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.