Strategies for the Sprint to the Finish
Today is September 13th. Adults are back to work and students are back in the classroom. Everything has returned to the norm from the summer craziness and should settle for the next three months or so. In addition to everyday life, the same can be said of fantasy baseball — particularly rotisserie formats. Gone are the days of wild spikes and plunges in the standings, leaving one to never know where they would wake up the next morning. In fact, in a 10 or 12 team league it is quite conceivable that most teams are already out of the race. I am in a 12 team 6×6 mixed league roto (with custom statistics) and I have been in a two-horse race since the MLB trade deadline. Even the latest of trade deadlines have come and gone and perhaps most importantly, also gone are the constant and irritatingly repetitive reminders to put an asterisk beside most performances to serve as an indicator of small sample size. For those of you in a dogfight to the finish, what you see is essentially what you get. You know where you are in the standings and you have 20 days to climb to the top.
That being said, there are ways to ensure you have the best chance at overtaking a foe in the final week, or staving off those in pursuit if you are in first, or at least a money spot. Err, jellybeans. You know, because sports gambling is illegal and what not.
1. Know Your Needs
Roto baseball has been called a game where the objective is to sort beans into nice little piles and put as many beans in each pile as you can (not my words, I am paraphrasing an author whose name I have forgotten). The saying rings true because there are very few players that are capable of providing across the board help in all hitting or pitching categories. Such hitters are typically gone by the end of Round 2 in a 12-team mixed draft and said pitchers are usually gone by the end of Round 5 or 6, unless someone breaks their arm reaching. The point is, take a look at the detailed standing to see where you are in relation to other owners on all fronts. Figure out what you can improve on and where you are in danger of slipping. Focus on those areas first. Eight or ten wins back of your closest competitor? Don’t chase wins, the likelihood of making up the ground is slim and streaming may hurt your rate statistics. However, if you are only a few wins ahead or behind and have room to suffer in your rates, streaming starters may be an extremely helpful and season-saving option. Remember that if you are in a rate dogfight; mere points up on ERA, WHIP, or batting average; sometimes a full lineup can quickly turn from friend to foe.
2. Know Your Matchup(s)
This section is more about protecting rate statistics, as those races are often closer than counting categories. Make sure that you are fully aware of the games being played that day, the ballparks as well as the starting pitchers. One or two bad batting days against some aces, or a pitcher getting lit in a dicey game can be the difference between winning and losing your league. At this point, I will pretty much ditch anyone pitching at Coors and start anyone in large parks like Seattle or San Diego — except for the truly awful arms. If you’re chasing wins or saves without much of a rate cushion, this is great strategy.
From a hitting standpoint the opposite is true. I’m hitting everyone at Coors and maybe even benching stars playing in pitchers parks, for second-rate players in bandboxes if home runs and RBI are the needs. Like ERA and WHIP a batting slump by one player can pull down your batting average number enough that it costs you a point or two.
3. Keep Your Lineup Full
If you are trailing in counting stats, this one is a must. The only way players can accumulate counting stats is by being on the field. Counting stats have the advantage of only being able to trend in one direction. A team cannot lose home runs or RBI. These are discrete events that happened. Adjusting these results negatively would require time travel, the discovery of which would make you a very rich person. That said, if a lineup spot is empty, or a player occupying that slot does not play, the outcome is guaranteed to be thus: 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0 SB or zeroes in W, K, and SV. Obviously, you have some players that cannot be cut, either because they are undroppable (Trout, Pujols, etc.), or they are playing too well (B.J. Upton, Chase Headley and Anthony Rizzo come to mind here) but many lesser players are fungible, may not be picked up on waivers and off days may be the killer. If you have to cut a lesser player because of an off-day, do it. If someone is day-to-day, cut them. You need as many opportunities to accumulate counting stats as possible.
A cautionary tale on leaving a lineup spot open: It was the last day of the 2009 season (I believe it was that year) and my best friend went into the final day of the season down by a single point. Felix Hernandez was pitching for Seattle. He wanted counting stats, but feared a blow up would cost him in rates, so he made the agonizing decision to sit him. Felix threw a shutout. He finished one point back. Calculating after the season, it was found that he would have gained half a point for the win and a whole point for the ERA. He would have won, but an entire season came unraveled on one decision to sit an ace.
4. Be Mindful of Recent Performances
At this time of year the focus is on the now. For a non-keeper league the future is irrelevant, as your team dissolves at season’s end. The further into the past you venture, the less relevance this information has as well. The question is, how will the player perform over the next twenty days. Yahoo! offers numbers for the preceding 7, 14 and 30 days. Use them. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the large sample may very well contain a tremendous amount of irrelevant information. As a guide, here are the top 3 players in each category over the last 14 days with less than 50 percent ownership:
Average (min 50 AB for all offensive stats): John Mayberry, Jon Jay, Anthony Rizzo
Runs: Logan Forsythe, Chris Denorfia, Josh Donaldson
Home Runs: Josh Donaldson, George Kottaras, Brandon Moss
RBI: Norichika Aoki, Carlos Gomez, Donovan Solano
SB: Ben Revere, Carlos Gomez, Norichika Aoki
Wins: Jeremy Guthrie, Kyle Kendrick, Zach Britton
Saves: Luke Gregerson, Glen Perkins, Brandon League (ugly), Wilton Lopez
K: Marco Estrada, Zach Britton, Mike Minor
ERA (min 10 IP): Ricky Nolasco, Cole DeVries, Hector Santiago (watch the walks)
WHIP (min 10 IP): Ricky Nolasco, Miguel Gonzalez, Cole DeVries
The fantasy baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Six months of daily maintenance and devotion have come down to this final three weeks for a skilled and lucky few. To those of you in contention, congratulations. Now press on, knowing that to the victor goes the spoils. It is my sincere hope that this guide proves helpful to you.