A big part of being a successful fantasy owner involves spotting and capitalizing on trends, and knowing when to jump on board a bandwagon and when to get off before it derails. For the next six weeks I’m going to take a look at each division in turn, and examine which trends seem to offer solid profit potential, and which could be roto quicksand.

This early in the year, of course, you can’t apply enough small sample size caveats to the stats I’ll be juggling. But every trend has to start somewhere, and April performances aren’t always just statistical anomalies. In fantasy terms, it’s a risk/reward scenario–if you commit too soon, you could be committing to a phantom, but if you wait long enough to be sure a trend is for real, someone else has probably already taken advantage.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

  • Buy Low: Chone Figgins has staggered out of the gate, hitting poorly enough (.195/.261/.366 in 41 at bats, with only one steal) to ensure that unless he turns things around quickly, Adam Kennedy will get another chance at second base once he’s healthy. But unless he’s hiding an injury, he almost certainly will–Figgins hasn’t hit below .296 at any level going back three seasons. He’ll never come dirt cheap, due to his steals upside, but you might be able to get him at a discount.
  • Sell High: Garret Anderson has come back from last year’s back woes to hit .313 through his first 48 at-bats, so all is well with the world, right? Not necessarily–like a former can’t miss Yankee Hall of Famer, the problem with Anderson in 2004 wasn’t just his stroke, but his pop. So far Anderson hasn’t shown he’s gotten his power back, rapping out only four doubles in those 48 at-bats for a .396 SLG. If he follows the Mattingly recovery path, he’ll be a hugely overvalued fantasy commodity until the market adjusts. There’s still time for Anderson to begin driving the ball, but if you can deal him for value comparable to his 2002-2003 level, play it safe and send him packing.

  • Watch Out For: The Angels bullpen has been one of the strongest in baseball over the last few years, but it’s showing some cracks this season. Francisco Rodriguez (seven K’s, no walks, two hits allowed in five innings) has been lights-out as the closer, and Scot Shields (11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings) solid setting him up, but unlike past seasons when the useful fantasy arms ran three or four deep, the ‘pen behind those two hasn’t been up to par. One of the guiding principles of sabermetric analysis has always been the fungibility of bullpen arms, and the Angels have served as the shining example of that principle. No great relief unit seems to last more than a few years, though; fungible assets are almost by definition unreliable assets in the long term, and the expiration date on someone like Brendan Donnelly (6/1 K/BB ratio, but 10 hits allowed including two home runs in 6 2/3 IP) may have finally passed. The Angels may not be your best one-stop shopping spot for safe middle relievers in 2005.

Oakland A’s

  • Buy Low: While making a play for Eric Chavez (.195/.306/.293 in 41 at-bats) could net you a steal, chances are you’ll get rebuffed–most owners are smart enough not to trade a superstar for peanuts just because of a bad couple of weeks. You’ll probably have better luck going after a smaller fish like Erubiel Durazo (.158/.235/.158 in 38 at-bats). Durazo has never had a big problem producing when healthy, just a problem staying healthy, so he should start thumping soon enough.
  • Sell High: It’s tough to call a potential Rookie of the Year a “sell high” candidate, but so far Joe Blanton‘s success in the rate stats (2.45 ERA, 0.909 WHIP) hasn’t been supported by his unimpressive 4/3 K/BB rate through 11 innings. It’s just two starts out of 30, but unlike the rest of Oakland’s young rotation guns, Blanton has never shown big strikeout rates in the minors, and without the dominance of a Rich Harden, he could hit some rough patches once the league gets used to him. In a keeper league you almost have to stick with him through the ups and downs, unless you get blown away by an offer, but in one-year leagues cashing in Blanton’s hot start in exchange for a more reliable, veteran player might not be a bad idea.
  • Watch Out For: The A’s bullpen has shown every sign of taking over from the Angels (who themselves took over from the Mariners) this year as the scariest posse of gunslingers in the (AL) West. As expected, pitchers like Octavio Dotel (5 K’s in 4 2/3 IP), Kiko Calero (9 K’s in 7 IP) and Huston Street (11 K’s in 7 1/3 IP) have been punching out batters at an impressive rate. Even Japanese import Keiichi Yabu has gotten in on the action, with six strikeouts in 4 2/3 innnings. Especially in leagues that count strikeouts, if you need a pitcher to fill a hole in your roster for a couple of weeks, Oakland’s relief corps is a good place to begin the search.

