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June 26, 1999

Ask Rotoman

Should you answer the Belle?

by Peter Kreutzer

TRADE

Dear Rotoman:

I have been offered Albert Belle for Mike Mussina. I am lacking in the power categories and my staff is one of the best in my deep AL-only league. In addition to Mussina, I have David Cone, Charles Nagy, Scott Erickson, Wilson Alvarez, Tim Hudson, Omar Olivares and, sorry to say, Steve Sparks.

Should I pull the trigger on this deal? My heart says yes, but I am always a little skeptical of the Belle "second half turnaround". One of these years he is not going to turn it on in the second half, and what if this is the year?

"Ring my Belle?"

Dear "Ring":

In 1995, with July turning into August and my team languishing in the middle of the pack, I traded a somewhat underpriced Tim Salmon for a somewhat overpriced Albert Belle. The reason: I was sort of in the hunt and Albert was the second best power-hitter in the American League.

Belle was available because he had not been having a great season. His month-by-month homer totals from April to July were a ringless 2,4,6 and 7. But from the day I got him to the end of the year he hit 31 home runs, drove in something like 60 runs, and propelled my beloved Bonemen into the money.

So, you could say I come into this discussion a believer in Albert Belle's better second halves.

After reading your note I wasn't surprised when I picked up the STATS Player Profiles book and read that over the past five years Belle's OPS has been a handsome .972 in the first half. Nor was I surprised that in those same five years he pumped it up after the break to a truly elegant 1.080. Mr. Belle is one good looking hitter. Last year, Belle had as unbalanced a year as a player can have. He followed a lackluster first half (.871 OPS) with one that shined (1.267 OPS). What, I wondered, is Mr. Ring thinking?

Do the deal, man! Do the deal!

But last year's bravura performance shows why it's dangerous to rely too heavily on first half/second half splits. If you look at the five years preceding 1998, you would have to conclude The Angry One actually has no preference. From 1993 to 1997 he had a pre-break OPS of .996 and a post-break OPS of .986. So much for a pattern. As it turns out, Albert is not a first half player, nor a second half player. In fact, as I'm sure Albert would be all too happy to tell you, Albert is most usually Albert. All the time.

And like most good players who aren't nursing hidden injuries or grievous emotional hurt, after a slow start this year Albert is likely to return to his normal results, which mean he'll hit something like 45 homers with an OPS around 1.000. In fact, the last week or so has seen the start of just such a turnaround.

Conversely, if Albert was off to a incredibly fast start, you could assume he'd fall back to the pack. Because a sample of ballplayer years isn't really enough to truly establish any first half/second half patterns, and any one outlying year is bound to skew those statistics.

So, the bottom line is you need hitting, and have a surplus of pitching. Albert is the second best power hitter in the American League, and we can assume the best is not available. There's only one answer left: Do the deal, man! Do the deal!

Tolling for thee,

Rotoman

PROTOCOL

Dear Rotoman:

I saw that the Mets traded Allen Watson for Mac Suzuki, and then, four days later, the Royals claimed Suzuki off waivers. What's the story with that?

"Mac Attack"

Dear "Mac":

Suzuki was out of options, so the Mariners, feeling he couldn't help them any more this year, designated him for assignment. This meant they had ten days to trade him. Otherwise he would have to be exposed to irrevocable waivers.

Before the ten days were up, however, M's GM Woody Woodward found a taker. The Mets, clearly exhausted by prodigal hometown boy Allen Watson, decided to take a flyer on the young Japanese arm. The only problem, apparently, is that once obtained they didn't want to keep him on their major league roster.

Which meant they had to run him through waivers. As it turned out, he made it through the NL, but the AL team with the second-worst record snatched him. The net result for the Mets is almost the same as if they had released Watson. They won't get anything for him but a PTBNL from the Mariner deal.

If your AL-only league doesn't allow you to keep players on your roster who've been traded to the other league, I suppose this bit of finagling might have cost you a pretty worthless pitcher. And if you play in an NL-only league and you picked Sukuki up on Monday you're in pretty much the same boat.

In fact, about the only team here not to end up with a worthless young arm is the Mets. Go figure.

Elementarily,

Rotoman

P.S. In leagues where stats of traded players continue to accrue, the only real negative situation is the one NL-only owners of Allen Watson face. Because of the DH, pitching stats in the AL are always worse than stats in the NL. There can be no justification for holding onto a mediocrity like this one after he jumps to the junior circuit. In league context he is most likely to be simply dismal from here on out. Cut him.

Have a question for Rotoman? Contact him directly at rotoman@baseballprospectus.com.

Related Content:  Albert Belle

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