In my last article, I talked a little bit about end of season strategies. That article focused mostly on maximizing innings in standard Yahoo rotisserie leagues, where the cap is set at 1250. Obviously, not all leagues are created equal, and while this is true and the math may change, the underlying concept remains intact.
A fellow THT Fantasy writer, Derek Ambrosino, posted some good points regarding spot-starting in the comments section of that article. Unfortunately, my computer decided to stop working the next day, so I wasn’t able to comment or reply. After reading that post by Derek though, I realized that my article was a bit incomplete, so I’ve decided to use this as an opportunity to not only elaborate on that article, but to add to some of the points Derek raised. Some of my thoughts may conflict with his, but this article shouldn’t be viewed as a rebuttal or argument by any means. Rather, it should be taken as a discussion to further promote thoughts and ideas within fantasy baseball, and I hope you guys add your $0.02 in the comments section.
One of the strategies I love to use throughout the season is right in line with the last point Derek made regarding the use of top-tier relievers (not necessarily closers). This is a strong piece of advice and a sound strategy, and I get the impression that not all owners employ it. Guys like Michael Wuertz (6 wins and 84 strikeouts in 64.1 innings), Ryan Madson (5 wins and 64 strikeouts in 64 innings) and Hideki Okajima (5 wins and 49 strikeouts in 53.2 innings) will not only help accumulate strikeouts, but will pick up occasional wins (and saves), all while not destroying your ERA and WHIP. In other words, these types of relievers help eat-up innings in an efficient way. So if you find that you have some time between spot-starts, considering adding a high-end reliever to fill some of that dead time.
As I mentioned in my previous entry, I tend to be behind in my innings count mostly because I tend to focus on hitting in the first few months of the season. My drafts tend to be hitting heavy, and I have absolutely no problem exchanging pitching for hitting. A reason for this is because, as Derek mentions, pitchers will pitch every fifth day and hitters will hit every day. But another reason why I think it’s often easier for owners to trade pitching for hitting is the idea that quality pitching is more abundant and easier to find than quality hitting.
(This is also the driving force behind hitting heavy drafts or early draft rounds being hitting heavy. And I won’t talk about that here, because then we’d have to start talking about devising a value system that balances pitching and hitting properly according to league settings.)
So if we run with that idea, that pitching is generally easier to find, then it seems that the focus for most of the season should be on hitting.
Admittedly, I’ve never experimented with spot-starting throughout an entire season. The majority of my spot-starts occur towards the end, when I want to ensure that I will reach the maximum number of innings pitched allowed by the league. Derek does bring up a good point, in that by spot-starting early on, the chances of finding a Cliff Lee or Jarrod Washburn increases. I’m just not sure if this type of discovery is a direct result of spot-starting or if it is more a matter of simply being attentive to the occurrences in the major leagues and being active in your fantasy league.
The reason I say this is because when I decide to add or start a pitcher early on in the season, it’s because I deem the expectation of success to be relatively high. And in order for that expectation to be high, that pitcher needs to have a certain minimum set of tools or skills. And how do we usually assess skill level? We usually use history to help predict future performances, right?
So while there might not be a single league where Jarrod Washburn is available at this point in the season, it seems just as likely that there wasn’t a single league in which a team spot-started Washburn against the Twins in his first game or against the Angels in his second game. Likewise, I can’t imagine anyone even considered spot-starting Cliff Lee in either of his first few starts last season either. Washburn, like Lee, wasn’t expected to pitch as well as he has this year, but that expectation has since changed as we now have a little more history to work with. And if we did add Washburn (or Lee last year), it was most likely because we noticed the string of quality starts he had already put together and, then from that point on, we decided that he was good enough to warrant a roster spot.
One last thing I’d like to add is that while the pool of available pitchers may be stronger earlier, that doesn’t necessarily mean that quality pitchers can’t be found on the wire in the latter portion of the season. This will depend on the format and quality of a league, but I’ve found that in many leagues, the teams at the bottom will eventually give up, where the number of transactions will decrease as those teams begin to realize that they are no longer in contention for a finish near the top. This obviously increases the likelihood that you will be able to add and drop as you please. Also, owners may become impatient with players who haven’t performed up to par without realizing that those bad performances could mostly be attributed to bad luck. Generally speaking though, I think Derek is right in that the pool is more plentiful at the start of the season. But whatever the situation may be, the aforementioned situations can and do arise, and and quality pitching can usually be found at any point in the season.
As Derek mentioned, many of the real-life teams juggle their lineups towards the end of the season. While this may slightly decrease the overall chances of accumulating wins, I think there are cases where it can help as well. These lineup shuffles also include minor-league call-ups of prospects that may be competing for a spot in the rotation for the following year. Now, I don’t know if there is any statistical evidence that supports this, but there is at least the idea that it takes some time for hitters to adjust to pitchers they are seeing for the first time (probably a fallacious cliche?). This could be used to your benefit, but I’d imagine there’s quite a bit of variance and risk involved with spot-starting late season call-ups. Obviously, the prospect has to have some potential to begin with, but this strategy may have some merit. And again, remember that at the end of the season, a fantasy team has already accumulated a good number of innings, so a poor start shouldn’t have as much of an impact on the rate categories. So opening up or widening the criteria for starting might not be a bad idea.
For example, I might now be OK with the idea of adding Jorge De La Rosa even for a spot-start at Coors Field. The number of potential strikeouts might now outweigh his 4.93 ERA at home. (And I compared this idea to tournament poker in my first article, and the idea is that at various points of a tournament, a player might sacrifice some long-term value or positive expected value for a greater immediate benefit, like knocking a player out of the tournament to move up the money ladder or to increase the chances of winning the tournament. This idea applies here.)
What are your thoughts on the strategy and timing of spot-starts?