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July 7, 2006

Fantasy Focus

Trading for Commodities

by Jeff Erickson

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We're at the halfway point in the season, and in most rotisserie leagues, it's time to start focusing on where you need the most help, with an emphasis on categories rather than positions. Earlier in the year, most trades should be made with an eye towards earning the most pure value, but that analysis has changed. Now it's about managing the categories, and it's even acceptable (although obviously not desirable) to "lose" a trade, if it gets you the commodity or commodities that you want.

The first step for you to undergo should be self-evident, but can often get overlooked. Where do you have the opportunity to gain the most? Note, this isn't necessarily the same thing as saying, "where are you the weakest?" You should take a good examination of each individual category to see where your best opportunities lie, before making any trade. At this time of year in keeper leagues, the sellers will put up plenty of intriguing players. It's easy to get wrapped up in some of those names, but make sure you don't get tempted to go after players that don't necessarily address your needs, solely because they might come at a discounted price. There's a finite number of moves you can make before you run out of good keepers to offer--don't get distracted from your ultimate goal.

Now that you've identified what categories can help you the most, let's look at some specific tips and players for each. RBI and HR are pretty self-explanatory, so we won't spend any time there. Just

Batting Average

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is possible to trade for batting average help, but it is a little more difficult than for other categories. To best address shortcomings in this category, you need to act quickly, and you need to get high-average hitters who also get a ton of at-bats. Until (and I think "until" is more appropriate here than "unless") roto evolves and uses on-base percentage rather than batting average, the ability to draw a walk isn't necessarily valued by those looking to improve here. Your top two targets here are AL players--Ichiro Suzuki and Michael Young. If you look at the leaderboard, you can see other similar targets.

The other option here is to trade away those hitters that have been driving down your batting average--players like Adam Dunn and Richie Sexson, neither of whom will ever hit for average. Dunn in particular will fetch a lot of value because his power is so reliable, especially in that ballpark. All the better if you're trading him to a team that's ahead of you in batting average.

Runs

Here one size doesn't necessarily fit all. Jose Reyes and Grady Sizemore lead the league in runs scored, as you might expect, but the list of leaders isn't wholly comprised of speedy leadoff types. Travis Hafner and Jim Thome are tied for fourth in runs scored, because they get on-base so frequently. This is the one traditional 5x5 category where your walk-takers are rewarded.

Stolen Bases

Usually, but not always, the guys who get you stolen bases will also get you a decent number of runs scored. There's occasionally your odd Alex Sanchez type that does far less than you'd suspect, but for the most part they're guaranteed to help you in runs scored. Unfortunately, so many of the top stolen base guys stop there in terms of their production. Players like Chone Figgins, Scott Podsednik, Dave Roberts and Juan Pierre are two-trick ponies. Nonetheless, they're scarce enough that you'll still have to pay a pretty price for them. Try to avoid those players--if any sort of leg injury happens to them, they're nearly worthless to you. For instance, if you traded for Podsednik last year after July 31st, you got seven stolen bases, seven RBI and 22 runs scored for your trouble. He's an extreme example, but also instructive of the risk of getting guys that are solely rabbits.

Try to set your sights on the players who do a little more across the board when you target stolen bases. Jose Reyes and Carl Crawford are the ultimate targets here, but other examples include Felipe Lopez, Jimmy Rollins and Johnny Damon.

Wins

Wins are such a fickle category, they're awfully difficult to trade for. If you're going to make a push in wins, the first thing you need to do is load up on starters--if you have nine pitching spots, at least seven of them should go towards starting pitching. Try to find starting pitchers on good teams that might be undervalued a little because they haven't gotten many wins yet, if possible. Don't, however, trade for some of the pitchers who have been a little lucky in the wins department, compared to the rest of their overall stats. Wandy Rodriguez, for example, isn't going to win nine more games over the second half. Jason Marquis has 10 wins, but will wreck your WHIP if you try to deal for him.

Saves

If you're going to trade for a closer, the one thing you shouldn't be paying attention to is the number of saves that closer has right now. Instead, focus on the overall skill set and his role. Jason Isringhausen is tied for second in the league lead in saves with 25, but he makes for a far worse target than Joe Nathan, who only has 15 saves so far. Others that you might want to avoid include Todd Jones, Derrick Turnbow and Joe Borowski.

Strikeouts

If you focus on wins and load up on starting pitching, one benefit is that you'll likely also gain in strikeouts. That's one way to attack this category. The other is to go for quality and trade for some of the better strikeout pitchers. There are a few among this year's leaders that might surprise you and come cheaper than the elite starters in the league. Some of the pitchers that fall in this category include two Brewers, a Red and a Ranger--Chris Capuano, Dave Bush, Aaron Harang and Vicente Padilla. Padilla and Bush in particular might come on the cheap.

ERA & WHIP

These are the hardest categories to make up significant ground, especially if you're making a concerted effort to compete in either wins or strikeouts, due to the accumulation of innings logged by your pitchers. If you're trying to protect a good spot in the categories, you can start shaving off the number of innings you'll have going forward, but make sure you don't run afoul of your league's minimum innings requirement. You don't want to be in a situation where you're picking up the likes of Russ Ortiz in September merely because he is starting, just to accumulate your innings.

Jeff Erickson is the Senior Editor at RotoWire, and the host of XM Radio's "Fantasy Focus," heard every weekday at noon ET on XM Channel 175. He can be reached here.

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