Streaming Starting Pitchers

In two leagues I am in, there has been some complaining of teams streaming starting pitchers this last week of the season. Streaming is using as many starting pitchers as you can to try to accumulate as many counting stats as possible (Wins and Ks). It is a method to make up make up quite of bit of ground quickly, with little draw back.

Is Streaming Wrong?

There is nothing wrong with streaming, if the leagues rules were to allow it. It could be done by any owner during the season. It usually comes to the fore front at the end of the season for a couple of reasons. First, owners are able to dump starters that are done for the season. These pitchers have no value in the 2011 season. Dumping these pitchers is especially done in single season leagues. In keeper leagues, the dumped pitchers can be picked up for next year, so streaming is limited.

The second reason for the increase complaints is that teams are now in the finals and there is pride, banners and possibly money on the line. Teams may be seeing an entire season of work lost to an owner that is able to start a stable full of pitchers over the last few days.

While I can see why some owners may be frustrated. The rules are the rules and there is no reason to change them at the end of the season. It may not seem “fair”, but every owner had the same opportunity. The end game is just another part of the season and should be taken as seriously.

How to Stop/Limit Streaming

For leagues that want to stop streaming, here are some possible solutions.

Required Action – It must be decided at the beginning of the season that the rules need to be changed. If someone is complaining in the last couple of weeks, it is way to late. People won’t blame others of making up rules on the fly or not honoring gentleman agreements between certain owners. Make a league rule against it.

1. Add/Drop Limits – Setting a season or weekly roster change limit is probably the best option. Six moves a week once the season starts, to me, seems the ideal balance. An owner is able to make needed changes to the tune of over 100 moves a season. Also a seasonal limit of 50 to 75 moves is a reasonable option.

2. One option I love is to add Losses as a category. The pitchers that the owner is picking up usually suck (that is why other teams don’t own them) and Losses will offset the additional Wins.

3. Manipulate the rest of the league into streaming. Once in a league, I saw my opponent was streaming in our H2H match-up. It was a keeper league and I really didn’t want to put my players on the WW. Instead, I posted a comment on the Bulletin Board complaining about it. While I got the tough luck comment I expect, all the other teams started streaming and took away many of my opponents options. Pointing out a loop hole someone is manipulating, and you can’t, is the best way to close it up.

4. Yearly IP limits. While these should be mandatory in any Roto leagues, some leagues don’t have them. They are a great way to stop SP streaming by making sure only the most valuable pitchers are used.

5. Locking down rosters for the post season. While drastic, if the rosters are larger enough, this seems like a viable option.

I absolutely don’t believe in changing the league rules at the end of the season. There are ways to limit streaming and those rules should be implemented at the beginning of the season, not at the end.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

32 Responses to “Streaming Starting Pitchers”

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  1. Babip Avengers says:

    I’d add that a smart owner can grab the best daily options, simply to keep them away from a streaming owner. There’s no need to use them, or to stream yourself, but it will force your competitor into poorer choices.

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    • xrayxtals says:

      That would be impeding, and is absolutely cheating.

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      • eastsider says:

        It isn’t impeding according to ESPN:

        C: Impeding other owners
        Certain transactions made solely to impede other owners is not allowed. “Tanking games”, or losing for the sole purpose of denying another player’s chance to make the playoffs is against the rules. In particular, cycling through players in free agency to put them on waivers and make them unavailable to other teams in your league is strictly prohibited and is grounds for expulsion from the game.

        Grabbing the best option each day is a lot different than grabbing each eligible every day and putting them on the waiver wire.

        Now, that doesn’t mean that there are no ethical considerations. However, if you figure that on any given day there are thirty starting pitchers and the top 15 (or so) are already owned that means you are grabbing the 16th best option to block a streamer forcing him into the 17th best option. That doesn’t sound entirely horrible to me. Especially when you consider that the original question was whether streaming itself is ethical…

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        Why is it impeding to acquire potentially valuable players and then opt not to use them?

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      • SKob says:

        When you decide not to use them within minutes of picking them up! That’s when!

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      • The A Team says:

        Why does that matter when considering impeding? An owner has the right to field the best roster that they can. In a league where streaming is a viable option, that is usually going to include rostering starting pitchers even if they don’t intend to use them. Because it’s a streaming league, that Ted Lilly benched start is worth more than Jason Bourgeois on the bench.

        Clearly you think rostering players for purely bench roles is impeding. Do you support streaming? Because I really don’t understand this if you do. Those two positions are logically inconsistent.

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  2. Jones says:

    Uhhhh, why would people complain about streaming pitchers? What part of it is unfair?

