Fantasy: Impacts of Justin Upton, Justin Verlander trades
Angels’ Upton, Astros’ Verlander improve value on stronger teams
While it’s not uncommon for major league teams to tweak their rosters just before the deadline for postseason eligibility, both the number and the significance of this season’s Aug. 31 trades were completely unexpected.
The two biggest moves were made by the Detroit Tigers, who unloaded outfielder Justin Upton and ace right-hander Justin Verlander, giving both players a slight boost in fantasy value as they join more competitive teams in Anaheim and Houston.
Upton was enjoying what might be his best season, hitting .279 at the time of the trade with 28 homers, 94 RBI and a career-high .904 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS).
He gets a slight downgrade in home park going from the No. 7 to No. 14 in overall offense this season, but the difference is negligible over a one-month period. What’s more important is the addition of his bat to the Angels lineup — giving Mike Trout far more protection than Albert Pujols (.665 OPS) did.
Upton has settled into the lineup hitting third behind new leadoff man Brandon Phillips (another Aug. 31 addition) and Trout. (Of course, Pujols had seven RBI in Upton’s first three games.)
If Pujols can drive in 83 runs hitting behind Trout over the first five months, Upton could be poised for a difference-making run in September.
Meanwhile, the Astros picked up an ace-caliber pitcher in Verlander, whom they hope will make a difference down the stretch — and in October.
Scheduled to make his Astros debut on Tuesday, Verlander has been a much better pitcher since the All-Star break.
uFirst half: 5-6, 4.73 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 in 1042⁄ innings
uSecond half: 5-2, 2.41 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 10.4 K/9 in 671⁄ innings
In this case, the change in home parks could make a difference in Verlander’s final six starts. Surprisingly, Houston’s Minute Maid Park has been the most pitcher-friendly venue in the majors this season, suppressing scoring by 18.5%.
At the last possible moment, both the Astros and Angels took stock of their rosters and made moves to give them the best chance to compete for a title.
THE FANTASY EQUIVALENT?
The arrival of September also marks the beginning of the stretch run in fantasy leagues — and the first round of the playoffs in most head-to-head formats.
As a fantasy owner, you’ve hopefully done everything you could to put your team in position to win, just like major league general managers.
While the majors might be the ultimate dynasty/keeper format, the stakes aren’t quite the same.
Consider the current situation in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality. Our trade deadline was also this past weekend. And I’m one of two teams battling it out for the National League title.
I’m trailing by a couple points in the standings, but with a sizable lead in both ERA and WHIP, I could trade one of my starting pitchers for a boost in the hitting categories, all of which are extremely close. In the past month, I made several offers to other owners that would net me a bit more power and/or speed. But no deals.
The problem is, the team in first place also has excess pitching that he can trade for an all-important hitting upgrade.
(At the beginning of Week 23: He led 223-219 in home runs, 734-730 in RBI and 84-81 in stolen bases. I led 783-767 in runs scored. If I could flip any of those categories, I take the overall lead.)
How would a typical fantasy owner handle such a situation? If LABR is supposed to be an ex- ample of how “experts” play the game, do I have an obligation to do everything I can to win? Should the rest of teams in the league continue making deals to improve their position in the standings, even if they can’t win? Or should they not trade with the top two in principle to avoid affecting the outcome?
So I posed this question on Twitter.
You’re in 10th place in a Roto league with two teams far ahead of everyone. They both offer you a trade. Do you ... uAccept the better offer (49%) uHelp who you want to win (5%)
uRefuse to trade with either (32%)
uDepends on whether it’s a free or money league (14%)
The results surprised me. A near-majority was in favor of accepting whichever trade offer helped their team more.
While about one-third of the voters said they wouldn’t trade with either of the top teams, the lack of a monetary prize for winning LABR made the results a virtual toss-up.
From those final numbers, it shouldn’t have been too difficult to find just one owner among the other 10 willing to make a deal with me.
As the trade deadline came and went, both of us ended up standing pat. (Interestingly, we independently expressed the same mixed feelings earlier in the week on our podcasts and came to the same conclusions. It’s better to stick with the teams we built over the course of the first five months than try to leverage our positions to get the best deal from another owner who had nothing to gain by making a trade.)
I’m sure I’d feel differently with a significant amount of cash on the line for finishing first. As sev- eral readers pointed out, it also would have made a difference if this were a keeper league and the other teams could have traded to improve their standing for next season.
In the end, as much as we like to think fantasy baseball is similar to the real game, there’s at least one major difference.
Winning isn’t the one and only objective. There’s an element of fair play, competition and sportsmanship that comes with being in a fantasy league with a group of friends.
Don’t get me wrong. Both of us would love to win LABR this year, but at the end of the day, I see my leaguemates as friends more than rivals.
FOLLOW FANTASY EDITOR STEVE GARDNER
In his first three games with the Angels, Justin Upton went 5-for-11 with five walks and four runs.