- Matthew Berry, Fantasy
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"Trust me," I tell her. But she won't listen.
I continue. "I know what I am talking about. Ask any guy," I insist. "They'll back me up."
"You don't understand," she counters. "I know him, you don't," she continues, "and he understands."
She is wrong.
The story starts before that conversation, a few months prior. It was the week before a party and I was texting with a female friend of my wife and mine. We'll call her "Kelly" because that's her real name.
Me: Will we see you Sat.?
Kelly: Yes! Can't wait!
Me: Do we finally get to meet the boyfriend?
Kelly: Not back yet. Bringing a good friend.
And bring a friend she did, a nice guy whom I met briefly. The following week, I ran into Kelly and we were talking about the party.
Me: So, what's the deal with that guy?
Kelly: What guy? Fred?
Kelly: Just a friend, why?
Me: Because he's in love with you.
Kelly: No he's not.
Me: I saw how that guy looked at you. He's in love with you.
Kelly: We're just good friends.
Me: Does he know that?
Kelly: Yes. We've talked about it.
Me: Meaning what? He's asked you out?
Kelly: Yes. Multiple times.
Me: And what have you said?
Kelly: No, obviously.
Me: That's not enough. Have you said 'No, I don't have romantic feelings? I have no interest in you in that way?' What?
Kelly: I told him I had just gotten out of a relationship and wasn't there yet.
Me: Exactly. He thinks he has a chance.
Kelly: No he doesn't.
Me: Yes he does.
Kelly: How could he? I've turned him down a lot. Eventually it sinks in.
Me: Have you told him you have a boyfriend?
Kelly: Well, no
Me: Why not?
Me: Exactly! Because you know he likes you. You just ignore it because you like him as a friend and don't want to lose his friendship. But you are being unfair to him. You are leading him on.
Kelly: No I'm not. I've told him no
Me: He's not hearing that. Trust me. Guys don't give up. You're inviting him to parties, doing things with him, giving vague answers as to why you can't date he thinks it's gonna happen, he just has to wait it out.
Kelly: You don't understand.
Me: No, you don't understand guys. Ask any guy. Sad as it is, guys will hang in there 'til the very bitter end, clinging to any last strand of hope. We are a stupid, desperate lot when it comes to women we like. Any shred of positive reinforcement, we hold on to and grip tightly, replaying it over and over like "Just Go With It" on HBO. The fact you invited him to this party? He'll hold on to that for three months. 'Well, she did invite me to this party with her friends ' Deep down, you know I'm right.
Kelly: But I don't want to hurt his feelings!
Me: Yeah, but here's the thing. You're gonna hurt them. He likes you romantically. You don't feel the same way. Unless one of those things changes, there's gonna be hurt feelings. So the sooner he knows the truth, the sooner he can get over it and start opening himself up to other people. If you were really just friends, you would tell him you have a boyfriend, you would tell him the reason you aren't dating isn't because 'you're not ready' but because you're not into it. Rip the Band-Aid off. The longer it goes, the more upset he's gonna be. So let him know where he stands before it's too late.
Ah. Before it's too late. I can't help Kelly's forever platonic friend (she's never gonna tell him; they never tell) but I'm gonna tell you some awkward truths about your fantasy team before it's too late.
I asked the great Mike Polikoff, who oversees our League Manager products, to pull a bunch of data from last season. Mike used a sample from our prize-eligible leagues and an active 10 percent of our standard leagues; these are all active leagues that play out the season, you see, so as to not skew the data. It's also how we calculate ownership percentages so as to purge the dead leagues.
One of the first things he did was pull the standings through May 1 of last year to see where the average team finished in relation to its position that day. So this is a table that shows what place a team was in on May 1 of last year and the percentage of those teams that finished in a certain place.
May 1 2011 Fantasy Rankings versus Finish
So it's just one year, but it's instructive for our purposes. Because everywhere you read the take is the same, right? "It's early. Don't panic. Lotta baseball still to play." To which I say well, that's true, but often, once in a friend zone, always in the friend zone.
On May 1 of last year, 67.1 percent of the teams that were in first, second or third ended up winning the league. Add in fourth place, and it's more than 77 percent. Think about that. More than three-quarters of the winners from last year were already in the top four by May 1.
Not every winner, of course. If you are not in the top four, you still have a chance of winning. So it's not all doom and gloom if you are out of the top spots. But it also means you can't just sit around.
You need to start making moves now. And not just small moves. Big moves. You need to trade for underperforming guys (so they are cheaper to acquire) and then hope they turn it around. You are the best judge of your team, so you know where your holes are, how far away you are from really competing and what guys of yours are more expendable than others.
