Now’s about the time of the year when, if you stand on your tippy-toes and squint into the distance, you may see a distant competitor running far ahead of you in saves (or home runs or wins). You’re sitting in last place, or close to it, in a particular category, and you’re thinking about dumping it (I’ll keep referring to saves here, but feel free to replace with your chosen stat). Life would be so much easier if you only had to care about nine categories instead of 10. You could stop trolling the waiver wire for distant princes who are waiting to be promoted to kings of their bullpens after their betters lose their heads. You could trade Mike MacDougal and plug that gap in your outfield that has been leaving you with a itch at night because it mars what would otherwise be a flawless set of batters.
Should you dump that category and free your mind? There are several things to consider first. However, it bears writing right now: this isn’t about playing for next year. This is about playing for this year, and I’m assuming that you didn’t start the season using a strategy which neglected the stat. This also mostly concerns rotisserie leagues. Points leagues and head-to-head leagues involve different kinds of calculations (it doesn’t really even make sense to talk about “dropping a category” in points leagues—points are points)
How far behind are you?
Obviously, the further behind you are in the stat, the harder it will be to catch up. I’ve left the question intentionally vague though: perhaps one or two competitors are not that far ahead of you, but the pack (the peloton if you’re riding a bike) is further.
Why are you in last place?
Did you place your hopes on Kerry Wood and have been a victim of bad luck? Has the injury bug bitten you and your Joakim Soria? Are you stuck with some lemons like B.J. Ryan? Much as in running long distances, it is tempting to feel yourself slowly falling behind more and more (note that this is a statement about your velocity, the rate at which you acquiring saves, and not about how far back you are), and give up hope of ever catching up.
With way more than a half season left to play, though, there’s a lot of time for luck to turn. Now, just because you’ve had bad luck, it doesn’t mean you’re due for good luck. So if you have some Wood-ies or Sorias on your team, you should just count on them returning to their expected rate, perhaps 1.5 saves per week or so (on the high end). Is this enough to bring you back into the pack or perhaps catch a few stragglers? The key here is to figure out whether you have the pieces on your team already. In other words, do you have Soria or do you have Ryan?
Are there other teams with spare parts or needs?
If you decide to dump saves but you have a reliever or two of some value, is there a team (or, much better, several teams) that needs saves? Does that team have a player that can help you in some other category that you think you could get in a trade? Clearly it would be better to sell your unwanted items on Ebay rather than simply put them in the trash for anyone to find for free.
On the other hand, while you are deciding whether to dump saves, you should also see if there’s a team that would be willing to give you saves for one of your spare parts (or someone that you could afford to trade). Maybe another team just got Soria back from injury but already has enough closers or maybe another team is also thinking of dumping saves.
How are you doing in other categories?
Say, for example, you are leading in all the other categories but are last in saves. The only possible gain from dumping saves would then be to increase your lead in some of these other categories. But there are no rotisserie points to be had. Dumping saves in this instance isn’t particularly helpful.
Obviously the flip side is if you’re in the pack in, say, wins and a few extra could land you many points.
How will dumping saves affect your other categories? Will you be trading a reliever who helps (Jonathan Broxton) or hurts your ERA (Matt Capps)? The collateral damage from dropping home runs on your RBI and runs stats would probably be huge. But dumping wins, if done carefully, might help you with strikeouts, ERA and WHIP.
What category is it?
I haven’t much differentiated between categories yet, but there is a difference when it comes to dumping (besides knock-on effects). If you’re dumping saves and you get rid of all your relievers, you are not going to get any more saves for the rest of the season. So if you are in last place now, in last place you shall stay.
When it comes to dumping, say, batting average, things are slightly different: there’s passive dumping and active dumping. Passive dumping means that you stop actively trying to catch up in the category. You’re a bit or more behind in batting average but you decide not to trade for Kevin Youkilis in order to catch up. Active dumping means trading away a Kevin Youkilis in exchange for an Adam Dunn or Jay Bruce, explicitly eating the lower average in exchange for better power production.
For saves, passive dumping doesn’t make much sense. If you’re way behind and it isn’t due to bad luck, then you aren’t likely to catch up by playing your same, poor relievers. However, with the average stats, passive dumping and active dumping may each have their own logic. If you’re sitting at .265 on the season, passive dumping probably means staying about there, whereas active dumping might mean going down to .250. If you’re at .265, other teams might pass you on their way down, but that’s a lot less likely if you’ve already fallen to .250. Unlike saves (sort of), standing still can sometimes mean moving up.