Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fantasy Baseball Trade Analysis

So Twin #2 asked me earlier today for advice on a trade he was offered in a fantasy baseball league.  I figured, if I'm going to spend a lot of time properly analyzing it, I might as well post it here.  And maybe I'll do this with other trades in the near future.  Or maybe not.  You know me, I'm fairly unreliable.

Type: Head-to-Head
Number of Teams: 12
Categories: Standard 5 x 5 (AVG, R, HR, RBI, SB; W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP)
Rosters: C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, MI, CI, 4xOF, UTIL; 3xSP, 3xRP, 3xP; 5 Bench, 1 DL
Max Innings: None
Keeper Style: None

Joe Nathan's Hot Dog's (JN) trades 1B Adam Dunn, OF Colby Rasmus, OF Drew Stubbs, SP Jhoulys Chacin to Seattle Slew (SS) for 1B/2B/3B/OF Michael Cuddyer, OF Shin-Soo Choo, SP Anibal Sanchez, SP Matt Garza

My approach to evaluating trades is twofold: 1) is the value changing hands in my favor (or at least equivalent)? and 2) does what I receive provide an upgrade over the drop-off that results from the players I am trading away?  If the answer to question 1 is no, I could pursue a different trade that would satisfy question 2 while also not forcing me to lose overall value.  If the answer to question 2 is no, then there's really no point in doing the trade.  I may be getting more value, but I'm not actually helping my team.  Of course if you're then going to trade the new player(s) in a move that will improve your lineup, that's a different situation; however, I don't usually like to count on that in the fickle trading environment that is fantasy sports.

To start, I always like to simplify the trade and break it down piece-by-piece.  In this case we've got individual swaps of Dunn for Cuddyer, Rasmus for Choo, Stubbs for Garza, and Chacin for Sanchez.  Obviously there are different ways to break up this trade, but that's how I'll be looking at it.

Everyone is familiar with Dunn's struggles, as he's threatening to break the all-time record for lowest batting average for hitter who qualifies for the batting title.  Right now he's at .166, leaving significant space between him and Rob Deer's record-setting .179 average in 1991.  The question of course is what will happen going forward.  Prior to this season, he was among the most consistent fantasy players, hitting between 38 and 40 homers each of the last six seasons and driving in between 92 and 105 runs each of the last seven seasons.  It's hard to say why it's happened, as his walk rate is similar and his batted ball profile is largely the same, save for an uptick in infield fly balls.  Regardless, the danger is that his jaw-droppingly bad numbers will force him to the bench, which actually just might be a plus for fantasy owners.  When a player's owners would benefit from him being benched, I'm not looking to acquire him.

But how much of an upgrade is Cuddyer?  His positional versatility is a big plus, especially given he can play at the wasteland that is third base this year.  He should see plenty of RBI opportunities going forward as he's locked into the fourth spot in the lineup with a healthy Joe Mauer getting on base in front of him, along with the recent return of Denard Span to the top of the batting order.  If Justin Morneau ever comes back, that would only improve his situation.  The batting average will probably come down a tad, perhaps around .280 for the rest of the season, but otherwise the production is largely for real.  Getting Cuddyer for Dunn is a huge win for JN.

The Rasmus-for-Choo swap could be beneficial to both teams.  As SS is in tight competition for a playoff spot and every game is crucial, it would do him well to get some immediate value for Choo.  JN, on the other hand, stands in first place and will almost assuredly make the playoffs, meaning he can afford to carry an additional injured player on his roster.  The issues are whether Choo will play any better than he did at the beginning of the season, prior to his injury, and whether Rasmus's new home in Toronto will change his performance for the better.

Honestly, I'm not especially confident about either player, but Rasmus at least is healthy.  I'm not sure I buy the change-of-scenery argument, but I do buy an improved lineup position (he's hit number two in every game with the Blue Jays) and a better home park for hitters.  I can see a moderate improvement in his numbers across the board, especially in batting average where he's been unlucky anyways.  Choo, meanwhile, really struggled this season after two very good years, and admitted some of it was mental as a result of the DUI he was charged with.  I don't think, given those factors, that he'll pick up where he left off in 2010; rather I see him playing fairly similarly to Rasmus except with a few more steals the rest of the way.  That means this part of the trade favors SS, since Choo will not be playing for at least 2 more weeks.

