“Bruno’s Gold:” Potential Trade Deadline Moves and Their Fantasy Effect
The second half of the season is officially underway and the July 31st trade deadline is rapidly approaching. There are more “buyers” than “sellers” this year, meaning the demand for impact players is greater than the supply. I am going to focus on some of the bigger name players that could potentially be dealt and what the fantasy implications could be if moved. You will notice that there are more pitchers than hitters on this list, as there aren’t many good bats available. Much of this is speculation as I will be guessing where these players end up, if they are traded at all. Also, please note that any statistic I reference is from FanGraphs, unless otherwise mentioned. First up is Tampa Bay Ray’s pitcher, David Price.
David Price– Price is having a great year and currently has the 11th best Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) among pitchers, at 3.0. He also has the 6th best Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) at just 2.80. Between his 5th highest strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9) at 10.00 and his 4th lowest walks per nine innings pitched (BB/9) at 1.28, Price has the 3rd best strikeout to walk ratio at 7.81. His record of 9-7 doesn’t look good on paper, and even though wins and losses count in fantasy, we all know that a pitcher’s win/loss record doesn’t tell the whole story. The Rays have been a last place team for much of the season and only recently passed the Red Sox for 4th place in the AL East. Price would be better served pitching for a more competitive team, like the Seattle Mariners. Getting away from his home park of Tropicana Field would also be beneficial as they have the 11th highest Park Factor according to ESPN, at 1.026, which favors the hitter. The Mariners’ park at Safeco Field is ranked 27th at just 0.862, favoring the pitcher. Price is good enough that he can be a dominant pitcher – both in fantasy and in real life – regardless of where he pitches. His splits this season are actually better on the road than at home, so pitching away from Tropicana doesn’t seem to bother him. The only team with a stadium above the Rays in terms of Park Factor that I could see Price going to is the Cardinals. Considering the Cards are in a dogfight in the NL Central competing with three other teams for the playoffs, every game becomes that much more important, potentially forcing Price to elevate his game. Price would also have the advantage of pitching in the weaker hitting National League and avoiding the designated hitter. Basically, the high Park Factor at Busch Stadium wouldn’t scare me away from Price if he ends up as a Cardinal. I doubt Price’s fantasy stock would do anything but go up wherever he lands, considering he’s been a top fantasy player while pitching for an AL team that struggles to score runs and whose stadium has a high Park Factor.
Jon Lester– Similar to Price, Lester is also having a great year. His 2.65 earned run average (ERA) is 10th best in baseball and it’s not fluky, since his Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) is 2.61, which is 3rd best. His 4.2 fWAR is 2nd only to Felix Hernandez among pitchers. Also like Price, Lester is 9-7 and playing for a struggling team in the Red Sox. Again, wins and losses matter in fantasy, but Lester’s numbers are among the best in baseball despite his average record. As a free-agent after the season, Lester may be moved by the Bosox if they feel his price is too high to re-sign, but it also means they won’t get as much in return since he’d likely be just a rental. My guess is that Lester stays in Boston, but if he were to get traded, I could see him going to teams like the Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals, or the Angels, all of whom have Park Factors that favor the pitcher, except for the Cardinals. Unlike Price, Lester pitched significantly better at home than on the road this season. His FIP at Fenway is 1.89 and his FIP on the road is 3.40. There are pros and cons of going to any of these teams, as pitching in the NL West for the Dodgers or Giants would mean poor run support, but Lester would also be facing weaker hitting teams. The aforementioned reasons why Price could succeed pitching for the Cardinals also apply to Lester. His best situation might be the Angels since Lester is already accustomed to pitching in the AL, the Angels’ stadium has the same Park Factor as the Red Sox, and the Angels are currently baseball’s best run-scoring team. If Lester is traded, his value likely will not fluctuate greatly in either direction. Great pitchers tend to be great regardless of the situation and Lester pitching for a different team shouldn’t affect his fantasy value negatively.