Seattle Mariners

  • Buy Low: There are a few Seattle players who could be bargains if you grab them now, from supposed free agent savior Adrian Beltre (one home run, .239/.271/.356 in 46 at-bats) to young hot-shot Jeremy Reed (zero steals, .205/.295/.308 in 39 at-bats), but the best one to target might be Raul Ibanez (.182/.250/.318 in 44 at-bats). Ibanez usually has decent control of the strike zone (125/229 BB/K over the last three seasons) so his 3/10 BB/K ratio seems like an anomaly, and he’s one of those solid-but-unspectacular veteran players who gets routinely undervalued at the best of times.
  • Sell High: Jamie Moyer has had a great run through his late 30s and 40s, but one thing he’s never been good at is keeping the ball in the park (he’s averaged 27.4 home runs allowed over the last five years, including a career-high 44 last season). His 2.50 ERA so far in 2005 can be attributed almost entirely to the fact that he has yet to give up a long ball, as his WHIP (1.444), strikeout and walk rates (13 K’s, 5 BB’s in 18 IP) are all within his usual range. Chances are there’s another 25 or more Moyer pitches that won’t be coming back this year, taking his ERA up into the 4.00’s with them. If there’s someone in your league feeling nostalgic about his glory days, let Moyer disappoint them instead of you.
  • Watch Out For: You won’t get as much in return for dealing them, but the peripherals on Aaron Sele (3.75 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 3/5 K/BB in 12 IP) and Ryan Franklin (2.18 ERA, 0.726 WHIP, 4/3 K/BB in 20.2 IP) suggest they’re even less likely to keep it up than Moyer….Reed’s five walks vs. three K’s in 39 at-bats tell you to be patient–the hits will come eventually….if it were anybody else, Ichiro Suzuki‘s .447/.500/.596 line would make him a perfect “sell high” candidate, but after last season’s record assault on George Sisler, I’m not assuming anything. Hitting .400? Why not?

Texas Rangers

  • Buy Low: Like the Mariners, a number of Rangers hitters are off to slow starts. If you can pry Mark Teixeira (.208/.300/.358 in 53 at-bats) loose from his current owner before he explodes, more power to you (literally), but a target with a lesser reputation–say, Kevin Mench (.216/.256/.216 in 37 at-bats)–is probably the more realistic route. The reliably unreliable Richard Hidalgo (.188/.264/.354 in 48 at-bats) might also come cheaper than his upside, and home ballpark, would indicate.
  • Sell High: There aren’t too many Texas players that seem to be playing over their heads, but Kenny Rogers‘ 3.44 ERA is completely untenable given his 2.95 K/9 ratio (six strikeouts in 18.1 IP). Pitchers can have success fooling some of the people some of the time, but if they can’t fool anybody ever, it usually spells trouble.
  • Watch Out For: Other than his short stint with Houston in 2001, Pedro Astacio hasn’t put up numbers this good (2.57 ERA, 11/2 K/BB ratio in 14 IP) since his Dodgers days back in the mid to late ’90s (although he’s never put up numbers this good). At 35, you should consider him a Lone Star equivalent to Orlando Hernandez–it’s not too much to expect solid numbers from Astacio, but it’s probably too much to expect a full season from him. If you’ve picked him up, plan accordingly.

Erik Siegrist is a beat writer for RotoWire, covering the Marlins, Nationals and White Sox.

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