As for the starting pitcher trade, this obviously depends on who you like--I would rather have Sanchez.  Chacin's bouts with wildness make him too susceptible to disastrous outings, and I think his WHIP (1.18) is unsustainably low, given the amount of free passes he hands out.  His FIP (4.42) also indicates his ERA (3.38) has had similar good fortune, but I'm more concerned about his WHIP.  His strikeouts are solid and could even rise closer to last year's mark, but the other categories appear bound to decline.  Sanchez's ERA (3.74) and WHIP (1.26) are currently higher than Chacin's, but I think they are much more stable.  His 2010 season was quite similar, lending credence to that argument.  His career K/9 of 7.43 makes me skeptical of his current rate (9.37) but otherwise I'd be happy to have Sanchez.

I always find pitcher-for-hitter swaps the most difficult to analyze, and that's why I've left the Stubbs-for-Garza part of the deal for last.  I think Garza is very comparable to Sanchez, as he has a 3.78 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a very good strikeout rate (9.02) that's above his career rate.  Despite the fact that he pitches for a Cubs team that figures to make wins hard to come by over the final two months, I like Garza a little more.  His ERA could come down somewhat and his strikeout rate is more likely to stay that high, given that he was more of a strikeout pitcher in the minors and that his career Major League rate was accumulated in the American League.

Stubbs is a good fantasy player whose low average holds him back.  He'll provide more steals and runs than either Choo or Rasmus, but in terms of his home run and RBI outlook he's fairly similar.  Rasmus, and certainly Choo, might give your team positive contributions in average, whereas Stubbs is pretty assuredly going to hit in the .250 range.  In a vacuum, I'd take Stubbs over Garza because of the prevalence of good pitchers this season.

Now that we know how each aspect of the trade rates individually, it's time to consider them together and then within the context of each team's roster.  JN turns Dunn into Cuddyer, a vast improvement, and solidly upgrades his starting pitching from Chacin to Sanchez.  He also takes a risk, and a small downgrade, by giving up Rasmus for the injured Choo and swaps Drew Stubbs for Matt Garza, additionally bolstering his pitching.  In terms of pure value, it seems like JN is making off better, largely because he is able to get a big improvement on offense (Cuddyer over Dunn) without really losing much in the other swaps.

As for how this fits with each team, it is reasonably sensible for both, but much better for JN.  JN is first or second in every batting category, except for batting average where he is below average, but is not doing as well in the pitching categories.  Therefore grabbing two good pitchers (Garza and Sanchez) while only giving up one solid one (Chacin) makes a lot of sense.  Trading Stubbs, Rasmus, and Dunn likely won't have too much of an impact because JN's offense is already very strong.  Rasmus didn't start normally anyways and Dunn will be replaced by the superior Cuddyer, but there will be a downgrade when Danny Espinosa slides into the lineup to replace Stubbs.  All in all, there's not much, if any, value lost on offense, and when you consider the possibility that Choo comes back and plays like he did the previous two seasons, this trade seems like a no-brainer for JN.

Meanwhile, SS ranks second-to-last in steals and first in batting average; thus the addition of Stubbs is a nice fit, since he needs help in steals and can handle the underwhelming average.  Getting Rasmus is also a good move since that means both Casey McGehee and Chris Heisey, with his inconsistent playing time, can be pushed to the bench.  SS needs help in wins, ERA, and WHIP, too, though, and this trade weakens him in all three categories.

The biggest problem, however, is that SS will have to go shopping in the free agency pool for a second baseman to replace Cuddyer.  He has players he shouldn't hesitate to drop (McGehee for instance), but the options simply are not very appealing.  The loss in pitching can be made up for with the additions of Stubbs and Rasmus, but I just can't overlook the fact that Dunn would have to actually do something for this trade to be a good one for SS.  I'm not counting on that, and unless SS is, I don't think this is a trade he should do.  Perhaps swapping Espinosa in for Dunn makes this trade more viable, as that would give SS a second baseman while not changing the outlook for JN all that much--Dunn (or someone else) would simply occupy the utility spot in place of Espinosa presumably until Choo came off the disabled list.

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