Managing your fantasy portfolio

It is important to recognize how to use risk in the quest for first place. This article will focus on rotisserie leagues rather than head-to-head. In the H2H format, owners have an extremely wide range of options to pursue thanks to the short time frame of each “game.”

In a standard roto format without keeper considerations, the game is a simple win-at-all-costs endeavor. At this point in the season, rosters can be classified in three types—runaways, the pack, and laggards.

Runaways are those owners who have seen success on both the hitting and pitching sides of the ledger. They have tallied at least 50 percent more points than average (i.e. 90 points in a 12-team 5×5). Such owners need to step back and honestly assess how they got to this point. Typically, this type of roster has two things going for it—a core of reliable top-end talent and a group of over-performers.

Runaway owners have two main options. They can stick by their roster, or they can consolidate their risk through trade. Consolidation means turning risky players into more stable assets. An example might look something like Josh Beckett and Matt Joyce for Tim Lincecum. The goal is to trade one or more players who face likely regression in the future for someone who is more of a known quantity.

All the typical rules of trading still apply—be sure the trade results in a positive expected points gain and never help a close rival more than yourself. Ideally, runaways will trade with owners in the bottom third of your league, so the focus can be solely on your roster.

Owners who are in the pack have it the hardest. There are a lot of ways an owner ends up in the middle of a league. Whether they have a great on-paper roster but terrible luck, a weak roster with fantastic luck, or something in between, pack owners still have to dig their way out of a points deficit. The owners at the top of the league can often afford weeks of fooling themselves into thinking that Aubrey Huff is going to settle down. The owners in the middle of the league cannot afford that luxury.

Some middle-of-the-pack owners can use the risk consolidation technique to improve their roster. These are the teams that have hoarded one or more categories while overlooking another. For example, a pitching-heavy team that needs some steals might want to turn Michael Pineda into Drew Stubbs.

Most owners in this category will need to take on some risk. Take the Pineda/Stubbs example. Let’s imagine that instead of just needing some steals, the owner foolishly opted to punt the category. He needs more than a 30-steal player to catch up, so he may want to deal Pineda and a minor piece for a Jose Tabata and Angel Pagan package. In the meantime, he may need to gamble on a guy like Roger Bernadina or Jason Bourgeois.

The challenge, of course, is determining where to consolidate and where to take risks.

In some ways, being a laggard can be the most fun. To get back into the action, they need to take on considerable risk and have it pay off. This means gambling on some fun players like Cameron Maybin or Jim Thome. They might be the guy dealing Lincecum for Joyce and Beckett. Or maybe they trade their Hanley Ramirez for Lance Berkman and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Laggards should be digging for prospects in the hopes of finding Buster Posey‘s 2010 production. People can get excited about rookies, so let it be known they are available, because sometimes a crazy offer can be found. Even without finding a trade, prospects usually have more upside (and downside) than the best players on the waiver wire.

For laggards, the fun will often come from pitting the top teams against each other in trade negotiations. Laggards should take their time executing trades and should be sure that all the top teams know when a player is close to being traded. Bounties can grow large when an owner is trying to prevent a close rival from acquiring an elite player.

What happens in a keeper league? Much of this is obvious and commonly discussed. Runaways should “spend” some of that future value for current value, while laggards should gobble up as much keeper gold as possible.

Those in the middle of the pack still face a tough decision. They must pretend they are either a runaway or a laggard, because the runaways will want to bolster their team as early as possible, and the laggards will quickly acquire the best keepers.

Making this decision is risky because they could spend their keepers and still miss fantasy glory. Or they could jump on the best keepers only to later learn that they passed on a golden opportunity. Despite the frustration that either choice can produce, failure to decide WILL result in a middle-of-the-pack finish. Being careful is not an option in a keeper league.

Today’s takeaway points aren’t revolutionary. Teams with an early-season lead should minimize their risk, while teams in a big hole need to embrace all forms and hope to hit the lottery. Those in the middle of the pack will need to take a more nuanced approach. The key is to ask yourself what you can do to improve your chances, develop a plan, and execute it.

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  1. chuck said...

    what incentive does a laggard have?  why make a trade?  they are out of it and with no keepers, why even pay attention?  unless they are good friends with someone at the top, why help anyone out? doesnt make any sense.

  2. Brad Johnson said...

    No offense, but anyone who feels that way is not welcome in any league I play in. The most fun I’ve ever had playing fantasy baseball has been as a laggard. Those are the leagues where you can experiment with no consequences. The chances of a win are small, but a nice climb from 12th to 5th is rewarding.

    In 2009, I came 14 out of 14 in my college team’s league (thanks Hamilton and Sizemore!). I chased 13th all year and failed, but I developed strategies that helped me win my two other leagues that season. I also picked up my micro management strategy which has served me well the last year and a half (three 2nd place finishes last year, two first place teams, one 2nd place team, and one third place team this year.

