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April 2, 1999

Rotisserie Turns

The roto cup runneth over

by Keith Law

Those of you who drafted in AL leagues in the last ten days may have seen the immediate impact of the surfeit of spring training information, gossip, and innuendo in John Wetteland's price. There was a brief period when it appeared that Wetteland might start the season on the DL, and miss a fair amount of time at that, all due to an ankle problem. In the past four days, however, Wetteland has pitched effectively twice, and now appears to be on track to start the season on the 25-man roster.

There's a clear lesson from this. There's no shortage of quality information available from spring camps, via sources like RotoNews and My Baseball Daily. However, like any over-the-counter product, this information is only effective when used properly. Sometimes you have to learn not to overreact.

Spring news comes in many flavors, but it's generally coming out of one of these three buckets:

  1. An injury. You have to make judgment calls here, but some general guidelines apply. Pitchers' arm injuries are the most serious, and should impact your bidding strategy. However, their non-arm injuries (knees, ankles) are frequently overemphasized on draft day, and a majority of these injuries will go away by Opening Day. For hitters, watch for back injuries on power hitters and leg injuries on speedsters, but worry less about other injuries until somebody confirms an MRI has taken place. Use available news sources to try to get a read on each injury's severity, but ignore the temptation to use one bad inning to gauge the pitcher's outlook.

  2. Job competitions. Pirates' GM Cam Bonifay has blustered left and right about how Mike Benjamin was the starting second baseman, blah, blah, blah. Now it's a week until Opening Day and Warren Morris is doing all the starting, as he should be. Bottom line? You can't believe pull quotes from front office types; they have little incentive to tell the press the whole truth. Use what you know about the players' actual skills, how they performed the previous year, and how the organization sees them in the long-term to decide who you think will win jobs that are still up for grabs. Some decisions are indeed made in spring training, but these decisions will frequently contradict the public commentary of managers and GMs.

  3. Eye-openers. Some prospects do more to help themselves with a good spring than you might think, as they get their first opportunity to show off in front of the big league club's manager. Scott Williamson, the roto-flavor-of-the-moment in the NL, is a great example; he showed up with an extra few mph on his fastball, and he clearly served notice to Jack McKeon that he intends to be in the Reds' future pitching plans. Perhaps he'll be sent down once the Reds' staff is healthy, but Williamson is the kind of player to stash on a reserve list or grab at $1 because of the impact he might make in July or next year.

As I implied above, there is much to be gained by gathering player info during spring training. Just make sure you wield the weapon more deftly than your competitors do.

Keith Law is the Baseball Prospectus fantasy editor. Feel free to drop him a line at roto@baseballprospectus.com.

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