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Charging the Mound: Midseason Values

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-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Sent: Thursday, June 27, 2013 4:08am
To: Chris Liss
Subject: Charging - Midseason Values

We're in the middle of doing our midseason RotoWire Roundtable rankings, which should be up on the site next week. For those unfamiliar with the Roundtable rankings, we take the opinions of five different RotoWire writers to construct a set of composite overall rankings. I find the exercise useful as a snapshot of player value roughly halfway into the season. There are some midseason drafts and even monthly leagues, plus it can be used as a guide for those looking to extract value along with addressing categorical needs in trades.

Midseason ranks always seem tougher to me than doing them before the season starts. Sometimes having more information about a player confuses the issue rather than clarifies it. Here are a few dilemmas that I encountered in the process.

- An issue that we dealt with before is the valuation of injured players, and those just returning from injury. What do you do with Ryan Braun right now, when every bit of news about his thumb is worse than the previous tidbit? I bought low, or at least thought I did, a few weeks ago, and he has yet to play an inning for me. It's reminiscent of the ill-fated Cliff Lee-for-Grady Sizemore trade in AL Tout that I made a few years ago. Incidentally I still blame you for that deal, as my advisor before pulling the trigger. That was an awfully clever way of discouraging me from using you as my personal Ask An Expert. The other two examples that come to mind for me are Matt Kemp and Jose Reyes. I'm more bullish about Reyes than Kemp, even though he has the worse career track record and plays his home games on artificial turf.

- If you're drafting today, would you consider taking Max Scherzer ahead of Justin Verlander? Verlander has had a string of rough outings, his velocity is down this year, and of course has a higher workload over the past few years than anyone in the game, even before we account for his postseason action. However, his strikeout rate remains high, and he's only allowed seven homers on the season. You suggested Monday on the show that you can't buy low on Verlander yet, but can you sell him at full price? Or is this one of those cases where the buy/sell spread prevents a good deal from getting done?

- Knowing what we know about batting average being down across the board, is it possible that we're undervaluing high-average guys that aren't necessarily slugging a ton? Joey Votto isn't one of those guys by the way - he may have a low RBI count, but he still has 14 homers on the year. I'm thinking more along the lines of Allen Craig, Joe Mauer and Yadier Molina - especially Mauer and Molina, given how hard it is to find a high-average catcher. Speaking of catchers, what about the reverse - how are you treating Miguel Montero and Victor Martinez, two catchers that we thought would help us in the batting average category?

- Which prospect not currently in the majors has the biggest impact the rest of the way? Do you intend to hold onto Oscar Taveras in NL Tout, where you only have four bench spots? Looking at those prospects already in the big leagues, who you rather have Gerrit Cole or Zack Wheeler? Nick Franklin or Jurickson Profar?

- Which member of The Plan is the next to get hurt? I need to know this, so I can downgrade him significantly.

- Using our in-season values, give me a top-20 hitter and pitcher that you'd be eager to trade right now, thinking that (a) he's likely to drop in value, yet (b) you still can retrieve good value for him.

-----Original Message-----
From: Chris Liss
Sent: Thursday, June 27, 2013 7:01pm
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging - Midseason Values

I know you still try to blame me for giving you the go-ahead on the Sizemore-Lee deal, and I probably deserve it. After all, I'm the only one of us who has psychic powers, and you'll do anything you're told. It wasn't as bad as the Travis Hafner for Brad Fullmer trade Shoe and I made in the staff keeper league though. Like Sizemore, Fullmer tore his knee the next week, but Hafner crushed it for three years.

I'd probably take Scherzer over Verlander, sure. If I'm wrong, and Verlander gets it together, how much better would he be than Scherzer anyway? I can name maybe 2-3 pitchers I'd take over Scherzer right now: Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg and maybe Adam Wainwright. In any event, I agree that the bid/ask on Verlander is probably too wide to allow a fair deal to get done.

I wouldn't target average more than I did before the season, but Yadier Molina has obviously exceeded any reasonable preseason expectation in that department and has provided a ton of value as a catcher in that category. I don't know about Miguel Montero, but I'm fairly confident Victor Martinez will hit .280-plus the rest of the way. In his case, a slow start wasn't all that surprising. It's always a tricky call to try and trade for batting average, though. You'll never get Miguel Cabrera or Votto without giving up half your team, so you have to target a specialist like Marco Scutaro whose contact rate gives him a good chance or maybe someone like Manny Machado who should be reasonably priced but isn't because people love the real-life player so much. (Of course, ARod prefers the interior decorator Manny Machado). (Hat tip DDD).

I think I'd take Cole over Wheeler, but I'll be honest - I haven't seen the latter pitch, and don't feel strongly about it. I'd still take Profar over Franklin given their respective parks and lineups. That Profar is learning to play OF means they're committed to giving him at-bats, too. Oscar Tavares is probably out awhile, so my top minor leaguer is Ike Davis. He should be up soon, and I have a feeling he'll hit 20 HR on the year. I've almost given up on Billy Hamilton though. He'd need an injury to Shin-Soo Choo, and even then, the Reds might avoid him.

