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Charging the Mound: Erickson and Liss Talk Baseball

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 2:49pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Charging

Jerry Sands got the call by the Dodgers on Monday and they put him into the lineup right away in left field. As far as I can tell, he's the first major prospect called up by a team that wasn't already in Yahoo's fantasy player database on draft day, making him the first natural waiver prize in mixed leagues. Frequently we get questions from readers if they should burn their waiver priority on a player, and almost always the answer is yes. I can see the case for holding onto that waiver priority if you're in an AL-only or NL-only league and it's close to the trade deadline, but it's hard to imagine many scenarios in mixed leagues where you're not better off grabbing the player you want regardless of whether he's on waivers or is a free agent. Give me your thoughts on Sands - will you be putting in a waiver claim on him?

You posted your near-annual "Buy Lowest" blog on RotoSynthesis on Monday, and I'm on-board with the concept, both in terms of who you should target to acquire, and more emphatically with the secondary principle, that it's still really difficult to buy low on superstars. I haven't yet seen Evans try to peddle Carl Crawford in F&F, and you're certainly not trying to cut your losses on Kevin Youkilis. Seriously - in what sort of really competitive league do people do that? I can see where that might happen with someone like Derek Jeter, who first had a really bad season (by his standards) last year and is off to an awful start this year, but any player that's coming off of a normal year or better and is at a prime age, I just don't see it.

Let me throw out a few others players besides those that you listed, and get your take on them:

Ian Stewart - Stewart's spring training began with a knee injury and ended with the flu, so he got fewer spring training at-bats than most. He's off to a terrible start, hitting 2-for-26 with both hits coming as singles, and he's losing some playing time to Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez, with Jon Herrera getting a lot of time at second base. But neither Wigginton nor Lopez is hitting all that well either, and their body of work is interesting but not enough to block Stewart. I just took a flier on him in Friends & Family, as I've been using a handful of marginal players at my corner infield spot anyhow. It's conceivable that he'll get sent down for a stretch, but I could also see him pull a Max Scherzer and turn it around pretty quickly after a short minor league stint.

Matt Thornton - It's easy to say if Juan Pierre could catch two fly balls we wouldn't be talking about this, but that's not entirely fair. Thornton has given up two homers and has walked four in his 5.2 innings so far, and now his usage pattern is all over the place - Ozzie used him while behind 4-0 yesterday. I still think he's the best candidate to get the most saves from the White Sox bullpen over the course of the season, but it might take awhile, in no small part because there are other viable options in the White Sox bullpen.

John Axford - As opposed to the White Sox bullpen, the Brewers don't have many healthy candidates to replace Axford, though they'll eventually get Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins back from the DL. But the lack of an identifiable replacement candidate shouldn't confer security to Axford - just look at his own ascension to the role as an example. Axford's command is a mess right now - not only is he walking a lot of batters, but he's also missing the strike zone. On the positive side, he doesn't allow many homers (the one he did allow was an opposite field line drive that just barely cleared the fence in Cincinnati) and he's still striking out batters. I think he's a reasonable candidate to rebound.

Kelly Johnson - I'm guessing that if I were a buyer in the second base market, it would still be difficult to pry Johnson from Scott Pianowski's hands in Friends & Family, so this might not be a valid "buy lowest." Still, Johnson is coming off a bad start to the season and has already had a day off over the weekend due to his slump. A couple of years ago he fell off the map in Atlanta, so the precedent is there. What worries me about him is the CT-rate - the trade-off from him adding power last year was an increase in his strikeout rate to 25 percent, and this year it's up more, to 32 percent. I think we're dealing with a small sample size in the continued contact problems, and not an exaggerated trend, so that's why he's still a target.

Delmon Young - Young is just one of many Twins off to a brutal start (see also, Justin Morneau), but after last year's breakout he's off to a .567 OPS start with the trends, with only three extra-base hits in 57 at-bats. Unlike with Kelly Johnson, contact hasn't really been a problem. But you might be able to buy lowest on him because of his past failures and reputation for a bad attitude. He dealt with a turf toe problem in spring training, so I'd want to try to get confirmation that the toe is not a problem if at all possible before buying.

