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Hindsight’s 20/20, but There’s No Perfect Vision for 2018

Every year, we fantasy owners make trades to better ourselves, either to win now or rebuild for the future. And every year, some players come out of nowhere and produce much better or worse than we projected. And almost every year, it seems I make a trade (or five) where I come out on the losing side because of those breakouts or breakdowns.

As I look back at 2017 in its completion, can I notice numbers and metrics that may have pointed to the end result? Sure. But given what you know at the time, and the previous track record of a player, you simply can’t see it coming when you’re in the moment and are about to click on the “Accept Trade” button.

This doesn’t mean your strategy is useless for the next season. It doesn’t mean you are incapable of analyzing metrics. The point is to not fret; just make small adjustments if necessary and put your new knowledge to use in 2018.

In this series, I’m first going to cover a few of the players I traded. Next week, I’ll go over some other shocking players from 2017, to demonstrate that even if you lose, you still have to follow your rational plan.

Greg Holland for Zach Wheeler

This was my most glaring example from 2018. At the end of May, he had 19 saves and an elite ERA and WHIP. The jump in K/9 for May, though just 8 IP, seemed to indicate he was on the right track. But I had three other closers, had picked up Holland as an endgame pick, and needed a starter. I saw high FB% combined with a spike in May’s HR/FB. I saw a low BABIP that was likely unsustainable. And then there were the obvious red flags glaring at me:

  1. he was in Colorado, which doesn’t do pitchers any favors, and
  2. he was a huge health risk, having not played in 2016.

I offered him around the league and couldn’t find any takers, despite some teams needing saves. Perhaps they had already decided to punt? No, because some of them did trade for saves shortly afterward. More likely, they simply didn’t trust him either. Eventually, I moved him for Zach Wheeler. I knew there was risk in Wheeler: recovering from TJS, would have an innings cap, rough April, etc. But I wanted a bench SP, and he had a nice May (except for the walks). Given I put little value in Holland, I pulled the trigger.

The next two months had me regretting the trade more and more. Holland racked up another 19 saves with even better K/9 than April, and he kept up his sterling ERA and WHIP. Wheeler’s K/9 and BB/9 were the only good news — his gopheritis, LD%, and BABIP blew up his ERA and WHIP. He was meant to be a spot starter for me, but I ended up hardly using him and then dumping him outright. Holland suffered a hiccup in August that hurt his season ERA and WHIP, but then he was back to awesome in September.

But come 2018, I’d make the same sort of deal. Closer is a volatile position. The closer was a huge injury risk who hadn’t pitched the year before. The sabermetrics indicated he was a bit lucky so far. The player I acquired wasn’t an essential piece to my team. What’s my small tweak for next year? I’d simply hold out a bit longer and insist on a more certain starting pitcher. Or perhaps because I had an “extra” closer, I would try to trade one of higher value for an even better starter. But you could never get me to project Holland for 40 saves, not even after his strong 2017.

Lance Lynn for Wil Myers

Three months into the season, my primary starting pitchers were doing much better than my offense — like I said, I ended up not really even needing Wheeler. I wanted to bolster my home runs and my OF, so I opted to trade for Wil Myers. He’d put up a strong first half. He was hitting more fly balls than 2016 with the same HR/FB (19%). He had an okay average, even if his BABIP indicated it was a bit lucky. And he was stealing bases, which I needed maybe even more than home runs. I didn’t expect much dropoff in the second half, but there was a little risk.

I traded Lance Lynn for him. Lynn had a strong K/9 and good WHIP, but he struggled with gopheritis. Like Holland, he’d also missed 2016 and so was a health risk (so I got him pretty late in the draft). His BABIP was extremely low, so I figured his WHIP would balloon in the second half and probably put his ERA above 4.00. He also struggled in June, with a jump in BB/9 and even more HR/FB problems.

It turns out I didn’t lose too badly here, but it goes to show you that in any given year (or half of a season), a player can surge or fade, and you can’t always see it coming if it’s primarily luck. Myers did lose some points off his average because his BABIP regressed. He kept hitting home runs, but his runs and RBI were down. Mostly I lost out on a strong second half from Lynn. He got his ERA under 3.00 (barely) by greatly reducing his HR/FB, and he put up more quality starts. However, his K/9 dipped and his WHIP jumped due to a more average BABIP. But the worst of his second half issues came in September — his ERA was stellar in July and August.

Again, if I had to do it over again, I would. Lynn wasn’t a sure thing to make it 180 innings, let alone pitch well, after missing a full season. I really needed offense and could afford to move a starter. Here, I got what I needed and expected from the trade.

Clayton Kershaw for Josh Donaldson

This one was actually a preseason move. I know, it seems crazy to give up the best starter in the game, even if Donaldson was projected as a top-10 bat. But I can always find a way to be a top-3 team in pitching, whereas I have a hard time consistently producing offensive points. Moving Kershaw was risky, but I went for it. I figured that a back injury could be a lingering issue. And… well, that was the only small negative. He is still an elite pitcher with amazing ratios and counting stats. Honestly, I projected 30 starts in 2017 because he seems so invincible. And again, Donaldson was an elite hitter at a position where huge power plays well.

For four months of the season, I banged my head against the keyboard as Donaldson missed significant time and put up only 11 HR with a poor batting average. Kershaw was his usual self, and he was healthy, so it made this trade look ridiculously lopsided.

Then August hit, and Kershaw was out for 4+ weeks due his back. That injury reared its ugly head yet again. When he came back, he was a mere human (though still good), and a bit of bad luck in BABIP and strand rate combined to produce a pedestrian 3.48 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Meanwhile, Donaldson finally took off, slugging 22 HR in the last two months. It sucked that he was injured, but the skills were in place, as I point out in this article.

In retrospect, this one’s a bit of a toss-up. Kershaw is so elite, but that back injury may continue to bother him, and we’re in an era that has a lot of great aces available. Donaldson is a bit “old” in comparison, but again, his ADP was 12 for 2017, according to some sources, so it wasn’t like I was sacrificing a lot. As a matter of fact, for 2018 I’d rather have the hitter than the starter with back issues. And in this league we keep four players, so Donaldson makes a lot of sense as a cornerstone for next season.

*****

Next week, I’ll look at players like Jon Lester, who seemed like such a good pick, but things never got back on track. If you have any requests, leave a comment with when you traded a player, and I’ll tell you whether you were sound in reasoning, or crazy.

 

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Kevin Jebens
Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.

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