Ahead of the Curve: The Hidden Art of Trading Pitchers at the Deadline

Jake Westbrook: INTIMIDATING FORCE.

I know, you've missed me. It's been a week and a half since my last post here at Fake Teams, and I've spent most of that time in the backwoods of Wisconsin. But that's neither here nor there - I'm back now, and that's all that matters. And we've got business to attend to.

Most leagues are approaching their trading deadlines over the next week or so, and as the title of the post suggests, there is a way to maximize the value on your roster that many owners do not pay enough attention to. The difference between any two players over the course of a sample size of less than eight weeks can vary wildly, and while it's difficult to predict when hitters will get hot, pitchers are a different story.

Over the course of the season in this column, we've covered stretches of favorable schedules -- so it should not surprise you that this is where additional due diligence will pay off. Before you pull the trigger on any trades from here on out, you should always be checking the upcoming schedules of the pitchers involved. There will be players and teams with favorable schedules in the home stretch of the season, and these schedules will cause strange valuations. For example, a pitcher who's been widely available most of the season, could be a top-30 pitcher the rest of the way with the right match-ups. And one of those guys is..

Jake Westbrook (@PHI, PIT, HOU, @PIT, @WSH, MLW, @LAD, HOU, @HOU, WSH)

Now this is a schedule. If you're looking at picking up a starter for the stretch run and either don't want to pay the price for a top starter or can't afford to based on your other needs, Westbrook is someone you should be targeting. He's certainly not a sexy name, but he can be had -- and you can't beat those NL Central match-ups down the stretch.

More potential outperformers after the jump...

Matt Cain (COL, @SD, @LAD, @HOU, @CHC, LAD)

We know Matt Cain is a stud, but he's going to look a lot more studly after this stretch. Any time you see a pitcher get both the Astros and the Cubs back-to-back, you know everything's going to be OK. So while he hasn't exactly been himself since starting the All-Star Game (1-2 with a 4.50 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 32 innings), I like his chances to bounce back to the level he should be at.

Jeremy Hellickson (@MIN, @SEA, KC, OAK)

Coming into the season, the consensus on Hellboy was that he would either regress to his underlying numbers from 2011 or improve his underlying numbers to match his 2011 raw stats. Instead, he's done the exact same thing again -- hugely outperforming is expected ERA and making sabermetricians shake their heads. In many ways, the rest of his season could be a tale of two stories as well. These next four starts: great. But if you want to see what the opposite of great looks like, check out Tampa Bay's September schedule. The AL East is a killer..

Nick Blackburn (TB, @SEA, @OAK, SEA, @KC, CLE, KC, @CLE)

Sometimes the universe is just messing with all of us. Nick Blackburn has probably the most attractive schedule of any pitcher in the league over this span. But then again, it's Nick Blackburn. Outside of AL-only leagues, even the easiest of easy schedules isn't enough to warrant owning this guy. But at least it should be interesting to watch.

Zack Greinke (CLE, TB, @DET, @SEA, @OAK)

The biggest mid-season acquisition of 2012, Greinke's skills have not exactly shown through in his first three starts with the Angels. AL-only leaguers who blew their FAAB budgets on him are expecting better, and I think they will get their wish.

More Potential Outperformers:

Wade Miley (WSH, @HOU, MIA, CIN, @LAD, @SD)
Pat Corbin (WSH, @HOU, SD, CIN, @SF, @SD)
Kris Medlen (@NYM, SD, @WSH, @SF)
Paul Maholm (@NYM, SD, @WSH, @SF)
Alex White (@SF, MIA, @NYM, @CHC)
Clayton Kershaw (@MIA, @PIT, SF, MIA, ARZ, SD)
Chad Billingsley (@PIT, @ATL, MIA, ARZ, SD)
Mark Buehrle (LAD, PHI, @ARZ, @LAD, NYM)
Yovani Gallardo (@HOU, PHI, CHC, @CHC, PIT)
Bartolo Colon (@KC, CLE, @TB, @CLE)
Eric Stults (@PIT, SF, PIT, ATL, @LAD)
Kyle Lohse (@PHI, ARZ, HOU, @PIT, MLW, @SD, @LAD, @CHC, @HOU)

