It’s that time of year again. We’re basically halfway through the season and the standing are starting to look pretty concrete. Sure, there are still swings of three or four points here or there, but for the most part your team is in the slot it deserves to be. If you’re near the top of the standings, that’s a good thing and you may only need to tweak your roster here and there to maximize your points within the various categories. If you’re further down though, say in sixth or seventh place, it’s time to get drastic. That’s where this article comes in. Today I’m going to share some extreme approaches to in-season strategy for Fantasy Baseball. I warn you, these ideas are unorthodox. In fact they could blow up in your face and result in a last-place finish. But I promise you, either way. you’re gonna have fun trying to pull some of these Hail Mary’s off.
Before I get to the madness, allow me a bit of a rant about the fantasy industry. 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. I love deep statistical dives as well as the next guy, but we also have to know how to put them to use. Over the next few weeks, I hope to address the lack of in-season strategy, and hopefully help a few teams make a push for the top of their standings, or maybe even just nabbing that final play-off slot..
So the goal here 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. It’s time to panic!
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. These are the buy-lows we all here plenty about. You’re going to see plenty of that from my cohorts at FantraxHQ over the next few weeks.
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 Matt Chapman or Edwin Encarnacion type. Of course, you’re not doing that deal straight up. You’re looking to get that low-average power hitter and add another low-average, high-power player elsewhere on your roster. You’re trying not to lose overall value in any trades, but simply shuffle whatever value you had in the batting average category into the power categories. As the season wears on you might even have to sacrifice a bit of overall value in order to gain points where you need them.
Other power hitters to target include Khris Davis, Kyle Schwarber, Matt Olson, Joc Pederson, etc…
— 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 the best case, you would add low-average speedsters who also hit for a bit of power. I’m looking at you Jose Ramirez, Victor Robles, and Jonathan Villar. And yes, I might be the one guy in a 12-team mixed league taking a shot on Keon Broxton.
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 and speed.
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 likely 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. As of this writing the Tigers, Yankees, White Sox, and Cardinals have played three or four fewer games than some other teams. Meanwhile thanks to their early start to the season, the Mariners have more games than any other team. At the extreme you might be able to game up to six games with a one-for-one swap. Start shopping Domingo Santana now!
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 ground. 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. It’s not going to be pretty, but you’re not going to get back in the money by conventional means.
A few starting pitchers I would target include; Robbie Ray, Zack Wheeler, German Marquez, Jon Gray, Yu Darvish, and Jack Flaherty.
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 one 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. My good friend Mick Ciallela just wrote an article on closers in waiting. This is a nice place to start.
If your league has large reserve rosters, I’d be looking to grab pitchers like Emilio Pagan, Scott Oberg, Carlos Martinez, and Liam Hendricks. These are all high-octane arms who seem to be just gaining favor in their respective closer situations.
*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.
Doug Anderson is an 115-year veteran of the Fantasy Sports industry. His work has appeared on RotoExperts.com, Yahoo.com, SI.com, and NFL.com, as well as in the pages of USA Today’s Fantasy Baseball Weekly and various other magazines. Doug has participated in both LABR and Tout Wars, the two preeminent expert fantasy baseball leagues in existence. Doug was formerly the Executive Editor at RotoExperts and is now Managing Editor here at FantraxHQ. You can follow him on Twitter @RotoDaddy.