Of all the factors that go into making a successful fantasy trade, timing may be the most important. We’ve reached that point in the season where owners have experienced a month’s worth of data from their draft picks. Though we know a month’s worth of stats shouldn’t alter our expectations, it’s hard not to be frustrated with slow starters. This is where you might be able to take advantage of another owner in a trade. If you aren’t currently scouring your fantasy leagues, looking for undervalued trade-targets, you better start now. Until then, I’m here to help. Today, we’ll look at Brett Gardner as a player you should be targeting.
As a follow up to his 2010 breakout, Brett Gardner has been a major disappointment thus far. The aspects that made him so valuable last season (speed and the ability to get on base) haven’t manifested themselves this season. Since Gardner is a slap-hitter that relies on speed, his BABIP is always going to have a big influence on his numbers. So it’s promising, then, that Gardner’s current .261 BABIP is much lower than his career average of .320.
While we shouldn’t expect Gardner’s BABIP to rebound to last year’s mark, Gardner should start getting help from the luck dragons soon. Despite the bad luck, Gardner has continued walking at a strong pace. Once his BABIP stabilizes, Gardner should see his on-base percentage rebound as well.
There are some significant reasons to be concerned about Gardner, however. His strikeout rate has soared to 31.0% this season. If he keeps striking out at that rate, it’s going to be difficult to raise his average. Gardner has also experienced terrible luck on bunt hits this season. After successfully bunting for a hit 36.8% of the time last season, Gardner hasn’t managed a single bunt hit in 2011. (As Joe Pawlikowski might tell you, Gardner would probably be more successful if he didn’t try and bunt once a game.) Gardner has the speed to beat out some of these attempts, but the league has likely also adjusted to his style- so while we should expect improvement, we shouldn’t expect a full rebound.
If you want to try and buy low on Gardner, you might want to strike quickly. As Buster Olney noted on Twitter earlier today, Gardner has been heating up lately. Over his last five games, Gardner has managed eight walks and five hits. That’s an incredibly tiny sample, but it’s also not a long enough period of success for Gardner’s owner to take notice. If Gardner manages to rip off a run of ten games like this, you could miss out on your window of opportunity.
Trading for a player like Gardner is always a risky proposition. He doesn’t have an established record of success in the big leagues, and his success depends on how much luck he receives on balls in play. At the same time, we’re at the point in the fantasy season where strong talent can be acquired for peanuts. Even if Gardner doesn’t experience a full rebound, he still has a lot of value. Not only is Gardner one of the elite stolen base producers, but he’s in a stacked lineup with no threat of losing his job. The fact that he’s going to continue to receive playing time means that he’s going to improve as the season progresses. The window to acquire Gardner is small, so you are going to want to strike now.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.