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I’ll take Hot Starts for $600, Alex.

Answer: Vernon Wells, Scott Podsednik and Jose Guillen

Question:  Who are the three most valuable players in the American League through Tuesday's games as measured by VORP?

Correct!

Judging by the ADP of the aforementioned three outfielders, this comes as a great surprise.  It probably goes without saying all three carry considerable baggage that should make you leery of any kind of sustained excellence.  

Wells (.339/.426/.797, 7 HR, 12 RBI, 14 Runs) once carried 30 home run, 100 RBI promise, but the last time he reached those heights was as a 27 year old in 2006 when he finished with a .302 BA, 32 HR and 106 RBI.  With a WARP of 5.4, it was the best year of his career.  Since then, he hasn’t necessarily been a fantasy drag… Let’s just say he’s been overvalued based on his past performance, averaging 17 HR and 75 RBI while hitting .265.  Last year though, he hit bottom, finishing the worst year of his career with a -0.1 WARP and .254 TAv.

This year, Wells got off to a blistering start, hammering four home runs in his first three games.  Wells’ statistical outliers in the early going include his walk rate at 13% compared to a career rate of 7%.  Plus, he’s hitting for extra bases in 17% of his total plate appearances, way up from his normal rate of 10%.  Finally, his HR/FB rate is an astronomical 34%.

Podsednik's (.449/.526/.469, 7 SB, 6 Runs) fantasy value has normally been limited to stolen bases, but he hit .304 last year, the second best batting average of his career while swiping 30 bags.  After posting a .341 BABIP last summer, he was certainly a candidate for regression entering 2010.  Not so fast… Podsednik owns a .512 BABIP.  Plus, after walking 39 times in 587 plate appearances last year (6.6%), he’s already taken a free pass seven times in 56 plate appearances – a 13% walk rate.  Of course, with the increase in OBP, Podsednik has been running wild, stealing seven bases in seven attempts.  He missed a couple of games this week to take care of a family emergency, but was back in the lineup on Wednesday.

Guillen’s (.377/.406/.738, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 13 Runs) home run total represents over 20% of what would be his career high when he blasted 27 long balls playing in Anaheim six years ago.  He’s also been scorching line drives.  Over 22% of all batted balls have been classified as liners – that’s exceptional given that Guillen hasn’t topped 20% since 2005.  

The question is, what do you do with these players who are off to unexpected hot starts?  For example, if you thought Guillen’s best-case home run scenario for this year was 20 (an optimistic number a month ago) do you adjust your projection upward, or do you accept the fact you’ve already seen a quarter of his fantasy power production?

Clearly, they won’t sustain their current levels of production.  If you’ve added these players in the last couple of weeks, odds are strong you’ll need to address their presence on your roster sooner or later.

It seems there are a handful of options.

1) Develop an irrational admiration for these players and hang on to them, even after they slump in the summer months.  

These players were hot for a few weeks, so they have to snap out of it sometime, right?  Keep asking yourself this question as you complete your fade to the lower half of your league.

This is the Dayton Moore school of fantasy ownership, doing nothing even though you really should do something.

2) Start finding potential trade fits.

Ideally, you’d find a player who is underperforming and strike a one-for-one deal.  Maybe something like Guillen for Nick Swisher.  Swisher is the anti-Guillen so far this year in that he possesses 20+ HR and 80+ RBI potential, yet has only 1 HR and 4 RBI to his name in games through Tuesday.  Plus, with a .200 BA, he’s well below where we expect him to finish the season (maybe around .250).  If you grab a guy like this, you're betting he'll pull his production to normal levels while sparing you the disaster of his first couple of weeks.  This could be a big win if you're dealing with an impatient owner.

Do your level best to stay ahead of the curve.  This is the Billy Beane school of fantasy ownership, always looking to improve by constantly wheeling and dealing.

3) Wait until they slow down before finding potential trade fits.

The obvious danger is you’ll wait too long and ultimately get little in return.  The Guillen-Swisher deal won’t be on the table all season.  Your rival owner will just laugh once Swisher starts lofting those balls into the new Yankee Stadium jet stream while Guillen is nursing some sort of leg injury.

This is the JP Riccardi school of fantasy ownership, failing to make a trade when the market (and situation) indicates you really should.

4) Decide to churn and burn.

If you made a move to pick up one of these hot starters, you likely dumped a late round draft pick you didn’t really care for in the first place.  You can basically keep this spot in play for the entire season by picking up the current “hot” player and dumping a player who has cooled – a revolving door on your roster of sorts.  By the time Podsednik comes back to Earth, maybe someone like Carlos Gomez is heating up.  Grab him for a few weeks, wait until he cools, then move on to someone else.

