Bleacher Report's Guide to Acing Your 2016 Fantasy Baseball Home Stretch
The best-laid plans of fantasy baseball players will often go awry.
Because of MLB's long season and amount available data, baseball requires more skill and less luck than fantasy football, its more popular cousin. Yet even expert gamers must realize that most outcomes are out of their control.
Draft day plays a huge role in determining the champion, but this is a game of attrition. Which team avoided injuries more than the others? Who hit the waiver wire first whenever a hot pickup surfaced? Most importantly, who stays active and keeps grinding until October?
These final weeks separate the diehard warriors from the casual managers who already grew frustrated or bored. The weather's nice. The gridiron is beckoning, and six months is a long time to spend fixating on a game.
Increasing the difficulty level on climbing the standings, most trade deadlines have passed or will within the week. While the waiver wire offers assistance, few marquee upgrades remain available in competitive leagues.
But hey, continuing to show up in late August and September is half the battle. Just reading a fantasy baseball column shows readiness to fight for a title. So let's prepare.
Study the Standings
Here's what you know: You're in third place, roughly seven to nine points out of first, depending on the day. Your hitting is carrying the squad, but the pitching hasn't cooperated.
Now look at each category. You're first in steals by a comfortable margin, but you could easily drop two or three points in home runs if some sluggers go cold (or on the disabled list). One team tops you in batting average, but there's considerable breathing room above the third-place squad.
Time to target big-swinging sluggers over high-contact speedsters. Be especially wary of any one-dimensional runners on your roster. Billy Hamilton contributes nothing to a roto team that already locked up the steals title.
Is your ERA and WHIP ruined beyond repair? (Thanks a lot, Drew Smyly and Michael Pineda.) Focus on gaining ground in the other counting categories instead. Stream starters as much as your schedule and the league rules allow.
Target two-start pitchers in leagues with weekly lineup changes. Start with Robbie Ray, who gets the New York Mets and San Diego Padres next week.
Actually, you might need to keep Smyly and Pineda around for their high strikeout tallies.
Make calculated roster and lineup maneuvers with your specific situation in mind. If you're already sporting a 15-save lead with five closers, there's no need to keep riding the closer carousel in rotisserie leagues. If it's the ratios and strikeouts you seek, grab a middle reliever instead.
You're no longer accumulating the most talent and value possible. Every point matters during a tight race.
Know When to Say Goodbye...
Now’s not the time to worry about what should have happened. Instead, accept what has actually occurred while gathering enough information to project what will go down over the final few weeks.
This is coming from a fantasy player who had Prince Fielder tucked away in a DL spot and spent way too long hoping for a Francisco Liriano bounce-back. Impatient managers often shoot themselves in the foot, but it sometimes helps to have a cold heart.
Yasiel Puig was awesome in 2013 and 2014. This is 2016. While he showed gradual improvement before getting demoted, he’s not worth wasting a roster spot on in standard mixed leagues.
The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder fell well short of expectations, hitting .260/.320/.386 with seven homers in 81 games. At best, he’s a fourth or fifth outfielder in September, but gamers can’t keep ignoring the vanishing power because of his talent and incredible debut.
Tyson Ross hasn’t pitched since Opening Day, but he’s still owned in over half of Yahoo leagues. Liriano has a 5.46 ERA with 5.24 walks per nine innings, and yet he’s not waiver-wire fodder because of high preseason expectations.
Don’t be like the MLB franchise who plays the decaying veteran over the impressive up-and-comer to rationalize the old guy’s salary. There’s nothing to do now about spending a top draft pick on a dud. It’s a sunk cost, so replace him with the no-name free agent who’s delivering better results.
Jason Heyward, Lucas Duda, Brandon Phillips, Patrick Corbin, Collin McHugh and James Shields are other guys gamers should drop without feeling guilty. With precious time wasting, stashing prospects is also less advisable.
...But Give 2nd Chances
Don’t blindly stay in a stale relationship hoping for the best, but keep an open mind about players who have proved they can change for the better.
Remember when Pedro Alvarez was hitting .194/.294/.350 at the end of May? He’s now batting .258/.315/.524 with 18 homers, half of which he has belted after the All-Star break. The Baltimore Orioles slugger—who has surpassed 25 long balls in three of the past four seasons—offers a great source of power against right-handers as a corner infielder.
Hisashi Iwakuma entered the break sporting a 4.25 ERA and .473 opposing slugging percentage. In five starts since, the Seattle Mariners starter has posted a 2.08 ERA with 28 strikeouts and six walks over 30.1 innings. He’s once again a valuable piece to a mixed-league rotation.
“He’s dead to me” should never come out of a fantasy manager’s mouth. It made sense to drop a reeling Mitch Moreland back in May, but he worked his way back into the fold by hitting .339 with seven homers in July. Grab him back now. If he doesn’t repair his August power outage, drop him again.
Beware of the Innings Limit
Don’t be caught off guard by losing a hurler to an innings limit.
This could apply to Detroit Tigers rookie Michael Fulmer, as George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press noted in July. Fulmer has delighted his fantasy owners with a 2.43 ERA but has thrown 111.0 innings and hasn't thrown more than 124.2 in his pro career.
The Toronto Blue Jays have a dilemma as well. Originally slated for a move to the bullpen, Aaron Sanchez will instead partake in a six-man rotation. If the Toronto falls down the standings or the 24-year-old shows any signs of erosion, they could go back to the original plan.
