Have a couple of public service announcements. First, for those of you who are looking for fantasy sports business articles, I will get back to these next week and leading up to the FSTA conference in June. Please send me problems you have in your business to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will address solutions. Secondly, last week, I did not post a column. I was away as May and December are the only months in sports to get days off. Sorry I didn’t post anything to let you guys know. Embarrassed.
Now on to today’s fantasy baseball dilemma. There are very different ways to approach the in-season strategies that you need to employ based on where you are in the standings. We will address AL-ONLY and NL-ONLY strategies since we cannot go in-depth on all league types.
So, when I came up with this topic, I popped in a movie to inspire me and it was easy with the iconic line: “If you ain't first, you’re last” from Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Like most of Will Ferrell movies, it combines ridiculousness with a message. This hilarious story about two friends Ricky Bobby (Ferrell) and Cal Naughton (John C. Reilly) who rise to the top of the NASCAR circuit only to be challenged by a foreign driver, Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), crashing on the scene. All hell breaks loose and when it is time for friends to stick together, Ricky Bobby abandons everyone to find himself.
LMFAO, did you see how I took a ridiculous comedy and made it seem like a poignant story about a champion? It totally isn’t. It is just pure fun. Not so fun to find yourself in last place in late May. So let’s get to figuring out what to do to win your league.
Last Place: Start praying.
“Dear Lord baby Jesus, lyin' there in your ghost manger, just lookin' at your Baby Einstein developmental videos, learnin' 'bout shapes and colors. I would like to thank you for bringin' me and my mama together, and also that my kids no longer sound like retarded gang-bangers."
So, which is worse: finishing dead last having taken huge risks to try to win or finishing 5th playing it safer to make sure you finish in the top half? Well, "if you ain't first, you're last." I would much rather drive with a cougar and take a shot at finishing first then accept mediocrity in the middle of the pack to save face and avoid ridicule. If you are like me, you need to take big risks. Remember this: you cannot be too rich, too thin or too aggressive. In all our leagues over the years, we have only started in last place at this point in the season a handful of times. Here is what you should do to have a chance to win:
- Analyze your categories. See if there are places that you can build up to a good lead in a category of two.
- Sell high. Find the players on your team that are at the highest value and trade them to fill in areas that can boost you the most.
- Look at the counting categories. Loading starting pitchers to boost strikeouts and wins can help in two categories and if you cycle those pitchers for matchups, you can boost two pitching categoires. Same is true in hitting. Forget batting average and load players who get you home runs and stolen bases. The runs and runs batted in categories will fill in nicely. Focus on at-bats and innings pitched to solidify and move up in the ranks.
- Make big trades. Last season, we traded David Price for three starters and a bat. Price was on the DL and came back to be great, but we shifted the risk to someone who had surplus and for three weeks we got strikeouts, wins and innings. We finished 11th instead of 4th without the trade. You have to GO FOR IT!
- Make every move that makes you better. Small upgrades make a difference even from last place. If there is a trade that only helps you a little bit and helps the other team a lot, you have to do it to have a chance to begin the move up the standings
Middle of the Pack: Still pray a little
“Dear 8 pounds 6 ounces... new born infant Jesus, don't even know a word yet.”
If you are in the middle of the pack, you still need to follow a couple of the things from above. Most leagues split with the top teams and the bottom teams. Usually, there are four to five teams that are way down at the bottom. If you are past those teams, you are in the middle then you are in striking distance and can win. You need to be aggressive still, but make sure that you do not make big mistakes. Here are some examples of things you would do from the last tier, but not from here:
- Don’t stream mediocre pitchers with good matchups. This is one over the years that has killed me. I overthink. A pitcher who goes twice this week is home to Houston and at Cleveland. YES. I found a winner. More times than not, I end up with 12 innings pitched, 10 strikeouts, 20 base runners and 8 to 10 earned runs. THIS IS BAD.
