The Death of “Buying Low”

A few weeks back, I was having an email discussion with Ray Guilfoyle from FakeTeams.com and we were discussing some pitchers to buy.  A phrase that surfaced was one we see a ton early on in the season, “buy low”.  It doesn’t matter what outlet you are reading or podcast/radio show you’re listening to, you will hear discussion about buying low on a player sooner or later.

I’m not looking down my nose at those who use it as I have said it plenty myself, but I think it’s a misnomer.  I had been thinking it for a while and shared my thoughts with Ray who shared my thoughts on the matter.  Rarely are you going to be able to truly buy low on an asset.  Do you really think there was any legitimate discount on Albert Pujols early on in the season when he was struggling to get going?  How often do owners really slash prices on their early round picks who are underperforming in the first handful of weeks?

I think it is time to dispose of the phrase altogether or at least change the definition of it.  When people think of buying low right now, they think they can go out and get a player at something less (often dramatically less) than 100% of his value based on his performance.  What the “low” of buying low should mean is that a player’s numbers are under expectations.  You’re buying when his stats are low, not his value.  That said, I doubt we would see a shift in the phrase’s meaning thus abolishing it altogether is the likely the way to go.

Think about it this way, most owners know that when you inquire for their guy hitting below the Mendoza Line, you obviously believe he is going to rebound.  You wouldn’t purposely buy someone who is struggling if you thought it was going to continue that way.  Your interest will almost certainly raise the antenna of an owner on that player and he is NOT going to be undercut 99 times out of 100.

When I recommend a buy, I’m OK if his cost is still one hundred cents on the dollar (in other words 1:1) because I think that player will rebound to expected levels meaning you’re buying all of (or at least most of) his goodness.

Let me be clear before I get a flood of tweets and emails about trades where people got underperforming stars for 75 cents (or less) on the dollar that I am speaking generally.  I understand that it will happen at times, but by and large it is a thing of the past and in a league of keen owners, you’re not going to lift their top players on the cheap because a poor three or four-week spell.

I would also stress that it depends on the caliber of player.  Some third and fourth tier players who get off to weak starts might be had on the cheap, but they weren’t going to cost much even if they performed up to expectations because they are third and fourth tier guys.

So with that said, who are some guys worth buying on?

Hanley Ramirez (.208, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 15 R, 8 SB) – This is exactly the kind of guy I am talking about.  Do you really think Hanley owners are going to take a poo-poo platter headlined by Darwin Barney and Kevin Correia for a guy who was the second and sometimes even first pick of the draft?  I don’t see it happening.  If anything, his price might be raised to make owner throw in the towel on him and miss out on all of his great stats.  I don’t recommend overpaying, but I would pay a reasonable full value price for the stud shortstop.  The top trade on CBS has Hanley teamed with Brett Anderson and Justin Smoak for Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler.  There is no discount there (nor should there be).

Jason Heyward (.220, 7 HR, 14 RBI, 18 R, 2 SB) – The seven homers still stand out, but the ugly batting average might have opened up the smallest little crevice for the first time since Opening Day of last year that his owner might actually consider trading him.  Throw in a sore right shoulder suffered tonight (Tuesday, May 10th) and there may be a slight bit of trepidation creeping into the mind of the Heyward team owner.  Don’t be afraid to pay full price (unless the injury is super-serious), but it is a great time to at least inquire.

Carl Crawford (.210, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 11 RBI, 5 SB) – Part of this buy v. buy low is of course perception.  You may be paying a price that you feel is a buy low while others may think you paid equal value and still someone else might think you overpaid.  A recent trade in my 13-team mixed league saw Crawford and Fausto Carmona go for Jered Weaver and Nick Swisher.  Is that a discount for Crawford?  I don’t think so.  Swisher is going to regress to his mean for the other owner.  Carmona is a wildcard because there has been some skills improvement (strikeout, walk and groundball rates all better), but either way I think Weaver is a significant price to pay for Crawford.  And it should be that way, of course.

Nelson Cruz (.219, 7 HR, 18 RBI, 13 R, 1 SB) – Here’s a shocker to nobody in the world: Cruz is on the disabled list.  It’s making a bid to push out “taxes” and pair up with “death” for that cliché about certainties in life or at the very least get its own Geico commercial.  He has just eight ribbies after putting up 10 in the first nine days.  That said, he is an elite across-the-board threat who puts up full season totals in less than 130 games a year.  I wouldn’t trade for him in H2H weekly leagues, but roto leaguers may want to check in and see what he costs.

Adam Dunn (.176, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 10 R, 0 SB) – Dunn has the 2nd-worst average among major league regulars right now (Kelly Johnson & Jorge Posada tied at .174) which is awful even for a guy like Dunn who you expect to struggle with gathering hits.  The real issue is that this perennial 40-home run hitter has just three putting him on pace for a mere 13.  I certainly don’t see that continuing.  If you are in an OBP league, his 20 walks give him a .315 OBP which isn’t good by any stretch, but passable enough not to kill you as compared to those in a batting average league where the sub-.200 stings a bit more.  Dunn has averaged 6.5 home runs per month the last five years, and even if he just does that from here on out you’ve got about 31 home runs coming your way the rest of the season.

Carlos Santana (.214, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 16 R, 0 SB) – Like Heyward, the only major struggle is the batting average.  And like Heyward, that may be enough to finally open up an opportunity where his owner would be open to trading him.  Perhaps, he is worried that there are residual effects from last year’s injury or that is he just an overhyped prospect (neither are true).  Whatever it is, if it is there, it’s to your benefit.  Check the temperature and see if you can acquire this rising star.

These names shouldn’t surprise you much.  A lot of you might be thinking “Duh Paul? Of course I’d like to get that guy”, but my point is that you should be interested in acquiring them even if it costs your Roy Halladay or Mat Holliday or Joey Votto or Dan Haren.  Or whoever else you may have who is off to a great start, but can reasonably be dealt for these guys and from your team without decimating it.

If you can get these guys at any sort of discount, then by all means, but if you go in with the mindset of buying low or bust, you are likely going to come away disappointed more often than not.  What you really need to ask yourself after identifying what you believe is a “buy-low” target is, “Would I deal him away for anything less than 1:1 value?”  If (and when) that answer is invariably “no”, then you know you should be ready to pay an appropriate price based on the expectations and long-term track record of the player.

Tomorrow I’ll share some pitchers that I’m buying at fair market value despite sub-optimal starts to the season. 

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