If you play in a head-to-head baseball league, be it dynasty, keeper, or redraft; you are likely nearing your playoffs if you aren’t already there. While some leagues have finals the last week of the season, many have finals at least the week before to avoid the benching of stars that often happens before a playoff run. There are some leagues that have playoffs even earlier, starting now and wrapping up before you even hit the final month of the MLB regular season. Some of you may do longer playoff periods of two weeks for each matchup or two weeks for just the final. Some of you may do consolation brackets, byes, etc – and all of this is good to know as you head into the playoffs.
However, regardless of when your playoffs are played, one of the biggest considerations in head to head playoffs is how the game changes. Just as MLB teams will play the game differently, be that using top relievers more often because of off days, moving back end starters to be pen and long relief, or any of the other changes that happen during MLB playoffs, you as a fantasy manager also can, and should, adjust your game in the playoffs to have a better shot at taking home the trophy.
(A note as we dive in – some of these will be more applicable in category leagues than in points leagues, though many will apply to both.)
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Fantasy Baseball Playoff Strategies
Add Drop Aggressively
As the dearly departed Tom Sternke was fond of saying – adddd drop aaaaaaggressively. When you are in the regular season a struggling player may not (and often rightly shouldn’t) be worthy of a drop if they are a caliber of player that you know will turn it around. In the same vein – a player who has a minor injury and isn’t necessarily put on the IL but isn’t getting as much playing time is a hold in the fourth week of the season… but come the playoffs, they are likely someone who can be cut.
Now, this strategy does have to take a different tact if you are in a keeper or dynasty league. In those formats, if a player is injured but not IL’ed, you must be much much slower to make a cut since you are likely losing them forever from your roster, especially if your league allows teams that are out of it to continue making add/drops.
However, if you are in a keeper league as you are going into the playoffs (or even the home stretch of a roto league), make sure you know what players you will be keeping, because those who are not going to be kept are fair game to get cut. Even if those players could get you some trade value in the offseason instead of just cutting them – if you are going for the crown that’s almost always worth it (side note – if you are reading this and your trade deadline hasn’t passed do this analysis now and feel free to make some trades if they make sense).
Once you’ve figured out who can be cut if it is a keeper or dynasty league, or if you’re in a redraft then that doesn’t matter – be aggressive. Players hit hot streaks, guys get called up, especially as rosters expand in September (though remember it’s now to 28 players not up to 40), and you can ride those hot streaks to a championship. I’ve had it happen and seen it happen where you pick up a player on a hot streak, they hit four homers in a week, and carry you to the championship despite not being on your roster any week except for the finals.
This is not limited to hitters though! This depends in part on your categories, but watch starters and relievers (especially if SV+H league), and see who you can scoop up that can give you that boost.
Finally, your aggressiveness should grow in some ways as you advance through the playoffs, not only because you should be very carefully considering the chances you actually have of winning the championship (though as in baseball there is always a flukiness in head to head playoffs), but also how much a player you might drop can help you in the next rounds. The counterpoint to this is of course that maybe you need that aggressiveness early to even get to the next round. When you are making this decision know your own risk tolerance and what the waiver wire will look like. It’s also crucial for this to know your league settings. Is it a waiver system? Daily or weekly adds? Daily or weekly lineups? Is it FAAB bidding, and if so how much do you have, how much does your opponent have? Is the biddign Vickery or not? (More on bidding later).
Streaming – while notoriously a risky proposition – just ask SPStreamer and listen to the SP Streamer Podcasts, can be a great strategy in the playoffs. While, as with the adds, you need to pay attention to how many adds your league allows per week and, in this case, if there are max starts or innings pitched in your league in a week or period. Streaming also obviously is a different game if you have a daily league as opposed to a weekly one. That said, especially in a daily league, pay attention to good streams! If you have adds left at the end of a week and the matchup looks like you are moving on, make the adds in advance, both so you don’t use adds for the next week, and to try to beat other players from making that add – regardless of your league’s approach to adds (at least as long as they are not done only once a week).
Now – streaming is not just for pitchers as Josh St. Marie, @UTStreamer, knows. I would certainly check out Josh’s work over at spstreamer.com, and consider who you might be able to stream on the offensive side of things – does a hitter have a string of matchups against really bad pitchers? Are they playing in Coors? All of these different things are worth looking at. You can also just see who is hot, as mentioned earlier, and hope to ride it. An overly simplistic way to look at that is just to sort the players who are not rostered in your league by the last seven days on the player page and see who has been hot and who has good matchups going forward. Of course, do some more research than that (or lean on Josh), and look at the numbers, but just remember – streaming is not just for pitchers!
This is one of those strategies that matters less in points leagues than in category leagues, but punting during the playoffs is a great strategy. While some managers may employ this the whole year in some categories, this is certainly something that you can do a little more selectively during the playoffs. Does your opponent have a much better relief corps than you do? Maybe don’t even bother going after saves. Do they have a ton of speed guys? Maybe don’t worry about steals that much. In daily leagues, you can even adjust this during the week if they have some great performances and you know you’re not likely to catch up in a certain category. Alternatively, if you have some pitchers have awful starts early in the week and your ratios are going to be awful no matter what, then stream stream stream more aggressively and chase those counting stats. You may lose WHIP and ERA, but if you win Ks, QS, Ws, or whatever SP counting stats are used, that still has you tied or out in front in those categories.
The approach to making any of these adds is obviously impacted by how often you can make adds and if it’s a bid or waiver wire approach. If it’s waiver and weekly you are pretty limited in the leverage and strategy you can use. However, if you are in a FAAB league, especially a daily one, then there are some important things to consider.
- What is your budget compared to your opponent and, if it’s not the finals, are others still contending? If you have more FAAB left than the other team does, then you can get anyone you want… but only for a limited number of bids.
- Is your league Vickrey bidding or no? For those unfamiliar with Vickrey, it is when the highest bidding team gets the player for the bid of the second-highest team. This can let you be aggressive on bids and not spend that much FAAB, but it also means that if your league mates are observant and aggressive (and especially if you make predictable bids or have a pattern), they can try to back bid you on players to eat up your entire budget quickly.
- Does your league allow you to trade FAAB? If so, try to add to your budget before the trade deadline from teams in the bottom of the standings. This will most likely not be a thing for redraft leagues, but in keeper and dynasty maybe a low draft pick or a prospect you wouldn’t end up keeping anyway can be flipped for some FAAB that can give you a boost you need during the playoffs.
Know Thine Enemy
Finally – know your opponent’s roster – and know it before the matchup starts. Look at who you will play the following week if you win your matchup that week. Look at their strengths, look at how your matchup(s) against that team went during the regular season, and figure out if there are approaches, including those discussed above, where you can change some things up that help give you a chance in that matchup.
Now go win that championship! Flags Fly Forever!
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