- Don’t make big trades. Sell high on the players who are overperforming that are not part of your strategy like your fourth and fifth outfielders or the set up guy who just got named as part of a closer by committee. Nine times out of ten, that guy gets five or six saves and you can sell him for twenty save value and get something you need like "sure thing" starting pitching by upgrading a couple of your overperforming lower level starters.
- Protect the ratios. Make sure that you don’t take on low batting average players with your moves to get a couple of extra home runs. Make sure that the pitchers you add are safe middle relievers or good quality starters.
- Pay attention. It is easy to just let things roll and “hope” that you will move up. You know it. Hope is not a management strategy.
First Place: Be vigilant until the last day
“I'm just a big hairy American winning machine, you know?”
It feels great to be in first place. CTW is in first place in both Tout Wars AL and LABR NL. It feels good. You look more often. It is more fun. Period. However, because you are looking more often, you tend to think of making more moves. You need to be vigilant until the very last day as we have found out before when we lost to Jason Grey on the last day of the season when Frank Catalanotto crushed out LABR dreams. Here is what I mean by this:
- Build your strengths. Recognizing your ability to build up a lead in a category can get you great trading partners before your league’s trading deadline. Saves and steals are the easiest things to build up. The point is if you are leading in these categories, do not trade players now because…well…injuries happen. Wait until you have a lead that will sustain you through the season and then trade as much of that category as you can. Patience is a virtue.
- Find trading partners for minor deals. Identify your most likely trade partner for the stretch run and begin getting ready for that deal that makes you win. When you have a player you are dropping, offer it to the same person for next to nothing a couple of times in a row. Then when it comes time to make that winning deal, it will be easier.
- Vulture your wins: A relief pitcher who can vulture wins is almost always better than a spot starter. The way you find the vultures by team is to review the pitchers that the manager brings in when the game is tied after the 7th inning. It is not a trivial thing to do, but I do it every three weeks. Go through the boxscores, check the line scores and when the games are tied see who the manager brings in. Five appearances will net you one win. You will get a win or two until they are switched out of the role to mop up or for a better role like setting up.
- Watch the ratios: Don’t take any chances with starting pitchers and on offense take a dead spot instead of one with a struggling young player. A player who gets two runs batted in, but bats .200 each week will hurt you more than help you.
Keep The Faith
“Thanks, Cal. Shake and Bake. You'll be my best friend forever.”
The mental part of fantasy baseball is very underrated. The ability for you to always believe that you can win is as important as any other part. We have come from last to first in the second half of a season, so I never give up. I find that it is more fun to play hard anyway.
So like Cal and Ricky, playing as a team is always better for me. Allows me to think of the ultra-aggressive strategies and be talked out of them when appropriate plus keep others from making mistakes. So while Talladega Nights may not be Top Gun, if you are in last place, maybe you should listen to Ricky Bobby and reach out for all the help you can get…
“Help me Tom Cruise! Tom Cruise, use your witchcraft on me to get the fire off me!”
Thanks Rick. My non-closing relievers are Clippard and Cody Allen... just added Otero as well.
Forgot Jean Machi and Otero from Oak who I own in expert leagues where we are in first. Each is doing the job and was targeted after I did my homework in late April.
The classic vulture is Tyler Clippard. He gets tons of opportunities when the game is tied winning 4 and losing 2 already this year. I like guys who can get some saves too - even without as many opps as Clippard. Other guys: Sean Doolittle, Bryan Shaw, Darren O'Day, Ryan Webb, Benoit and Steve Delabar. Safe.
Can you give some names for win vultures please... I am crushing one league but getting no love in Ws with guys like Samardzija, Cueto, and Cain. What do you think of guys like Mike Dunn, Casey Fien, and Zach Duke? Are these the type of guys i should be adding to pad Ws?
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Rick Wolf is a leader in the fantasy sports industry. Wolf is a founding Board Member and one of only fifteen FSTA Hall of Famers including Bill James, Ron Shandler, Glenn Colton and Matthew Berry. Wolf is the Co-Host of Colton & The Wolfman every week on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio. With college friend, Glenn Colton, he has won three LABR Expert baseball titles and four FSTA Expert football titles. Twitter: @RickWolf1
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