Roy Oswalt trade rumors are swirling about, and while I agree that the statistical fate of the Houston Astros starting pitcher can only improve with a trade to a contender, I think fantasy baseball owners might be overrating the situation just a bit.
For one, it's hardly a guarantee Oswalt gets moved, not with the financial commitments on his contract and what figures to be a hefty asking price from the Astros in return. Fantasy owners should never try to acquire a player -- especially a pitcher -- on the premise a real-life trade will so positively affect his statistics that it alters his value. Often that trade never comes. However, I feel like people are viewing Oswalt as a CC Sabathia- or Cliff Lee-type of top pitcher who puts up spectacular numbers following a trade. Now that I don't quite see.
Yes, Oswalt's 2-6 record has obviously been affected by the team's serious lack of offensive run support. Of the 127 pitchers with 40 or more innings pitched entering Tuesday, Oswalt ranks dead last in run support, getting just 2.66 runs per game. Second-worst in the category is Charlie Morton of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he's getting 3.27 runs per start. Third-worst is David Huff of the Cleveland Indians at more than a run per game above Oswalt (3.75 runs). That's a huge difference. Oswalt and pretty much every Astros starter is going to have to be really good to win games. While one would assume that changes on a contending team, I would point out that not all contenders score a lot of runs (San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Washington Nationals).
I'm not really seeing the other factors that figure to aid Oswalt in a trade. If he continues to pitch as well as he has this season -- he ranks 10th in the NL in ERA (2.66), eighth in WHIP (1.07) and sixth in strikeouts (60) -- the case could be made he has returned to "ace-hood," but this is also a pitcher who comes with considerable risk. A season ago, Oswalt won only eight of 30 starts, with an ERA of 4.12. Before you blame run support, note that of 58 pitchers who hurled 180 or more innings, Oswalt ranked 14th in run support, which meant he did have the backing of his offense.
The perceived change in value from leaving the so-called "Minute Maid bandbox" also doesn't seem like a valid argument to me. For one, colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft ranked Houston's stadium 13th-most favorable to hitters, hardly a hitters' park. And Oswalt really has not been hurt by his home park. In 2009, he posted the same ERA in home and away games (4.12) but had a far greater K rate at home. In 2008, when he won 17 games, Oswalt was 10-3 at home, 7-7 on the road, with again a far better K rate at home (8.4 versus 5.8). And in 2007, his home ERA was 1.91; away from home, it was 4.77. I say we debunk the ballpark theory helping a transient Oswalt.
What weighs the heaviest on me, however, is that fantasy owners had seemingly no interest in drafting Oswalt as a top-20 starting pitcher in the spring, probably because of his underwhelming 2009 and the 32-year-old having back problems. Oswalt has had a bulging disk since 2007. He not only dealt with recurring back woes last season, but after his final spring start this year he needed an injection for pain. Oswalt was the No. 41 ranked starting pitcher in ESPN live draft results, which tells me a whole lotta people had reservations. Now, after nine starts and a potential trade out of Houston, we're confident in him being an ace again?
I would trade for Oswalt if I could get him in the level of a No. 3 fantasy starter pitcher, which isn't likely to happen given his numbers. In Cockcroft's latest starting pitcher rankings, he ranked Oswalt 22nd, up a few spots from the week before, but still outside the top 20. I think that's about right. I'd deal for that Oswalt and hope he stays healthy and productive. But those believing a trade to the New York Yankees would alter his value into the stratosphere are not thinking rationally.