This is usually the best time of year to start looking for Buy Low candidates in Starting Pitching. We are over two months in and some owners may still be disappointed in the ace pitchers they drafted early. Perhaps some of those owners are ready to take an offer of less than preseason value for one of these disappointing aces. You won’t know until you ask. Buying low is as much about timing as it is about value. If you wait too long the players start to turn it around and their owners either dig back in or raise the value back up. The other reason the time is now is that you want the players you add to have enough time to help you. This is especially true in Roto where it becomes harder and harder to move the needle on ratios the deeper one gets into the season. If one waits until late July or early August it is likely too late to change ERA and WHIP enough to matter. If one is trying to make the playoffs in a Head to Head format and starting pitching is a weakness, moving now before falling deeper in the standings is imperative. If one is confident his team is playoff bound it is important to beef up on starting pitching anyway as many pitchers are shut down by their MLB teams right about the time of Head to Head championships. In both formats the window will close soon as the teams moving pitchers make their deals and those who wait are shut out.
Buying low is an art form that must be learned over time, and is quite a bit more challenging than it’s sister strategy, “Selling High”. After years of reading and responding to forum posts I’ve come to realize that there are as many different definitions of “Buy-Low” as there are ways to play fantasy baseball. The definition of buying low that I’ve come to understand is the practice of targeting players that may currently be undervalued by their owners and offering owners a player or players who normally have less value in trade. I’m not talking about waiver wire pick-ups or low-grade trades of fringe players, nor am I talking about keeper trades of present vs future value. The goal in a “Buy Low” is to make a few trades that net your team top players you believe will have a much better second half of the season then those you are giving up.
Buying Low doesn’t always work and is not a black and white strategy. It is far beyond the scope of this article to discuss trade negotiation strategies, but there are some constants that people should know going in. First, some owners will never sell players for less than full value. They know themselves that good players normally turn it around and they have the patience to hold out for it. Some owners have favorite players that they target in drafts and may not trade them for anything. Finally, even if one pulls off such a trade, there is the chance that player does not turn it around and has a bad season on your team instead of the team you got him from. So, there is risk, but the reward can be great if one has a talent for player evaluation and projection, and for targeting and negotiating trades. One caveat is that I am not talking about an owner “winning” all his trades by a large margin so he can dominate his league. That seldom happens in good leagues anyway. I’m talking about fair trades that still help both teams but that may net you a profit in terms of value and put you in a better position to compete for your league title.
Lets get started. I welcome all comments and arguments against my picks. Again, this is not an exact science and would not even exist as a concept if all players were universally valued equally.
1. Homer Bailey – Had I written this last week I would have taken Homer out of the article as he pitched a few very good games prior to his last start and owners were starting to breathe a collective sigh of relief that the City of Cincinnati mistook for a tornado. But, in his last start he was pounded again. It is now or never. Buying Low often has an emotional component to it and people tend to react quickly and later return to an even keel. So, as a Bailey owner I was all set for another good start the other night, but he got hit hard and left the game early. I was so aggravated to have waited that long for him to turn it around only for him to tease me, that I might have jumped at an offer of Colin McHugh for him. I’m doing just the opposite though. Instead I am shopping FOR him again. It sounds counter intuitive, but when one shops like this, he is shopping for players performing badly. This weekend is the end of the Homer Bailey Buy-Low season. Grab him now from a pissed off owner who may still be throwing darts at his Homer Bailey poster. All of his ratios and peripherals are fine and he is pitching to an FIP of 4.4 which is the highest FIP he’s had since he became a full-time SP. Perhaps he is not the ACE i thought he’d become this season, but he is far better than he has pitched the last few months and is only 28.
2. Justin Verlander – This guy scares me a little, both because he is so available, but also because there is some arm concern as the reason why his velocity is down 2 mph over the last 3 years. After all, he pitched very deep into post season play the last few years and that was on top of his usual 220-240 innings pitched. Like CC Sabathia he may be suffering from too much wear and tear as opposed to any specific injury. I believe that the reduced velocity is less of an issue then his control problems. Sure, his K-Rates are down nearly 2 k’s per 9 from his career rate but he is also walking at least one more per 9 and getting hit more often. If he is going deep into counts and not controlling the zone there will be more hits allowed as hitters wait on the fastball. This could be the beginning of the end as pitchers like Roy Halladay fell off the cliff and never climbed back up. Tim Lincecum, who was on this list last season, may be suffering a similar fate. However, Justin is only 31, his HR per 9 is still extremely low, so while he is getting hit more, he is not getting hit harder. He may just be having an off couple of months and his owner may be tired of him. His owner may also still value him very high due to name value or may not make him available. I would not bet the farm for Verlander but if you could get him for a 3rd tier pitcher who is potentially over-performing then it makes sense and is less risky. I wonder if there is some truth to the rumors that Kate Upton ruined him. Hmmmm.
