Grand Theft Roto: Punting Gambits

We interrupt this fantasy column for a dose of reality.

My wife lost both of her parents to cancer in the last four weeks, with her mom passing last weekend, so let's just say I've had more on my mind than Rich Harden's shoulder or Rick Vanden Hurk getting sent down with an ERA larger than his shoe size.

Maybe I shouldn't even be back to work, but truth be told, it feels nice to be writing anything that isn't an obituary or eulogy. If Brett Favre can have a career game a few days after his father passes away, I should be able to get through 1200 words of fantasy advice.

Besides, maybe there is a roto-trading lesson to be learned, even at a time of loss.

Casing the Joint

We're a month into the season and you're in last place.

Not last in your league, mind you, but last in a single category. You weren't trying to have this glaring hole in your team's makeup. You drafted B.J. Ryan … and he got hurt. You bought Willy Taveras for stolen bases, but he's having a hard time swiping bags from the pine.

Obviously, it's early enough that you can go out and make a deal to rectify the situation. But may I suggest that instead of mourning, you embrace the loss and go the other way?

Yes, I'm talking about punting categories.

In head-to-head leagues, I think you're a fool not to consider ditching either saves or speed, since they are both categories where very few players accumulate a meaningful total, and many of those players don't contribute too much in the other categories. By trading away your closers or speedsters, you can build up your roster with hitters who contribute power and average, or starters who will give you wins, strikeouts and good ERA and WHIP, and still win your weekly matchup in eight or nine categories.

This strategy also can work in roto leagues, especially in formats that use six or more pitching and hitting categories. The more categories there are, the less sense it makes to commit your resources to rescuing the ones that function independently of the others.

However, a mistake many people make is believing that punting is only a viable option in saves and steals. Sure, they're the two easiest stats to dump early and then make up at the deadline, but the truth is, there are other categories that can be ignored if you're already in last and want to open up a world of trade possibilities.

Let's talk batting average. Once you're off to a wretched start in batting average, you can spend all year chasing it to no avail. Let's say your team is batting .235, with 129 hits after 833 at-bats this season, as is the case with a man we lovingly call "Lugie" in my AL league. Assuming his hitters amass about 7,000 at-bats this year, and he knows he'll need to bat .275 to be in the top half of the league standings in that category, that means he'll need 1,794 more hits this year in the next 6,167 at-bats. That's a .291 batting the rest of he way. In a monoleague like ours, that's almost impossible.

What's easier is targeting players who are generally frowned upon by their owners because they are a drag on batting average. Troy Glaus, who should return from the DL Saturday, is never going to keep his batting average over .300 like it is right now. His owner knows it too. But if that doesn't matter to you, he's 35 homers and 90 more RBIs waiting to happen. In the NL, Adam Dunn is the poster boy for the "B.A.H.A." (batting average haters anonymous) crowd. Lesser names who should fit the bill include Craig Biggio, whose average has dropped as his age his increased; Mike Cameron, who has always been a power-speed contributor with a wince-inducing .251 lifetime batting average; and Joe Crede, a man bent on proving that last year's .283 batting average was a fluke.

The equivalent on the pitching side would be strikeouts. Those tantalizing K's are the hallmark of dominating ace pitchers. But while chasing strikeouts, many owners either load up on mediocre starters, thereby ruining their ERA and WHIP, or they overpay for a hurler like Felix Hernandez, only to watch him go on the DL and threaten to "Liriano" his owners.

So if you're already at the bottom of the strikeout totem pole, why not load up on those reliable, yet decidedly unsexy starters who just win and keep men off base without getting the whiffs? In short, why not pick Mary Ann instead of Ginger?

Greg Maddux has fanned more than 150 batters in a season only one time since 2001. You know he'll be okay for ERA, his WHIP will be pristine and the Padres should give him the chance to match the 15 wins from last year. I'm not rushing to pay "no-hitter" prices for Mark Buehrle, but in this scenario, he's more than viable. Chien-Ming Wang isn't just the president of the "No Whiffs Club for Men," he's also a client. This strategy also opens up a world of high-inning middle-relievers to further pad your ERA and WHIP.

Ideally, you won't have to dump any categories and your team will be balanced. But if you are lagging behind in one of a few categories, think about making like the Raiders and punt. It might free you up to turn another man's junk into your bargain. After all, you can't sink any lower than last.

Pulling the Job

As mentioned above, I didn't spend a lot of time making offers this week. I also didn't answer a lot of e-mail right away, so my apologies to those of you who had to wait for a reply.

However, when I did get to my inbox, I noticed one name coming up over and over.

Carlos Zambrano.

If Kellogg's ever marketed a new cereal called "Buy L-O's," Zambrano would be on the box.

Since I have no thefts to report, here's a quick look at a few deals to give you an idea of what the market value is for the scuffling Cubs ace.

In a keeper league, reader Jeff Weber dealt Zambrano, Andy LaRoche and Nelson Cruz for Anthony Reyes, Adam Wainwright and Andrew Miller. Selling low on two guys will hurt him this year, but all three of the pitchers he got back could be full of creamy, fantasy goodness in the near future.

Reader Brian Rafferty went blockbuster, dealing away Rich Harden, Felix Hernandez, and Ian Kinsler for Zambrano and Chase Utley. If both of the pitchers dealt return healthy, he'll regret this one. But if either (or both) stays hurt, it's a steal assuming C-Zam builds on his strong start this past Monday.

Devious reader Anthony Scoma dealt Ted Lilly, whom he grabbed off the waiver wire, straight up for his teammate, Zambrano. Yes, Lilly is on pace to strike out 250 batters this year, but by that logic, I'm on pace to eat 730 hotdogs this year since I'm having two for dinner.

Lastly, Bryan Ho "pimped" his team by trading Mark Buehrle, fresh off his no-hitter, and Todd Jones, for Zambrano. I think that speaks for itself.

Here's hoping you all have a good weekend. I know mine will be an improvement.

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.