Milking your counting stats — and the importance of flexibility

We haven’t talked much about strategy lately, mostly because at this point in the year there’s not much you can do. With about two weeks left in the season, there is something you could consider doing if your team/league meets a few select criteria:

  • Decent sized gap between the teams above and below you in batting average.
  • Close enough to maximum innings limit where you could afford to lose a starter.
  • Single catcher mixed league, shallow to moderate two-catcher mixed league, or shallow single catcher AL or NL-only league.
  • Lineup can be changed daily.

In many leagues, even after six months of stat accumulation, many teams are still bunched up in the RBI, run, and home run categories. This is by no means a groundbreaking strategy, but when another 5 or 10 RBIs or runs could mean an extra point, it is certainly worth talking about.

The strategy

First, think about who your catcher is. Now, think about how many days each week he is not in the lineup. Chances are, you’re thinking of the number two, three, or maybe four. That means that from now until the end of the season, you could be missing out on over a week’s worth of games from your catcher position.

You can probably figure out where I’m going with this. If you can afford to drop a pitcher, you can then pick up another catcher, or another two if you’re in a two-catcher league. It might be a good idea to pick up another two anyway.

Then, monitor your team each day. When your usual catcher is getting the day off, play your new catcher. You might find that he sometimes has the day off as well, so if you have room for two extras, it would help prevent not having anyone to man the spot.

If you have the choice between an East Coast catcher and a West Coast catcher, go with the West Coast guy. That way you’ll be able to see if your primary catcher is starting before you have to decide whether or not to play your new backup (as long as the backup is playing at home or in an away park out west).

There really is no harm in doing this as long as you don’t stand to lose ground in batting average. A lot of these catchers will put up poor averages, but if you can withstand that, the value you’re getting in the other categories is entirely positive.

Extreme version of the strategy

To take this a step further, you could drop several starting pitchers and pick up guys at positions other than just catcher. For example, in one league (the “inactive” one I talked about a couple weeks ago) I’m going with just 3 starters and 5 closers. The 5 closers were all acquired via the Waiver Wire throughout the year and all have good ratios. I’m set with with wins and have just 40 innings left before I hit the max, so I’ll maximize the impact to my ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts (which I am squarely in first in anyway) and help out my offense.

It may seem difficult to drop certain starters (I had to drop Tim Lincecum, Kelvim Escobar, and Curt Schilling), but if they aren’t helping you achieve your goal — which is winning the league — then you need to cut them. Before you do, though, make sure that they won’t be picked up by someone who is a threat to overtake you in certain categories. The points gained from milking a few extra games from your offense might not be worth it if three of your opponents each pick up a guy you dropped and all pass you in a category or two.

I picked up Matt Stairs as an extra first baseman/outfielder with Jason Giambi currently my primary corner infielder and Chris Duncan going down to injury. I also picked up Ronnie Paulino as my extra catcher. Pickings were relatively slim, but — again — there is no negative value associated with the pickup as long as it isn’t depleting resources (namely, a roster spot) that would best be used elsewhere.

With Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds hurt, I also picked up Jack Cust to hopefully grab me a few homers and Garret Anderson for some all-around value. They’ll man a couple of my outfield spots until Manny and Bonds get back. Of course, this league is pretty shallow for guys like Cust and Anderson to be available, but the principles are still the same.

Flexibility can be critical

This strategy, essentially, depends upon your roster flexibility. Losing Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, and Chris Duncan might have prevented some teams from gaining ground in September. Luckily for me, I planned for my roster to have that necessary flexibility down the stretch.

I am of the philosophy to let all of my starting pitchers play, regardless of the opponent. This has allowed me to amass a ton of innings throughout the season so that I will reach the maximum innings limit before the end of the year. Once your team has capped out its innings, the value of pitchers to your team is zero. Doesn’t matter if it’s Johan Santana or Jake Peavy, they have zero (direct) value to your team if their stats don’t count anymore.

Because I realized this and maximized pitching early, my roster now has flexibility, namely in the way of roster spots. Even though disaster has struck my team, because I planned ahead, I am able to recover from it. Because I allowed my team to get those innings early, I have freed up several roster spots that are now extremely useful.

I’ll talk more about my strategies regarding starting pitchers as we get closer to next season, but I think you see how useful it can be if you plan on combining it with the one this article primarily deals with. Even if, early in the season, you aren’t consciously planning on using this article’s primary strategy, using my pitching strategy should be a conscious decision. It will allow you greater flexibility at the end of the year, and at this point, with the time for trades and the implementation of most strategies past, flexibility could (and probably should) be considered your most important tool.

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