Fantasy Baseball: Tips for How to Handle Stephen Strasburg's Innings Cap

Dan KuklaCorrespondent IIIJuly 26, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: Tips for How to Handle Stephen Strasburg's Innings Cap

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    Fantasy baseball owners are caught in limbo by all the swirling news regarding a potential innings limit on Stephen Strasburg.

    The Washington Nationals say that Strasburg's workload will definitely be capped. Strasburg says he won't give up the ball that easily. Then you have John Smoltz chirping up about faking injuries.

    This is a dark, lonely and confusing time for Strasburg's fantasy owners.

    The Nationals can't really shut down a potential Cy Young Award winner in the middle of a pennant race, can they?

    Forget reality and what Strasburg's actual team should do for a moment. The real question at hand is what should his millions of fake teams do?

    I'm glad you asked.

    Here is a clear format-by-format look at how to handle this fuzzy situation.

Standard Rotisserie Leagues

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    How you approach Stephen Strasburg's potential innings cap from a fantasy baseball perspective depends on your individual league and team. No blanket prescription can be given to all owners.

    Let's start with standard rotisserie leagues. We're talking 10- or 12-team mixed formats with no keeper considerations here.

    The innings-cap buzz started as speculation. Strasburg owners could still demand top dollar in trades at that point because there was no certainty that an innings cap would indeed be used.

    Now the game has changed. Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo all but promised to shut Strasburg down at some point. The player can fight it all he wants. It won't matter much.

    Strasburg currently sits at 117.1 innings pitched. A popular number used for projecting the innings cap falls at 160, but that is not a hard line.

    We know a limit is coming. We don't know when.

    With 160 as the benchmark, Strasburg still has a minimum of 42.2 innings left (barring injury). That leaves him with a minimum of roughly seven starts left at an average of six innings per start. That number climbs to 10 if you project the cap closer to 180 frames.

    Seven to 10 more starts takes Stasburg anywhere from a week into September to a week shy of October. He remains one of the most dominant and reliable pitchers in both real life and the fantasy realm. You better be getting a lot of value in return to give up this stud in a trade.

    Missing out on Strasburg for one-to-three weeks in a league that counts stats for an entire season won't kill you. Dealing an ace now for bottom dollar will.

    It's fine if you want to hedge your bets and trade Strasburg for slightly below value as long as you are still talking in the Madison Bumgarner to David Price range. Anything outside the Top 10, however, isn't worth it.

    Verdict: Trade Strasburg for 90 cents on the dollar if you can. Don't sweat it if you have to keep him.

    Urgency Level: Low

Deep Rotosserie Leagues

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    You need to be even stingier in deeper rotisserie formats.

    By "deep," I mean anything with 14 or more teams in mixed leagues or any NL-only league.

    The deeper you go, the more valuable your studs become. Strasburg still has a shot to finish a large portion of the regular season.

    Yes, you'll probably get stuck with him if you charge this high of a price. But again, rostering him while he sits one-to-three weeks of the season is much better than dumping him for a pitcher outside the Top 10 and playing with that guy for more than two months.

    Here is a list of pitchers I would give up Strasburg for straight up in a deep rotisserie format (including AL pitchers for deep mixed leaguers): Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, Madison Bumgarner, David Price.

    That's it. Like I said, I realize that most owners will not take any of those deals. You can probably afford to go a little lower in standard leagues. Even then (and especially in deep formats), Strasburg remains a premium player in any format that does not employ a playoff system.

    Verdict: Only deal Strasburg if the price is right.

    Urgency: Extremely low.

Standard and Deep Head-to-Head Leagues

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    Let's move to head-to-head leagues, regardless of size of player pool. The emphasis now falls on winning playoff games.

    Stephen Strasburg owners are in much bigger trouble here.

    An innings cap only takes Strasburg away from a small fraction of the season in rotisserie leagues, but it can destroy your championship hopes in head-to-head formats. Strasburg's limit will set in right as the fantasy playoffs begin.

    How to move forward depends on where your team is at in the standings.

    Deal your ace now if you are a lock for the playoffs. Your main priority is stacking your team for a postseason run. Strasburg is no good to you if he's sitting in the dugout during the last few weeks of the season. Target players with favorable schedules during your league's playoff slate, even if you clearly lose the trade in terms of overall value.

    Your job is much trickier if you still have work to do to make the postseason cut. You can't just take any deal because your team still needs to compete for well over a month.

    Trading Strasburg is still important, but not quite as urgent. Making the playoffs doesn't do you any good if you can't compete then. Target players that can help you now and later.

    In both cases, R.A. Dickey is likely your best bet.

    He really shouldn't be on the block in any league, but his recent struggles may give you a window of opportunity. Failing to post a quality start in three of five outings since the All-Star break may make his current owners nervous.