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    • jimbo says:

      Fair being the key word. But first, what is the ‘game’ really about???

      If it is to match wits with one another as managers (“my fake team against your fake team”) then streaming violates a certain principle of the whole thing.

      For me to say “my staff is better than your staff” is irrelevant to the league standings if you stream and rack up 3-4 times the innings I’m able to. Maybe your era/whip is in the tank (because you drafted poorly) and instead you decide to stream all year just to win two categories (wins/k’s). How “fair” is it to draft the worst group of starters, yet still win 2 of 5 pitching categories??

      To put it another way, it would be similar to letting an owner bench Jeter after a day game to put Andrus in for a night game…in the same roster spot…on the same day. Would you mind if an opponent could do that, yet all your players had late starts?

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      • mcbrown says:

        “Fair” is all a matter of interpretation. I disagree that it is at all similar to the Jeter example you describe – a fairer example would be streaming two platoon players (say Seth Smith and Mitch Moreland). As the author said, the situation you describe (bad staff winning 2 out of 5 roto categories) is unlikely if there is an innings cap.

        In any case, I find the “fairness” issue is less likely to come up in head to head leagues (yet another reason sophisticated players should consider them!). Streaming to win 2 categories with league replacement-level pitchers will cause you to punt ERA and WHIP, leaving the obvious counter-move of playing only superior starters/matchups for the week. If someone can get an edge by streaming for the whole season in a head-to-head league, then the other owners must be leaving too many good pitchers on the wire.

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      • mcbrown says:

        Wow, I used some terrible English in that first paragraph. Sorry.

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      • jimbo says:

        But teams really DO platoon offensive players from day to day. In fantasyland, perhaps your shortstop (position) actually gets 170 starts in the year…okay, that’s odd but not crazy.

        With pitchers though, we’re talking about double or triple the ‘standard’ number of starts. Not a platoon at all, more like adding another pitcher to your staff.

        If the Orioles pitching staff had 400 games started this year, don’t you think they’d win the division?

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      • drewcorb says:

        “How “fair” is it to draft the worst group of starters, yet still win 2 of 5 pitching categories?? ”

        I’d say a .400 winning percentage is pretty indicative of drafting a bad staff. Doesn’t that seem like things are working out fairly?

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      • Len Vincent says:

        Look at league settings before joining if you want to limit streaming. Instead of being a crybaby, simply prohibit streaming in the ways author mentions BEFORE season starts. Other ways to limit streaming is to use waiver wire yourself as dropping manager can not pick up until clears waivers. On Yahoo impeding is impossible as same day add/drops do not go to waivers for other managers. They remain free agents. I say it is irresponsible and poor sportsmanship to complain about streaming when league rules allow streaming. It is so easy to restrict streaming that you should talk to your league Commish about your concerns or find another league to join. Finally, consider that the streaming manager is picking up SPs that other managers didn’t want. These SPs are typically back of the rotation types who have high ERA and Whip.

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  3. Matt H says:

    I’m in a league with losses, and I hate it. Yeah, it prevents streaming, but it’s also annoying as hell to have a 3.00 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP for the week and still lose in both wins and losses. One arbitrary, luck-based stat is enough for me, thank you very much.

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  4. Doug E. Fresh says:

    Get rid of Wins(and Losses)….Add Quality Starts.

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  5. Ronald Coase says:

    Just add a transaction cost per add/drop to create a disincentive.

    $1 X 100 streams = a lot of money vis-a-vis a notional entry fee.

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  6. In our ultra-competitive league, we had a situation where more than half the league was getting up at 3am et to grab the next day’s pitchers after lineups locked. Pitching success became determined by how effectively an owner could add and drop pitchers at 3am. Aside from separating those who are more dedicated, it really brought no value to the league. For most players, starting pitching was little more than an after thought. The change we implemented was a change in categories.

    Our old categories were your standard W, K, ERA, WHIP and Saves. We changed the W to Wins minus Losses and K to K/9 innings.

    This change effectively made all non-relief categories ratio categories. In fact, it makes it bad to get an additional start. So additionally we implemented a minimum of 5 starts per week rule. Now, our league functions more closely to actual baseball, in that each team has their general rotation in place. Some owners run with four starters and grab a spot starter or two. Some owners carry 8 or 9 starters and play the matchups. But the end result is that there is much more focus on starting pitching than in most leagues, which I think is a good thing. And of course my wife no longer gives me dirty looks for setting the alarm at 2:45am just to make moves for the next day.

