Grand Theft Roto: Unlucky Players

Every now and again, my wife and kids will return from the dollar store with an armload of stuff. Without even looking at it, I know there will be markers that will dry up while they're being used, inflatable balls with invisible leaks and toys that will break after one use, if they work at all.

"Why are you scowling?" my wife will ask as I eye her bag of one-dollar-delights. "Nothing cost more than a buck."

On my good days, I smile and just make sure the trash can is nearly empty, since half of their haul will end up in it by the end of the day. On my bad days, I tell her what I'm telling you today in terms of the holy grail of "buying low" in fantasy baseball.

"Cheap junk ... is still junk."

Casing the Joint

There are two types of "buy low" players in this world: the unlucky-slash-injured ones who are going to get better as soon as they get luckier or healthier, and the ones who not only are digging a hole but also are actively pulling the dirt back in over their heads to bury themselves.

The injury aspect is murky since some players are on the DL but should be healthy soon, while others are nursing or, worse, hiding injuries -- and you won't know what's what for a while. But luck, believe it or not, can be quantified to some degree, and thus can help you pick real buy-low targets amongst a sea of slumping batters.

For example, Michael Young is a perennial high-average hitter, with four consecutive seasons over .300 coming into 2007. But right now, he's languishing in the .230s and he's pressing like a dry cleaner running a special on dress pants. Young has walked only twice all year, putting him on pace for about 10 this season. So has he suddenly forgotten how to hit? No. He's getting very unlucky. His hit percentage as of Thursday was stuck at 25 percent, about five points below the expected league average of 30 percent, according to BaseballHQ.com. More telling is the fact that, of the 26 line drives he has hit this year, half have resulted in outs. No one in the AL has made that many line-drive outs in 2007. Buy now, because once he gets a tad more fortunate, he'll ease back, regain his patience, and put up the kind of numbers you saw last year.

Can't say the same about Eric Chavez. There was much talk that last year's .241 batting average and 22 home runs, both full-season lows for Chavez, were due to a forearm ailment that has since healed up. So what is he doing now with a .246 batting average and a paltry three homers? Chavez's hit percentage is right at 30, and he has produced more grounders than flies, not what you're looking for from a slugging third baseman. His average could stay where it is, and a career low in dingers is in the offing. Bye, now.

Admittedly, I'm a Red Sox honk at heart, but there's a non-regional reason to believe Julio Lugo's scuffling ways are a temporary thing. Like Michael Young, Lugo is also sporting a hit percentage of 25 and has watched nearly half of his line drives turn into outs. He hasn't reached at a very high rate on grounders either, strange since Lugo is a burner on the base path s, as evidenced by his nine steals. Assume he's trying too hard to impress my fellow chowdah-heads and buy wicked low for steals and runs along with a much more palatable average.

I made it clear in one of my first columns of the year that I'm a Garrett Atkins guy, and his current .256 batting average and two homers haven't put me off that opinion. He's another member of the "why aren't my line drives falling in?" club, with 43 percent of them resulting in outs. Atkins is still hitting plenty of fly balls, as well, so expect them to eventually turn into taters, and buy now.

Of course, not all of 2006's breakout players inspire as much optimism. Ronnie Paulino was a popular guy after batting .310 last season. This year, he's nearly 90 points down and there's plenty of reason to think he's not bouncing back anytime soon. I'm going against the grain a bit, since Paulino's hit percentage is at 24, suggesting he's been unlucky. But look more closely. Paulino has only hit eight line drives this year. If a batter simply isn't putting the fat part of the bat on the ball, his hit percentage will plummet. That's what we're seeing right now. He's a "bye," not a "buy."

This is the time of years when frustrated owners feel they have to do something with their disappointing players, so if you peruse the options and find the guys who are getting unlucky, you might get lucky yourself.

Pulling the Job

As has been noted in several columns here on the Worldwide Leader in (Fantasy) Sports, Josh Barfield is showing some signs of life lately. I had noticed the trend late last week, so in an AL-only roto league where I have been trotting out Jason LaRue as my catcher for the last six weeks, I decided to make a play for a pair of Indians.

Leveraging the stellar month of April enjoyed by Aaron Hill and the solid start of Robinson Tejeda, I offered both to an owner who was last in both ERA and WHIP in exchange for Barfield and Victor Martinez. To be completely fair, this guy had been sabotaged by a bad auto-draft that had rostered four catchers for him, including Ivan Rodriguez and Kenji Johjima, so he was starting catchers at first base and DH.

He took the deal without countering, which is too bad for him since I likely would've offered more and still considered it a GTR. But what does my consigliere, Zach Messler, think of the deal?

It's the beginning of May. Anyone bailing on a guy like Barfield for a guy like Hill and then throwing in Victor Martinez for Robinson Tejeda should give his head a shake. No matter how good Robinson Tejeda looks so far, you don't trade Victor Martinez for him!

Of course, once Barfield starts hitting (and he has), Hill comes back to Earth (and he will) and Tejeda remembers he pitches in Texas (and he will)...this team will realize it got taken. But by then, it will be too late.

Great deal!

Yep, it's a lovefest here in the GTR family. Best of all, I made the deal a few days before Tejeda faced the Yankees, surrendering six earned runs in less than four innings, ballooning his ERA from a respectable 3.89 to a useless 4.87. The next day, he admitted both his elbow and shoulder had been bothering him for a few days.

I'll have to go to confession for that deal.

Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.

Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball and football analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com, as well as a regular contributor to the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He can be reached at GrandTheftRoto@TalentedMrRoto.com.