The Hail Mary Team, Part 1

As of right now 13 others are at 82 games, 11 teams are at the exact halfway point (81 games) and the remaining six are very close.  By Monday, every team will be at or beyond the halfway point so it’s safe to say the fantasy baseball season is also at the midpoint.  By now you should have a pretty strong feel for your team one way or another.  Unfortunately for some of us, that way might be “another” meaning lower end of the standings seemingly without a prayer.

You might not be like me, a guy who plays multiple leagues, meaning your summer could essentially be ruined before the fourth of July and with football (and with it fantasy football) in limbo, things look bleak.  But fear not, I am here to help.  While things may seem hopeless, they aren’t always as they seem and there may still be some hope or at the very least you can put in every last bit of effort and buy yourself at least another month to six weeks of fun trying climb back into the race.  Remember, while it best to win the league, many leagues still have a strong incentive to finish second, third or fourth (and sometimes fifth depending on league format) assuming there is a prize pool on the line (or a minor league draft which is often the reward for that first spot out of the money).

With that, I present to you the Hail Mary Team.  This team is for the owners who are down deep in the standings and for whom it looks like nothing short of a miracle will save them.  The Hail Mary Team is a list of currently underperforming (and thus almost certainly undervalued) assets who can reasonably be believed to be in for a major upturn in the second half of the season as they regress toward their career mean (regression to the mean isn’t always negative).  Whether they are dealing with a rash of bad luck, injury, flat out poor play or all three, their track record says they are way better than this and thus why not invest, especially at a discounted rate?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula to determine if a team is a candidate for this method, so you will have to base it on your league and the standings are stratified (though feel free to contact me in the comments or on Twitter if you want my opinion on the matter).  Ideally, you would want to have the most points to gain the counting categories (HR, R, RBI, W, SV, K) as opposed to the rate stats (AVG or OBP, ERA & WHIP) because the rate stats will be much harder to move at this point and going forward.  As you pile up innings and at-bats, great performances, even the best of the best, have less impact on those three categories.  That doesn’t mean you want to be dead last in the counting stats, but ideally a few (if not all) would be nicely clumped to where a surge could earn you several points instead of needing 6 HR for 1 pt but then another 20 for the next pt and still 10 more the third point, etc… you get the point.

The guys on the HMT should be available via trade at less than full price in your league (and some may even be waiver wire assets).  What you might do is trade one of your decent guys (not stars) for two or even three (depending on the players involved) of these players so the end result is still a net gain (assuming the Hail Marys [Maries?] connect, of course).  You may already have some of these guys which has led to your issues in the first place.  Hang onto them, add more and hope to catch lightning in a bottle.  The really fun part here will be the building of this team since actually winning is a longshot.  So if you team is on the ropes and you love trading, then this is a strategy for you.

Don’t be afraid to trade your stars in this strategy, but make sure you get a mint and that the extra assets are filling for zeroes or close to it.  Also make sure to get the upper echelon Hail Mary Teamers for your stars.  Don’t trade off your solid Hunter Pence for two “Also Keep In Mind” guys.  That will make more sense when you see the players, but the main point is that if you are getting several assets to plug some of the many holes that buried you in the first place, then don’t trade your star asset or at least don’t trade him to the owner who won’t pay.  Ideally you would like to keep your two or three best assets while adding a handful of the HMT’ers to the equation.  As always, I am available on Twitter (@sporer) clarification or for advice on potential offers.

One other thing before we get to the team of players, this is best executed in redraft leagues for obvious reasons.  If you are toast or near toast in a keeper league, you should be building for 2012 (and reading my Keeper Building Block series to help you with that) as opposed to taking a flier on winning the league or pushing your way into a money spot.

I will break this up a bit, but the entire team will be out by Monday so you can spend your fourth of July day off working the trade wires (or hanging out by the pool with some cold ones… either or).

CATCHER:

Carlos Santana (CLE) – Right or wrong, fantasy managers still pay a lot of attention to batting average and let that be the primary indicator as to whether or not a guy is playing well.  Santana’s batting average is .226 meaning he could be discounted.  However, some owners may realize he has 11 home runs already and he’s on pace for 23 with 74 runs scored and batted in along with an unexpected six stolen bases which is damn good from catcher even with a bad batting average.  If your league’s Santana manager is one of those realizing his full value, just move along, I have another name for you to fall back on.

Mike Napoli (TEX) – He is coming off of a busted month where he only played eight games before getting hurt.  He is slated to started his rehab assignment soon so now is the time to pounce.  His owner might look at the .221 average and think, “Man, I knew he wouldn’t be a batting average asset, but I wanted better than this, plus he only has 10 homers, dude’s weak.”  Dude’s not weak.  He’s toting an .836 OPS and .365 wOBA despite that garbage average because he’s walking at a near-career high clip (15%) and smashing a bomb every 14 at-bats.

Also keep in mind: Joe Mauer.  I can’t imagine he is anywhere near full price.  Some people never discount big names, though.  But check in on his team’s manager, you never know.  He won’t offer the power potential of the other two, though, and his primary asset (batting average) is the toughest category to fix.

FIRST BASE:

Coincidentally, both Santana and Napoli qualify at first base so you could use one of them or go with the obvious name…

Adam Dunn (CHW) – Do I really need to enlighten you on why he’s on this team?  Seven seasons of 38+ home runs including five with 40+, he didn’t just forget how to play.  He’s never been great against lefties, but a career mark of .234 with an .800 OPS is a helluva better than the 1-for-53 superslump he is current mired in against southpaws.  He might suck the rest of the year, there’s a real chance of that when you see him play.  That’s why it is a Hail Mary Team, because he might also smash 20+ home runs and getting some BABIP fortune to push his current .262 BABIP closer to his .294 career mark.

Also keep in mind: Aubrey Huff.  Should be dirt cheap and he was great as recently as last year.

SECOND BASE:

Dan Uggla (ATL) – Going with the obvious name here again, but it’s the best fit so there’s no reason not to put him on this “team”.  He does have 12 home runs so he isn’t terribly far off the pace of the 31 average he has set the over the last five years, but it comes with a .178 average and modest RBI and runs scored paces of 55 and 69, respectively, so he certainly shouldn’t be untouchable.  He is basically on pace for Aaron Hill’s 2010 season at this point right down to the absurdly low .189 BABIP so there is a precedent for this kind of season out of a proven player, but his power upside is worth the gamble for this experiment.

Ryan Raburn (DET) – He has become the second half surge posterboy over the last two years.  Last year he ended the first half with a .637 OPS and just two home runs.  He went on to rip 13 home runs, drive in 46, hit .305 and post a .900 OPS in the second half.  In 2009, it wasn’t so much that he languished through the first half, he was solid (.842 OPS, 6 HR in 50 G), but he took it to another level in the second half.  From the trade deadline to season’s end, he hit .350 (in 55 games) with 10 home runs.  Something about the dog days of summer puts a spring in Raburn’s bat.  He has the added benefit of dual-eligibility at second base and in the outfield.

Also keep in mind: Kelly Johnson & Hill.  Johnson is another guy who might draw a discount because of his .210 batting average, but a more savvy owner (or just one paying attention) realizes that his 26 HR/16 SB pace takes a lot of the sting out of that batting average.  You won’t know if you don’t inquire.  Hill’s comically low 3.2% HR/FB can’t  stick all year can it?  Not after years of 15% and 11%, right?  Although he did go a full season with a 4% rate back in 2004 plus he loves being the outlier of bad luck in metrics (see also: his 2010 BABIP mentioned above).  He can be a last resort at this position.

 

Next: Shortstops & Third Basemen

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