3. Gio Gonzalez – Once Gio is activated the window to buy low will close quickly if he pitchers a good game or two out of the shoot. But right now, if you have not already done so, it is time to inquire what it would take to assume the rest-of-season Gio gamble from that owner. It may be less than you think, especially if he has other DL eligible players on his roster with no place to sit. I think Gio is both overrated by some lofty win totals but also underrated by many who don’t look hard enough at his peripherals which are outstanding. He is 28 and should just be coming into his prime. I’m buying.
4. Matt Cain – It seems he has been on this list for some time now. Like Bailey he has failed to become that top 10 ace some of us envisioned two years ago. And like Verlander, Cain, nicknamed “The Horse”, began his less than stellar pitching after 7 straight seasons of 200 IP or more plus many post season appearances. But, aside from the injury he suffered earlier this season I have not heard of any serious arm problems or velocity drops and all his peripherals show he is walking more batters and striking out a few less. His HR and hit rates are unchanged from his career numbers, and he is guaranteed to be pitching relevant baseball into late September on the playoff bound Giants. At some point, a buy low candidate is really a player whose career has taken an irreversible downturn and is never going to turn around. I don’t believe that Cain is near that point yet, but his owners may. If so, make an offer, if not, move on.
5. Yovanni Gallardo – You probably won’t see him on too many buy-low lists as Gallardo has seemingly been downgraded for the first time to less than top 50 status in most circles. I think there is still plenty of good starts in that arm and that he is a pitcher who is in transition from thrower to pitcher. That may be a bit more challenging to him as he has always had a bit of a walk problem. He is another whose ratios look good or similar to his career stats. His Babip is actually low and his K rate is higher than the last several years. Gallardo is still young enough (28) to right the ship and has thrown plenty of good starts this season. His last two starts were superb and if you own him, hopefully he was in your lineup. Unfortunately he has consistently followed good starts with clunkers and has even landed on some waiver wires because of it. The Brewers appear playoff bound and to be competitive they will need Gallardo to step it up in the 2nd half. It is the perfect time to take a chance on him as the price will be so low that it won’t hurt as much if you need to cut bait this summer. He is a perfect guy to ask for as a “throw in” to an otherwise agreed on trade. Look at it this way. If the best player on the wire right now in your league is Jeremy Guthrie, but you could fill the hole with Gallardo for nearly nothing, which pitcher would you rather own?
Honorable mention 1: Justin Masterson : What a disappointment. I don’t own him this season and didn’t last season either. But now I’m kicking the tires on his teams to see if I can get the 28 year old for a middle reliever or spare outfielder. Like Gallardo, he is another low-cost low risk strategy. He is wild as hell this season but has never been a big control pitcher in that respect. Perhaps 2014 was the outlier and he is a mediocre pitcher. It will not cost much to find out.
Honorable mention 2: The Injured Guys: Fernandez, Harvey, Pineda, Paxton, Medlen, Sabathia, Skaggs. Do you currently peruse the DL lists both in free agency and on other teams? Unless your league does not allow you to add injured players directly to your DL you should be. If you are in a keeper league and have an extra spot, then why not stash Harvey, Fernandez or Medlen for next season. Hopefully their current owners are contending and would rather have a useful piece than a guy who cannot help them this season. The others may still help this season and getting a good SP off of the DL is often better than a trade or adding anyone from the waiver wire for a mid-season rotation upgrade.
This is a brief list just to remind you that this is the time to scan the rosters of your league mates. Maybe you will spot that one diamond in the rough that could put you over the top if you can get him for very little investment. As for who to offer or how much to pay, you are on your own. Only you know the makeup of your league and its owners, and only you know what their teams need and what you can spare. If you get Sabathia though, I’ll trade you Guthrie for him.
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