Approaching endgame

At the All Star break, I wrote a column ensuring readers that it was too early to give up on rate stats. After all, halfway through the season, all you need to do to counteract a poor first half is to be as good as you previously were bad over the same duration of time.

Well, that was then, and this is now.

This week marks the two-thirds point of the season. If you haven’t made traction in the rate categories in the 27 games between midway and two-thirds, the window of opportunity to do so is far more closed than it is open.

At the midway point of the season, if your team was pitching to a 3.70 ERA, but you were targeting a 3.60 mark to contend, all you would have had to do was to pitch to a 3.50 mark the rest of the way in order to outperform equally as well as you underperformed. However, a mere four weeks or so later, the relative weight of your established rates—as compared to the remaining opportunity to counteract it—is already quite imbalanced. Now, you’d have to pitch to a 3.40 mark; outperform your target by twice what you’ve underperformed thus far to achieve that same .10 reduction in your stats.

Your individual situation should dictate whether you should continue to chase better rates. But, be advised, you should remain reasonable when considering the scope of possible gains.

While we’re here, it’s worth mentioning that, although your current stats are anchored by prior performance, your likelihood for drastic loss of ground may be greater than the likelihood of drastic gain of ground. This is due simply to margin of error, or range of possible outcome, which skews toward the underperformance side. Last night, for example, I watched Jason Isringhausen detonate what would have otherwise been a wonderful pitching day for me in my main league. I got two great rate stat outings from Zack Greinke and Jhoulys Chacin (even though his bullpen blew his win), but Isringhausen’s surrendering of a grand slam to Mike Stanton in his only inning pitched ballooned my staff’s ERA above 4.00 for the whole night.

The range of possible outcomes just goes much further on the “Oh No” side than it does on the “Cha-Ching” side. Even a perfect game wouldn’t cancel out accruing Zack Britton’s outing against the Yankees in the ERA column, so the express train to the landfill is always more accessible than the Concorde to Paris It’s this same margin for error idea that made it impossible for Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson to have beaten Pedro Martinez’s 2000 season ERA+.

In some cases, it may be advisable to keep fighting the uphill battle, and in others it may be wise to stop worrying about the rate stats, move away from considering what you could possibly achieve if everything went right, and concentrate on achieving the moderate gains you can truly encourage by consolidating assets. It is said that being broke can be liberating in certain ways (and for limited intervals), and the same can be said for being Batting Average or WHIP destitute.

Perhaps, there are actually more points to be gained by shamelessly chasing wins, strikeouts, or home runs than there are in trying to rebound sunken rates. Regardless of the scenario, in most cases, it is inadvisable to hold off on such a decision any further. Be aware that if you are going to attempt to rescue bottomed-out rate stats at this point in the season, adding one elite player probably won’t do the trick. Most likely, you need to develop a plan for restructuring a substantial amount of your roster, a plan that includes major overhauls and complimentary tweaks.

In my main league, I’m actually in the process of doing the inadvisable and sort of fence-sitting at the moment. But what I am doing is beginning to put pieces in place for a restructuring—the ones that don’t actually hurt much—so that if I do decide to flick the switch, I won’t be Lucille Ball grabbing chocolates off the conveyor belt and stuffing them in her bra.

I’m currently bringing up the rear in ERA, lower-mid pack in WHIP and about eight points out of third place, the last spot that returns real money. Fourth returns about half my entrance fee and I’m jockeying with another team each day for that position. I’ve had some interesting trade propositions that ask me to give up some of my best assets to improve right now. This is an interesting dynamic, given that I know how difficult it would be to get back into the ERA race.

I’ve determined that it is not worth it for me to give up major value to moderately improve my chances at the small fourth place prize, even though the team with which I’m jockeying would be the first I’d pass in ERA. The prize just isn’t big enough and there is about a 50/50 chance I beat that team out anyway. I have one deal in the works that will get me David Price without giving up much offense, which I’ve determined is a low risk move. However, adding David Price to my staff, even if I drop my worst pitcher to do so, isn’t enough to get me back into the rate stats categories. The only way I’ll be able to lower my ERA the .15 – .2 points I need to flirt with mid-pack, and therefore third place, is to radically restructure my team. I’d have to trade for one of five or so pitchers, as well as integrate some elite middle relievers into my rotation (right now they’re squeezed out by a host of scrap heap low tier closers). Both Jered Weaver and Cliff Lee are obtainable, but I’d have to give up core keepers to get them, and I remain unconvinced doing so is the right move—at this moment, that is.

I still have about two weeks until my trading deadline, so I’ve been preparing. I’ve added Koji Uehara, and I’ll trade for David Price. These are pieces that might help me a bit and are the complementary pieces to a larger move, should I choose to make one.

In addition to any strategic planning, I know I’ll also need luck. So, I’m liberating myself in the short term and putting myself in a position to benefit from a radical move in the mid-term. For the next 10 days, I’m going to operate with a nothing to lose ERA mentality; I’ll pitch all my pitchers in tough match-ups, chase wins, and even spot start if I see a match-up I like. If I happen to benefit from some favorable outcomes, or get gifted some slippage by the third place team or the teams directly in front of me in ERA, then I’ll go all in with a radical endgame strategy, giving up some of my best blue chips to ride the wave. But, if it all goes south, I’ll live to fight another battle next season, and possibly pull out a few bucks anyway.

Now, you may criticize my strategy. If you were claim that I’m setting myself up for a too little, too late scenario, and that I’m failing to act decisively and boldly, those might be fair assessments—only time will tell. I am, in fact, somewhat known for these kinds of moves. I came within 1.5 points of winning the league last year, after declaring that I was rebuilding with about 60 games left in the season, but then benefiting from some luck, swinging a bunch of deals and attacking some pressure points in the standings.

In my regular NBA fantasy league, I traded for Lebron James, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, and Andre Iguodola all within a week of the trade deadline because I decided that I’d win the league if I won assists. I did win, but didn’t overtake first place until game 79 of the NBA season. The previous NBA season, I did something similar and lost the league by two points, in the midst of a tremendous surge, having waited one week too long to make my moves.

But, as is nearly always the seminal point here, the idea is to have a plan. I’ve thought about what I need to get where I want to go, honestly assessed what would be needed to get there and determined the costs I’m willing or unwilling to pay to for different increments of improved odds of success.

Winning a fantasy baseball league is like solving a complex equation with many variables, so at this stage—or really any stage—shaking things up or changing course with a real plan an unacceptable strategy. You may choose to act boldly, or you may choose to tip toe around while you get your ducks in a row, but whatever you do, you must act with purpose.

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