Ben Zobrist– Zobrist is having a down year, hitting .266/.352/.401 with six home runs and 24 runs batted in. He was likely taken fairly early in drafts and has been disappointing in fantasy, especially since he offered power at a generally weak hitting position at second base. While his power numbers are down, he has the 2nd highest walk percentage (BB%) at 12.0% and 3rd highest on-base percentage (OBP) at .352 among second baseman, still providing some value to owners. However, according to Baseball Reference, there are only two hitters with a better combined WAR than Zobrist from 2009 (when he became an everyday player) to 2013, Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera. That’s not bad company to be in and teams are aware of his talent. The Mariners, Reds, and Giants could all use upgrades in the middle infield (Zobrist can play shortstop), and upgrades to their offenses in general, since all three are in the bottom half in terms of runs scored. (The Reds could especially use Zobrist since Brandon Phillips is currently on the DL with a torn ligament in his thumb and may not be back until late-August.) The Mariners and Giants don’t have “hitter friendly” stadiums, but the Reds certainly do, making Cincinnati an attractive draw for Zobrist. His splits on the season show that he has been better on the road than at home, especially his power numbers, suggesting that a change in scenery might be beneficial. At this point, Zobrist’s fantasy value can’t really get much worse since there are roughly 15 second basemen having better fantasy seasons than him. If you’re a Zobrist owner and have stuck with him all season, there’s no point in cutting bait now. Wait for the trade deadline and see if he’s moved, as it could turn his fantasy season around.
Koji Uehara, Huston Street, Joakim Soria– I’m grouping the next three guys into one person since they all are closers and the same teams are likely to be interested in them. Depending on the setup of your fantasy league, Uehara and Street are top-10 relievers, while Soria is top-30. Uehara’s ERA and FIP are 1.65 and 2.73 respectively, Street’s are 1.09 and 2.90, Soria’s are 2.67 and 0.90, and they all have at least 16 saves while playing for last place teams (or close to it). Contenders in the market for closers or bullpen help are teams like the Angels, Blue Jays, Brewers, Orioles, and Pirates. All three of these pitchers would see their fantasy value increase if they went to any of these teams except the Brewers, since they have Francisco Rodriguez and his 3rd best in baseball 27 saves. (I would make any of them closers over F-Rod, but I doubt the Brewers would.) A closer’s value is largely determined by saves (again, depending on your league) and playing for teams that are competitive night in and night out allow for more save opportunities, thus increasing the value of these pitchers. It’d be hard for Uehara or Street to increase their fantasy value by switching teams since they are already top-10 relievers, but racking up saves will do just that.
Update: This post was written before Street was traded, but doesn’t change my thoughts on him.
The Phillies– The Phillies have several trade chips in Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd, and Chase Utley. They alone could have an entire fantasy column written on them, but for the sake of brevity, I’m lumping them together. The Park Factor for the Phillies’ stadium is the 3rd worst for hitters. They also have the 5th fewest runs scored in all of baseball, to go along with being 28th or 29th in team batting average, team on-base percentage, and team slugging percentage. The hitters would be better off playing for a team with a better offense, which is just about any other team, as would the pitchers, with more run support in their favor. The only player whose fantasy value could greatly diminish by being traded is Papelbon and that’s only if he becomes the setup man to a team with a closer already in place. If you own any of these players, hope they get traded.
Major League Fantasy Football Radio This Sunday the 27th of July from 11:30am-12:30pm EST we will have two guests Jeff Nelson and Ryan Ingram. Jeff is a high school assistant defensive coach & a 2 time Major League Fantasy Football Champion and Ryan is a writer Chase Jacobs will also be a guest co-host along with E.J. Garr. We will be discussing D-Line and running backs. You can listen live or call in and listen at 646.915.8596. Don’t forget that you can download the podcast on I-Tunes or Google play if you have an android. Look for “Sports Palooza Radio”.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio This Monday the 28th of July from 1pm-2pm EST we will have two guests Andy Macuga and Dennis St. Pierre. Andy is a high school baseball coach out in California and Dennis is an owner in our leagues and a member of the arbitration committee. You can listen live or call in at 646.915.8596. Both baseball and football shows will be made a podcast after the live airing.