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May 8, 1998

Rotisserie Turns: The Analyst's Report

Which players to buy, hold, and sell in the NL

by Keith Law

Investment-banks issue frequent reports on the stocks they track, making recommendations on the attractiveness of those stocks for various portfolios. We can use the same "buy low/sell high" approach to discuss player trading strategies for rotisserie: trade players on your team who are uncharacteristically hot, and acquire slumping players who are likely to bounce back in return. This week, I'll discuss some NL properties in each category. (The title is slightly disingenuous; investment-banking analysts never issue sell recommendations - only buys and holds.)

Buy: Trade for these guys now, because they're going to improve

Mike Lansing (.317, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB)

One measly homer? No stolen bases? Sounds like the perfect time to pounce on the well-paid Rockie. Even in Montreal, Lansing hit 20 homers last year, and he topped 20 steals in both '95 and '96 before slowing down last year to 11. Yes, he's 30, so he might have slowed down a step (although his GIDP total dropped in half), but Don Baylor runs his players like no one else in the majors - and there's no explaining the power outage.

Karim "The Scapegoat" Garcia (.143, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB)

The Diamondbacks weren't hitting, so they sent Karim Garcia back to AAA. True, Garcia was struggling at .143/.182/.301, but sending down a top prospect in a season where you have no shot at the playoffs is just stupid. Jay Bell is hitting .235, but no one's trying to lynch him. Regardless, Garcia's exile may last a while, but if you're playing for next year, this might be an opportune time to pick him up as a throw-in. Sixty-three bad at bats can't outweigh five strong years of minor-league hitting.

Chris Widger (.225, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB)

Widger isn't even close to the worst roto catcher in the NL, courtesy of Bad Ausmus [sic], but he's been just about worthless so far. Hitting eighth in the worst lineup in baseball won't produce 100 RBI, but it should produce more than 2 in 30 games. Montreal committed to him with a multi-year deal, and while Widger won't ever be a star, he should be good for a .270 average with 10 homers before the year is out. Take the opportunity to upgrade your second catcher spot now.

Bobby Bonilla (.250, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB)

Bonilla's slow start may just be a function of the time he missed due to rehab this spring. While there's every reason to expect that the 35-year-old Bonilla would decline further this year, he's not as bad as his current numbers would indicate. He should be good for 15-20 homers and 80-90 RBI this year, with more RBI coming if the Fish upgrade the lineup at all.

Andruw Jones (.200, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 2 SB)

His average has been dismal, but he's been productive in the other categories, so one would hope you haven't really hit the panic button yet. The Braves haven't, as they've said many times that Jones is their centerfielder as long as he can play defense, which looks like forever right about now. Still, if Jones' owner is jumpy, this is a great time to dive in, perhaps by trading a high-average hitter to prey on your competitor's eagerness to raise his BA.

Ryan Klesko (.206, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 2 SB)

Moving now to the left side of the outfield, we see the truly scary part about the Braves: they've started strong despite lousy Aprils from two key offensive performers. Klesko, like Jones, isn't underperforming too badly; while his average is low, he's on track for 30 homers and over 100 RBI. Again, if his owner is fretting about his low BA, Klesko could be available for less than market value.

Steve Finley (.208, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 3 SB)

See Klesko's comment; Finley's in a similar boat, and is particularly appealing for those of you in one-year leagues.

Jason Schmidt (3 W, 5.66 ERA, 1.3714 Ratio)

I've been a big Schmidt booster for some time now, owning him both in LABR and in ToutWars this year, so take this with the appropriate grains of salt: Now is the best chance you'll have to get Schmidt cheap. His 5.66 ERA isn't indicative of the way he's pitched, evidenced by his relatively low BR/IP ratio. His control was a minor problem last year, but he's sliced his walk rate in half. He's not a great bet to win 20 games this year, but a sub-4 ERA is a reasonable bet this year, and he's a great bet for long-term success.

Jeff Suppan (0 W, 6.21 ERA, 1.3800 Ratio)

Suppan is another example of a pitcher whose ERA is high relative to his Ratio: a guy who's putting fewer than 13 men on base every 9 innings shouldn't have a 6.21 ERA. Suppan's primary problem has been the longball (7 in just 33.1 innings this year), but that's out of sync with his previous numbers. Suppan's not going to be an ace this year, but he's an adequate positive dollar-value player whose owner might be desperate to get rid of him now because of his rough start.

Joey Hamilton (3 W, 5.19 ERA, 1.4769 Ratio)

Trying to buy low and sell high is a much more dangerous game with pitchers, since they're so unpredictable and since they get injured so much more often. With that caveat in mind, consider Mr. Hamilton as the penny-stock of the recommendations here. He's had arm problems recently, and his K/IP rate is way off from last year. However, when healthy, he's a solid 200-inning contributor, quite capable of a 3.80-4.00 ERA and a ratio under 1.4 - and boasts the potential of more. If you're willing to bet on someone's health, Hamilton's a good play.

