Tout Mid-season Review

Trading Underachievers
I'm not a big fan of making trades.  More often than not, they're an exercise in futility.  Most of the time someone is offering you two or more mediocre players for one of the best guys on your team.  I've been guilty of that myself, although I always insure that the mediocre players I'm offering are better than the players on the other guys' roster they'll be replacing with the exception of the guy I'm targeting in the trade.  So if I make a mutli-player offer for Manny Ramirez, it's because Manny's owner is also using up roster spots on Rey Sanchez and Greg Norton and could use some much better options there.

Anyway, trading is a difficult scenario, especially with players who haven't met expectation because 1) you're still projecting what you're going to get, and 2) you're never sure that the guy you're giving up on has finally figured out whatever it was that was causing the trouble. 

For instance, Craig Monroe has not hit for power this year.  Even more strange, he's killing right-handers (.333/.796 OPS) and is completely baffled by left-handers (.198/.526 OPS).  This is the exact opposite of what he's done for his entire career.  Most people's reaction to his power outage is "steroids".  Or rather, he's not using them anymore.  But that is just unsubstantiated conjecture at this point and it certainly wouldn't explain why his hitting splits have reversed. 

What might explain both problems is that his hitting mechanics are off.  Specifically, he's opening his hips too fast which leaves his arms extended before they get into the hitting zone.  This not only robs him of power, but it also leaves him lunging ahead of the pitch and making contact with the very end of the bat instead of the fat part.  The result is fewer homers and more groundballs.  His groundball rate has increased from 1.32 last year to 1.66 this year.  I don't know if that's the only issue plaguing Monroe's production now, but this isn't helping.

Everyone knows Monroe is capable of hitting 20-25 homers a season.  So far, he's hit 2.  His trade value at this point is of a guy who has hit 2 homers.  But with a weekend of video study and a good week of batting practice to implement a slight adjustment to his swing, he could return to his previous power levels.  With the All-Star break approaching and three days off for 95% of the league including Monroe, that's a perfect opportunity for just such a thing to occur.   If you trade him for a mediocre middle reliever (which is about all you can expect to get for him at this point), or if he's an extra to balance a larger trade, a power surge after the Break could make you look silly by August.  My feeling is that if there isn't really a reason why a guy is struggling (no hidden injuries, etc), then there really isn't any reason why the guy is struggling and he'll come out of it sooner or later.  If there is a reason but it's easily correctable, as Monroe's appears to be, then it should get corrected.  Of course, sometimes it doesn't get fixed and then you're stuck with a complete bust.  Like Tony Clark was in 2002.

With guys like Kevin Millar, who appears to be pressing, it's less certain.  By his own admission, he's trying to hit 5 home runs every at bat.  The same thing happened with Paul Konerko, Michael Barrett and Pat Burrell last year.  Sometimes guys snap out of it.  The latter three needed a new season to clear the slate and start anew.  Millar is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy - his rendition of "Born in the USA" on the Fenway Jumbotron is a must see - so he seems like the kind of guy who will eventually let it go.  It may be a symptom of the pressure he's putting on himself, but he also looks very different at the plate than he did previously.  When he was in Florida and last year with the Red Sox, he was very quiet at the plate.  His body was still, his bat held high with only a little bit of waggle as a timing mechanism.  This year, he's bouncing up and down and waving his bat all over the place... no wonder he can't hit anything.  He might as well be jogging in place while flapping his arms like a penguin.  Both issues are correctable.  Whether or not he does it is another matter.

Injured guys are also tricky.  When do you give up on a guy with a pull or strain?  They could be out a week or the rest of the season and the weekly progress reports don't really tell you anything until the guy is actually on rehab assignment.  Even then it's not so clear.  "He could be getting close."   That's my favorite.  It tells you absolutely nothing, yet has that air of optimism.  So when will Fernando Vina or Justin Miller or Raphael Soriano or Jason Stanford return?  If/when they do return, will their production be anywhere as good as expected?  Who knows.  I'm not even sure their team trainers know.  If they do, they never tell.

My credo is that unless I'm bowled over for one of these guys - either an underachiever or an injured player - I just hold onto them.  I'd rather they fester on my roster than explode on someone else's.  So when do you give up on a guy?  I don't have the answer.  If I did, I'd be much more comfortable about making trades.
You think Cleveland is bad
One of the most tried and true strategies in fantasy baseball is to pick up good relievers if your starters are struggling.  Farm the starters until they get straightened out and in the meantime, accumulate good WHIP and ERA while vulturing a win or a save here and there. 

Well, this year I have had phenomenally bad luck with relievers.  In Tout, I've tried guys with decent track records (Jeff Nelson, Curt Leskanic, Ron Villone), quality prospects (Neal Cotts, Franklyn German) and even guys who were red hot (John Parrish had an ERA of 2.25 and a WHIP of 1.200 for the previous 6 weeks before I picked him up, as well as a few weeks of Nate Field and Matt Miller) but all I've ended up with is a Clubber Lang-sized dose of pain.  To whit, my non-closer relievers have totaled 78 innings pitched with a 1.564 WHIP and a 5.19 ERA over the first 3 months of the season.  I actually would have been better off just taking my lumps with the struggling starters.  It's almost to the point that I want to trade for relievers who are on the DL because I know they can't hurt my pitching numbers

All this to say that sometimes even the best strategies don't work out. 

A Look Back
A month ago I wrote that almost every one of the players on my AL Tout team was underachieving.  I also wrote that for most of them, there either wasn't a reason or the reason was easily correctable as to why they were struggling.  For the majority of the team, that has turned out to be true.  Johan Santana no longer has an ERA near 6, Bernie Williams is no longer hitting under .200,  Kevin Millar isn't hitting any home runs... er, ok, so not everyone has turned the corner, but most of them have returned to their normal level of production.   Since that column, the team has moved up 15 points in the standings.  Over the next few weeks I expect the rest of them will get back on track because there doesn't appear to be any reason why they shouldn't.  If they don't, I'm hoping someone bowls me over with a trade offer.