THE POTENTIAL UNDERPERFORMERS

Travis Wood (CIN, @CIN, @MLW, MLW, SF)

It's one thing to face the underbelly of the NL Central, but it's another to BE the underbelly of the NL Central. Travis Wood has been awful since the All-Star Break (0-5 with a 8.78 ERA, 1.65 WHIP and 21 K in 26 2/3 IP) and facing two of the better offenses the senior circuit has to offer twice in a row won't help. Not to toot my own horn, but I dealt Wood in a dynasty league of mine two days before the All-Star Break for two solid pitching prospects (Kyle Crick and Victor Sanchez). If I had waited, no way he would have had that type of trade value. OK, I guess that was tooting my own horn a little.

J.A. Happ (NYY, TEX, @DET, @NYY, TB, @BOS)

It's well established that there's a world of difference between the NL Central and the AL East. Just ask A.J. Burnett. Unfortunately, Happ is going in the other direction. But to have this schedule on top of it? That's just cruel. Stay away in ALL leagues.

Cliff Lee (STL, @MLW, CIN, WSH, @ATL)

Do you ever get the feeling that this just isn't Cliff Lee's year? He certainly has the skills to overcome the most difficult of schedules, but will he? I've had the opportunity to pick him up in two leagues and have passed both times -- turns out I just can't answer that question with much conviction.

Other Potential Underperformers:

Chris Tillman (KC, @DET, @TEX, CHW, @NYY, NYY)
Dallas Keuchel (MLW, ARZ, @STL, SF, @PIT, @CIN)
Ivan Nova (@TOR, TEX, @CHW, TOR, BAL)
Vance Worley (STL, @MLW, CIN, NYM, @ATL)
Carlos Villanueva (CHW, TEX, @BAL, @NYY, BAL, @BOS)

#STREAMEROFTHEDAY UPDATE

As you may know, I post a streamer of the day owned in less than 10% of leagues on a daily basis at @tfw_bret on Twitter. And as a staple of this column, I'm going to review my picks as the season goes on. And since it's been two weeks since a column, here are the final numbers for the past fourteen days of #streameroftheday picks:

9 wins, 2.72 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 54 K's in 82 2/3 innings.

And the details:

Date Pitcher Opp IP ER H BB K ERA WHIP Dec
27-Jul Jeff Karstens HOU 5 4 6 3 7 7.20 1.80 ND
28-Jul Nate Eovaldi SD 5 1/3 1 5 2 5 1.69 1.31 W
29-Jul Clayton Richard MIA 5 1/3 2 5 1 3 3.38 1.13 ND
30-Jul Mike Leake SD 1 2/3 5 5 3 1 27.00 4.80 L
31-Jul Kris Medlen MIA 5 1 4 1 3 1.80 1.00 W
1-Aug Alex Cobb OAK 7 1 4 1 6 1.29 0.71 W
2-Aug Henderson Alvarez OAK 5 3 4 5 1 5.40 1.80 L
3-Aug Clayton Richard NYM 7 1 8 2 2 1.29 1.43 W
4-Aug Jeremy Hefner SD 6 1 5 0 2 1.50 0.83 W
5-Aug Franklin Morales MIN 6 1 3 3 4 1.50 1.00 W
6-Aug Chris Tillman SEA 7 1/3 1 5 1 5 1.23 0.82 W
7-Aug Pat Corbin PIT 6 2 6 3 7 3.00 1.50 ND
8-Aug Clayton Richard CHC 9 0 5 2 5 - 0.78 W
9-Aug Joe Saunders PIT 7 2 7 0 3 2.57 1.00 W

It was an OK first week -- relatively in line with my season stats. However, I followed that with my best week of the season. In fact, if you just look at that week in isolation, you get 6 wins, a 1.49 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 28 K with every start being of the quality persuasion. Two home Clayton Richard starts helped, but it was a fantastic all-around effort. I'm excited to see what this coming week has in store.

Follow me on Twitter at @tfw_bret.

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