In-Season Strategy: Saving Your Fantasy Baseball Season
I’ve been playing Fantasy Baseball for a long time. If I remember correctly, my first season was in 1992. During the years since then, a lot of things have changed. I mean the internet wasn’t even around when I started playing. There really wasn’t an industry to speak of back then. Of the many changes since those fantasy caveman days, one that I’m really not a fan of is the almost complete lack of focus on in-season strategy for Fantasy Baseball.
So much effort is put on player evaluation and analysis, that the actual game-play often gets left behind. Sure we see a lot of content on draft strategy each spring, and waiver wire content is plentiful once the season starts. But we rarely see fantasy content focused on the in-season strategy that can help Fantasy Baseball owners move their teams up in the standings. Over the next few weeks, I hope to address that problem, in my own little way.
My goal is to help owners whose teams have fallen to the lower half of their league standings. Earlier in the season, we could blame our struggles on sample size or injuries. Fantasy experts everywhere told us not to panic, and to be fair, most of the time that’s perfectly rational advice. But the time has come in the season where the standings are starting to get solidified. If you continue the course now, it likely means your team is very unlikely to gain any meaningful ground.
So that’s my task. I want to explore in-season strategy that can help you rescue your season. Don’t worry, I won’t tell your friends you’re here reading this. To be honest, I’m in one 15-team league where everything imaginable has gone wrong and I’ll be putting these strategies in play myself.
In-Season Strategy to Save Your Season
As I see it there are two aspects of in-season strategy that stand a chance of helping your team get back in the money.
The first is in targeting players who, for various reasons, have started the season off slow, but have the obvious potential to produce big the rest of the way. I’m going to hit on these buy-low type players in the next installment of this series.
This week, I want to explore an alternative way to gain some fantasy ground. This in-season strategy isn’t so much focused on acquiring specific players, but more on how to exploit the scoring categories of 5 X 5 Roto. This strategy may not be able to get you back up to the top of your league, but it can help you maximize your team’s point potential and get within sniffing distance of a money finish.
Take an Honest Look at Your Standings
The first step here is to take a detailed look at the standings in your league. In some categories, things will be bunched up tightly, while in others your team may have fallen hopelessly behind. Your job is not only to find the categories where your team could most easily make up ground but also those where you wouldn’t be sacrificing too many points if you basically punted. I never advise punting categories when you draft a team, but at this point of the season, you may have to raise the white flag in a category or two to gain even more ground in others.
Exploiting 5 X 5 Hitting Categories
I’m gonna be honest, it can be hard making up ground in the hitting categories. Fantasy owners value offense and you’re not going to rob someone of a great hitter.
PUNTING BATTING AVERAGE
In a best-case scenario (if there is such a thing when your team is in 8th place), your team is very low in the batting average category. It’s not impossible to make up ground in average, but if you’re low in the standings it likely means you’d have to completely overhaul your roster. Batting average is also a bit easier to dump because it’s somewhat independent of the other categories. Obviously, a solid batting average can help a player get more runs and RBI, but it’s not as closely tied together as Runs, Home Runs, and RBI are.
So if I’m going to punt batting average, I basically ignore any value my players currently produce in that category. This in-season strategy may mean that I’d be looking to trade a Nolan Arenado type for a Joey Gallo. Of course, you’re not doing that deal straight up. You’re looking to get Gallo and add another low-average, high-power player elsewhere on your roster. You’re trying not to lose overall value in any trades, but as the season wears on you might have to in order to gain points where you need them.
— MLBBarrelAlert (@MLBBarrelAlert) June 23, 2018
Of course, if you have points to gain in the stolen base category, you’re also trying to snag a speedster or two who might not hit for average. In this case, players on my radar might include Billy Hamilton, Delino Deshields, and Tim Anderson.
One added bonus of targeting these low-average hitters is that you’re very likely to get the best part of their season. The key takeaway here is that you need to be shopping every .275-plus hitter you have and trying to acquire similar value in power.
In three short words, don’t do it. HR, RBI, and Runs are so closely correlated, you’d be sacrificing way too much to even hope for a money finish. In theory, you could build a team of speed guys who hit for average and score plenty of runs. Good luck with the reality of that. Though power is down this year, there are still decent sources of power on the waiver wire and plenty of owners who devalue low-average hitters. The power categories are where the bulk of your points lie and also where intentional moves can have the most effect. Don’t quit here.
