool. Considering there is reason to believe Hill can contribute at 2B and SS all year for your fantasy squad, just hold onto him.
Álex Ríos: Just like Hill, Ríos should greatly benefit from hitting in a lineup with Troy Glaus, Frank Thomas and Vernon Wells behind him. A great physical specimen with tremendous natural ability, Rios looked like a legit contender for the batting title early in 2006. He hit .361 in April and May, and shot up the fantasy rankings board. After several minor injuries he never regained that lofty status for the remainder of the season. In 128 games he was still good for a .302 BA, 17 HRs, 82 RBIs, 15 SBs and 68 runs. As I’ve said before, this will be Rios third full season and I expect him to post very useful numbers all year. Sit tight.