Apr 28, 2009

Fantasy Baseball: Team Checkpoint 1

Three weeks of the season have come and gone. Everyone's favorite first week mighty mite, Emilio Bonifacio, has pulled a Chris Shelton and gone back into fantasy hibernation....Albert Pujols has been otherworldly (again), and Zack Greinke decided to give the other team a fighting chance by revealing he's not completely invincible.

As of this date, this is when standings begin to matter in a Rotisserie league. You have made your initial roster moves (in my case, mostly to pick up new closers and closers in waiting), shedding fantasy deadweight and trying to latch onto breakout performances. You've also exercised the power of the bench for those disappointing high round picks (Alexei Ramirez or Cole Hamels anyone?) and felt a slight twinge at the prospect of using the DL spot for great players (A-Rod, Vlad, Brandon Webb).

Now is the time to make the true roster evaluation. Consider the following factors:

1) Who is overperforming/underperforming/performing to their established skill level on your team? Each player is on your roster for a reason. Determine where they have fit in so far and whether they continue to fit in. Now is a good time to make deals. You can reach for someone who seems to be overperforming, but seems to have established a new level of performance. Age and opportunity both play large roles in this evaluation.

a) If they are overperforming, can this be sustained? For example, no one is going to have a .SLG% of .800 or more this season (most likely). Likewise, an .OBP above .500 is also unsustainable as well as an ERA under 2.00.

b) If they are underperforming, what is the underlying reason? Is it a nagging injury? Is it place in the lineup? Is it lack of opportunity? Is it an ungodly number of strikeouts per plate appearance? Is it allowing a HR every other inning? Is it the K/BB ratio?

2) What is the current makeup of the standings for each individual category? and where do you stand? This is the evaluation you should be making for whether to improve players at certain positions or alter the make-up of your team.

There were severe extremes in standings before this time. For example, my team ERA was 7.95 a week into the season...it has since dropped. There are still large swings in the standings from day to day. This is because of the nature of sample size of the statistics relative to a whole year's performance. Wins, saves, and SB are especially vulnerable to large fluctuations at this time. Even ratio categories like WHIP and AVG are subject to smaller ones.

Look at your cumulative stat rating in each category. Hopefully, you're in the middle of the pack or above the pack in most. The goal is to maximize points by the end of the year. Standings don't matter, but relative value in each category does. By the end of May, categories tend to stabilize (especially the ratio categories). Make a move now.

3)What is the projected output for your roster? Is your mix that you thought you drafted to win fantasy gold still sufficient?

Every year, players not only outperform or underperform their skill and talent levels, but also contribute differently than you expect. For example, Jacoby Ellsbury is a player you draft primarily for steals and runs....he has 10 steals and 12 runs, right on target. Counter to that is Michael Young, who was drafted for AVG and runs...he now has 6 HR, approximately half of his preseason projection. Will he keep a .600 SLG?...no, but he will probably surpass the 12-14 HR range he was originally projected for.

4) ERA, WHIP, and saves can be still be won by picking up closers-in-waiting. If you have three or more solid closers in a 12 or more team league, you are in good shape. Consider filling in those extra, unused pitching slots with high K/IP relievers or with set-up men with probable loser opportunity. Look to the fluid situations in Milwaukee, Tampa, Toronto, etc. to bolster your bullpen.

5) Do you have room for your injured players? With most leagues having only one DL spot, when two or more of your expected contributors gets injured, it makes it difficult to maintain roster flexibility. Decide who you want to keep or better yet, who you want to prevent your opponents from picking up. In one league, I have both Vlad Guererro and John Lackey hurt. I won't drop them, but it creates a thin roster until one of them returns.
And the best advice is smile, it's still April. Optimism is rampant. The next checkpoint is in two weeks; it offers a different strategy.

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