If you’re down in stolen bases it can be a viable in-season strategy to dump that category. Of course being so low in stolen bases means you don’t have much to trade. You should, however, trade any speed you have for like value in categories you can actually gain ground in.
*Crazy Bonus Hitting Strategy: That’s right, today and today only you get this ingenious nugget. While you’re doing all this wheeling and dealing, why not target hitters from teams who have more games remaining. The Twins, Yankees, Phillies, Mets, and Cubs have four more games remaining than teams like the Red Sox, Astros, Rangers, Giants, and Padres. The extra counting stats you gain might be the little bit you needed to seal the deal.
For more great fantasy baseball analysis with a Sabermetric slant, check out the Fantrax Radio Network and the Launch Angle Podcast.
Exploiting 5 X 5 Pitching Categories
While it can be difficult to gain ground in the hitting categories, I believe there are numerous ways to exploit things on the pitching side. Again, take a look at the standings and find the places where you’re right behind a cluster of other teams. Then, identify the categories where you will suffer the least lost points if you decide to punt.
FORGET THE RATIOS
If your team is struggling in the pitching categories, most likely you are pretty far down in ERA and WHIP. Much like Batting Average, it’s not impossible to gain ground in these ratio categories, but not only do you have to completely overhaul your pitching staff, but your new pitchers have to “undo” all the bad things that have already happened. Needless to say, it’s an uphill battle.
Instead, free yourself. It’s very liberating to just ignore these pesky categories. I’d never do it to start a season, but your current situation means you have to look for alternative ways to gain grounds. So, start shopping your top starting pitchers. You can deal any pitcher with an ERA under 3.60 or so and a WHIP under 1.25.
HOARD WINS & STRIKEOUTS
When you’re trading these quality starters, just make sure you’re not giving up too many strikeouts in the process. Ideally, you’ll get seven to 10 starting pitchers with decent K-rates and be able to stream them through your pitching staff. Strikeouts and wins can pile up fast when you have four or five two-start pitchers in a given week. Because we’ve given up the battle in quality (ERA & WHIP), we have to use a barrage of quantity (Wins & Strikeouts).
In order to pull this off, you’re going to need to target pitchers who get a bad wrap because of their ugly ratios, but who still pile up the Ks. I find it very hard to target Wins, so you just have to hope the quantity of starts gets you enough. Remember, we’re in a desperate situation here. You’re not going to get back in the money by conventional means.
— Orioles Report (@orioles_fanly) June 22, 2018
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the possibility of exploiting the saves category. After all, it is probably the category where one player can make the largest difference in points.
Ideally, you’re close to the pack so that adding just once closer could gain you five-plus points if you add them soon. In this case, you want to use at least six of your pitching slots for all these starts you’ve collected. Use those that get two starts in a given week and you can make up ground in Ks and wins while still attacking the saves category.
You could look to trade for another closer. If not, then you need to be watching the waiver wire like a hawk. Closer changes happen all the time, but you have to be aggressive. Act fast with your claims or pay more than you think you have to in FAAB.
If your league has large reserve rosters, I’d be looking to grab pitchers like Joe Jimenez, Brad Peacock, Archie Bradley, and Seranthony Dominguez. These are all high-octane arms who could definitely do the job if they fall into ninth-inning duties. For more closer ideas, give Brian Creagh’s Bullpen Report a read. He’s got a really cool tool that lets you dig deep into bullpen usage and find some forgotten gems.
*Crazy Bonus Pitching Strategy: Ok, maybe this isn’t so crazy. Keep two of your pitching slots reserved for waiver wire scrubs who happen to be getting two starts that week. Remember we don’t need quality. We need quantity. It’s just like college beer.
A lot of people are going to look at these ideas for in-season strategy and think they are a recipe for roto disaster. I’d agree completely if this were the beginning of the season.
It’s not the beginning of the season though. For whatever reason, your team has been stinking up the joint. You can sit there and watch it happen, or you can pull out all the stops and throw a fantasy Hail Mary. Don’t be the guy who just ignores his team and turns 100% of his attention to Fantasy Football. Take your shot… and still get ready for Fantasy Football!
My last bit of advice is this; your current Fantasy Baseball team may be too far gone to save. It happens. Instead of drowning in your misery, head on over to Fantrax and start a Second-Half League. It may be the shot at redemption you need.