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May 9, 2014

TTO Scoresheet Podcast

Finding Trade Targets

by Ian Lefkowitz, Ben Murphy and Jared Weiss

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Now that we’ve progressed past the point in the season where most owners’ initial reluctance to tinker with their teams has melted away, it is time to begin searching for value in the trade market. As we looked for specific players to target, we identified four general themes which may prove profitable, if properly exploited.

BABIP Regression
A first step in identifying players who are likely to increase in value could be to sort a list of players by BABIP. There’s no need to sell out for the metric, but hitters with an absurdly low BABIP have a good chance to positively regress, just like pitchers with a ridiculously high BABIP, and owners who only focus on traditional statistics may simply chalk these players up as being broken.

Struggling so far this year, Pablo Sandoval is in no real danger of losing his job and bears many of the typical hallmarks of potential improvement. His poor performance does not stem from setbacks in plate discipline, but he has hit a few more ground balls than in years prior and more than double the number of infield fly balls. As a result, he’s sporting a low batting average on balls in play, which should rebound as he reverts to his career norms. As a guy we were touting before the season, consider us optimistic that he’ll rebound and be able to right the ship.

Currently triple slashing a not completely terrible .210/.315/.419, Pedro Alvarez is near the bottom of the BABIP leaderboard, sporting a shiny .209 number that’s simply not in line with what he’s done in the past or how well he’s currently hitting the ball. A frustrated owner tired of Alvarez not quite living up to expectations might be willing to part with him for a lot less than he would a month from now.

Stars at a Discount
No one is suggesting you’ll be able to get these guys cheap, but if you are willing to part with some frontline talent, you might be able to win a blockbuster trade by going after stars whose stock has dipped in the early going.

Prince Fielder owners are likely right to be panicking right now, which makes him a relatively attractive trade target. Ordinarily, it’s difficult to get someone perceived at a star at a discount from any owner who understands the value of buy low-sell high. In Prince’s case, however, there’s a weight/early decline narrative that may be sending a lot of savvy owners towards the exits. This may be accurate, but it strikes us as an opportunity for a risk-loving trader to jump in, particularly with a lot of the team owners who believe themselves to be contenders.

You probably won’t be able to get Stephen Strasburg for spare parts and loose change. But if he’s owned by someone who buys into the sports radio talk that suggests Strasburg is a delicate porcelain doll of pretty pretty princess and isn’t thrilled with his admittedly pedestrian 3.60 ERA, he’s definitely worth making a play. Strasburg is striking out 13 per nine innings with a crazy high BABIP, and it is fairly difficult to lose a trade in which you get him, both in terms of this season and the future.

Small Sample Size Shouldn’t Affect the Sheen
Everyone says not to trust a small sample size, but the advice is a lot more difficult to take when the supposed key to your 2014 pennant-winning team appears to not realize the season has started. A small sample size shouldn’t be entirely ignored, of course, but if a player was supposed to be huge coming into the season, find the owner who thinks that a bad April means those preseason touts were hogwash.

As one of the reasons Astros fans believe in the process and future potential, George Springer has yet to deliver this year. Hitting a paltry .191/.257/.221, Springer has not shown any of his power or patience in the majors that earned him high marks through the minor leagues. He’s been moved in the lineup but probably won’t be demoted any time soon, so if the guy that’s carried him the past few years is scared that he can’t make it in the show, you might have the chance to take a risk that he’ll be just fine and needs some time to figure it out—after all, it has only been a month.

Unlike Springer, Oswaldo Arcia did not have the same chance of staying in the majors through his struggles and was moved to Triple A while dealing with some hand and wrist injury issues. He’s done well enough in his stint at Rochester but before the injury he was probably the worst hitter on this list, at .111/.158/.222 in less than a week of playing time. Obviously he’s still got potential, so if the wrist injury or the need for playing time now has his Scoresheet owner nervous, he’s a good trade target.

A pure case of relative value for rebuilders. we think everyone who’s made it to this corner of the internet understands that Jedd Gyorko’s first hundred at-bats of 2014 do affect his long-term value slightly, but are more generally considered a fluke. The problem is, this fluke is so bad that he’s unplayable for a post-season contender. Teams that are contending with Gyorko are likely going to be forced to upgrade the position, making Gyorko himself the best trade bait. Just to be clear, he’s a pretty marginal keeper, but he is a keeper, and teams looking to grab 2015 talent at wholesale prices should try to move their better-performing second baseman (that’s all of them) for Gyorko plus supplemental value.

