Strategies at season’s end

During the preseason, in a fantasy baseball roundtable, THT’s Derek Carty asked this question:

What do you think has a greater impact on one’s ability to win a fantasy baseball league: player evaluation or strategy?

Most of the responders seemed to believe that evaluation was the more crucial skill. However, if the question was adjusted to consider just the final two weeks of the season in a tight, competitive fantasy league, would the responders adjust their answers?

I hope so.

Most competitors in most leagues are out of competition by now. With only a dozen or so games to go, player evaluation is mostly directed at recapping the season or discussing the next one. Football has started, and many fantasy enthusiasts have directed their efforts in that direction.

But if one is lucky enough to be involved in a close, thrilling finish, there can be an enormous amount of strategic gamesmanship involved.

In some leagues, we witness variants of old game theory problems including “Prisoner’s Dilemma” and “Chicken:” What’s the other person thinking I’m thinking? If your team and your closest competitor are locked in a tight struggle for both ERA and strikeouts, for example, it helps to know if you’re competitor is going to aggressively make a lot of starts to chase strikeouts or conservatively protect ERA. Otherwise, making a lot of starts without your competitor doing the same could put ERA at risk.

In other leagues, we might see competitors unwittingly measure the economic advantages and disadvantages of hoarding. If you hold a dominant position in steals, for instance, and nobody else in your league can come close to touching you in that category, does it make sense to hold onto a speedster like Michael Bourn or release him for needed help in other categories? What if your main competitor has room for points growth in steals and is No. 3 on waiver wire priority? Do you take the risk of letting him have your player?

The final few weeks of the season can be the time of the year when competitors pursue wild strategies. For example, a team focused on maintaining a small lead in a ratio category like AVG, ERA, or WHIP above all else may pare down their active roster to the bare minimum.

Conversely, a team desperate for a few wins as the maximum innings limit approaches may attempt to grab as many spot starters as they can on that final day they reach—and surpass—the innings limit. (Most fantasy service providers will allow a fantasy team to go above the maximum amount of innings that final day.)

Let’s not forget pleading and nudging as an appropriate strategy. In Tout Wars AL this year, Mike Siano of MLB and Lawr Michaels of are in a tight battle and Siano is browbeating other owners in the league to put their best foot forward.

Almost everything is fair when a title is on the line. But pay attention to the strategy involved.

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  1. Joe Mimms said...

    In my league, it has become a two-way battle for the top between the leader (who is very much a player evaluator) and me, the contender, who is employing the Strategy of “count on the contender for the wild card slot when they’re at home”.
    Two weeks ago, I loaded up on Texas Rangers at the beginning of what proved to be a historically awful home stand (oh, well….), and now I have even more Colorado Rockies, expecting that Coors Magic to show up.
    The net of the story may prove to be that good player evaluation wins, but – when the top players aren’t available, and when the contender can see a way to advance in multiple categories (Runs, RBIs, and BA in particular) by focusing on contending team(s) whose players are available – there just might be an upset.

  2. Derek Ambrosino said...

    In H2H leagues,tweaking your strategy based on your opponent is also an important factor to weigh into any strategy. If your opponent is super roster-aggressive and you are not, there are a number of ways to play.

    You may want to try to beat him at his own game.

    You may want to stand idle for a day or two and see if his spot starts go well or not. If they go well, then you have to jump in the deep end. If not you can be a bit more judicious and manage your rate stats a bit better.

    If you decide to jump into it, you have to give yourself every advantage. The first rule is to wake up earlier than your opponent. If you are competing for spot starters, make sure you get first pick.

    Perhaps the most devious plan is to defend against your opponent’s strategy. Even if you are playing the quality game to your opponent’s quantity. Drop your drop-able roster spots and pick up the best spot starting options anyway – and bench ‘em! See if your opponent is overcommitted to his/her strategy. How bad of a match-up is he/she willing so play for the prospect of a few Ks? Of course, one of the most important rules of game theory is to avoid adjusting your strategy in a way that prompts an opponent who is making questionable decisions to react in a way that causes them to make better decisions. The idea though is to try to maintain your own flexibility as long as you can, while attempting to get your opponent to further and further commit to a single strategy.

    Any of the H2H tactics are somewhat applicable to roto leagues as well, except the greater sample size mitigates the category swings and establishes a greater base over which any risk is spread. Of course, there are also the third party teams potentially complicating matters. A potential strategy is to drop players that may help other teams catch your challenger in certain close categories, provided your spot within that cat is solidified. As long as the third party team isn’t tanking – and provided you don’t collude by telling that mgr what you want him to do – this is a perfectly ethical tactic as well.

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