Following up the first installment of our Fantasy 101 series, we’re moving past the basics and diving into tactics. The goal of this series is to discuss a wide range of strategies and mindsets, presenting perspectives that have the capacity to open your eyes and expand your fantasy horizons, whether you’re a fantasy veteran or a new face in the game. Although fantasy baseball is and always will be a game controlled by luck and factors beyond your control, there’s a clear path to optimizing your chances of finding consistent success.
Tip #1: Commitment + Working the Wire
When we took a straw poll among the Pitcher List staff, literally every staff member polled cited commitment as one of the most important aspects of becoming and remaining a successful fantasy player. It’s easy to be excited in April, but it’s the commitment to the 162-game, 187-day non-stop grind that separates first place from the first loser.
Commitment is a vague term, so let’s define it as concretely as we can. Commitment means making an effort to check your lineup EVERY SINGLE DAY (unless you’re in a weekly league). It’s easy to argue that a day or two here or there won’t make a difference, but it does, especially when that extra attention to your team context means the difference between an H2H win or loss, or when that lack of attention costs you a chance at picking up an early-season waiver gem like Luis Severino (SP, New York Yankees) or Michael Conforto (OF, New York Mets).
Commitment also means making moves and doing the day-to-day transactions that are easy to do but so annoying to keep up with. Case in point, when I won three $1500 Yahoo leagues last year, I made 209, 205, and 285 moves, for a total of 699 and an average of 233 transactions across a 162-game season (187 days according to Yahoo, factoring in each team’s off days). On average, each league-winning team was taking 233 opportunities to cut some dead weight, to cut a replaceable player, a low-level starting pitcher, a fungible SP streamer, to take advantage of the chance to gain another statistical advantage. Whenever I noticed that there was going to be a hole in my lineup or pitching rotation, it represented an opportunity to pick up a hitter who might crush a HR, secure a SB, or boost my R and RBI total. I was never able to realistically expect elite production from my series of waiver pick-ups, but even just taking the time to start warm bodies made a monumental difference in helping me secure my counting stats.
To prove my point, in 2017, baseball players as a whole averaged 1.26 HR, 0.52 SB, 4.65 R, and 4.44 RBI per game. As a quick exercise, I’m going to divide each total by 9 (for 9 players in a starting lineup), which gives us an average of 0.14 HR, 0.06 SB, 0.52 R, and 0.49 RBI.
An Extraordinarily Rough Statistical Model on the Benefits of Commitment
|Transactions (on average)||Average Counting Stat||Total Stats Gained|
|233||0.14 HR||32.62 HR|
|233||0.06 SB||13.98 SB|
|233||0.52 R||121.16 R|
|233||0.49 RBI||114.17 RBI|
I’m not going to pretend this is anything close to a perfect statistical model. The lion’s share of my 233 transactions per league went toward pitchers, as there’s only so many Monday/Thursday/DTD holes in your lineup you can fill. But in a nutshell, if you’re making 233 transactions that enable substitutions, you can theoretically stand to gain this kind of counting stat advantage (with a healthy chunk of the stats coming in the form of pitcher wins, Ks, and occasionally saves). Fantasy sports is all about maximizing the airtight windows of opportunities that you have to garner an incremental advantage. Last year, I opened 233 minuscule windows and it led to a $4500 payout across 3 leagues. Countless leagues have had the pendulum swing on just a single HR or RBI. If you play roto, you HAVE to capitalize on your windows of opportunity. Even if you play H2H, you can benefit on a weekly level just by using your off days to pick up that potential HR, RBI, or SB that could help you secure a matchup win.
That said, I’m not encouraging you to roster churn and make moves just for the sake of making moves. I averaged 233 moves and it was more than I needed to make. If you are happy with the construction of your roster, if you are checking the wire regularly, and if you honestly believe that you are putting the best team out there that you can, you can absolutely win your league without going overboard on the waiver wire activity. To be frank, my situation was not particularly representative of the typical league context. Odds are that you won’t be playing in a high-stakes league that has a $1500 payout, and I tend to be a little more trigger-happy with the waiver wire than I probably should be.
To help put that in perspective, I was never the most transaction-prone manager in any of my leagues. I had leaguemates who would make 400-500 moves, but it didn’t necessarily mean that they were opening more windows of opportunity than I was or gaining more of a statistical advantage from the wire. By design, fantasy lineups only have so many spots, and you’ll only typically have 1, maybe 2 players you can comfortably drop and pick back up (if that). It’s important not to go overboard with trying to find the next big thing, because it could easily mean giving up on the big thing that’s already in your corner.
