Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: Ryan Dempster, trading

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on May 2, 2011 @ 10:30:49 PDT


We have passed the one month pole and our squads are beginning to take shape. Injuries are mounting, so the waiver wire is thinning but there are still some difference makers available. But this is the time that the trade winds really begin blowing. If you have a question about a free agent or want to run a trade by a grizzled veteran of the industry, please e-mail it to me at lordzola@kffl.com, post on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by following @KFFL_Baseball.

I'm in a 20-team 5x5 league with only 3 bench spots so I can't really afford to keep pitchers on reserve. Should I dump Ryan Dempster? I know the marathon adage, but no reserve spots available and he's single-handedly killing me. Available starting pitchers are Brandon McCarthy, Bruce Chen, Freddy Garcia and Philip Humber. - Jonathan Goodwin

As frustrating if not maddening as it has been to own Ryan Dempster this season, reading the following may even be more frustrating if not maddening. While calling a player's performance to date lucky or unlucky has become a bit cliché, there are major signs that a large part of Dempster's woes have been as much a result of bad luck as much as bad pitching.

First, here is the good news. Dempster's strikeout rate is on par with his career norms. This will lend more credence to some misfortune negatively impacting his results. Next, we will unveil the bad news. Dempster's walk rate is higher than usual, and it is an already high walk rate that limits his upside in the first place. And finally, brace yourself for the ugly news. Dempster's hit and home run rates are through the roof and are the cause of his early season disasters. But there is hope.

Oakland Athletics SP Brandon McCarthy
McCarthy worth a shot

While I am not saying there is not some bad pitching along the way, Dempster has allowed base hits at a rate well above the league norm. While I will not delve too deeply into the theory on the fate of batted balls put into play, research demonstrates that most pitchers cluster around a batting average on balls in play of .300. This season, Dempster is sporting a ballooned .344 mark. Since he is not allowing an inordinate number of line drives, what is happening is a higher than average number of grounders are getting through the infield and a larger percentage than usual number of fly balls are landing safely. History suggests that over time, Dempster's hit rate will normalize. This is not to suggest he is due some good luck, just that going forward, his hit rate should be around .300.

Perhaps even more damning has been Dempster's home run rate. He has served up a whopping nine in only 31 frames. Historically, he allows one per nine innings, so he is allowing gopher balls at a rate 2.5 times that than usual. While this may seem like bad pitching, there is an element of luck involved as most pitchers cluster around a home run per fly ball rate of 11 percent. Dempster is at a whopping 23.7 percent. Sure, some of this is bad pitching, leaving the ball out over the plate, but some of it is old-fashioned bad luck as even the worst hurlers do not carry a HR/FB that bloated. Like his BABIP, Dempster's HR/FB will regress and can be expected to nestle around 11 percent the rest of the season.

What is happening is Dempster's unfortunate hit rate has resulted in his working from the stretch more than usual and in general, pitchers are less effective there than if they use their full wind-up. Then it has a domino effect. Because Dempster's velocity and hit distribution are normal, and his strikeout rate is fine, probability suggests that Dempster's performance will stabilize once hit rate stabilizes. The problem is we do not know when that will be, as his struggles could be leading to a lack of confidence or a change in approach. Ideally, Dempster should be benched until his hit rate is normal, or at minimum, until his walk rate drops to career norms. Barring injury and assuming this is not in his head, Dempster's bad luck should subside and he will be the guy you drafted. What's done is done; chances are he will not make up for his April scuffles. But going forward, his numbers should be as originally expected.

That said, there is a name on Jonathan's waiver wire that intrigues me and that is Brandon McCarthy. The knock on McCarthy is health, but currently, he appears to be fine. Picking him up means you will have to keep an eye out for a contingency plan in the event McCarthy does get hurt, but right now, he is worthy of a roster spot in a league of this depth. Perhaps his owner was frustrated after his last outing which was, wait for it, quite unlucky. McCarthy has not walked more than one batter in a game yet this season and works in a favorable park in a favorable division. While I believe Dempster will turn it around, I would not argue at all with dumping him in favor of McCarthy.

Hi Todd. I have a general question for you. I am new to fantasy baseball and was hoping you could offer me some trade tips. I would be much obliged. - Sam Prentiss

Sure Sam, it would be my pleasure.

The key to trading is it takes two to tango and there needs to be something in it for both parties. It is very helpful to demonstrate you are aware of this when you engage in trade talks. There is a certain level of comfort involved that does not give the perception you are out to fleece the other owner, just work with them to better both of your squads.

My personal rule of thumb when it comes to dealing is if I am the party approaching, I will either make the first offer, or say that I will if the other party expresses an interest. If I am approached, especially for a player I am not looking to deal, I am not so inclined to jump at the chance to answer "What will it take to get so-and-so," unless I see an obvious fit and feel they will accept. If you approach me, I sort of expect you to make the initial offer.

Something that is often difficult to do is do not get insulted by an insulting offer. While some interpret that as a lack of respect for their intelligence, more often than not it is a sign of a lack of confidence in the other party which ultimately can be used against them. Others will categorically dismiss the offer. Instead, figure out exactly who is wanted from your roster and make a counter proposal in your favor, but not to the extent the original offer was in your disfavor. Silly as this may seem, I have found that owners are often enthused to get a response as they're often ignored or even chided for low-balling. It does not always work, but it is better than just turning your nose up at the offer.

The most important aspect to consider when evaluating a deal is the trade is usually not simply player for player, unless each player replaces the other. It is lineup before the trade versus lineup after. Assuming the exchanged players do not slide into each other's spots, there are other players involved. Perhaps you want to activate someone who has come off the disabled list or been promoted from the minors and need to clear a spot. Or maybe a reserve player is getting more playing time. One of the best ways to procure a deal is to design it in such a way that your opponent receives more raw value back, but the net result to your team is favorable. They accept because they are getting more value and you are happy because overall, your team is better after the deal as compared to before.

The final tip for today is suggesting when you table an offer, supply choices. Everyone likes to feel as though they are in control; they are making the offer that is ultimately accepted. By making an offer that says something like I will deal you this player and your choice of any these three for that player and your choice of any of those three, it gives the impression the other person is in control, because they get to choose the other players in the deal. But you are really still in control as you are setting the parameters. And the best thing about doing this is you would be shocked how many times your opponent selects what you receive to be lesser options, further tilting the deal in your favor.

When Todd is not respectfully responding to insulting trade offers, you can find him hanging out on the forum at Mastersball.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.

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