In addition, you know best if your league has start limits or anything like that. Often, teams will rush ahead in strikeouts and wins only to ultimately fall short because they run out of starts, so be sure to be aware of where other teams are in terms of their limits.
With all that in mind, here are 10 guys I'd trade for right now.
Five pitchers to trade for:
Max Scherzer, Tigers: I am a sucker for Max Scherzer. I admit it. I mentioned him as a buy-low last week in my Star Wars column and I am back again. Still striking out 10.34 guys per 9 innings, he's just currently being killed by a .416 batting average against on balls in play. (It was .314 last season, career .312.) An xFIP of 3.84 shows you that he's been a lot better than his ERA and WHIP might indicate.
Ervin Santana, Angels: 25 percent of his fly balls have been home runs this season. The league average is 9.1 and it was 10.0 for Santana last season. His well-hit average is tiny (.152), just behind Roy Halladay (.151) and ahead of Yu Darvish (.153). He's now quietly put together three straight good starts. Last chance to buy below market value.
Josh Johnson, Marlins: Don't dismiss Wednesday night's start as "Ah, it's just the Astros." It's a sign of things to come. We discussed Johnson Wednesday morning on the pod and even if he turns things around, he is always an injury risk. But if you're going for broke, he's got the upside you're looking for, and his value will never be lower. He sports a .403 BABIP (career .303), his 63.5 left-on-base percentage is sixth worst in baseball per FanGraphs and he just allowed his first home run of the season in his most recent start. His walks are up from last year and his K/9 is down (still over seven, however), so I'm not saying there aren't warning signs, but his 2.79 FIP and 3.37 xFIP show a lot better than his 5.87 ERA.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: His K/9 is at a career high and his BB/9 is at a career low. His BABIP is higher than career norms, his LOB percentage is too low but basically, he's been done in by home runs, giving up seven so far when he gave up only 15 in 2010. That HR/FB rate will come down and his actual ERA is going to be a lot closer to his 2.65 xFIP than his current 5.61 ERA.
CC Sabathia, Yankees: Not a total buy-low, but if I'm being truthful, I wrote the bulk of this column on Tuesday and had Zack Grienke in here as a buy low. Then he goes out and crushes the Reds, dominating at home once again, making it a good call that no one saw, and probably no longer a buy low. That's how quickly public perception can change. Sabathia might still only cost you a top 15-20 pitcher price and will be top eight or so the rest of the way, so still a chance for some profit. Striking out guys at his highest rate since 2008 and walking guys at his lowest rate since 2007, the long ball has been what has done Sabathia in this year, as his HR/FB rate this year (12.5 percent) is significantly higher than his career 8.5 percent. He's not had it be higher than 8.8 percent since 2005. His FIP is 3.09, his xFIP is 2.83 and he has a 3.16 ERA and 28 strikeout to just four walks in 31 1/3 innings.
Five hitters to trade for:
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves: Let me get this straight, Berry. You want to "buy low" on a guy hitting .281 with six home runs and 26 RBIs? And my answer is yes. Because I think he's even better than that. He didn't hit his sixth homer last season until June 10. Nothing in his underlying stats says he's getting lucky -- this is legit. He was a big preseason sleeper for me and he's been even better than expected. He's gonna be a 30-plus homer guy with a good average when all is said and done. He's a top 30 player on our Player Rater right now and while people know he's good, they don't realize how good and may be willing to "sell high" on him.
Brian McCann, C, Braves: Go Braves, apparently. His BABIP of .218 is way below his average over the past four seasons (.289) and nothing else appears to be different; he's striking out less (12.1 percent) than he did last season (16.9), he's walking about the same and, per Zach Jones of ESPN Stats & Information, he's missing less (16.5 percent vs. 19.4). Seems like only a matter of time before he snaps out of it.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals: Another guy I discussed last week. Striking out less, walking more, his fly ball rate is up a little; his BABIP of .168 is one of many signs screaming "buy low." The production is a comin'.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers: He's actually walking more than he ever has in his career and his fly ball rate is up, as well. He's striking out more as well, so it's not ideal, but a .219 BABIP (career .306) and a lower home run/fly ball rate than career averages tell me a correction is coming and he'll be back to being Rickie Weeks. Speaking of Weeks, I'd be buying low on his brother, Jemile Weeks, in AL-only if I could, as well.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox: Predicted a big year for him in the preseason. Stand by that. He's been among the most consistent players in baseball and underlying numbers suggest he's gotten unlucky rather than some sudden erosion of skills. Not worried at all.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- wants you to know that the girl you're friends with that you're hoping you hook up with? It's not gonna happen. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.