Tip #2: The Big Picture/Balancing Present & Future Value
Paradoxically, a key element of knowing how to work the wire is knowing how to not work the wire. As far as fantasy managers go, I’m a fairly trigger-happy guy. I like the idea of making moves and thinking that every time I go to the well for a pickup, I’m making an incremental improvement. In Yahoo, they had limited DL slots, so when Ian Desmond (1B/OF, Colorado Rockies), Chris Davis (1B, Baltimore Orioles), Corey Kluber (SP, Cleveland Indians), Michael Conforto, and Jean Segura (2B/SS, Seattle Mariners) all got bitten by the injury bug in one league, my trigger-happy mindset was put to the test.
With only 2 DL slots and 4-5 injured guys, I struggled to field a full lineup, let alone have the luxury of working the wire for incremental gains. As each day and each potential pickup passed me by, I routinely asked myself a series of questions that looked like this:
- In the grand scheme of the season, is my bottom line better off if I wait it out with an injured or inactive player, or if I cut my loss with him and use that spot to roster churn?
- What are the odds that this player I pick up can turn into anything more than a one-day stand? Does this player have any breakout potential based on his age, his pedigree, his manager’s perspective, or his odds of benefiting from a role change?
- What are the odds that dropping this player will benefit my competition? Jean Segura is out for 4-6 weeks, but am I strengthening my competition too much if I give him the chance to pick Segura up?
- How dire is my situation? I don’t necessarily want to cut Chris Davis or Ian Desmond, but I legitimately can’t field a full lineup of hitters right now. It’s one thing to have dead space on my bench, but it’s a completely different story if it means I have a black hole in my lineup every day.
- If I’m reluctant to lose this player, what are the odds that I could get him back once he clears waivers? I like Chris Davis’ ability to go yard, but since it comes with a weak average, there’s a reasonable chance he could slip through. Even if he doesn’t, I could just pick up someone like Kendrys Morales or Logan Morrison…
To sum up, commitment and working the wire (or showing proper restraint) go hand-in-hand. You can’t guarantee a championship, but you can get in range simply by being consistent and precise with your decision-making and with the roster spots that you use to fill holes in your lineup. Next time, we’ll be going more in-depth with discussing ways you can maximize your waiver wire moves, on both a micro-and macrocosmic scale. Until then, make Kershaw your #1 SP off the board, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Tried and true advice, and what makes it valuable is the timeliness of it. Playing pitching and hitting matchups would be the next step, but this can become extremely difficult on a daily basis if one has a family, job, etc competing with time. So my next priority would be time management. Find that golden time frame where you can devote setting your lineup each day and pick up players off of the waiver wire. For me I like to do this in the early hours of the day. I will go check out the most recent player news. An injury from a player in last night’s game is an opportunity for a promising player. Guys like Jose Martinez (who hopefully has done enough in Spring Trng to gain consistent playing time), Nick Williams, and even Franchy Cordero are an injury away from full time at bats.
Yeah, I found it very helpful to develop a routine of managing my roster every night before going to sleep. It feels like a smaller-scale version of working out: easy enough to do, but hard to consistently weave into the fabric of your day-to-day life.
Great advice. Can you do an article on what metrics you look at for when to cut struggling players in April? There’s no formula, but do you look at things beyond BABIP, batted ball profile, O- and Z-swing %s?
For struggling players, it’s more of a holistic approach. April rarely provides a large enough sample to significantly move the needle for struggling players. You always have your Corey Klubers, Justin Verlanders, and Mark Teixeiras who take time to fully heat up and settle in as the studs you drafted them to be. It ultimately ends up being a question of “What indicates a significant shift in this player’s value going forward?”
With a struggling player that you had actual expectations for on draft day, the main ways those players establish a loss in value that early in the season are through either injury, a role change, or an alarming drop-off in physical skill.
BABIP and other peripherals often don’t have enough time to become very meaningful samples in April, but exit velocity, hard contact percentage, line drive percentages, fly ball/pop-up percentages, and the distribution of hits to RF, CF, and LF can at least give you some indication of where the wind seems to be blowing for hitters. For pitchers, you’d want to focus on K/BB rates, their ability to miss bats, and their velocity readings/pitch usages, to indicate whether there is any actual change in the caliber of weapons they’re using or the tools they utilize.
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