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Strategies for the Stretch Run

There’s about a month and a half left of regular season baseball to be played, and hopefully you still have a chance to finish in a money spot in your fantasy league. This is a great time to still be paying attention, because many are not. Whether your leaguemates’ focus shifts to football or they are faring too poorly in the standings to still keep as up-to-date as they used to, there is less competition for free agents. Besides the favorable position you may find yourself in with regards to free agents, there are also some strategies to consider for the stretch run.

At this point in the season, your position in each of the category standings must be analyzed closely. No longer should you worry much about a player’s overall fantasy value in a vacuum. All that you should be concerned about is how many standings points a particular player could potentially gain you if you start him and how many may be lost if you bench him. On both the hitting side and pitching side, there are a pair of categories that based on your position, will help you decide what types of players to start each week.

On the hitting side, now is the time to really look at the stolen base and home run categories. If you find yourself on a lone island in steals, where it may be very difficult to gain a point and the team behind you is unlikely to come close to catching you, then to the bench you go Brett Gardner and Coco Crisp. These two hitters are only above replacement level in steals and barely above in runs, so although you would likely never consider benching them during the early part of the season due to their overall fantasy value, the situation might dictate it now.

Similarly, hitters like Mike Stanton, Mark Reynolds and Carlos Quentin may be benchable if you have nowhere to go in home runs. Of course, that category is tied to RBIs, so you should check to make sure you won’t be hurting in that category if you make a switch. Bench these guys, heck, even drop them if you must, and add a steals guy if you could still use help in that category.

On the pitching side, we have a similar situation with wins/strikeouts and saves. Stolen bases and home runs are sometimes difficult to balance, but at least hitters do contribute in all categories. For pitchers, though, a starter will contribute in only four categories at most, so you are truly choosing between wins/strikeouts and saves. This becomes a little trickier because ERA and WHIP will potentially be affected.

It is unlikely that you find yourself in a position where you can’t move anywhere in wins and strikeouts. The more likely scenario is that you are either near the top in saves and can’t move up or down by more than a point, or you are near the bottom, and below you are some teams who eventually dumped the category. Either situation being the case, it is time to bench or drop your closers as they are providing you with no value. The few innings they will still pitch the rest of the season will have little impact on your ERA and WHIP, so they are now officially one category contributors.

Depending on where you are in ERA and WHIP, it could be time to start getting on the two-start pitcher carousel or being a little more selective on who you activate. Whatever you decide though, you will have nine starters going each week. You must be careful, however, that you don’t end up losing points in ERA and WHIP that destroys any gains you made in wins and strikeouts.