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August 30, 2011

The BP Trading Post

A Look at the Corners

by Michael Street

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Though it’s late in the season, our new Trading Post tool (explained at its unveiling by Derek Carty) can tell us a lot about how owners make pennant-drive trades, whether it’s keeper owners dumping big names for future success, or contending owners chasing specific categories. As Derek and Michael Jong have already shown, Trading Post can show us whether owners believe in certain player performances, both year-to-date and during the season’s final month. BP writers can also look at the fascinating back end of the TP engine to see the specific trades involved and look for dump trades or category-chasing. Since corner infielders and designated hitters are my Value Picks beat, those are the positions I’ll be looking at here—a selection of overperformers, underperformers, and players with different long- and short-term expectations.

Freddie Freeman | Atlanta Braves | 1B
The 21-year-old Freeman makes a good candidate for a keeper dump trade, as his owners leverage his future potential to win now.Kevin Goldstein ranked Freeman 20th overall among major-league prospects thanks to strong contact skills (86.8 percent on strikes this season), and a smooth lefty stroke that points toward a stable batting average, though Freeman’s .171 minor-league ISO and scouting reports predict only modest power. PECOTA, which undervalues young players, still sees Freeman as a consistent .280 hitter with 20-30 home runs a few years down the road. Even if that’s not top-tier production, hitters like this don’t exactly grow on trees, and power can always develop beyond expectations.

This season, Freeman is pushing PECOTA’s 90th percentile despite a listless .264/.301/.402 line in August. This slump might be from fatigue, but it’s sure not from bad luck—his BABIP is .328 over that span. Fantasy owners have cashed in on this performance, adding $4 to his value based on those future prospects, prospects that (along with his expected regression) explain the $14 ROS spread. The one-for-one deals in the hitter line show owners swapping his batting average for homers and steals, not a bad strategy since it’s easier to make up ground in counting stats than ratios. The pitcher lines look odd, but they come from one-deal samples—he was swapped for David Robertson in one league and Chad Billingsley in another. If you’re a Freeman owner in a redraft league, moving him looks like a good investment, while keeper owners should be sure they’re getting steady talent in return. But I wouldn’t be a Freeman buyer right now unless you’re out of contention in a keeper league and the price is right.

Mike Carp | Seattle Mariners | DH
Shrewd fantasy owners move overperforming players, and Value Pick Carp saw his ownership levels shoot through the roof during his recent 20-game hitting streak. Carp’s season line sits at .292/.351/.472, well above his .280/.357/.466 90th PECOTA percentile and assisted by his .385 BABIP. Rather than mash righties, Carp has actually hit better against fellow southpaws, where his split sits at .317/.364/.610 in a small-sample 44 plate appearances this season.

All of this screams overperformance and regression, but the Carp trades don’t reflect this, as he’s netting plenty of value, whether you’re looking at the current or rest-of-season performance lines of the players he’s swapped for. Over the next several years, PECOTA projects him as a mild slugger, delivering home-run totals in the mid-20s along with strikeout rates around 20 percent and walk rates around 10 percent, producing batting averages in the high .250s. These aren’t bad numbers, but they’re not worth a keeper spot in mixed leagues. With relatively little expected from Carp in the short- or long-term, now is a great time to see if any of your league’s eternal optimists want to acquire him; he’s definitely someone to avoid if he’s offered.

Casey Kotchman | Tampa Bay Rays | 1B
One of the greater enigmas this season has been Casey Kotchman, who’s having his best season since his age-25 year for no explicable reason. His ratios are in line with his career standards, except for a .356 BABIP that’s so far above his .282 career average that I have to wonder if Roger Dorn is giving pointers to opposing infielders. Whatever the cause, his .325/.386/.453 line is way above PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection of .281/.350/.418, but fantasy owners apparently believe in the Great Kotch Renaissance of 2011.

The value differentials on Kotch’s TP cards partly reflect PECOTA’s head-scratching, but it doesn’t explain everything. That gap between his ROS and YTD numbers, the reverse of Carp’s, suggests that his owners are gambling on turnarounds from the players they’re getting in return. Kotch looks like a better commodity in multi-player packages unless it’s for a starting pitcher, since gaining 11 points of hard-to-budge batting average in a hitter swap hardly seems worth the loss of valuable counting numbers. If you own Kotch, now’s the time to see if your fellow owners are willing to cough up value in a multi-player package, but their belief in him may not bring enough in a one-for-one swap.

David Freese | St. Louis Cardinals | 3B
Among third basemen with more than 100 plate appearances, only Aramis Ramirez has a higher batting average than David Freese. Beset by injuries and inconsistency over the past two seasons, Freese finally looks ready to deliver on the expectations created by his .307/.384/.531 minor-league line. He’s a modest talent; his eight homers are in line with PECOTA’s expectations, which also point toward a player expected to hit around .270 with homer totals in the low teens.

Fantasy owners, even at a thin position like third base, don’t seem to believe he’s here, however, losing $6 trading for him. The wide spread between ROS and YTD numbers means his owners are getting players expected to regress in return. This could be recognition that Freese would only help a team’s ratios—he offers little difference in counting stats. This undervaluing points toward a potential trade for a batting-average boost—23 points is a significant bump. Though his improving contact rates and selectivity lend credence to PECOTA’s long-range projections, only keeper owners in the deepest of leagues should deal for a mid-tier talent like Freese.

David Wright | New York Mets | 3B
Fantasy owners are doing a worse job of valuing an even better long-term David, probably because of Wright’s weak season. Back problems knocked Wright out for over a month, but he has raked since returning, hitting .291/.357/.472 with five home runs in 143 plate appearances. Some of this production came in his first nine games back, when he hit .475/.476/.700, but he remains a fine talent that PECOTA expects to maintain an average in the .280-.290 range with between 20 and 30 home runs for some time to come.

But fantasy owners have shown Wright little love in the trade market. While he’s unlikely to regain all of that $26 projection with the meek Metsies, he’s not bringing value by any measure. The one-for-one swaps show downgrades in every category, and it’s hard to see him as being part of a keeper dump. Owners in all leagues tend to be shortsighted, and keeper owners don’t usually target a player who’s both ice-cold (he hit .190/.358/.301 in August) and having a poor season. If you’re in a keeper league, Wright would make an excellent target for you, although he’s unlikely to hold much value in redraft leagues.

Albert Pujols | St. Louis Cardinals | 1B
Whenever I want to look at a new statistic or analytical method, I look at how it measures Pujols—not because he’s typical, but because he’s so extremely atypical. With Trading Post, I was very surprised to see the extreme undervaluing in his card. I might understand this trend if today were May 29, when Pujols was hitting .257/.326/.395 with eight home runs, and people were wondering if The Machine had finally run out of gas. But in the 65 games since then, Pujols has hit .314/.388/.651 and is tied for the National League home-run lead.

Though his current .288/.360/.535 is weak by Pujolsian standards, it’s hardly justification for the huge hit his owners are taking on the trade market. It would be easy to write off this differential as a keeper dump, but I saw almost no Pujols trades for top-notch prospects. Some one-for-one deals were clearly lopsided—like those for Roy Oswalt or Michael Bourn—and indicated either category swaps or temporary insanity. Whatever the reason, one of the greatest hitters in history seems to be getting the short end of the trade stick, and those robust PECOTA projections make it worthwhile to see if your league’s Pujols owner suffers from the same brand of craziness.   

Related Content:  David Freese

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