  3. Matt said...

    Brad, I think that you make a good point, but unfortunately more people think like “chuck” does than you. Unless you have a league completely filled with hardcore baseball fans (which is very difficult to do), the laggards almost always stop caring as the season goes on. If you know of any let me know and I’ll be happy to join ‘em!

    As a side note, isn’t this an argument against roto leagues in general? I mean, part of the fun of baseball is the flukey nature of how the Danny Espinosas can hit bombs off of Cliff Lee. Same goes with H2H leagues – sometimes you put up great stats and still lose; sometimes you hit .204 for the week and still win. I think with H2H leagues, owners can have much more hope of a comeback (and therefore, staying active) since there’s the uncertainty of your opponents performance as well as not feeling completely buried in some categories with no hope of gaining ground.

  4. Steve said...

    For many years my league had those that felt similarly to Chuck…they fell behidn early and quit by July, leaving only 6 out of 12 owners payign attention.  In Roto this really ruins it for everyone as leaders hurting in one or two categories would stabilize their score simpyl due to those ahead of them no longer caring.

    We solved this problem by having payouts for the top 4 positions and increasing costs for those finishing 6th through 12th.  This meant every position had value and therefore everyone cared until the end.  Additionally, we have a vote to kick out the last place finisher every year (after they pay their last place cost of course).

    Has worked well for three years now

  5. Ethan said...

    Our league is a an auction keeper league and has tried to solve for this by having the top 5 finish in the money, and we set our minor league draft order (3 minor leaguers drafted each year, otherwise not eligible to be picked up until activated by their MLB team) with the first pick awarded to the #6 finisher through #13, then reverse order of money finish, in a straight draft (the theory being that the bottom finisher should have done some dump trades to help themselves with keepers and/or kept minor leaguers, while the #6 finisher may have gone for it but fell a little short).  We’ve had competitive finishes every year, and frequently it’s only the bottom 3-4 teams in a 13 team league that are out of it down the stretch. 

    My squad spent the first 1/3 of last year down and out in the bottom third of the standings, but through trades, guys coming back from injury, and strategic pickups, I was able to go from playing with one eye on next year to a 2nd place finish.  In a way, I was able to do this by drafting or picking up potential keepers (Max Scherzer, Corey Hart, etc.) when I was struggling, and then flipping them for key pieces in the middle couple of months right through the trade deadline who couldn’t or wouldn’t be kept by teams around me in the bottom to middle part of the standings who were focused on playing for next year.

    It can be done, and I think that sort of late-season surge has inspired teams in the league this year to stay more active rather than throw in the towel early.  The fact that this is a long-standing league helps too, since guys care about trying.

  6. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Quit trying to perpetuate the idea that I need to sell you Michael Pineda on the cheap!

    Just kidding, good article Brad

  7. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Also, though I agree with your premise, I do not agree it’s time to trade off excess. We’re barely 1/3 into the season, which leaves 2/3 of the season to erode advantages. I know too many owners who criple their team selling off “excess” in May, only to watch their team fall to middle of the pack and not gain it back in the bought stats. I tend to trade away excess late june at the earliest.

  8. Derek Ambrosino said...

    I fail to understand why so many people interpret the idea that there will be winners and losers in fantasy baseball (and that losers are less apt to continue to care) as an argument against roto leagues.

    People respond to incentives, and the format doesn’t really do much to alter the incentives. It’s largely a myth to think that a team that is in last place right now in a H2H league has any better of a chance to capture the crown than a team in last place in a roto league.

    Sure, the “best” in a league could be 6 out of 12 right now, but if you’re a true laggard, there’s a pretty good chance that there are quite legitimate reasons that is the case. Changing the format of the system will not plug the holes on your team.

  9. Brad Johnson said...


    I have a rule of thumb. Never play for next year. Certainly add keepers when possible, but never give up on the current season.


    My main strategy is to build and maintain excess wherever possible in the five offensive categories, SVs, and K/9. The other three stats usually follow K/9. In practice, my strategy isn’t that simplistic, but that’s the foundation of it.

    Ultimately, it comes down to making smart decisions. There are times where selling a May excess makes sense – for example if you need to save your steals category. There are times when it doesn’t. And it takes a good manager to recognize those opportunities, not a fantasy strategy guide like this.

    I offer ideas that could help fantasy owners, but it’s up to the owner to correctly identify which of those ideas fits and how to execute it.

    Closing thought, I would identify trading an excess as a risk. You expose yourself in that category in return for gains elsewhere. A middle of the pack team has to take risks like that. Unless they have a ton of reinforcements coming off the DL or something.

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