Endgame aggression

Depending on how liberally one may choose to define the term, it can be said that we are either approaching or have already entered the “endgame” stage of the fantasy baseball season. This changes the value proposition of short term versus long term strategies, most notably for those chasing points. For those in daily transaction leagues trying to close points and category gaps, it’s time to get aggressive with your roster management.

There are two ways to overcome statistical deficits, generally speaking—quality and quantity. Our players have to either play better than others’ players, or we have to increase the amount of opportunities our teams have to produce so that even if we succeed at the same rate, such success translates into greater overall production. For most of the season, we concentrate on maximizing quality. We may spot start here and there, strategically, but we are generally trying to assemble the highest quality roster we can. We look at our benches primarily as insurance against injury that outclasses the options on the waiver wire and as a stockpile of talent for purposes of trade, and not as starter fill-ins on travel days. This is prudent during the first three quarters of the season, as it would be unwise to dump a player who is 15 percent better than replacement just to get a day’s worth of PAs from a player who is scheduled to play when yours is off.

As you reach the final lap, however, your strategy should shift, especially if you’re in shallow leagues. Your goal should be to maximize the number of chances your team has to earn stats. What I normally do is turn all my non-starter or closer pitcher slots and my bench bat slots to rotational. Depending on the disparity of quality between your weakest starting pitchers and bats and what’s available on the wire, you may choose to put those names on the block as well.

On Mondays and Thursdays, all those roster spots are held by hitters so I can field as full a line-up as possible on the travel days. It’s also worth considering holding an extra bat or two on Sundays if you’re dedicated enough to check line-ups before game time, as it seems players are most commonly rested on Sundays (probably because Sundays are most common for day games that follow night games). Of course, this works best when players have multi-position eligibility, as it’s hard to know for sure which players will be given any given Sunday off.

Throughout the rest of the week, I fill those roster spots with middle relievers. Middle relievers can be golden when implementing endgame strategies. Many accrue decisions at a much higher rate per-inning pitched than starters and the good ones are a great source of low ERA and WHIP, as well as above average strikeouts per inning pitched. The idea here is to maximize the number of pitchers on your daily roster who enter a game and therefore get a chance to vulture a win. There’s certainly skill to be leveraged when picking opportunities—when you look at how the Mariners are constructed, it’s not exactly surprising that Brandon League has accrued 14 decisions and four saves—but above all, you are playing a numbers game. The beautiful thing about this strategy is that it unlikely to hurt your rate stats. In fact, you are more likely to improve them than harm them as long as there are plenty of quality middle relievers on the wire.

Depending on the relative strength of your rate stats, counting stats and your innings pace, you may also choose to spot start more aggressively. In one of my leagues, one of the contending managers is somehow doing so while taking 1s in both ERA and WHIP, so he’s spot starting as much as the innings cap will allow him to, trying to rocket to the top of Ks and Ws because he feels he has nothing to lose. In that same league, another contending manager has massive leads in ERA, and a very strong WHIP, largely because of a considerable core of elite closers, but is lagging in Ws and Ks. Luckily for the rest of us, he isn’t particularly savvy when it comes to more advanced strategy because he too should be spot starting aggressively, but he’s not doing so. (His is the only team with significant and sustainable low hanging fruit to gain from a mere strategic shift; the other owner spot starting aggressively can only do so much because he doesn’t have enough innings banked to make the strategy sustainable for long.)

In short and sweet summary, at this point in the season it’s worth releasing a bit of value over replacement for added opportunities to produce. By managing aggressively and intently over the last month or so of the season, you could amass a few dozen more at bats than your competitors and added opportunities for pitcher wins. It just takes a bit more discipline on your part to commit the time to dropping and adding regularly.

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Comments

  1. Jonathan Sher said...

    Hi Derek -

    Excellent advice, some of which I have been learning and implementing on the fly in my first shallower draft league. I started churning starting pitchers mid-season, snatched up a closer or two as end-game responsibilities shifted hands.

    I hadn’t thought of using middle relievers but your advice is sound—this is the first league in which I had an innings cap (roto leagues traditionally have an inning floor, not ceiling) and top-flight middle relievers make a lot of sense in that context.

    The only other consideration I have had is this: It’s just as important to make roster moves with an eye towards your rivals’ rosters as your own.

    Here’s a tangible example: I’m in first place in my 14-team mixed league, hovering about 120 points out of a maximum 140, and there is only one other team within 25 points—my second-place rival has been around 105 to 110. He and I are neck-in-neck in wins and WHIP, a potential four-point swing. He built his pitching staff on closers, is far in front in saves, but only has five staring pitchers, of whom two have been struggling in the past month with WHIP, Tim Lincecum and Carl Pavano. I have 7 starting pitchers and with a 1,250 innings cap, I have been spot starting quite a few of them, and arguably could stand to cut one and pick up a hitter to squeeze in more at-bats. But if I cut one, my rival will gobble him up. By not making the cut I am forcing my rival to either bench Lincecum and Pavano at the expense of wins or start them at the expense of WHIP; he’s doing a bit of both and I am maintaining a narrow lead.

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