May 10, 1999
The Analyst's Market Report
Know your overachievers and underachieversJust a few weeks into the 1999 season, most roto teams have begun to separate themselves into the apparent contenders and rebuilders. However, with nearly 75% of the season left to play, it's early enough to recast your fate and take advantage of some small sample-size fluctuations around the majors. Here are five players off to slow starts who are worth getting in trade, and five players off to hot starts whom you should trade away if you own them.
Just one stolen base so far? C'mon. He's not hurt; he just hasn't run much with a hot Big Hurt behind him, and getting on base has been a problem. He's slowly been picking his batting average up, so SB opportunities will increase.
I've already heard reports of attempts to get Young on the cheap. The sharks in question know what they're doing. Young is the victim of a bad combination: a slow start, a dimwitted manager and a hard outfield wall. This is the same Dmitri Young who hit .310 with 48 doubles last year, and he just has to beat out Michael Tucker and wait for Jeffrey Hammonds to bruise his pinky and hit the 60-day DL. Young should be the first target of owners in salaried keeper leagues; he was probably a cheap keeper coming into '99, and by October you'll be debating whether to go two or three years on the long-term deal.
It's something of a downer to write an article like this and have three of your own players head up the "Buy" list, but better that than to start bailing water. Lee came out of 1998 as something of an enigma: his hot start became a tepid finish when he was battling a strained groin but played through it in the stretch run, so he looked like a good bargain to grab for 1999. Unfortunately, a slow start has his average just above .208, and his power output of 3 HR and a .327 SLG is inadequate for a first baseman. On the bright side, the bonus baby isn't in danger of losing his job (as are other struggling talents like Derrek Lee and Jeff Abbott), and his plate discipline has been very strong (14 BB/10 K). He'll come around with the bat, and could surprise with 10-15 steals once he starts getting on base more consistently.
A little arbitrage for the serious investor: Hernandez' numbers don't quite add up. No way a 1.200 Ratio continues to produce a 5.40 ERA, especially since he's not having homer problems. Add to that the strikeout-an-inning pace for you 5x5ers and you have a brief window of opportunity to pick up one of the AL's top starters.
Erstad was already something of a bargain coming into this season: his 1998 numbers were held back by a hamstring problem that robbed him of his speed and his September. He finished with rotisserie numbers similar to his 1997 totals (1997: .299/16 HR/77 RBI/23 SB; 1998: .296/19/82/20), despite playing in six fewer games and struggling through the injury. A step forward this year is very likely, but his .248 start with just 2 steals might hold his trade value down. Ante up for him: his four- or even five-category prowess is well worth it.
Amazingly, Sprague has started hot at the plate courtesy of a newfound emphasis on controlling the strike zone--or perhaps a ripple effect from the majors-wide increase in walk rates. Whatever the cause, Sprague is unlikely to hit .300 or 25 homers, and he's quite likely to frustrate the Pirates enough with his woeful defense that they ship him off in June or July in favor of Aramis Ramirez.
In a year when everybody is walking, Boone isn't, with just eight free passes in 117 PA. He's also hitting for just sporadic power; the five homers mask the fact that 22 of his other 26 hits are singles, resulting in a .463 slugging percentage. The homer output won't last, and neither will the .287 average.
As if you needed me to tell you that. Find someone who thinks he's really going to hit 40 bombs and make yourself a nice deal.
A ratio under 1.00, a 3.24 ERA, three victories...how real are these numbers? Olivares has just 13 Ks this year in 33 1/3 innings, so batters are putting the wood on the ball. His ERA is climbing steadily after a good first two outings. Add to all that the fact that he hasn't posted an ERA under 4.00 or a ratio under 1.50 since the current offensive surge began in 1993, and you have a good risk for a blowup.
Don't get us wrong--Nathan's a fine prospect and could be the best of the current crop of position-players-turned-pitchers. However, he comes with several warning flags: his great initial outings came against the weak-hitting Marlins and Expos; guys just out of A ball tend not to fare well in the majors (cf. Javier Vazquez, 1998); converted position players rarely pan out; and his ratios (13/7 K/BB, fewer than six Ks every nine innings) are hardly supportive of a 2.14 ERA. The time to move Nathan is now, before he slips. If you're in a keeper league and have him at a typical free agent salary ($10 or higher), ask yourself how likely you are to keep him at that price for next year if he ends up with an ERA around 4.00 or 4.50.