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The Wheelhouse: In the Red

Derek VanRiper

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Senior Baseball Editor for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210) from 11a-2p ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

This isn't a sob story about a series of bad wagers at the sportsbook during #RotoLV12.

There are only two downsides to going to Vegas during the All-Star break. No regular season baseball (or any sport) to bet on, and it's July in the desert.

Fortunately, the pool and a 32-ounce John Daly can remedy the latter.

With the former, it usually takes the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game bets to scratch the itch, but this year it was the ponies that caught my attention.

Quickly scanning the big board for race results and payouts from earlier in the day, the answer was clear.

Trifecta.

A $2 bet that can yield hundreds, or even thousands in profit? Count me in.

Despite an overwhelming lack of knowledge about the sport, Nic Cage doppleganger RotoWire Marketing Director Aaron Quinn and I locked in our bets on strange combinations of jockeys that were having success on that particular day, well-named horses, and initial posted odds (as I learned on my only previous horse racing wager a couple of years ago at #RotoLV10, the odds change until the race begins).

We didn't hit on any of the attempts...this year, but as is often the case in Vegas, we learned a few things that can be applied down the road. A $5 bet on a race guarantees a drink ticket. Beers cost more than $3 anyway, and of course the payout would improve. Future trifecta bets will be $5, no questions asked.

Also, there are different types of trifectas. The straight trifecta – getting the first three horses in the correct order – and the box trifecta – getting the top three horses correct in any order. Aspiring rock stars bet the straight trifecta.

Even without significant gambling losses, it's easy to feel a bit lighter in the pocket after time in Vegas. It's the same feeling you get in your stomach when season-long struggles begin to bleed into the final weeks of July.

As we rapidly approach the final third of the regular season, the production needed to make up ground may require taking chances on players that have been disappointments through four months. If nothing else, players that have returned zero or negative value thus far may have the greatest potential for a high ROI in trade as their current owners are looking to cut their losses and move on.

Hitters

Carlos Santana, C, CLE, $0 – The elite skills Santana displayed last season (.217 ISO) led to a 27-homer campaign and the results thus far have been disastrous as he's hit just six home runs in 324 plate appearances this season. Not surprisingly, the ISO mark has dropped nearly 100 points to .118, but there are a couple of encouraging signs. First, Santana is drawing more walks than he did a season ago, and his .224 average isn't the byproduct of an increased strikeout rate. Second, his line drive rate is actually up from the 15.4% he delivered last season. The extra line drives (19.8%) have come at the expense of flyballs, while Santana has seen his HR/FB rate fall from 16.0% last season to 8.5% in 2012. It's possible that fantasy owners were wrong to overlook Santana's .239 average last season, as he's now a career .238 hitter over 1,174 big league plate appearances, but a rebound in the final two-plus months is within reach unless it's revealed that he's been playing through an injury.

Rickie Weeks, 2B, MIL, -$2 – It's not a full rebound, but Weeks has shown signs of getting back on track since early June. Over his last 33 games, he's hitting .262/.348/.451 with four homers, 19 RBI and two stolen bases. That pace translates to a 20-homer, 10-steal season over 162 games, so the buy-low window may be closing quickly. The current owner may be fixated on the overall line (.197/.312/.348) and willing to provide something of a discount.

Mark Reynolds, 3B, BAL, $-2 – This one doesn't entirely add up. Reynolds' plate discipline and batted ball profile doesn't reveal any significant decline. With eight homers in 262 plate appearances this season, those who targeted the power-hitting corner-infielder as a cheap source of pop have been sorely disappointed. Over the last three seasons, Reynolds has second-half home-run totals of 17, 12, and 20. Batting average will always be an issue, but there's still 15-20 home-run potential here.

Jemile Weeks, 2B, OAK, $-3 – For players with Weeks' skill set, on-base percentage is king. Ordinarily, a significant jump in groundball rate would be a red flag, but the speedy second baseman isn't going to provide more than the occasional long ball anyway. In his second big league season, Weeks has increased his walk rate from 4.8% to 10.2%, which will ultimately lead to more stolen-base chances. The buy-low point here is the batting average (.224), and as Baseball HQ's Matt Beagle explained on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today this week, he's been the victim of a .256 BABIP (.350 last season). Weeks should be a steady three-category contributor (steals, runs, average) going forward atop the A's lineup.

Chris Young, OF, ARI, $-3 – Young was tearing the cover off the ball in spring training and when the regular season started, but a shoulder injury cost him a month and he went 28 games without a home run after returning from the disabled list in May. Young has been driving the ball better recently, swatting four homers and a pair of doubles over his last 16 games. Interestingly enough, Young hasn't been running much this season as he's gone just 3-for-5 as a base stealer through 55 contests.

Pitchers

Carlos Marmol, RP, CHC, $-4 – Marmol has turned things around in his return to the closer's role, albeit with his usual share of free passes (11). Over his last 14 appearances, he's 9-for-9 in save opportunities with 19 strikeouts (12.1 innings) and a .217 batting average against. It's difficult to imagine a scenario where the Cubs will be able to find a taker for his services in a trade, and the best course of action as far as attempting to rebuild his long-term value should keep him in the ninth-inning going forward.

Tim Lincecum, SP, SFG, $-6 – We get a ton of questions about Lincecum on the radio show, and the only conclusion that ever makes sense is that he's pitching through an injury. In addition to throwing fewer sliders, Lincecum has lost nearly two miles per hour from his fastball. Coming off his start against the Astros with a season-high 11 strikeouts, there is a very slight glimmer of hope. Even with the aforementioned risk of an undisclosed ailment, the price tag has finally fallen far off where Lincecum is worth rolling the dice on again if you're trying to make up ground in wins, strikeouts and ERA.

Ervin Santana, SP, LAA, $-7 – Santana's Jeckell and Hyde trick has been wreaking havoc on owners throughout the season. After carrying a 7.23 ERA and allowing 10 homers in his first four starts, Santana had a 29:12 K:BB with just two homers allowed over his next five outings. From there, it was a 10:18 ERA over four starts (six homers allowed, 11:15 K:BB) before a pair of dominant efforts against the D-Backs and Dodgers, and before two more clunkers against the Jays and Indians. Even with the inconsistent results, Santana has improved his walk and home-run rates over the last five starts and may be worth a flyer again now that he's performing at a level closer to his career norms.

Jeremy Guthrie, SP, KAN, $-15 – Sometimes the “your problem for my problem deal” works out for both sides. Jonathan Sanchez will probably be a disaster at Coors Field, but moving back into the National League and getting out of Kansas City certainly won't hurt his slim chances of putting the pieces back together. Between Camden Yards and Coors, it should come as little surprise that Guthrie's career numbers at home (4.74 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) are much worse than what we've seen from him on the road (3.98 ERA, 1.28 WHIP). In deeper formats (15-plus team mixed), he should be worth a look now that he'll call pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium home for the final 10-12 starts this season.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.