Last Minute Adjustments

With the deadline for setting playoff rosters less than a week away, many clubs are scrambling to find some last minute help for their fall run.  Likewise, many fantasy/rotisserie leagues set a deadline for making trades on the same date, and plenty of fantasy owners are scrambling for some last minute help, trying to make up ground in an effort to secure a winning finish.  Who knows but maybe some trade you make might spur a legendary come back that people will talk about for years... OK, so maybe just the guys in your league.

So, how much can a last minute trade actually help you?  Well, it mostly depends on whether the guys you trade for get hot or go cold.  But pure luck aside, there are some things you can calculate to see if the gamble is worthwhile. 

Batting average.  Depending on how many teams are in your league, the average number of at bats per team to this point is somewhere around 5000.  If your team has a batting average of .280, for every .001 of batting average you want to increase, your team will have to bat around .005 higher for the rest of the season..  So if you are hitting .280 and are .002 behind the next guy in the standings, your players will have to bat an average of .290 for the rest of the season to catch him.  If you're trading for help in this category, for one guy to make up that kind of difference, he'd have to hit .421 the rest of the way.  Of course, if he's replacing a guy who hit .225 all year, the story is a bit different - he'd only have to hit .355.  The reason being is that the rest of the team no longer has the low batting average drag on them and their true performance will be affected.  But as you can see, any move greater than two or three points is pretty remote unless your whole team gets hot.

Home runs.  If a guy hits is expected to hit around 36 homers a year, he should have around 28 homers at this point.  Which means if you trade for him, you are basically trading for 8 homers.  If he's replacing a guy expected to hit 18 homers a year, you are probably only gaining 4 homers.  It may be worth the deal, but there are no guarantees as most home run hitters are streaky and you might end up with nothing.  One year I traded Pedro Martinez and Carlos Garcia for Jeff Bagwell in late August.  Bagwell produced 2 homers, 12 RBI and 1 steal over the final 5 weeks.  Garcia produced 1 homer, 9 RBI and 3 steals.  I lost Martinez and I finished in second place.  That was a bitter pill.  Your best bet is to trade for guys on contending teams.  They are focused, they have a lot at stake and they'll be playing mostly teams that are playing out the string.  Still, it's pretty tough to make up deficits of more than 10 homers at this point.  Steals function much the same way.

Runs Batted In.  Here you just never know.  By all means trade for guys who bat 3-4-5, but there's always that odd Joe Girardi 7 RBI night out of the 8 hole that makes your month.  Again, anyone you trade for can only be counted on to produce maybe 10-15 more RBI than any full-time player he replaces.  It's just a matter of who's hot and who's not.

Wins are usually incredibly hard to predict but much easier than the other categories to figure at this time of the year.  Why?  Barring injuries, it's pretty well established which teams are good and which pitchers are gonna get the run support they need to win games.  Trade for pitchers on contending teams.  Of course, that could get expensive, so an alternative is to pick up the available relievers on the contenders.  They rarely get stuck with bad outings - contending teams simply can't afford to blow off any games.  So anytime the guy gets in trouble, he usually gets yanked for minimal damage.  Being on a contender also increases their chances to vulture wins down the stretch as good teams are usually proficient at comeback wins.  And of course, there's always the strategy of trading for an ace regardless of the team he's on.  Kevin Brown reeled off 12 straight wins last year and was pretty unbelievable down the stretch compiling a 1.70 ERA in August and September while winning 5 games.  Of course, last year he was on the National League champion.  This year, however, he is not, but looks like he's doing an encore performance with 3 wins and an ERA of 0.90 in August.

Saves come in bushels this time of year, especially on contending teams, so this is probably your best bet to move up in a category.  Set-up men especially get a lot of opportunities as managers seek to avoid wearing out their closers, who they'll often use at the first sign of trouble.  A couple of set-up men can get 3 or 4 saves a piece and probably a win or two in a month.  Back in 1994, I got 4 saves and 4 wins on the last three days of the season, to jump a spot in each category and tie for first place in the league.  This year, look on good teams where the starting pitching is not overly strong, like the Mets, Reds, Red Sox and A's for the best candidates. 

ERA and ratio. These are similar to batting average in that you've already accumulated a significant amount of playing time and improving an average at this point is difficult.  If you already have 1000 innings pitched and an ERA of 4, your staff will have to finish the last 6 weeks with an ERA of 3.54 to lower the overall to 3.90.  Likewise if you have a ratio of 1.375, they will have to compile a 1.266 ratio the rest of the way to get it down to 1.350.  About the only way to get either of those done is to get an ace-type pitcher or hope that your staff gets really hot.  For one guy to affect that kind of change, he'd have to, well, he'd have to be Kevin Brown or a lot like him, offering 40-45 innings (6 or 7 starts) of sub-1.00 ERA and a ratio of around 1.00.  Not impossible, but very tough unless he gets some help from the rest of the staff.  His job is easier though if he's replacing a guy who's been killing you in ERA and ratio.

So there it is.  Anyway you look at it, it's a big gamble to make a trade at this point in the season.  The time to trade, sorry to say, was back in June and July, when the incoming players didn't have to perform superhuman feats to help you a whole lot.  However, there is still room for improvement and unless you're in a keeper league and someone is asking for your best prospects, you might as well give it a shot.  The greatest single performance by a team that I've ever seen came in 1994, when one of my competitors, whose aptly named Golden Flashes hit 9 homers and drove in 32 runs in the final 3 days, jumped 4 spots in the standings.  Of course, he still finished 7th.  But it's still pretty awesome and it's still something we talk about every year.  And that guy will tell you, it was definitely worth making the trades.