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In yesterday’s Daily Bender, we took a look at Carlos Gonzalez and vast amount of disappointment he’s brought fantasy baseball owners this season. While it’s incredibly difficult to part ways with a player who has brought you so much fantasy deliciousness over the years, even just a cursory glance at the statistics leaderboards will tell you that baseball is a young man’s game and clinging to the old guard (read: proven talent) can be more of a detriment than a blueprint for success. Not every aging vet is in as drastic a decline as CarGo, but as names such as Aaron Judge, Jake Lamb, Billy Hamilton and Robbie Ray adorn the tops of the leaderboards, fantasy owners are realizing that embracing the risk of youth and upside is what’s bringing home the championship titles.

Before we continue, let’s just be clear that this is not an all or nothing situation. You should not ignore the value of some of baseball’s stalwarts just to add youth to your roster. They should be there to complement them. Think of it like a real team where they try to build their core with the stars of tomorrow and then supplement their roster with high-priced free agent veterans. You cannot dismiss them altogether, but you’re not going to win your league relying solely on the proven talent theory.

The game of baseball is evolving and, as such, your fantasy strategy should as well. The majority of leagues out there utilize daily roster moves as opposed to weekly. Those leagues also tend to lean towards a waiver priority system over FAAB bidding so you may acquire players throughout the week and not just every Sunday. As a result, roster turnover has become much more abundant and fantasy owners eager to win a title have embraced playing the hot hand rather than letting their under-performing players work their way out of a slump. The strategy doesn’t always work, but when some of these kids get hot during their initial call-up, the boost in the counting stats will start to pile up.

Just take a look at how some of this season’s call-ups have performed during their season debuts:

Player Pos Team Debut Stats
Ian Happ 2B/OF CHC .357 with 4 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI & 8 runs over 33 PA
Bradley Zimmer OF CLE .300 with 4 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 5 runs & 3 SB over 45 PA
Derek Fisher OF HOU .667 with 1 HR, 2 RBI & 2 runs over 5 PA
Jorge Bonifacio OF KC .333 with 2 HR, 4 RBI & 2 runs over 30 PA
Cody Bellinger 1B/OF LAD .367 with 2 2B, 7 HR, 18 RBI, 17 runs & 1 SB over 69 PA
Lewis Brinson OF MIL .077 with 1 SB over 15 PA
Matt Chapman 3B OAK .000 with 1 run over 5 PA
Jaycob Brugman OF OAK .240 with 2 RBI & 1 run over 27 PA
Jose Pirela 2B/OF SD .441 with 4 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI & 9 runs over 39 PA
Franchy Cordero OF SD .339 with 3 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 12 runs & 1 SB over 60 PA
Austin Slater OF SF .405 with 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 7 RBI & 5 runs over 41 PA
Ben Gamel OF SEA .365 with 5 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI & 14 runs over 62 PA
Mallex Smith** OF TB .407 with 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 9 runs & 4 SB over 30 PA
Brian Goodwin OF WAS .277 with 4 HR, 12 RBI, 7 runs & 1 SB over 71 PA
       
**return trip to the majors      

For the most part, these are cherry-picked stats as for some of these players, I cut it off right before a slump/drop-off. But again, as I’ve said, when that slump hits – and I’m talking about a two or three-game downturn – you start making arrangements to swap him out for someone else on your bench. Maybe you miss a game or two of him heating back up, but that’s what playing the hot hand is all about, right? You take advantage of the early surge and then you jump ship while you can. Not dropping them altogether, mind you, but rotate them out of your starting lineup. If they heat back up, great. Reactivate them. If they don’t, it should be an easy cut or trade to the prospect hound in your league.

We continuously talk about sustainability of production and the tough part about properly utilizing youth is to know, not when to let go, but when to put them back on your bench. It could be a week. It could be two. But once that hot streak starts to cool off, you shouldn’t be afraid to park them on the bench while they make the necessary changes to the adjustments pitchers are making to face them. The worst thing you can do is leave him in your active lineup, assuming that he’ll heat back up. If you’re going to play the hot hand, you have to stick with the hot hand. If that hand goes cold, you make the change. Again, not an outright drop just yet, but a benching while you find out if he’s worthy of staying on your roster.

One caveat is that this is not a strategy for a casual player who doesn’t study the numbers or the situations/circumstances with which a player is called up. I’m sure many of you will mention the roster crunch playing the hot hand causes, so it is up to you to make sure you’re not dropping quality, productive players while doing this. There’s a fine line between playing the hot hand and slitting your throat as you hand over solid players to your competition. You have to evaluate your roster properly and objectively. Just because Adam Jones is mired in an early April slump doesn’t mean you cut him in favor of rostering a guy who might only be up for a week.

I’ve never been a big fan of micromanaging your roster, especially early in the season, but I have learned to make the necessary adjustments based on how things are playing out, both in fantasy and reality. If you’re looking to gain an edge over your competition and are willing to put in the necessary work, then this just might be a way for you to outduel some of the more experienced players in your league as they sit and wait for their stars to turn things around. Remember, this game is about the numbers, whether it's cumulative for the year or for just the week. If you can find a way to get a leg up, you do it, but you have to be dedicated to the cause. Half-assing this strategy is only going to cause you grief and disappointment late in the season. Sure, fantasy football is right around the corner, but wouldn’t you prefer to enter that season having already won this one?

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