Some people would like you to believe that being a stats geek is a baseball fan’s sin and, further, that being a fantasy nerd is to be the worst kind of stats geek. For fantasy baseball by its very nature holds the tack-on three-run homer by the unclutch in a blowout in profoundly higher esteem than the perfectly placed bunt that sparks the manufacture of the go-ahead run in a pitchers’ duel. There’s no stat to measure heart or hustle, they say.
My standard response to this rote argument is that all stats measure heart and hustle. If you run every ball out, never give at-bats away, and generally “play the game the right way,” you are more productive, and that added performance is reflected in your stats. But twice in the past few days, I thought about the concept of hustling as a fantasy baseball manager in a more literal way than ever before.
After a hellish week at work and a very busy weekend that included traveling to see our hapless Mets on the road, my wife and I returned home early Sunday afternoon and saw fit to plop down on the couch and watch some (more) baseball.
As the Pirates and Cardinals game progressed, we remained captivated. At the end of a 19-inning marathon, I was left with a win from Wandy Rodriguez sitting on my bench in a high-stakes league in which my team had taken a $500 dollar swing for the worse in the standings the previous evening. In years past, I’ve seen a single win be the difference of a $1,000 or more in that league’s final standings.
Monday evening, it was the Braves and the Nationals that almost gave way to an opportunity for Kris Medlen, who was on my bench (in a different league) to earn an improbable win, as he had commenced warming up and would have likely entered the game had it lasted another inning.
The Rodriguez incident truly was almost unavoidable. Every one of my pitcher slots that day was occupied by either a pitching starting that day or a reliever, so it really would have been foolhardy to insert another starter in any of those spots instead. However, on Monday evening, I had an open starting spot on my pitching roster, as I had no slated starters and some players in my lineup were off.
Let’s say that on Sunday I had no pitcher going that day but had a pitcher who started the night before. I certainly can’t guarantee that I would have had the attention to detail to replace him for Rodriguez the next day because there was an infinitesimal higher chance for Rodriguez to get into a game than the pitcher who pitched the night before.
But those types of moves can be considered the ultimate “hustle plays.” They’re the catcher running down to first base to back up a throw on an infield grounder, the batter busting it out of the box on a routine pop-up because once in every great while a major leaguer misses one, and if he does, it can be a triple instead of a single if you hustle. The greatest aspect of the famous Derek Jeter flip play against Oakland was that he had the vision and discipline that put him in a position to make that play.
We are in the stretch run of the fantasy season. And every year leagues are decided by a single win, a pair of RBI, etc. It is now important for all teams in contention to hustle. You out-drafted, out-maneuvered, outsmarted, or out-lucked the majority of the teams in your league; now out-work the remaining contenders and eke out those last few stats on the margins.
Here are a few reminders to help keep your collar blue throughout the last half dozen or so weeks of the season.
- If you have offensive players on your bench, check your starting lineup within the hour before most games start so you can plug in a bench player for a starter who is getting a day off.
- Pay attention to handedness splits and quality of opposing pitcher for the marginal players in your starting lineup and try to play the best lineup for that day, not the lineup with the best overall stats.
- Don’t leave empty spots in your starting roster. If there’s room for a non-scheduled starter in your active lineup, put him in there. You never know what can happen.
- The position that gets the most did-not-plays for pure rest purposes is catcher. If you are in a shallow league with productive catchers on the waiver wire, consider picking up a second catcher to help minimize the at-bats you lose from that lineup slot.
- If you are spot starting and don’t like any options for the next day, pick up a reliever and put him in there. Any pitcher with the chance of getting into a game has a chance of helping your team (or hurting it).
- Pay attention to the weather. Don’t let yourself start a player whose game is rained out when you have a player on your bench getting five plate appearances.
- Play defense on the wire, if needed. Have roster flexibility and are dealing with an opponent who is streaming pitchers? Pick up the best options daily before he can; you’re under no obligation to actually start them if you don’t want to.
- Look to maximize the possibility of a waiver wire pickup for a day stealing a base. Find players with decent speed who are playing pitchers and catchers notorious for having difficulty controlling the running game. You can considerably increase your chances of picking up a waiver wire steal if you’re methodical about it.
I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to bring your lunch pail to fantasy baseball. Feel free to share any of your tried-and true-techniques below in the comment section, which we’ll consider our union meeting for this week.