As for The Plan team, Bryce Harper and Rafael Betancourt should be coming back soon, and then Troy Tulowitzki in a few weeks.

Finally, if I had to deal two top-20 guys, I'd pick Carlos Gonzalez because he always seems to get hurt/run-out-of-gas and Yu Darvish given his home park and huge price tag.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Sent: Friday, June 28, 2013 4:53am
To: Chris Liss
Subject: Re: Charging - Midseason Values

With great power comes responsibility - if you have psychic ability, you need to use it wisely. And I think you actually knew that Fullmer was going to do what he did, and that Hafner would crush it. You had to throw us off your scent, but I'm on to you.
No, I think that the real takeaway is to never make a trade while attending a kids' birthday party. Take your time to do the due diligence when you get back home, even if said party bores you out of your skull. (By the way, if any of you gentle readers invited our family to your offspring's birthday party, trust me, I wasn't talking about your party. We had fun at that party, I promise.)
Yeah, I guess putting Scherzer over Verlander isn't all that revolutionary after all. We had Ron Shandler on Thursday's show, and he said he picked Scherzer for the Cy Young anyhow, so yeah, he'd rank him ahead of Verlander too. I think might also slot Scherzer ahead of Strasburg, even with the league difference. He strikes more batters out, works deeper into games, and has a higher likelihood of getting run support. And given how many batters he strikes out, that Detroit is a bad defensive team matters less in this instance.
Maybe I like Manny Machado too much, too. I think that the home runs are coming from him, especially in that ballpark. Maybe it's not this year - perhaps he needs an offseason to bulk up. But the presence of so many doubles usually is a great indicator for future home run spikes. So far he has traded fly balls for line drives, while his ground ball rate has remained constant. Do we have enough of a sample for this year to suggest that will remain constant? His HR/FB percentage has also dropped 11.7% down to an aberrant 6.1% - though if line drives are folded up into that percentage it wouldn't be a surprising drop. But maybe he's a right-handed Joey Votto, at least in terms of his batted ball profile. Maybe he has a lower homer ceiling, but I still doubt it - I think that the power still arrives in the near future.
As for the "current minor leaguer," I didn't narrowly define it to mean prospect, not struggling young major leaguer, so Davis qualifies, but that's not what I was going for. I'm really looking to see who you think the next big callup will be that tears it up. But it's not fair of me just to ask questions without floating my own answer, so I'll go ahead and say Mike Olt, who is crushing it now that he can once again see clearly. In his last 10 games, he's hitting .275/.396/.500. Yeah, finding a place to play in Texas is going to be a pain, but it might not be confined to Texas - I could see him being the Rangers' trade bait rather than Profar or one of their other middles.
Billy Hamilton homered a couple of days ago, but he's still not killing it at Triple-A. Last 10 games for him: .243/.263/.324. He has stolen six bases in that span, so that tool is strong, but he still doesn't command the strike zone - he has more CS's in that time (2) than he does walks (1). And while walks aren't everything, they're pretty vital for a guy that's not going to slug. In a league with a short bench like Yahoo! F&F, it's really tough to hold a roster spot on him.
Really like your sell-high recommendation on Darvish, for the reasons you cite, plus the Texas heat, plus he throws so many pitches per inning compared to many of his contemporaries. That, and maybe a little wishful thinking, as I don't own him anywhere - not by design, in fact, I was, at least in my mind, bullish on him coming into the season. I just got shut out, either by draft strategy, keepers, or just didn't pull the trigger at the right time.
Finally, we talked about it on the video, but elaborate on where you'd slot Yasiel Puig for the rest of the way - it was a pretty glaring omission of mine to not mention him in the first missive.

-----Original Message-----
From: Chris Liss
Sent: Friday, June 28, 2013 5:24pm
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging - Midseason Values

You weren't talking about any reader's particular party - you were talking about all of them. But I'm not sure you could have done much due diligence on Sizemore - didn't he get hurt a few days after the trade?

As for Machado, there's no doubt that his future looks bright. But that's why he's overrated right now - unless you're in a keeper league I don't think you can consider him a power source for this year. Of course, it's possible he turns those doubles into home runs in the second half, but it's more likely to happen over the next few years.

Olt is a good choice, but as you said he needs to be traded. Maybe the Cubs would take him straight up for Matt Garza - they certainly could use a third baseman, but it's always tough to pick a guy who needs a trade to free him up.

I'd put Puig in the top 25 the rest of the way, and Kevin Payne on the radio has him in his top 10. Bernie Pleskoff says he'd take him No. 1 overall for 2014, too. Maybe those guys have gone crazy, but Puig does seem a lot like Vlad Guerrero, able to hit anything anywhere near the strike zone and with power, and all the other tools, too. And it's not like he's some 20-year old phenom, 5-7 years away from his peak. He's had experience in Cuba already, and at 22 (and who knows, possibly older), he might be closer to a fully-formed player than his brief pro baseball experience would indicate.