Trade Targets and Avoids: Starting Pitchers

Sometimes you have a nice introduction written, then the internet does one of those things and suddenly you have no introduction written. Really, it’s the perfect metaphor for fantasy baseball. The draft is rolling along just fine, then boom! Things like random auto picks, getting sniped, positional runs – they can all turn a great draft into a difficult one . . . And those are the mistakes that aren’t your fault.

No matter how good you are at drafting, you’re going to make mistakes. Following the “best available” path leaves holes. Going with or against a run on a position leaves holes. Reaching for a hyped rookie or breakout candidate leaves holes. Doing everything perfectly still doesn’t result in a perfect draft, because you don’t get the first 25 picks. Even in the shallowest of leagues, and leagues that generally aren’t for people who read articles about fantasy baseball, you can only come away with 3 or 4 of the first 25 picks at best. I just finished a draft where my first pick was number 1.27 – as in, I had none of the first 25 picks.

My point is that mistakes will be made. Sometimes they won’t be your fault, but most of the time they will. Once you start setting your line-up for actual games, you start seeing your roster in a different light. Maybe you’re a JD Salinger kind of soul, and you think “It was a very stupid thing to do, I’ll admit, but I hardly didn’t even know I was doing it.” Or perhaps you’re more Dierks Bentley and “I know what I was feeling – but what was I thinking?” is your fantasy cry of woe.

Regardless of how you express your frustration, the mistakes are going to be there – it’s up to you to adjust on the fly and save your team. Fortunately for you, I’m here with the first ever TRADE Targets and Avoids (Starting Pitcher Edition). Unfortunately for you, I just drafted a rotation of Zach Wheeler, JA Happ, Mike Minor, and Tanner Roark . . . but then I traded to improve it. It’s like I said: everyone makes mistakes. How you fix mistakes – that’s what makes a champion.

Targets

The goal of a fantasy trade target is not to boost your top-tier talent. In an initially drafted league there is virtually no way to do that without ripping a hole in your roster. In deeper, long-term leagues you reach a point where you can – but these articles are a prelude to draft rankings, so we’re focusing on leagues that draft, or drafted, this season.

The real goal of a fantasy trade target is to boost your middle tier. Your bottom tier is your longshot sleepers, your injury buffers, and your waiver wire fodder. It has its uses, but it’s mostly just taking up space. The top-tier of your team is going to be thin – it always is. Even in a fairly shallow 10 team league you’ll never see a team with 10 top 50 type pitchers. Elite is elite, and that means rare and hard to come by.

So when you’re trying to fix a mistake, you’re looking either for solid but unspectacular consistency or someone who is being drafted as a bottom tier talent but has the potential for more. With any luck, you might even find this year’s Blake Treinen (though if you do, and it’s a pitcher, why the heck are you reading me?).

German Marquez

I can tell you everything you need to know about German Marquez in three sentences, and the first and last ones don’t count. Fantrax has him being drafted as the 25th starter off the board, yet Fangraphs has his 2018 xFIP as the 8th best in the game. Someone else may write on him in-depth, but if you want a sleeper ace, he might be the guy to pay for in a trade.

JA Happ

Mr. Happ might not be the sexiest pitching choice around, but I own him in every league I can get him. There are sexy breakout picks like Luis Castillo last year and Luis Castillo this year, and then there are guys in their mid-30’s who still average more than a k/9 and have a 3.65 ERA against a 3.88 xFIP. In other words, you can take your breakouts – I’ll take steady k’s and production. The tortoise won the race folks, that’s all I’m saying.

Zack Godley

German Marquez was good, and even being good, was unlucky. Zack Godley wasn’t good but was even more unlucky. He had a 4.74 ERA, but his xFIP was nearly a run better at 3.96. People think that winning a trade is getting Max Scherzer for a guy on your bench – but nobody does that. Winning a trade is giving someone else something they can legitimately use for someone who might outperform their current value. Zack Godley, with better luck, could win you a trade. And winning enough trades can win you a season.

Avoids

For the first time all season, I actually do mean avoid. You are always welcome, even occasionally encouraged, to ignore my advice and do your own thing. After all, all these guys are better at baseball than I am, and I’m not bashing any of them. That said, as this is a trade-specific edition, I really do think you should avoid these guys as trade targets. I’m not telling you not to draft these guys, I am telling you that what they will cost you in a trade is more than they are worth.

Kyle Freeland

Much like his rotation mate Marquez, Freeland is being drafted in the second tier of pitching, between SP21 and SP40. Unlike Marquez, who could pitch his way into the tier above, Freeland might be ticketed for the next tier down. He was even luckier than Zack Godley was unlucky with his xFIP of 4.22, nearly a run and a half higher than his pristine 2.85 ERA. He doesn’t strikeout a ton of batters, less than 8 per 9, and he pitches at Coors, where relying on luck is not a sustainable strategy. In a draft he’s fine. In a trade, you will probably end up paying more than he’s worth.

Reynaldo Lopez

If you want to take a late round draft flier on a young arm like Lopez, I’m all for it. If you want to give up actual assets to get a guy with 7.2 k’s per 9 and an xFIP of 5.22 (against an ERA of 3.91) . . . you’re quite likely to lose that trade. I’m not telling you he doesn’t belong on your team. I’m telling you whoever you’re trying to get him from likes his age and suspicious ERA more than you should.

Targets and Avoids
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Seth Bias

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I'm Seth. I love baseball, especially the Braves, and rock n' roll on vinyl. Books, sandals and tacos too, though I find most of my money for those things going to vinyl these days. Once turned Prince Fielder into Justin Verlander and Paul Goldschmidt in a dynasty league. Also ashamed to say I once cut Jose Ramirez. I don't hate your favorite team unless your favorite team is the Nationals or Phillies. May or may not have cried when David Justice hit that home run in game 6 of the 95 World Series - though if you actually ask me, I'll claim I did not.