Buy low. Sell high. In all games and markets that have fluctuating values of commodities, the simple premise of ‘buying’ at a low price in efforts to increase the value of an asset is critical. In essence, a fantasy draft is a free giveaway where the buyers leave the table with a pile of products they hope prove to be more valuable than the rest of their bargain-hunting opponents.
Once the first price is set — that is, either an official game is played or a trade is completed — the rest of the trading world can react. At its core, any individual trade contains too many moving parts and extraneous circumstances — e.g. the construction of the team, the league settings, each owner’s projections — that it is a rather inexact science.
Still, the market moves as a unit.
Whether collectively or in an isolated incident, fantasy baseball owners grow impatient with their players at a moment’s notice. One day, a high draft pick was used to select ‘the next great pitcher,’ and three starts later, he is on the trading block.
In a few weeks, bad starts will begin to get negated by players reverting back to their mean. By then, the moves will have already been made. That makes the first month of the season the most critical to find the other team’s weakness and prey on it. In addition, if the owner is desperate enough to cut bait, someone else is likely waiting to capitalize.
The key with these opportunities is not necessarily the expectation that full value will ever be reached. The focus is on decreasing the value to a point that, even if the player turns into an absolute ‘bust,’ nothing of major value was lost.
Don’t buy for the sake of owning. Buy for the value and enjoy any pleasant returns that may come afterwards.
Jon Lester – LHP – Chicago Cubs
It’s safe to say that the Cubs’ massive acquisition of Jon Lester doing the off-season has not exactly gone as planned. Currently pitching to an ERA nearly three times last year’s, Lester has looked uncharacteristically hittable. Worse, the pitcher was reportedly suffering from a ‘dead arm’ in March, making his early season struggles that much more concerning.
That is, if you are a Lester owner. If you’re shopping for bargains, however, you jump at the opportunity to buy ‘damaged goods’ at a discount.
Like all pitchers, any rumor or speculation that involves a potential arm injury is terrifying. Lester is no exception. But the Cubs have clearly invested both money and the direction of the franchise in the pitcher, and his performance is paramount to their success. In addition, the recent influx of fresh talent – namely, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell – could lead to an overall improvement of the team.
Perhaps throughout the speculation of Lester’s arm and the Cubs as a general organization, the lead that often gets buried is the simple math of Lester’s current statistics. While small sample sizes often get ignored, they work best when compared to a player’s large pool of numbers, spanning multiple seasons. With Lester already logging seven full seasons of more than 30 starts, his 3.47 ERA in that stretch is a valid expected average output each time he takes the mound.
Stretches of good and bad play will always be present in baseball players, skewing the numbers over a small period of time, but it is extremely plausible that Lester’s worst games are already behind him. And even if he pitches to the higher end of his scale – his 2012 4.82 ERA was the worst of his career – Lester would be giving his best games to his new fantasy owner.
George Springer – OF – Houston Astros
“Fear the sophomore slump.” Like many aspect of sports prognostication, people tend to turn to fabricated axioms to avoid or invest in certain beliefs. Prior to this season, Houston’s George Springer was the prime example, entering his second season as a regular starter.
The concerns about Springer existed as much in the fear that the league had caught onto his weaknesses as it did the fact that he was already a risk due to his high strikeout rate. In essence, little has changed, and Springer is still striking out, on average, more than once per game.
The beauty of fantasy baseball is that, in most formats, Springer’s strikeouts are no more damaging than Adrian Gonzalez ripping a line drive directly into the glove of Mike Rizzo. Indeed, the league has taken note that it simply isn’t worth throwing a fastball in the strike zone to Springer, but now it is his turn to adjust.
The assumption following a rookie season is that the player will be exploited. Here, George Springer is as vulnerable this year as he was months ago – the same season in which he slugged 20 home runs in only 78 games played.
Considering Springer’s price plummets every time he chases a pitch out of the zone, he could be hitting more trade blocks than baseballs in the coming days. The beauty is that he has shown the ability to get hot – in late-May of last year, Springer hit seven home runs and batted .405 over the course of seven games.
His turnaround could happen at any time.
Masahiro Tanaka – RHP – New York Yankees
It seems somewhat counter-intuitive to list a player that is performing so well as a ‘buy-low candidate,’ but Masahiro Tanaka deserves consideration in every trade discussion from now until the end of the year. Indeed, he has completely erased the bad memory of his Opening Day start, and has looked dominant since. Why, then, could he be obtained at a cheap price?
Fear. As always, fear weighs the market down.
The current owner of Masahiro Tanaka drafted the Yankees’ ace with the inherent risk that comes from his partially-torn elbow. There is a legitimate concern that every pitch he throws might be his last for a calendar year, and his fantasy owners might be looking to cash out and sell high. Simply put, if someone is looking to deal Tanaka, it is because he or she is scared that the pitcher won’t last the whole season.
Who’s buying? Regardless of whether or not someone is convinced that Tanaka looks healthy, it would be unwise to still consider 30 starts a safe projection. Therefore, the lack of serious buyers – not Tanaka’s performance – should keep his price low. With every outing, current owners are reaping the rewards of their gamble, but the risk of going bankrupt at any time remains present.
Chris Carter – 1B/OF – Houston Astros
The definition of ‘raw power,’ Chris Carter and his abysmal start has been more surprising in the lack of home runs – only one, as of this writing – than his atrocious batting average. Like his aforementioned teammate, George Springer, fantasy owners knew the pros and cons of a player like Carter – basically sacrificing contact for power statistics – but what happens when he produces neither?
Carter’s stumbles out of the gate are not only curious, but likely unsustainable, making him a prime target for acquisition. For those who value sabermetric statistics, Carter’s isolated power – basically, his ability to tally extra base hits – ranked fourth-best in the league last season. For anyone who has watched him play, the 6’4″, 250 pound monster barely looks like he’s swinging hard, despite crushing pitches at an incredible rate.
Chris Carter should never hit for average, but his absence from the top of the home run leaderboard is not permanent. His power will return, and with his batting average so low, right now, it is likely that he gains a few points there, as well.
Hisashi Iwakuma – RHP – Seattle Mariners
On a grander scale, the entire Seattle Mariners roster could have been listed as a collective group vastly under-performing, but Iwakuma gets the nod based on the likelihood that his fantasy owners will give up soonest. The pitcher’s struggles actually date back to last year, when he finished the season with an 8.35 ERA and three losses in his final four starts.
Like Jon Lester, Iwakuma’s ERA is currently double his lifetime average, and he is pitching for a team that should start to string together more wins in the coming weeks. In addition, Iwakuma leads the league in home runs allowed, and has already yielded 25 percent of last year’s total.
Everything about Iwakuma suggests that, while he is still trying to find his footing for this year, his career numbers are again obtainable. Despite some poor performances, he is still striking out batters at a rate only slightly below his average. Perhaps more importantly, even while allowing four earned runs for each game started, he has pitched at least five innings in all three games. With that, he will continue to take the ball every fifth day and compete.