Fantasy Baseball: 3 Tips for Handling Your Hitters in the Stretch Run

James Ermilio@jimmyermilioCorrespondent IIIAugust 23, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: 3 Tips for Handling Your Hitters in the Stretch Run

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    It's August, and fantasy leagues are boiling down to the last six weeks of competition.  

    The trade deadlines for most standard leagues have passed, meaning most fantasy rosters are largely set, save a few late free-agent acquisitions.  

    With leagues coming down to the wire and managers scrapping for every last point, there are a few ways that teams in the hunt can optimize their roster in order to win those tight stat categories. All it takes is vigilance, savvy pickups and a little bit of research to put a team over the top.

    Let's take a look at three ways fantasy owners can manage their offense to maximize their points down the stretch. 

1) Focus on the Competitive Categories

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    There's a big difference between managing a fantasy baseball team in the opening months of the season, and managing one down the stretch.  

    With only a handful of weeks left, managers should no longer evaluate their players' fantasy value on the whole.  Several of the fantasy categories (particularly counting stats) may be decided by this point in the season, and some teams will find themselves with nowhere to go, either up or down.

    Categories that have already been set should be disregarded by fantasy managers in favor of those in which they might stand to gain (or risk losing) points.  

    For example, if your team is largely set in homeruns, but you're in a close race in stolen bases, it may be best to bench someone like SS J.J. Hardy in favor of a speedster like Dee Gordon.  

    Though it may seem counterintuitive not to start your best players during fantasy crunch time, prioritizing competitive statistics can help you nab precious points away from your competitors. 

2. Study Your Roster (and the Waiver Wire) for Late-Season Performers

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    One of the major market inefficiencies in fantasy baseball is the second-half performer.  

    Players like OF Chris Young (whose career OPS is 50 points higher in the second half), who have struggled or been injured in the first half, might be rotting on your bench or sitting untouched on your waiver wire.  

    Acquiring players with histories of production in the second half is a risk; managers must make sure that the sample size of second-half production is substantial.  

    One rule of thumb is that if you're evaluating a second-half player in the midst of a down season, the sample size of second-half production should be larger than the sample size of the current down year.

    Basically, the player should be a veteran with a consistent split in favor of the second half; one or two seasons of second-half production does not justify a starting spot for a struggling player.

    Still, if you can catch lightning in a bottle with an undervalued second-half performer on a hot streak towards the end of the season, he just might vault you ahead in the standings while your less-vigilant competitors stagnate.

3. Patrol Free Agency for Youngsters

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    By late August, much of the talent has been sapped out of the free-agent list and the waiver wires. The breakout stars have all been snapped up off the market, and even the best of the remaining players are typically one-category fringe players that won't drastically alter a team's fortunes.

    That can all change when September rolls around. 

    With rosters expanding September 1, and several teams falling definitively out of the race, a plethora of youngsters will get plenty of playing time in the season's final month. Struggling big-market teams like the Boston Red Sox will play their blue-chip prospects in place of veterans.

    This will give managers the chance to add players like C Ryan Lavarnway, who should finally get a chance to garner significant at-bats, and hope to find a young star who gets hot during the final month against unfamiliar pitching. 

    A hot call-up or two could bolster a team's bench, or in rare cases, even carry a manager to victory through a competitive final month.