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    • Sean says:

      Wouldn’t this drive the value of high K RPs way up, so that they’re more valuable than SPs? What keeps this from happening?

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  7. Braves Fan says:

    I find absolutely nothing wrong with streaming. It’s an essential component to the end game for any fantasy baseball league. When all other options have been exhausted, it’s that final trick-up-the-sleeve to pull out a positive outcome. Being on top of a league for the majority of a season does not preclude one from having to compete as diligently over final couple weeks.

    All of the tips listed in the article and comments section may be effective for limiting streaming, but in doing so, they dull the most exciting part of the fantasy baseball season.

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  8. phoenix2042 says:

    here’s one solution if someone is streaming… use only your best guys so you can take rate stats while they take bulk stats. or perhaps stream yourself and make smarter choices or do it before the other guy?

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  9. David says:

    The answer is negative valued counting stats.

    Maybe you add losses as it’s own category, or maybe you combine it with wins to have a Net Decisions category.

    HR allowed is another nice one.

    It’s not that streaming is bad, per se, it’s that you want to close loopholes in the rules that favor one strategy over another. If streaming nearly always wins in your league, then you’ve got a loophole.

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    • Everett says:

      Or, increase rate stats. Add K/BB, BB/9, K/9. There’s an excellent chance that these streamed pitchers aren’t really all that great (why they’re not owned in the first place), which will show up in their peripherals. Let the team take the wins and Ks, and you take the rest.

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  10. Brad Johnson says:

    Jeff, you’re missing one major option – employ a smaller bench. That makes the cost of streaming higher by forcing owners to constantly cycle out fairly decent players. I lost Beachy early this season trying to sneak him through waivers while I played a favorable waiver matchup. He then went on to have a great season and I was left kicking myself (although not much, I blew out that league).

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    • Brad Johnson says:


      By the way, you might also know me as The A Team. How’s the view from 7th place :)

      The above post was referencing a different league than ours.

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    • Toffer Peak says:

      Actually a smaller bench has the opposite effect. By decreasing the number of bench players you are minimizing the difference in quality between the worst active layer and the best free agent’ therefore the cost of streaming is less.

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      • Len Vincent says:

        Actually, a larger bench is the way to reduce streaming. The reason is that lower quality SPs will be available as free agents. Then, the gain in production categories like Ws and Ks is more likely to be offset by higher ERA and Whip. Who would get up at 3 AM to add the Mariners 5th SP?

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  11. Dan Holmes says:

    Brad, while that would disincentivize streaming in the early season, the post here seems to address it within the context of playoffs. A smaller bench is unlikely to be of as much consequence to somebody willing to win the championship at all costs, especially in a redraft format.

    Of course, I personally don’t have anything against streaming, but…

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  12. Pat says:

    I won my 10×10 weekly H2H league by streaming starting pitching halfway through the season. The only limits we had were a max of 9 starts in a normal week. I anchored my staff by running out Lee and Hamels every week, then put in as many two start pitchers as I needed to have two more starts than my opponent. This gave me nearly automatic wins in IP and Ks, and made my competitive in Ws. My ERA and WHIP actually improved as I was now choosing pitchers based on match ups instead of just running out whoever I had. My k/9 took a serious hit, likely because pitchers with high strikeout rates are seen as extremely valuable, whatever their other peripherals were like, and no one drops them to the waiver wire. I also punted on saves, using as many spots as I could for starters.

    Yes, I took advantage of the way my league’s rules were set up, but that’s what a good player does.

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  13. Soomars says:

    This very subject is my badge of honor for my 2011 fantasy season. I, a non-streamer, held off 3 streamers to take both Ws and Ks in my roto league. I simply focused on K/9 during the draft and stocked my bench with quality starters. That bench proved to be more valuable than a season’s worth of stats accumulated by sub-par starters.

    But I don’t necessarily discourage my leagues from streaming, especially for the sake of the playoffs / end of the season. The MLB Postseason presents managers with challenges and opportunities that don’t exist in the regular season. You don’t think a MLB manager would platoon his bench and his bullpen to win a deciding playoff game? I sure as hell would. There’s an entire offseason of recovery ahead, and championships last forever. Why should fantasy baseball be any different? Especially in head-to-head leagues, I find that streaming, among other strategies, can be one of those playoff opportunities. I used streaming, both for stat category wins and “impedence,” to win my head-to-head league this year.

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  14. Jim says:

    I didn’t have a single big name starting pitcher. I surrounded my streaming pitchers with high quality relief pitching. I focused on big time hitters and won two off four leagues in 2011. My league limits moves to 6 a week. Nobody complained.

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