One category dumps are the easiest to pull off. Generally, you only need to alter your strategy mildly to dump one category.
Batting average, home runs, stolen bases, wins or saves can be ditched in a one-category dump. RBI, ERA or WHIP cannot. HR are too closely tied to RBI and get lost in the process. ERA is too closely tied to WHIP and vice versa; dumping one category also means dumping the other.
I'll talk about two category dumps at a later date.
Each category has advantages and disadvantages as far as tossing it aside. Categories are listed in order of most frequently dumped to least frequently.
Saves - The advantages to tossing this category are obvious. Two closers at $30 a pop would leave an owner with little money to draft an offense and a decent starting pitching core. One closer for $30 might only buy four or five points in the category. And we all know how volatile closers are. Anyone who owned Brad Lidge last year can tell you that it's not fun paying top dollar for a closer only to see him go down in flames.
One disadvantage that isn't discussed much is how a top closer can swing not only saves, but ERA and WHIP as well. A premier closer can earn quite a bit of money in ERA/WHIP. Chris Carpenter's $22 in ERA/WHIP is phenomenal, but Billy Wagner's $14 was nothing to sneeze at.
Steals - Like saves to a lesser degree, steals is a category that some owners are reluctant to pay for because some SB guys are one dimensional and, if they don't run, you've thrown your money into a hole. And real baseball teams don't allow guys like Tony Womack or Nook Logan to play just because they're fast (if you don't believe me, look at Womack and Logan's 2005 numbers and their 2006 numbers).
It takes a little more effort to cast aside steals. Unlike saves, you can have a power hitter who steals the odd base. That doesn't mean you won't draft him, but you do have to take this into account when throwing the category. Torii Hunter ($26) outearned Frank Thomas ($24) last year, but when you take away Hunter's 12 SB, that suddenly isn't so: Thomas now earns $24 to Hunter's $20. I'll get into the mechanics of altering dollar values for category dumps in a future post.
If there's something I don't like about dumping steals, it's that one cheap hitter can shoot you up two or three points in this often tightly-packed category. Owners of Nick Punto or Willie Bloomquist last year will tell you that those 15+ steals each player got were cheap. Obviously, Punto or Bloomquist by himself is worthless. But on a team not tossing the category, you can gain a lot by spending a little. You can't say that about HR/RBI.
Wins - In the pre-IP requirement days, this category dump was a clever gambit devised by Alex Patton. He correctly figured that you could draft nine cheap middle relievers and load up on offense. Your bullpen would be bound to get some saves, and you might even luck into a closer. You could then spend almost all your money on offense and cruise to 48 points there. Since relievers typically post better ERA/WHIP than starters, you'd probably get another 24 points in pitching. All you needed then was a few saves points and you'd be set.
In the post-IP requirement world, dumping wins is hard but not impossible. The biggest challenge is how to allocate your dollars.
If you spend full value on closers, as discussed above, you can dump wins but you're still probably going to wind up spending $175 on offense, which won't separate you from the pack. If you blow off a closer, you're now dumping one and a half categories. You can certainly do this, but this doesn't fit in as well to the one category dump as saves or steals.
So it can be done. But it requires much more creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
One hope you have when you dump wins is that you'll wind up with a couple of points anyway. As teams pack it in, you might be able to begin moving up in the category simply through attrition.
Batting Average - The appeal of dumping batting average is that guys who hit .260 or lower typically aren't as sexy as players hitting .300 and up. These are blue collar players like Ben Broussard or Joe Crede in 2005. They wouldn't cost an arm and a leg, and they produce despite low batting averages. The goal here would be to fill in a fairly cheap offense since you're not drafting any bonafide superstars. The hope is that you grab guys like Crede or Broussard or Gary Matthews Jr. who defied expectations and hit for a good average.
It can work pretty well. I tried this last year in the A.L. and would up with Broussard, Crede and enough other guys who were decent enough to leave me middle of the pack in average. Like wins, you can finish above last in batting average without trying.
A problem with this approach is that, like SB, real life can intersect with your strategy and hurt you across the board. If a .260 hitter suddenly morphs into a .230 hitter he can start losing AB and, worse, can lose his job all together. This particularly applies to SB guys. A guy hitting .270 with speed has a little value to a major league team. A guy hitting .230 who is fast isn't going to steal bases with a .280 OBP.
Home Runs - I've rarely seen this tried. I accidentally backed into this strategy a year after I had won. I noticed that my offense had a lot of everyday players but no big boppers, so I just went with it. Like the wins and BA dumping gambits, you can actually finish with a few points in home runs simply through attrition when other teams dump.
Like the batting average strategy, you're looking for players who are a little less sexy than your 30+ HR boppers. Think Michael Young and Michael Cuddyer last year or, better yet, Emil Brown and Mike Lowell. You're not going to have the most exciting team, but you should be able to compete in RBI. Seventy-five RBI across 12 hitters would have left you with 900 RBI last year, which would have at least put you in contention in RBI.
Just like the batting average strategy, though, some of these players are also more at risk, simply because their OPS and other non-Roto stats aren't that great. Rooting for Emil Brown to keep his job isn't the most fun thing in the world. Trust me. I went through a year and a half of that before I traded him last year.
Tomorrow, I'll discuss two category dumps.