Friday, November 04, 2011

A.L. Home League Recap Part II: In-Season

Last time out, I shared the results from my A.L.-only home league. I had purchased a much better team than I had expected, but had the problem of having excess value in ERA/WHIP and not enough value on offense or in saves.

Dan Haren (1.23 ERA in April), James Shields (2.14), Josh Beckett (2.65) and C.J. Wilson (3.35) not only anchored my staff, but made it apparent in the early going that I was going to either win ERA/WHIP or come close to winning those categories. This made things a little easier, but I still didn't think I had an automatic winner if I stood pat. I needed more power. Juan Pierre's slow start and Matt Thornton's April implosion meant that I also might need more steals and saves as well.

A month into the season, I like to reassess my team's chances. In most cases, you can't read too much into April performances but you do have to take stock of certain players if they're severely under performing. A month into the season, my strategy broke down along these lines:

1) Dump Steals and/or Saves
I had come into the season hoping that Pierre and Brett Gardner would carry my team in steals while also hoping that Thornton would elevate me to the middle-of-the-pack in saves. Ah, the best laid plans. Thornton imploded the first two weeks of the season and ceded his job to Sergio Santos, while Pierre and Gardner were a combined 9-for-19 in steals in April.

I had less faith in Pierre than in Gardner, but was worried about both players. More importantly, Pierre's lousy start had pushed me into a categorical hole where I had expected to be competitive. Kyle Farnsworth left me middle of the pack in saves, and my batting average was scuffling in late May as well. I needed to start picking and choosing which categories I'd be competitive in since I didn't have much to dump (I'll get to that later).

In late May, I made two trades where I dumped steals and tried to pick up some more points in saves and wins. I flipped Juan Pierre for Edwin Jackson and Brett Gardner for Joakim Soria.

Neither trade worked out very well. Jackson looked like he fit my "xFIP darlings" strategy from April, but despite a decent ERA/WHIP while I had him he barely won any games...which was why I acquired him. Soria briefly lost hold of the closer job while I had him. He won it back, but he only picked up four saves while I had him. Three weeks later I reversed course on steals/saves again and flipped Soria for Elvis Andrus.

While all of this might look like a lot of pointless back-and-forth and course correction, I realized that I could win neither saves nor steals but had enough in both categories to stay ahead of some teams and finish middle-of-the-pack in both categories. This didn't quite work out; I only had four points in steals and five points in saves at the end of the season.

Another thing I was trying to do, though, was pick up salary cap space throughout the season. Our league has a hard $350 active roster salary cap. Pierre ($29 salary) and Soria ($37) were much less favorable than Jackson ($9) and Andrus ($10) in terms of the cap. I didn't have many dump chips, but you do need to make dump trades in leagues like this to win. This leads me to the second pillar of my strategy.

2) Try to dump my cheap pitchers
Entering the year, I had only C.J. Wilson ($6) and Thornton ($6) as viable dump chips. When Thornton withered, I had to figure out what to do. Fortunately, the staff I bought provided some options. I assumed that the first pitcher I dumped would be either Wilson or James Shields ($14). I never anticipated that Josh Beckett ($15) would be the guy to go.

Fortunately, one owner was high on Beckett and I managed to get Justin Verlander, Paul Konerko and Nick Markakis for Beckett and minor leaguer Wil Myers. Konerko and Markakis replaced Jake Fox and Jack Wilson, so I was finally on my way to having a full roster of hitters and not the Stars and Scrubs team I had started out with.

And this was the only real dump deal I was able to make all season long. Every other trade I made with non-contenders involved pushing for an upgrade in exchange for a lower salaried player. Some of these trades worked well. Getting Johnny Damon for David Murphy was a win. Picking up Ivan Nova for a first round farm pick was great. On the other hand, some moves did little or nothing. Flipping Scott Sizemore for Ryan Raburn and then turning Raburn into Vernon Wells did little to help. Getting Phil Humber right before Humber got hurt was also a wash. I gave up little in many of these deals in terms of 2011 value, though, so on the whole these kind of low-risk trades were fine, even if the reward was also low.

The third pillar of my in-season strategy was a little unusual, but only because few teams ever build up the fat ERA/WHIP lead I had built up.

3) Play keep away with the good starting pitchers
This idea went against the grain from what I usually do - as well as from what most analysts would recommend. In general, your best course of action is to improve your team and let your opponents worry about their own squads.

But acquiring Verlander put me in a unique situation. I had almost all of the aces who were either: a) expensive or b) in the last year of their Roto contract. I had control of almost the entire market.

In theory, this was great. In practice, I still needed to trade for more offense - particularly power - to go from being one of the best teams to the frontrunner. So I had to:

a) Trade an ace starter for plenty of offense
b) Not give an opponent too much of a boost by trading said ace too early.

The first thing I did was grab CC Sabathia from a dumping team - along with Jason Kubel and A.J. Burnett - for James Shields and Nick Markakis. Yes, this was too much to give up in a dump deal. And, no, I wasn't certain that Sabathia would necessarily be better than Shields at the time of the trade. Sabathia's owner was making noise about moving CC to one of my competitors so I swooped in.

I was approached a few times with 1-to-1 deals pre-deadline, but held out. I was going to either get back a lot of offense for an ace starter or hope that I could win without more offense. What I didn't want was to give a competitor a huge ERA/WHIP boost. Finally, I turned around and flipped CC and Andrus for Mark Teixeira, Adam Jones, and Nick Swisher (there were other components to the deal). Here was the kind of boost I was looking for.

At the trade deadline I was in first place by six points. But it was a soft 71-65 lead. I still needed my acquisitions to deliver. I'll conclude my wrap-up with a look at whether or not my strategy worked.


Toz said...

That Verlander trade, with one of the weaker owners in the league, really changed the complexion of the season for Mike. While he did not make any other significant dump deals, this one gave him Verlander and two everyday impactful hitters to upgrade over two stiffs. Knowing that the owner received offers of better players for similar return, it likely annoys the other money finishers quite a bit that this trade went down the way it did. Such is the life of fantasy baseball, and it is not the only reason Mike won the league, though it was an important contributing factor.

Ryan G said...

Verlander, yeah. I offered Trout or Montero straight up, or as part of a bigger deal...