By the Numbers: Tricks of the trade(s)

Now that the pre-waiver trade deadline has passed, the composition of major league rosters is mostly set, with the exception of a trickle of waiver moves and impact September callups. This does not mean, however, that this year’s game of MLB musical chairs is over. The rash of deadline trades has left the lineups, rotations and bullpens of several teams unsettled. Roles will shake out over the next few weeks, as contenders try to squeeze every drop of productivity out of their rosters, and also-rans and never-weres think about which kids to evaluate for the future.

The most attention has been focused on the traffic jam in the Dodger outfield, just one of the many side effects of Mannymania. Just a few months ago, it would have seemed ludicrous to bench Andruw Jones to make room for Juan Pierre or Andre Ethier, but that appears to be Joe Torre's decision, and no one is arguing. The bigger controversy is which lefty -- Pierre or Ethier -- should get the bulk of the starts against right-handers. If Torre were choosing his starters based on skill indicators, he would find that it is mostly an apples-to-crawfish comparison between two very different players.

Player Walk Rate Whiff Rate Iso Power H/BIP RC/27 SB
Andre Ethier 9% 17% 0.168 31% 5.5 3
Juan Pierre 5% 6% 0.036 30% 4.2 37

Ethier gets production from moderate power and a patient approach at the plate, whereas Pierre is all contact and speed. Apparently, Torre is going with Pierre, and that's good news for Fantasy owners. Even though Ethier is a better performer according to RC/27, his skills aren't strong enough for him to excel in any category. Pierre will get clobbered by Ethier, and most other outfielders, in home runs, RBI and runs scored, but his stolen base production will be very hard to replace. Ehtier's contributions are more meaningful in the real world than in Fantasy, so Pierre's tenure in center field is not a given. Still, as long as Torre continues to run him out there, Pierre's playing time is a boon to owners who need a stolen base boost.

Though there is some uncertainty around the Dodgers' center field situation, several other teams impacted by deadline deals will have an even tougher time sorting out roles with their reshaped rosters. Here are a few more situations in flux, along with an assessment of how playing time and Fantasy production will shake out.

Chicago White Sox 1B/CF/DH: Ozzie Guillen is reportedly putting Paul Konerko in a platoon with Jim Thome at DH to make room for Ken Griffey, Jr., in center field and Nick Swisher as the full-time first baseman. If there is anyone from this foursome who should not be losing playing time, it's Thome. He is the most whiff-prone of the group, but his power more than makes up for it, as his 6.9 RC/27 demonstrates. Guillen was closer to the mark when he said, "check Swisher and Konerko's averages, and it's not that much different." In fact, Ozzie, their entire set of skill indicators are close to equivalent. Swisher owners should closely monitor his stats and playing time, because he is a much better candidate to platoon than Thome. This is especially true when you consider that Swisher's splits against righties are much better than they are versus lefties, whereas Thome has actually been hitting lefties better.

Player Walk Rate Whiff Rate Iso Power H/BIP RC/27 SB
Ken Griffey 15% 17% 0.183 27% 5.4 0
Paul Konerko 11% 20% 0.142 23% 3.4 1
Nick Swisher 15% 26% 0.169 27% 4.7 3
Jim Thome 16% 29% 0.256 30% 6.9 1

Arizona closer: Braden Looper was supposed to remain the Marlins' closer after the 2003 trade deadline, despite the acquisition of Ugueth Urbina. Eric Gagne was going to set up games for the Red Sox late last year. Managers made these promises in the aftermath of big deadline deals that reconfigured their bullpens. Jack McKeon and Terry Francona weren't entirely truthful, as both Looper and Gagne were replaced after faltering down the stretch. Bob Melvin has assured us that Jon Rauch's arrival in Phoenix won't change his closer situation, but is it possible that he will eventually have to hide his Lyon eyes?

If we put Brandon Lyon's and Rauch's numbers side by side, and throw in those of Juan Cruz, Tony A. Pena and Chad Qualls in for good measure, we see that Lyon is arguably the Diamondbacks' fourth–best option for closer. Rauch has been dropped from 20 percent of Fantasy leagues over the last couple of weeks. He would make a good use of a reserve slot, just in case Lyon hits a rough stretch. If Rauch gets an opportunity to close, he is a much better bet than Lyon to hold onto the job.

