I have been playing in a 12-team ESPN fantasy baseball league that began in a most brutal fashion back in March, but which is ending up better than I had expected. I am, after all, in the final series against my head-to-head opponent and I have a realistic shot of winning the title. I think it proves the point that even if you have a poor draft, you can still rescue your fantasy team through waiver wire acquisitions and some patience.
Revisiting a bad draft
Let’s go back to March of this year. The league held an auction draft and team owners started out with budgets of $260. I knew from my pre-draft research that starting pitchers would hold premium value in this league since the scoring system awarded 3 points per inning pitched, 5 points per win, and 1 point per strikeout. For perspective, batters were awarded 1 point per run scored, 1 point per total base, 1 point per RBI, and so forth.
Nevertheless, I noticed one league rule in particular which changed the way I drafted: the games played limit indicated that the maximum for pitchers was “12 Games Started”. I interpreted this as meaning that any pitcher could make a maximum of 12 starts for a team in the league, and that any additional starts would result in zero points. I thought this was a quirky rule, but one that I could use to my advantage. I had visions of my opponents dropping top-tier pitching talent by mid-season once they realized the pitchers wouldn’t produce any more points for them.
Turns out I was wrong, and in a major way. The “12 Games Started” rule actually meant that the pitchers on a team could only make 12 starts for an owner in any one week. Needless to say, my plan for league domination came crumbling down at lightning speed. During the draft, my strategy was to stock up on upper-tier batters, as well as a few quality relievers, and pick up cheap starting pitching at the end. After all, if others would be dropping their quality starters halfway through the season, there wasn’t much point in me paying to draft them (or so I thought).
Anyway, here are the draft results for my team. Naturally, I followed the strategy of talent concentration:
|6||Edwin Encarnacion, Tor 1B ~||$44|
|7||Giancarlo Stanton*, Mia OF ~||$52|
|8||Miguel Cabrera, Det 1B ~||$42|
|14||Jose Bautista, Tor OF ~||$42|
|40||Michael Brantley, Cle OF ~||$29|
|98||Albert Pujols, LAA 1B ~||$16|
|109||Joe Nathan*, Det RP||$3|
|128||Mark Melancon, Pit RP ~||$14|
|205||LaTroy Hawkins, Tor RP||$1|
|217||Wilin Rosario, Col C||$1|
|228||Brandon League, LAD RP||$1|
|234||Rougned Odor, Tex 2B ~!||$2|
|249||Jordan Walden*, StL RP||$1|
|257||Marlon Byrd, SF OF||$1|
|263||Aaron Hill, Ari 2B||$1|
|268||Ike Davis*, Oak 1B||$1|
|272||Rafael Soriano, ChC RP||$1|
|276||Jonathan Broxton, StL RP||$1|
|280||Trevor Plouffe, Min 3B||$1|
|284||J.J. Hardy, Bal SS||$1|
|287||Josh Reddick, Oak OF~||$1|
|290||Wade Miley, Bos SP||$1|
|293||A.J. Burnett, Pit SP||$1|
|296||Jesse Chavez*, Oak SP||$1|
|298||Trevor Bauer, Cle SP||$1|
~ = Player continually on my team through the present
~! = Player that has been dropped and re-added to my team
Playing the waiver wire
Once I learned of my mistaken drafting strategy, I had to recover by picking up starting pitchers whom I could rely on for the season. As you can see from my roster, my pitching was anchored by A.J. Burnett and Wade Miley. I needed help.
I started picking up the best players I could find. I picked up Aaron Harang, who had a stretch of quality outings early in the season; I got Brandon Morrow in April; I also added Ubaldo Jimenez, a player who is still on my roster as the season ends. Other notables that I was able to pick up during the season included Alfredo Simon, Lance Lynn, and Jaime Garcia.
I also compensated for my lack of quality starters by scooping up a few more closers, such as Brad Boxberger, Trevor Rosenthal, and Shawn Tolleson. Closers could get me points during the week without costing me one of my 12 starts, so they provided some solid production during the season.
Getting enough points to make the playoffs
By playing the waiver wire and being patient with my team, I was able to end the season 15-6 (.714 winning percentage), which was tied for second in the league. As was probably to be expected, my season pitching stats were horrible: most walks given up, most losses taken, most hits given up, and second to most earned runs allowed. Meanwhile, my batting stats were fairly good – most RBIs and least strikeouts – but I was hurt when two of my best players (Miguel Cabrera and Giancarlo Stanton) spent significant time on the DL. How, then, did I compensate for my bad pitching?
My success was due to sheer volume; although I had bad pitching stats, I had the second-most innings pitched. Since starting pitchers generally got the most points for any single game, I tried to max out my allowed number of starts if I needed extra points to beat my opponent. In addition, for much of the season I played without a catcher and used my empty roster spot for an extra pitcher. I did this because the catcher position was the least reliable on my team. Real-life catchers get frequent days of rest, and the production coming from my catcher position wasn’t enough to keep one of these players on my roster.
Rather than getting 5-10 points in a week from my catcher, I could get 15-20 points by using that roster spot for a starting pitcher, even if the pitchers I used were mediocre.
Winning the final
Success during the fantasy season is easier achieved than success during the fantasy playoffs. Real-life players get rest, rosters change around, and some teams might not care about winning if they’ve already wrapped up their own playoff runs. Winning at this stage is less predictable, but micromanaging can help increase your odds.
Since I’m in my final week, I’ve one last push to make. My goal is to max out my max number of starts for my pitchers and then drop pitchers as needed to pick up middle relievers who can continue to contribute points. I have to be careful, though, about streaming starters; if I pick the wrong starter off waivers, I could end up with negative points, thereby hurting my drive for the championship.
I’ll post an update after the season ends, hopefully with good news in hand.