Hold: If you got 'em, hang on to 'em

Cliff Floyd (.268, 9 HR, 18 RBI, 4 SB)

There's not much to say about Floyd that you don't already know: he's doing exactly what we all expected him to in 1995 before The Incident. The homer total looks flukishly high, but he should finish with 30 homers if he stays healthy. If you've got him, don't try to trade him while he's hot; he's not just hot, he's genuinely good.

Jermaine Allensworth (.365, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 3 SB)

I'm not saying that Allensworth is going to hit .365 or even .300 this year. However, something odd in his numbers indicates that his value may stay high even as his average drops: despite the fact that he's the Pirates' #5 hitter, he has just 8 RBI. Part of the problem is his low slugging percentage (just .448), but more of it is Al (#3) Martin's and Kevin (#4) Young's slow starts, plus some plain ol' bad luck. He'll probably finish under .300, but he should generate a lot more RBI (and a few more SB) for you by the end of the season.

Carl Everett (.324, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 4 SB)

See Allensworth's comment. Everett also isn't likely to hit .300, but his playing time is increasing as he continues to hit. He started as half of a platoon, but may wind up with more at bats than expected (pinch-hitting, subbing for Alou or Bell, etc.) as the season progresses. The difference between his current trade value and the value he'll generate over the rest of the season is not as large as you may think.

Dustin Hermanson (3 W, 2.79 ERA, 1.0471 Ratio)

Yes, it's real. Most pitchers who have Hermanson's combination of a serious high-90s fastball and breaking stuff with wicked movement never get the control in order, but those who do become coveted pitchers. He struck out nearly a batter an inning last year and limited opposing batters to .234/.312/.372 in his first year as a starter. He won't win 20 games with that pathetic offense behind him, but if he puts up a 3.00 ERA and a 1.1 ratio, isn't that enough? If you were smart enough to grab him, pat yourself on the back and hold on tight.

Russ Springer (1 W, 0 SV, 4.05 ERA, 1.3500 Ratio) and Greg Olson (1 W, 0 SV, 3.07 ERA, 1.1591 Ratio)

Very simply, one of these two (or both) will be the Diamondbacks' next closer once they realize that Felix Rodriguez isn't all that good. Their owners will start to see more trade offers in the coming weeks; if you've got them, don't succumb.

Sell: If you got 'em, trade 'em while the getting's good

Chris Stynes (.304, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 10 SB)

	AVG	HR/500AB	SB/500AB
1998	.304	17.4		43.5
Majors	.314	9.2		24.6
Minors	.306	9.6		20.5
Minor*	.299	8.5		21.6

*excludes .356/.398/556 in 1996, when he repeated AAA.
Plenty of players develop power as they get older, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of Stynes' power jump was real. I'd be shocked if it was all real, and I'd be shocked if he continued stealing bases at a 45-per-year rate. Stynes will have an adequate roto year, but it won't be anything like his April. Move him now.

Andres Galarraga (.327, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 1 SB)

I'm just not a believer. Many of you are, I'm sure, and if you're right--well, more power to you for figuring it out. He just never hit all that well for Coors Field, and I think he's hitting way above his head now.

Desi Relaford (.300, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 3 SB)

If you're playing for this year, Relaford really looks like a good candidate to trade. He just hit his 3rd home run tonight, yet has never hit more than 9 in any professional season. He hit .267 unadjusted in AAA last year, and the last time he hit .300 was in 1994, when he was demoted to the California League midseason. There's simply no reason to believe he'll continue at this power/average pace, which has him on track for 17-18 homers and 65 RBI.

Craig Counsell (.317, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 0 SB)

Trading Counsell now would allow you to take advantage of two facts. First, he's hit really well since his callup last year, so other owners may believe it's real. Second, once his average drops, he's worthless - like Chris Gomez with fewer RBI. Luis Castillo isn't tearing it up at AAA yet, but when he does, youth will probably prevail.

Keith Lockhart (.375, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB)
Mike Matheny (.307, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB)

If you need me to tell you these are flukes, there's not much we can do for you here. If you've benefited from Matheny's hot start, shame on you.

Brian Meadows (3 W, 2.82 ERA, 1.2261 Ratio)

In AA last year, Meadows put up these gaudy numbers: 4.61 ERA, 1.4345 Ratio. He didn't show up in winter league with an extra 9 mph on his fastball. He's just gotten lucky this year. It'll run out; don't let it run out on you.

Al Leiter (3 W, 1.21 ERA, 1.1786 Ratio)

Leiter's something of a different case than the other players I've listed here. I mention him because he's high-variance: the difference between his good years and his bad years is huge, and he's had a few of each kind. Leiter's ERAs in the last 5 years have been 4.11, 5.08, 3.64, 2.93, and 4.34, and his ratios have bounced around similarly. As long as he's pitching well, why take the risk? Trade him for someone more predictable--and hope that Leiter blows up and vindicates you (and me).

Tyler Green (2 W, 4.05 ERA, 1.5000 Ratio)

Green's knucklecurve is nasty, but most hitters are smart enough to realize that Green can't throw it for strikes. He's walked 21 this year and struck out 19. When was the last time you saw a valuable roto starter walk more hitters than he K'd? The 4.05 ERA is deceptive; he's pitching poorly, and will only get worse.

You can send email to Keith at roto@baseballprospectus.com.

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