Opportunity May Come Knocking
If you’ve got the space on your roster, look for players who are an injury or a crappy fifth starter being crappy away from getting a chance in the spotlight. These players can be a great opportunity if you have depth to trade to an owner who was counting on these players to contribute immediately.

We’d generally prefer to trade for talented players in bad circumstances than the other way around. Trevor Cahill got tossed out of the clown car that is the Diamondbacks’ 2014 season after just a couple of bad starts. Those starts are enough to make him useless for a postseason rotation, but you still have to make it to the postseason first. His value is currently being crushed by a bullpen role that shows no sign of ceasing, but we’re always just an injury or trade away from Cahill getting another start. Just to be clear, this is a pure “bulk innings” play, as owners who already have innings should trade for quality performance instead.

If you’ve been with us since the preseason, you know that we were really high on Tommy La Stella, who had a chance to make the Braves out of spring training. He hasn’t been lighting the minors on fire, but his .370 OBP there is about 130 points higher than Dan Uggla. Uggla probably isn’t quite as bad as he’s been playing, but with some rumors swirling around that the Braves could be making a switch in the near future, now may be the time to jump on the La Stella bandwagon.

Start

Dustin Ackley
It’s tough to speak definitively on anything after 100 plate appearances, but it seems as though Ackley has once and for all destroyed any remaining prospect sheen that he may have had. That said, while he shouldn’t be a regular starter for you at any position, he still should be playable in the right weeks. Week Seven sees the Mariners face the eviscerated half of the Rays’ rotation as well as Minnesota’s consistently awful starters. Hopefully, the platoon between Ackley and Cole Gillespie holds up, and Ackley gets benched against David Price, the one tough draw the team faces.

Brett Gardner
Consider this a clarion call to move all of your decrepit and stumbling Yankee hitters into your lineup for a week. The Yankees make 7 home starts, facing Wandy Rodriguez and 6 righties, none better than Dillon Gee. This is a team with no shortage of “sometimes players.” Gardner is probably the regular best suited to benefit, but you can also give a look to Alfonso Soriano, Brian Roberts, or even Derek Jeter and his Extended Farewell, if you can stomach the defense.

Mike Leake
He’s scheduled to make two starts in Week Seven. The more relevant start to this column is the one against a Padres offense perpetrating the worst televised offense to San Diego residents since Terriers was cancelled. Anyone facing the Padres is currently a must-start (move Alfredo Simon into your rotation as well), but Leake also draws the Phillies on Sunday. While I’d ordinarily caution against starting a righty with short stuff against the Phillies, that team hasn’t been able to hit anyone recently either. Moreover, the Phillies are actually doing better facing lefties this year, and although that’s not particularly significant yet, the Phillies seem to have been a relatively neutral offensive team for a while now. With two solid starts, Leake has a decent chance to show up well.

Sit

Chris Owings
Owings hasn’t just had a great season to this point, he’s also had about the most surprising season one could expect from someone with his minor league profile. 160 at bats to the contrary, I still find it hard to imagine that Owings has suddenly become a high batting average/contact first hitter. If you kept Owings as a minor leaguer this offseason, you likely drafted another option (or you took Didi Gregorius, in which case—sorry?), and this may be the week to play him. Owings and the Diamondbacks are scheduled to see Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw in Week Seven, which is one weird Jose Fernandez trade away from being an actual nightmare.

Mike Olt
So… maybe it wasn’t vision problems after all? It’s probably not lights out yet for this preseason sleeper, but it’s time to get him out of any part of your roster where that long swing can do damage to your team. This is particular acute in Week Seven, as the Cubs face the Cardinals and then a Brewers rotation that seems very strongly to be for real. April is ordinarily too small a sample size to give up on a player, but it’s not as though Olt has a recent track record of performance to fall back on. I’d recommend stashing him on the farm until he proves otherwise.

Mark Buehrle
It’s terrific to see Buehrle back to form, working quickly and deceptively and giving hope to White Rabbits everywhere to be on time for their very important dates. This may not be the week to start Buehrle, however. First, he takes on the formidable Angels offense, which has Mike Trout on it, and is also mostly healthy, and has Trout, and some comeback players, and that Trout kid. The second start is against Texas, in Texas. This seems like too much of a risk, unless all your other options are weak. On the bright side, if you sit him, and he still performs well, you may be looking at someone on track to have a low enough ERA to be a surprise playoff starter.

In the podcast: This week, the Outcomes answer reader mail about supplementals and building a bullpen, and discuss their picks for potential trade targets. The Outcomes provide analysis more hard-hitting than the star of an Indonesian martial arts movie.

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