FOX Sports Expert League recap and strategy discussion (Part 2)

You can read Part 1 here, so let’s jump right into Part 2.

Early aggression

In the opening weeks of the season, many fantasy owners are afraid to make trades. They want to see a few weeks of player performance before they feel confident in making judgments that could impact their championship hopes. I hold the complete opposite opinion for reasons I’ve glanced over in the past and will discuss in more detail at a later date. Even if the rest of your league thinks that the first few weeks are meant to be calm and quiet and you can’t work out out any trades, these weeks should still usually be your most active.

While it is absolutely imperative not to be seduced by small sample sizes, it is perfectly acceptable (encouraged, from my standpoint) to be very aggressive working the waiver wire early in the season. If a player is flashing legitimate skills, it is absolutely worth it to stash him at the back end of your bench and wait to see how he is doing once we reach a reasonable sample size. If, however, you wait until that point to pick players up, all the ones who can now be considered legit are long gone.

Early in the season, you want to act quickly and ask questions later. If a guy with good skills in the first two weeks regresses in the following two, drop him for another small sample, high skill guy. Don’t be afraid to let your bench serve as an ever-moving carousel with lots of adds and drops. Make sure there’s some logical basis behind the adds and drops, but aggression is a good thing.

There will always be players who come out of nowhere to have legitimately great seasons. If you can acquire one or two of those players for nothing, you gain a huge advantage. The huge rewards far outweigh the small sample size risks and the value of a bench spot, especially in deeper leagues.

So, how did I do?

Here were all of my pickups from April through the middle of May:
April 2: Mark Lowe
April 8: Scot Shields
April 12: Dustin Pedroia
April 13: Jeff Niemann
April 23: Scot Shields
April 24: Brian Fuentes
April 27: Max Scherzer
May 6: Christian Guzman
May 10: Ryan Franklin
May 14: Jose Guillen

As you can see, I was very active looking for saves, as per that portion of my strategy. I discovered early that I was capable of beating everyone to the wire for closers, which was important to know when deciding which strategies to pursue later on. I didn’t get much out of Lowe or Shields, but I ended up with two very valuable closers in Brian Fuentes and Ryan Franklin. Added to Soria, Gregg, and Betancourt (Joe Borowski was falling apart), I felt very confident that I achieved my goals of competing in saves at a very low cost.

I did, however, miss out on many opportunities. Here are some of the guys who had significant value this year who were plucked off the wire:

March 25: Justin Duchscherer
March 30: Edinson Volquez
April 9: John Danks
April 9: Ervin Santana
April 9: Aubrey Huff
April 11: Todd Wellemeyer
April 11: Joe Saunders
April 13: Carlos Quentin
April 18: Cliff Lee
April 18: Jon Rauch
April 23: Jair Jurrjens
April 23: Ryan Ludwick
April 27: Jonathan Sanchez
April 30: Milton Bradley
May 7: John Danks (again)
May 7: Gavin Floyd
May 12: Ryan Ludwick (again)
May 12: Aubrey Huff (again)
May 12: Jay Bruce
May 18: Jon Lester

Obviously, some of the guys I really had no shot at. Some were taken before the season even started, others after just one week (equivalent to one start for pitchers). Still others, like Quentin, Lee, Ludwick, and Bradley, I really missed the boat on. Of course, I cherry-picked the pickups that worked out. For every one of these, there were probably three or four pickups made that didn’t hold much value or busted entirely.

Again, though, this is a low risk, high reward strategy. While I could have done better, I did manage to get Pedroia and Guzman (in addition to picking back up Guillen, who I really liked but who was temporarily expendable because he got off to such a cold start). Those two really helped given Troy Tulowitzki‘s meltdown, Ty Wigginton‘s poor first half, and Freddy Sanchez being, well, not good (not that I really expected him to be; that’s just how the draft played out).

I made a couple of young, upside pitcher pickups in Scherzer and Niemann, but neither really worked out. Should have gone for Lee and Danks.

As a side note, I picked up Scherzer with the intent to trade him, and failing to actually do so was a mistake I need to be careful not to repeat in the future. Several owners told me they weren’t buying into the Scherzer hype, making him hard to move for the value I was hoping for, but getting something would have been better than eventually dropping him.

Midseason

Midseason was about looking for trades (I did this in the early portion of the season too, of course) and scanning the free agent wire for potential gems. I made tons of trade offers, and I don’t know how many KFFL’s Nicholas Minnix or RotoWire’s Derek VanRiper said no to (sorry for the pestering, guys, but it was necessary). Eventually, I was able to work out my first trade on May 20.

I traded Franklin and Dustin McGowan for Johnny Cueto and Kerry Wood. I originally talked about the trade here. Cueto was looking excellent but didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, mostly due to bad luck (I think he makes a great 2009 sleeper). McGowan wasn’t living up to the potential I drafted him for, and I thought Cueto was an improvement. Franklin’s skills looked like a ticking time-bomb, and while Kerry Wood had concerns, I trusted him much more than Franklin. Overall, great process and good results.

I also spent the middle of the season accumulating closers. Rafael Betancourt didn’t work out, but throughout the year I received saves from Dan Wheeler, Damaso Marte, Jonathan Broxton, Joel Hanrahan, John Grabow, Fernando Rodney, Aaron Heilman, Brad Ziegler, Frank Francisco, Luis Ayala, Matt Lindstrom, Chad Qualls, and Jensen Lewis. By the middle of July, I was rocking at least six closers at any one time.

Trade deadline

As per my own advice, I really tried to work out trades throughout June and July, but nothing really appealing came along. I knew that I would eventually need steals (it was my plan all along to acquire them at midseason), but I was staying relatively competitive in the category and wanted to make sure I built up a good lead in the power categories before trading some away for the steals. In my situation, it was best to wait until closer to the deadline because the homers and RBIs were more important than steals at that point.

On July 30, though, (two weeks before the deadline, exactly the time I was hoping to make my deal) I traded Tulowitzki, Kevin Gregg and a fresh-off-the-wire Fernando Rodney for Brandon Phillips. This filled a big hole at middle infield, gave me some of the steals I needed, and even helped out with the other categories. And the best part was that I gave nothing I valued much. Owning eight closers at that point, I could afford to lose two, and Phillips was a clear upgrade over Tulo (though looking at it from the other point-of-view, it wasn’t a bad trade either; our situations were different).

Still, Phillips wasn’t an elite basestealer, and I didn’t think he alone would allow me to get all of the potential points in steals and runs. So John Halpin and I worked out a trade that ended up benefiting us both, although I believe this deal is what really propelled me to the top. I received Jose Reyes, Javier Vazquez, John Danks, and Mike Gonzalez for Tim Lincecum, Joakim Soria, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Christian Guzman.

Most importantly, this netted me the elite basestealer and run scorer I needed. I had the lead in saves at this time, and I was in danger of losing only one point. Saves are saves, and I thought Soria for Gonzalez was a break-even bet. Even if Gonzalez busted entirely, I still would be okay making the swap.

Losing Lincecum and Matsuzaka might have seemed like a big hit, but I didn’t see it that way. In fact, trading these two away symbolized my favorite part of my strategy for the year. I’ll get into why in Part 3.

As I side note, I really should have traded Matsuzaka earlier. All the signs were there for an implosion, and while a number of the owners saw this and didn’t have much interest, it ended up being a situation like Scherzer where I really wanted more than was being offered. Luckily, I was eventually able to move him (and when I did, John said that he was concerned about him), but getting greedy could have cost me.

Concluding thoughts

In Part 3, I’ll look at the end of the season and give my final thoughts on everything.

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