This is the Kenny Williams school of fantasy ownership, always making a move. Sometimes just for the sake of being able to say you made a move.

So, what’s your game plan?  For my teams, I probably fall somewhere in between option two and option four.  The idea is to be aggressive on the trade front, but failing that, I can just live with a rotating roster space.  If you become tied to option number four, it takes some work to stay ahead of the curve.  However, with some savvy, you can get plenty of production out of that spot.
 

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nschneider
4/22
I can't believe you'd advocate option 4. I haven't done any sort of fantasy baseball in years, but picking guys who've had a hot streak is bound to fail. It's just random variability of performance, small sample size issues, etc. (Hasn't BP had an article about the non-correlation between performance in past games and future games? That is, hot/cold streaks are just random occurrences?) You'll occasionally get lucky with a guy who's moved to a new level (say, Marco Scutaro last year), but most will come back to what they truly are. Plus, their hot streak may have coincided with a couple of weeks against poor teams; now you're picking the guy up just as his team is facing the Yankees/Red Sox/Angels for the next two weeks.
bishopscreed
4/22
Agreed. You'd be far better off picking up players based on their team's upcoming schedule than based on their very recent performance record. There might be something to the idea that players perform best when they're especially healthy or motivated, but the signal can easily get lost in the noise, and by the time you find it it's liable to be gone anyway.
cbrown1970
4/22
I'm not talking about players who HAD a hot streak... I'm talking about players who are ON a hot streak. Admittedly, you have to be a bit of a riverboat gambler to play this way, but I've been known to enjoy a wager or two. I usually employ this strategy in one league every year. Often, it works well, other times not so much. I've had more success than failure playing this way. However, nothing is automatic.
JosephC
4/24
But there's no way to tell the ones who HAD a streak from the ones who are ON a hot streak except in hindsight! If BP didn't have an article debunking the concept of being "hot/cold," The Book definitely did. There's a very small persistent effect to it - much, much smaller than playing guys who are going to be playing in good parks or against crappy pitchers.
bishopscreed
4/22
I love BP, but have to ask what exactly the content of this post is. Are you telling us to trade hot starters for underachievers? Um. Everyone reading BP has heard of that. Likewise with cycling a roster spot (usually based on a better criteria than a hot start, though). Nothing here is news. I read BP for information and non-obvious analysis, not repetition of the most conventional of conventional wisdom.
cbrown1970
4/22
My thought was to get some conversation rolling... Simply curious as to how different readers would handle this situation. I offered possible options (I'm sure there are others) so repeat the question: "What would you do if you owned one of these guys?" The intent was to gauge different styles and approaches.
ashitaka
4/22
Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?
ObviouslyRob
4/22
I know the strategies just fine, but this article was quite helpful in reminding me it was About That Time. Goof proposed Wells for Sizemore and, uh, got accepted. That's selling high! Thanks for the reminder!
deanmara
4/23
I tend to agree with Nathan more. I know your intent here Craig. But really, you presented with two viable options because really no one wants to be categorized as a "Dayton Moore" or a "JP" in how they manage a team, be it fantasy or otherwise. How about if you offered some analysis onto how you think Theo Epstein, Brian Cashman, Billy Beane, Jack Zurednick (sp?) and Andrew Friedman would handle this?
jschlesi
4/23
I would hazard to guess that most of the readers here that do Fantasy Baseball are in veteran/competitive leagues were sell high/buy low does not work. I kept waiting for better analysis as I skimmed down this article-- like which of the hot starters might be able to actually keep it up. See any trending analysis for a slow starter that might pick it up soon? How bout this. I am leading the league in ERA and WHIP. I have Houston Street on the bench and am cobbling together Rauch and Capps after Francisco imploded on me. All the usual RP closers and potential closers are taken. Got someone worth stashing that wont kill my categories (Thornton is long gone)?
bozarowski
4/25
Tyler Clippard comes to mind, great rates last year and, so far, this year as a reliever and considering how terrible Bruney has been could be closer-in-waiting if (when?) Capps falters.
Kampfer
4/25
I won my league last year while Dayton Moore-d on Inge as my catcher because Ianetta was ice-cold for a long while. Admit it; even the best fantasy manager DM on players' hot or cold streaks once in a while. There is no telling who is slumping or simply declining. I was so confident in Big Papi and was able to wait till he breaks out. He was pretty much my 2nd half MVP. If he didn't breakout, I DMed. He did, so I, um, Theo Espteined?