John Axford & Brandon League: Buy Low Candidates

Allow me to make an assumption. If you’re reading the roto-blog at FanGraphs you’re likely smarter than your league mates. We tend to attract a different kind of cat over here. You’re more rational. You have a deeper understanding of what makes baseball tick, and you use that information to outwit your lesser prepared league mates. That being said, you’re all aware of how fickle saves can be. If a closer has a few rough outings in a row, or a less than stellar ERA, people tend to freak out. Again, not you guys, those other people. Paying for saves on draft day tends to be a fruitless endeavor, but there’s no reason you can’t hoodwink an owner in May whose panicking over small sample sizes.

Of all the relievers with 10 or more saves John Axford and Brandon League have the highest ERAs, but their underlying statistics have been quite good. Let’s take a look at why each is a good buy low candidate.

John Axford

The mustachioed wonder has been unlucky this season – his .373 BABiP is seventh highest among all qualified relievers while his 67.6 LOB% is 22nd lowest. That has lead to a 4.22 ERA thus far. Compare that with his 2010 numbers of .308 and 77.3% and you can see why he’s having ERA trouble. The truth of the matter is that all of Axford’s important peripheral numbers are very similar to last season. He’s striking batters out at nearly the same pace – a fantastic 11.39 K/9 – walking a bit less, and has kept his FIP down to a sparkling 2.11. If you take out his first outing of the season, in which he allowed four earned runs and his only homer of the year, his ERA drops to a much nicer 2.75. Axford is showing his rookie season was no fluke and I’m betting you can pry him away fairly cheaply from a mustache-hating owner near you.

Brandon League

Like Axford, League is also suffering from the BABiP and LOB% blues. He went through 12 of his first 14 appearances without allowing an earned run, but ran into trouble in a four game stretch from 5/8 through 5-13. In those four games he allowed 10 earned runs on 12 hits, blowing three straight saves in the process and getting a loss in another. David Aardsma is still out indefinitely and may not pitch this season after hip surgery, and a recent elbow sprain, so it looks like the job is still League’s. Despite his horrendous ERA, his FIP is a low 3.18. Over that four game stretch he allowed just one home run, it just looks like everything that was struck fell for a hit. He’s never had big strikeout numbers so he won’t help you there, but the Mariners are involved in a lot of close games thanks to their excellent pitching and horrible offense. That means League should get his share of save opportunities, and will likely resemble the pitcher who posses the 3.18 FIP than the 6.50 ERA. He’s owned in just 60% of Yahoo! leagues. He’s worth the low price he will cost you.

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Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.

10 Responses to “John Axford & Brandon League: Buy Low Candidates”

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  1. bartleby says:

    You can’t buy low on Axford, not in any league with legit competition. He’s converted 12-of-13 since opening day, and he’s got 16 Ks against two walks this month. Even if we go on your assumption – those hanging here are smarter than those not hanging here – the average fantasy owner still grasps the game on some level. He knows, at minimum, Axford is getting saves, and he probably knows K/BB rate is important.

    Shaped a different way: If you can buy low on Axford, congrats. You’ll win your league easily. You’re playing with morons.

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  2. descender says:

    Allow me to make an assumption. If you’re writing for the roto-blog at FanGraphs you’re likely smarter than your commenters. What league are you in where Axford and BLeague haven’t been owned since the first week of the season?

    Can I join?

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    • bartleby says:

      He’s saying trade for them, not pick them up, D.

      I think you can buy League low, though it was a lot lower a week ago.

      Axford, I don’t see it. Even the most neophyte owner is going to see his value, and his one awful outing was in March for crying out loud.

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      • mcbrown says:

        Maybe it’s because my league is made up of finance guys, but there is no chance of picking people off on a “buy low” trade… they may not understand or care about advanced stats, but they all know “buy low/sell high”, and they are highly suspicious of all inquiries of this form.

        I find the more clever thing to do is to sell your own players “low” when their poor performance is deserved and has a poor chance of turning around. People are much more generous when they think they are picking YOU off. :)

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  3. Pat says:

    I bought low on Axford in both of my leagues by drafting him as my top closer, nice to see him looking much better lately. Oddly enough, I couldn’t choose between he and Broxton and by the first week, I was regretting my decision, but Axford really has no competition and I figured they would get a ton of save opportunities.

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  4. fu says:

    LOL at buying Axford low. No matter his peripherals he is probably the top save guy on the team. League is obv owned in any legit leagues.

    Also, if you write an article like this you have to establish what is a fair trade for these guys and what would be over and underpaying. Completely worthless without establishing the market.

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  5. Matt C says:

    I can understand being able to buy low on League since he did blow a bunch of saves but I think you’ll be hard pressed to buy low on Axford since he’s 12-13 despite a higher ERA. I think most owners don’t pay that much attention to closer’s ERA(assuming it’s not absolutely terrible) as long as they are getting and converting saves.

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    • HRB says:

      Yeah, I have Cordero and he regularly drives me banannas with his WHIP, but all I count on a closer for is saves. You wouldn’t get me to sell low on any closer that is regularly converting saves even if his ERA and WHIP were slightly ugly.

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  6. srriley84 says:

    Yea, I agree with the above posters.

    The Axford window closed a while ago.

    The League window is shutting as we speak. The best time to buy League would have been after his consecutive blown saves.

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