I actually think the other side of the equation, selling high, is even trickier. A few years ago you drafted Cliff Lee in the reserve rounds in the RotoWire Staff Keeper League and spent six weeks trying to trade him without much interest. Instead, you were fortunate in that respect because his breakout was real. How many Jose Bautista owners out there tried to trade him with little success last year? So there's that risk that you're not actually selling high, and there's the crowd that doubts what the player has done. So say if you're a Jed Lowrie owner now, what are you doing with him? Riding it out and hoping that his breakout is for real and the playing time will follow, or trying to sell at what you perceive to be his peak value? If it's the latter, what sort of player are you hoping to get back in return? Do you actively look to sell-highest, or just buy lowest? Who else falls in that category for you?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 10:09pm
Subject: Re: Charging

I'll put a claim in on Sands, sure. He's crushed it at virtually every stop in the minors, the Dodgers don't have any other good options in left field and he's got plenty of raw power at 6-4, 225. I agree that in a mixed league, there are only a handful of guys who are difference-makers on waivers. (There are many undrafted difference-makers, but most are of the Jose Bautista variety that don't require a waiver claim).

Ian Stewart just got sent down to Triple-A for a few weeks, so I'm sure you'll be dropping him soon. I'd trade for him in an NL-only league as a "buy lowest," but you can't afford to wait on him in YF&F. I'm actually frustrated with the Rockies infield in general as I have Ty Wigginton in my home league, and his playing time has been erratic thanks to Jon Herrera, who might or might not be for real. Lopez is interesting from a fantasy perspective because he was more than useful at Safeco two years ago, and could turn into a Dante Bichette type (much better fantasy than real-life player) if he gets the at-bats.

As for Thornton, there are two kinds of closers in waiting: (1) The kind who are waiting for someone to lose the job; and (2) The kind who are in the mix for a job nobody currently has. The latter are always more expensive, especially when the player had the job at the start of the year and a track record to back it up. That's the case with Thornton, so I don't think he's available at a significant discount to his value. (He's gone down in price since the beginning of the year for good reason, but if anything, I don't think they're will be an overreaction - at least until someone else temporarily grabs the job and runs with it for a couple weeks). Axford is still the closer, so I think he's likely to be priced appropriately. Of course, every owner is different, but generally I wouldn't put in offers for those two expecting to get a discount.

Johnson just homered tonight, and that's all it takes to restore his price for another few days. Generally, I don't love the guy and don't think he's in danger of losing serious time. Young, you might be able to steal from someone on the cheap for the reasons you say. Even last year's breakout was fairly modest, so in a 14-team mixed league, his owner might not be too wary of parting with him. There's still potential for growth if Young is healthy, but he doesn't strike me as a player who would come cheap enough relative to his upside - especially with that home park. Basically, I don't think any of your guys are ones I'd inquire after except maybe Stewart in an NL-only league.

The sell high side is interesting, I agree. Usually, you have to ride it out because no one's interested, but here are a few players I think you'd be able to move for significantly more than they'd cost on draft day:

Starlin Castro - a batting title doesn't seem farfetched right now, and the tools and maturity level for his age are off the charts
Jose Tabata - what the Red Sox were hoping to get from Carl Crawford
Trevor Cahill - missing bats this year, which was the only missing piece to the puzzle last year.
Russell Martin - all he needs to do is stay healthy in that lineup and park
Matt Harrison - his season numbers include starts in Yankee Stadium and against the Red Sox
Justin Masterson - he wasn't that far off last year, and simply needed to improve against lefties
Travis Hafner - looks healthy finally
Lance Berkman - see Hafner, Travis
Yunel Escobar - the right age and did show signs two years ago in Atlanta
Logan Morrison - power display is encouraging
Jon Herrera - in the right park and lineup
Pablo Sandoval - looks like 2010 is already behind him