    Dickey does not return equal value in a deal straight up for Strasburg. He doesn't need to in a head-to-head league. All you care about is match ups.

    Here is the New York Mets' schedule, in order, for the rest of the season: @Ari, @SF, @SD, Mia, Atl, @Cin, @Was, Col, Hou, @Phi, @Mia, @Stl, Atl, Was, @Mil, Phi, Mia, Pit, @Atl, @Mia.

    Only four of those match ups (@Ari, @Cin, Col, @Stl) give me any reason for concern. Atlanta and Washington aren't cushy. Everything else, however, is cake.

    Most importantly, all four questionable match ups come before September 10 (right around the earliest Strasburg would sit) when fantasy playoffs start for formats with more than four teams. Semifinals start on September 17 with Philadelphia and Miami followed by Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Miami for championship "week."

    That's as good as it gets.

    Verdict: Trade Strasburg for whatever you can get, regardless of value, as long as the returning player(s) still help you reach the playoffs and/or win a championship. Relative value does not matter.

    Urgency: High

Head-to-Head Keeper and Dynasty Leagues

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    You're not even thinking about dealing Strasburg in any dynasty format unless another owner completely bends over for you. If you're obsessed with fantasy sports enough to be playing in a dynasty league, I shouldn't have to explain why.

    What to do in keeper formats depends on your individual league rules. In general, you want to keep Strasburg—even if it costs you some competitive edge during the playoffs of a head-to-head league.

    But there are still circumstances in which dealing this ace in a keeper league makes sense.

    Head-to-head formats still present the best opportunity for a fair trade on both sides. If you are headed to the promised land, find a manager eliminated from contention. This scenario will play out much like it does in real life if you treat Strasburg like an elite prospect. That's a reasonable mindset when an innings cap means he likely won't help you in the playoffs.

    The seller (eliminated team) has nothing to play for this season and will thus covet players like Strasburg that can help them next year. You as the buyer are willing to sacrifice an elite prospect like Strasburg in order to go all in for a run at this year's championship. In return, make sure you receive value with high impact during the postseason.

    Targeting aging stars with limited keeper value is the obvious way to leverage this type of deal. Trading pitching for elite hitting is hard to do, but maybe you can land a bat like Mark Teixeira, David Ortiz or Paul Konerko.

    How low you're willing to go depends on how close you deem your team to be to a championship. I have no problem with taking a bat outside the Top 40 if you think it gives your team a better chance to win in the postseason.

    On the pitching side, I'm still targeting R.A. Dickey in head-to-head leagues if I can't get anyone better. Keepers are great, but you play to win the game. If you have a shot at a title, then you have to go for it. Keeping Strasburg is not going for it.

    Verdict: Still look to trade Strasburg for postseason help, but be more selective. You can get much more in return here because he still has value to your opponents.

    Urgency: Medium-High, depending on your team's position.

Rostisserie Keeper and Dynasty Leagues

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    The other factors to consider in keeper formats are your league rules on how keeper costs are determined. This could potentially make room for a trade of Strasburg in rotisserie keeper leagues (most of the following advice is still applicable to head-to-head formats as well).

    Determining which players to keep is all about value. Strasburg loses value as a keeper if your league rules make it extra costly to keep him.

    This list is not comprehensive, but here are some traditional keeper rules that could raise Strasburg's price.

    • Keeper costs based on last year's draft (i.e. the higher you drafted him, the more he costs next year)
    • Keeper costs based on next year's projections or rankings
    • A limit to the number or years you can keep a player.

    If any of these rules or others (there are tons of leagues out there with all kinds of different rules—pay attention to yours) make Strasburg tougher or impossible to keep in your league, that opens the door to trade him.

    Just be aware that if he's not valuable to you as a keeper, he's not valuable to anyone else in your league as a keeper. Finding the right trading partner requires finding a team still willing to pay the extra cost.

    Another factor in the keeper scenarios is your own roster. Most non-dynasty keeper leagues limit the number of players you can keep. You can afford to deal a young ace if your team is loaded with enough young talent to still fill all of those keeper slots. This scenario is ideal because Strasburg retains his insanely high keeper value to other less-stacked teams.

    In general, however, please remember that Strasburg's potential innings limit does not hurt his value much for this present season in any league without a playoff format. You must first focus on winning this year's title, even if your league rules do allow you to consider trading him in keeper scenarios.

    As stated on earlier slides, the list of players you should be willing to deal Strasburg for is very limited if stats from the entire year count toward your title. He does lose some value if he sits the last one-to-three weeks, but the real impact comes in leagues where those last one-to-three weeks make up a whole new season.

    Verdict: Check your league's keeper rules to see how they affect Strasburg's value and act accordingly.

    Urgency: Low