In the NL, an actual playoff race may save owners from losing Jose Fernandez, but the Miami Marlins will handle their ace cautiously after he pitched just 116.1 innings in 2014 and 2015, a span that included Tommy John surgery. Per MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, the Marlins will skip his scheduled turn Sunday.
Although Frisaro wrote Fernandez may not miss another start, don't be surprised if he gets skipped again in September. After losing the battle to shut down Matt Harvey last year—who was also coming off Tommy John surgery—agent Scott Boras will have something to say about this case.
MLB teams aren’t the only ones who enforce innings limits. Many fantasy leagues set an innings cap. Some owners don’t do the math until it’s too late, and they realize in August that they’re going to soar over it by early September.
Anyone in that predicament should swap out some starters for top middle relievers (Addison Reed, Nate Jones, Raisel Iglesias, Carl Edwards Jr.) with excellent ratios and a superb strikeout rate. Also play the matchups far more carefully, only employing capable starters in advantageous circumstances to optimize the remaining few innings.
Every Detail Matters
For those who haven’t already, now’s the time to buckle down and scrutinize every detail.
With larger sample sizes to dissect, managers can identify left-handed hitters who struggle against southpaws. Texas Rangers rookie Nomar Mazara is great against righties (.828 OPS), but he can take a seat against lefties (.560 OPS). In leagues with spacious benches, it helps to have a hitter like Danny Valencia (1.021 OPS vs. lefties), who specializes in hitting southpaws.
Look at lineup construction the way a daily fantasy player would to maximize counting numbers. Cesar Hernandez is seeing time in the Philadelphia Phillies leadoff role, boosting his ability to compile steals and runs.
Analyze ballpark factors, batted-ball tendencies and recent results to make sure the best players are starting on a daily basis. As for starting pitchers, don’t use an average one facing the Boston Red Sox or a fly-ball hurler in a small stadium.
Field of Streams
Playing the matchups on the mound is important, especially in head-to-head leagues.
Last year, Jake Peavy closed out the season with four starts at the cavernous AT&T Park and another at Petco Park, all against manageable opponents. He finished an otherwise uninspiring year by relinquishing five runs over his final five starts, leading some astute gamers to glory.
Let’s identify some situations to exploit. Courtesy of FanGraphs, here are baseball’s five weakest offenses against righties and lefties in terms on weighted on-base average (wOBA), a metric that measures all offensive outcomes using a scale akin to on-base percentage. Think of it has an enhanced form of on-base plus slugging (OPS).
- Righties: Kansas City Royals (.302); Oakland Athletics (.301); Philadelphia Phillies (.299); Atlanta Braves (.295); San Diego Padres (.293);
- Lefties: Baltimore Orioles (.300); Cincinnati Reds (.299); Los Angeles Dodgers (.291); Atlanta Braves (.284); Philadelphia Phillies (.281)
No advanced metrics were necessary to say the Phillies and Braves stink. They could each make the other’s pitchers interesting streaming choices down the stretch.
Also keep current conditions in mind. The Mets are a mess with Lucas Duda, David Wright, Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes all on the disabled list. As long as James Loney, Matt Reynolds and T.J. Rivera are starting, target pitchers who face the Mets lineup whenever possible, especially southpaws.
As for ballparks, AT&T Park, Oakland Coliseum and Dodger Stadium are among the friendliest pitching destinations. Keep in mind that the Colorado Rockies play seven of their final 10 games at San Francisco and Los Angeles, which will make their starters (Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and Tyler Chatwood) good championship streamers away from Coors Field.
Most re-draft gamers can make rash calls late in the season without fretting over the consequences. Everyone participating in keeper or dynasty formats, however, must keep one eye on now and another on the future.
Assuming the trade deadline has passed, it’s too late to make a “win now” or “tank for 2017” decision. Yet, small managerial choices can go a long way to establishing future success.
Philadelphia's Aaron Altherr, 25, makes for a better long-term investment than 35-year-old Curtis Granderson. While most dynasty leagues have farm systems, guys like Houston's Joe Musgrove could have circumvented the preseason draft. Don’t forget the Yankees' Greg Bird, who notched an .872 OPS in 2015 before missing the entire 2016 campaign with a shoulder injury.
Stash or try to buy low on talented players like Yasiel Puig, Michael Conforto, Byron Buxton, Kyle Schwarber and Aaron Nola. They may not help this season, but they’re not doomed forever.
However, if your team is near the top of the standings, there comes a time to go for it all. If there’s no trade expiration date, maybe that means offering something decent to rent David Ortiz. Like a real MLB club, there’s no guarantee of staying in contention next year.
Right before settling in for the night, you take one quick gander at your lineup to see how everyone did. You see a starter earn a win and nine strikeouts…on your bench.
Wait, what is he doing there? It turns out he was scheduled to pitch the previous day, but his real manager rearranged the rotation to give him an extra day of rest. Or maybe rain wiped out yesterday’s contest. Or perhaps the league’s host site didn’t list him as a scheduled starter when you set the lineup earlier in the week.
It’s happened to this writer on more than one occasion. It happened in the first game of the season, when a faulty internet connection blocked a change moving Francisco Liriano into the starting lineup. In one of his rare positive outings, he accrued 10 strikeouts over six scoreless frames.
This seems overly simplistic, but you don’t want to lose because of an avoidable mishap. If a calculated decision fails, you can live knowing the reasoning was sound. A smart process will yield better results next time.
If Paul Goldschmidt homers twice on a Friday but is accidentally sitting because the Arizona Diamondbacks didn’t play Thursday, that pain will never go away.