Player BB/9 K/9 HR/9 H/BIP ERC
Juan Cruz 6.8 13.4 0.9 29% 3.69
Brandon Lyon 1.7 6.8 1.2 30% 3.65
Tony A. Pena 1.9 6.2 0.7 31% 3.63
Chad Qualls 2.9 8.8 0.7 31% 3.53
Jon Rauch 1.3 8.4 1.0 28% 2.41

Cleveland rotation: With trade target Paul Byrd, struggling Jeremy Sowers and journeyman Matt Ginter filling out the back of the Indians' rotation, and new acquisitions Jon Meloan and Anthony Reyes waiting in the wings, opportunities for starting pitchers in Cleveland are up for grabs. Byrd and Ginter are not exactly youngsters, and neither has been especially effective, so there is little reason for either to remain in the rotation much longer. That leaves Sowers, Meloan, Reyes and the recently demoted Aaron Laffey as the top candidates to get an extended look.

Of the quartet, only Reyes has posted skill stats that are average or better across the board, though he accomplished this feat in Triple-A. That's not an insignificant detail, when you realize that Sowers also put up good indicators at Triple-A this year, and then bombed upon arriving in Cleveland. In short, there is not a skill set you can trust among the whole group. No one in the bunch will be worth a spot on a mixed league roster, at least not this season, and whoever gets a callup will be an AL-only innings eater at best.

Player BB/9 K/9 HR/9 H/BIP ERC
Paul Byrd 1.8 4.0 1.7 29% 4.92
Matt Ginter (Triple-A) 2.9 5.9 0.9 N/A N/A
Aaron Laffey 3.0 4.1 1.0 30% 4.86
Jon Meloan (Triple-A) 5.0 8.4 0.6 N/A N/A
Anthony Reyes (Triple-A) 3.4 7.5 1.0 N/A N/A
Jeremy Sowers 3.2 5.3 1.7 31% 5.90

Washington 2B: By releasing Felipe Lopez and acquiring Emilio Bonifacio and Alberto Gonzalez, the Nats took an already-unclear second base situation and fogged it up some more. Ronnie Belliard and Willie Harris, who were sharing playing time with Lopez, are having good power-hitting seasons, but how long can they keep it up when it's out of character for both of them? Bonifacio has a sufficiently intriguing skill set that he should see the bulk of the reps at second base. He and Gonzalez have been nearly identical in terms of contact, power and walks, but Bonifacio has speed galore. Think of him as Eugenio Velez with actual playing time and more upside. Meanwhile, Belliard and Harris should continue to see some time in the Washington lineup at first base and left field, respectively, until Dmitri Young and Elijah Dukes are ready to resume regular play.

Player Walk Rate Whiff Rate Iso Power H/BIP RC/27 SB
Ronnie Belliard 13% 20% 0.227 23% 5.2 1
Emilio Bonifacio (Triple-A) 7% 17% 0.083 38% N/A N/A
Alberto Gonzalez (Triple-A) 8% 16% 0.106 28% N/A 4
Willie Harris 13% 19% 0.180 26% 5.0 7

One final position battle that could be included here is the "contest" between Andy LaRoche and Jose Bautista to be the Pirates' starting third baseman. The Bucs seem committed to letting LaRoche play nearly everyday, which makes sense due to his relative youth and superior skill set. As I mentioned in this week's "Lucky/Unlucky" feature, LaRoche's biggest obstacle this year has been bad luck. Once he starts getting more than 19 percent of his balls in play through for base hits, he will leave Bautista in the dust.

Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
Base Hits per Balls in Play (H/BIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats

Al Melchior was recently a Fantasy columnist and data analyst for Baseball HQ and will be providing advice columns for Click here to send him a question. Please put "Melchior" in the subject field.

Data Analyst

Al Melchior has been playing Fantasy Baseball since 1994, getting his start in the Southern Maryland Anthropomorphic Baseball League (SMABL). He has been writing about Fantasy Baseball since 2000, getting... Full Bio

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