What would I require for them? I own Castro, Cahill, Harrison, Masterson, Berkman and Hafner, so I can speak to those five. I'd hesitate to deal Castro straight up for Derek Jeter right now. I'd think long and hard about it, and I can't say whether I'd actually do it unless it were an option. But that's the level I'd require. I wouldn't deal Cahill for Max Scherzer, but I'd probably move him for Yovani Gallardo. Again, I'd only say for sure if I were presented with the option, something I don't think is likely just yet. Harrison I'd deal for Brandon Morrow, sight unseen. I'd also probably move him for Brandon Beachy, (pending tonight's outing, knock on wood because I have Beachy). Masterson I put a slight tick above Harrison, but in the same general tier. Berkman and Hafner I see similarly with a slight edge to Hafner because he gets to DH. I'd probably move either for Nick Swisher or Adam Jones.

Would I get the prices I'm seeking? It's possible, but not too likely, so I'll probably end up riding these players out - unless someone makes the offer to me.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 7:17pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

I find it interesting that you prefer Hafner over Berkman. It's not that your logic is wrong - I get where you're coming from on this. Hafner has a better chance of staying healthy the rest of the year by not having to play defense. But as Victor Martinez has demonstrated, just because he's DH'ing doesn't mean he'll avoid injury. The reason I thought you would value Berkman higher is that he's going to qualify both at first base and outfield, and in most cases he already does qualify in the outfield. I would have figured that optionality creates a little more value in Berkman.

I think that the mechanics of selling-high are the most interesting aspect of it. You mentioned that in a few cases you wouldn't know if you would do a particular trade unless it was offered to you. But I want to know how you undertake the process of trying to sell on those guys like Hafner or Harrison. Because most of the leagues that you play in have savvy enough owners that I would presume they know that you're selling high, right? Do you make the offer in terms of addressing an owner's needs, or are you more up front in your motivation to book a profit off of a breakout guy? I suppose the latter is pretty difficult to pull off - which is why you never traded Lee in his breakout year. I'd like to hear from others on this in the comments - how do you go about selling high?

We'll see how Stewart responds to his demotion. Chances are that you're right that in F&F I'll be cutting him before we have enough of a sample, just because we have only three reserve spots. If he tears it up right away, though, I might grab him back, especially if I don't end up with Sands on my roster.

Herrera is interesting, because he gets on-base so often and because his defense will give him additional chances. I'm a little surprised that he already has four swipes - not that he doesn't have the speed, he's never put up crazy-high steals totals in the past. But I suppose that when you're getting on-base over half the time, it's going to end up resulting in more steal attempts. I don't know if he's going to keep that job, but he's definitely interesting.

Finally, let's hope Sandoval's injury today isn't too significant - he's one of those guys that I was hoping to own in more leagues but fell short. After everything that happened in his life last year and his offseason work ethic, I want to see him succeed.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 8:22pm
Subject: Re: Charging

I suppose Berkman's eligibility probably does boost him over Hafner. I just expect Hafner's resurgence to be more sustainable due to the greater likelihood of continued health. And V-Mart obviously couldn't handle the rigors of DHing as he was better suited to catching. One thing's for sure, he's no R-Mart this year.

As for selling high in my leagues, there is no special process. You offer the player, and those who believe will pony up, and those who don't won't. Most won't, and you'll end up keeping the player. There's no secret way to persuade anyone that Jose Bautista's for real, so you have to keep all 54 of his homers to yourself.

Do yourself a favor and don't squander flexibility on Stewart for a week when you'll eventually cut him anyway. Might as well get it over with now. Barring an injury to Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez, Stewart's down for at least a couple weeks and probably more. The tougher call is whether to hold onto him in the World Championships of Fantasy Baseball. Not sure what I'm going to do there. Already dropped Matt Joyce which I'm regretting somewhat.

And I get that Sandoval is a nice feel good story, but let's be real - if someone's going down, I'd way rather it be someone I don't own. I don't care if he's running an orphanage, an animal shelter and a soup kitchen.