For the past two weeks, I have focused on bailing and will continue to do so into a third week. By now, you’ve likely seen the first couple bail trades and received notification from a couple other teams that they’re bailing, too. The problem right now is the teams that have ended their 2009 seasons have likely scooped up what was easily available and dealt enough to bloat the rosters of a couple other teams.

Despite the intentions of a couple more teams to bail, those competitive teams who didn’t luck out in round one of bail season have the same constraints (roster violations, cap problems, not as attractive cheap player) dealing with you, a third, fourth or fifth team to declare, as they did with the first movers. This leaves you sitting in lower half of the standings with no real chance to win it all but no chance to sink to the bottom for free agent priority.

This is an uncomfortable place to be as your team can’t take the free-for-all risks on players the last place teams do nor can you expect to catch-up to the roster-enhanced teams at the top. Likely, you have already lost out on Carlos Gonzalez in free agent priority and stood no chance of grabbing the newest Washington Nationals closer Mike MacDougal.

What is needed, though rarely advised, is a strategy that straddles the fence between competing in 2009 and setting-up for a run in 2010 and beyond. In real life, people understand that sitting on the fence of a two-sided battle leaves one open to crossfire from both sides. In fantasy baseball, that knowledge leads many to conclude and/or advise that fantasy players should either go all out (Flags fly forever!) or quit entirely on the current season.

These intuitively appealing conclusions are then buttressed by the math of expected payouts that provides the sheen of mathematical certainty. If you decide the likelihood of finishing in the money is already small, the chance of winning everything is zero. Multiplying that probability by the payouts for each money finish gives an expected payout.

An easier way to figure this, and the one I believe is more frequently employed, is a payback analysis. If the first place finish is 10 times the entry fee, then one needs win just once every 10 years to break even. Who isn’t confident they can win more frequently than that? So the decision to go for it all next season has been intuitively and mathematically justified.

The monkey wrench is there are considerably fewer teams who can accept your out-of-time players and/or expensive keepers. What do you do? Many force a bail deal and end-up making trades that marginally look better for themselves only to see a piece get hurt, lose their job or get traded to the other league before 2010 rolls around. This isn’t the best option.

A better decision is to toss out the all-or-nothing, flags-fly-forever advise and the expected outcomes/payback analysis and semi-punt the season. Yes, sit on the fence. The question is how to execute this fence-straddling decision.

First, the counting categories on offense are nearly impossible to semi-bail on because every team knows home runs, RBIs, wins, strikeouts and saves. The place to look are the ratios categories. These escape the simple math of “+1” involved the counting categories.

Why? Ratios are basically weighted averages, and these are not intuitively appealing but work very slyly to improve a team on both ends. A ratio category worsens with every hit or walked allowed and every at-bat without an accompanying hit. That provides three ways to improve: by adding players who are net gains, subtracting net losses and avoiding negative outcomes.

Typically, this is easiest to do by dumping hitting in favor of pitching. Given your unimpressive performance, you’re likely in the bottom half of the pitching ratios anyhow. Every team has good hitters and understands them much better as a result of ease of counting math. The difference between the bailing team’s hitters and the winning ones are just magnitude. The teams at the top have 10 or more contributing hitters and those near the bottom have 7 or less due to inexplicable ineffectiveness (David Ortiz), injury or lack of opportunity.

What you do is look to deal your hitters for the other guys pitchers. A three-or four-for-one trade that nets you Yovanni Gallardo sets-up a possible ratio run as time passes. Given the ubiquity of the harmless middle reliever, you also begin to shed your mediocre starting pitching when you can’t trade it to set-up a synergistic situation that has you adding a high inning great ratios starter and avoiding high innings mediocre-to-bad ratios SP.

Does this work? Do you believe a team can successfully straddle between bailing and competing? Have you done it, intentionally or not?

Jeremy Slivnick said...

My strategy for semi-bailing in a keeper league is to try to trade one super keeper for a couple lesser keepers that could produce for your team. Last year, instead of trying to trade Brian McCann (in a keeper league where just about every catcher is scooped up before the draft) for Hanley Ramirez and go for the win, I dished McCann for Pence and Chris B Young. Now, this is probably taking advantage of a bailer, but I still have the option to keep some pretty decent talent next year. Down the stretch run, both players contributed enough over the value of the players I had in before (and Shoppach performed serviceably enough as a replacement for McCann) that I ended up winning the league by a Chris Young run. I advocate the concept of bailing by acquiring players that can also be kept as opposed to trading for players that are unkeepable by your league’s standards. Then, if things don’t pan out, you have a fallback

Dave Gibson said...

I totally bailed on this year, but I have mixed feelings. Deep down I know it is the right thing to do. It is the 2nd year of a 5 year-14 team keeper league in which I won last year, but can’t get out of the basement despite having David Wright and Ryan Braun…I just traded away Werth, Sexei Alexei, and Corey “I’m blinded by my sunglasses” Hart, to get Grady Sizemore and Gordon Beckham. I figure I start next year with three legit first rounders. My pitching should be solid, too (you hear me Brandon Webb?!!)