If You Must Punt, Punt It Right

For all the years that I’ve been playing fantasy baseball, I’ve never really understood the idea of punting saves. Not that I don’t understand the concept, but that I don’t understand the rationale behind thinking that it’s a good strategy. You load up on starters with the hope of locking up wins and strikeouts while doing your best to stay competitive in WHIP and ERA. Perfectly viable strategy, right? But what about the fact that Wins is, more or less, an arbitrary category and while your guy goes seven strong and exits with the lead, some clown of a set-up man comes in, walks the leadoff guy and then serves up a two-run shot to tie the game. A great game for your starter, for sure, but you make no advancement in a category you’ve supposedly built your team to excel in.

And what about the fact that punting saves completely dismisses the benefits a solid closer gives you in stabilizing your ratios? Logging 65 innings of a 2.00 ERA does a helluva lot more to help you than 150 innings of a 4.50 mark. Obviously you’re shooting for starters with better numbers than that but really, how many of them are out there that you’re realistically going to be able to lock up onto your team? So not only are you shorting yourself completely in the saves category, but now you’re also leaving yourself vulnerable with respect to your ratios. Unless you build a rotation filled with aces, you’ve given yourself nothing more than an advantage in just one category while completely losing another and leaving your nose open on three more. An over-simplification? Maybe. But not really.

No, if you’re going to punt a category, then do it with one that isn’t going to help you cut your throat in the others. Punt batting average. Punt the sh*t out of it. I mean, really. How important is it? The category has become so obsolete that most competitive leagues don’t even use it anymore, replacing it with OBP or OPS or some other metric that’s more indicative of a player’s skill. If you’re playing in a league, whether it’s standard roto or head to head, that uses batting average as one of its categories, ignore it. You can easily build a team that excels in each of the other four standard categories regardless of what it does for you in batting average.

I mean, look at this team:

Pos Player R HR RBI SB AVG
C Matt Wieters 67 23 83 3 0.246
1B Ike Davis 66 32 90 0 0.227
2B Rickie Weeks 85 21 63 16 0.230
SS Everth Cabrera 49 2 24 44 0.246
3B Pedro Alvarez 64 30 85 1 0.244
MI Danny Espinosa 82 17 56 20 0.248
CI Adam Dunn 87 41 96 2 0.204
OF Curtis Granderson 102 43 106 10 0.232
OF Jay Bruce 89 34 99 9 0.252
OF Josh Reddick 85 32 85 11 0.242
OF B.J. Upton 79 28 78 31 0.246
OF Cameron Maybin 67 8 45 26 0.243
UT Michael Saunders 71 19 57 21 0.247
Total 993 330 967 194

Are you telling me that you couldn’t walk away from your draft with this team? I matched it up with the team I just picked in the RotoGraphs Ridiculously Early Mock Draft and this team beats the snot out of that team. This team is even competitive in stolen bases, a category I focused on in that other draft. True, a guy like Reddick needs to have the career year he just had to get the final tally, but since there’s no first rounder on this roster, let’s sub in that guy for him then. What If I took Giancarlo Stanton and his, more than likely, .260 average? I’m actually coming out even better. There are tons of guys out there that fit the bill here, so if you’re thinking that two or three on this team have too similar ADPs to be able to get them all, then mix and match other players that have lousy averages and quality stats elsewhere. There are plenty.

So when you’re coming up with your game plan for this year and the thought pops into your head about punting a category, do it the right way. Be smart. Punt the category that truly means the least and where taking a zero in it won’t hurt you everywhere else. Yes, the closers can be tough to take with so much volatility at the position, but I’d rather fight for a decent reliever on the waiver wire than have to sweat something as pointless as batting average.

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com

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9 years ago

This is a pretty good idea, but I do think you are discounting the idea of punting saves a bit. While I agree that having a good closer can help you ERA and WHIP categories, having a good non-closing reliever can do the same thing, and there are plenty of those guys to be had at the very back end of a draft. So spend you early picks on stud SP, ignore the closer run, and pick up guys like O’Flaherty, Venters, Clippard, Marshall, and others at the end of the draft.

Great thing is, that some of them are going to fall into saves anyway, so you might accidentally get enough to not finish last, or at the very least end up with valuable trade chips in season to shore up your other categories.

9 years ago
Reply to  RC

good point about the non-closer RP. if you punt saves, then you have a wider range of choices at RP and can (probably) get even better ratio stats than owners who take token closers JUST for saves.

with some luck your setup men can even chip in 10 wins or so…

personally i prefer the pseudo-punt. draft your upside starters, figure out who is boom/bust, then add FREE closers as the inevitable waiver gems come up. might not win saves, since you’re giving others a head start, but can quite easily finish middle of the pack.

planning to finish last in any category really narrows your margin for error everywhere else.

Stuck in a slump
9 years ago
Reply to  RC

I tend to follow this mentality myself, and I often target the same guys over and over again. In one league I got Frieri and Romo back to back seasons. Last year, I ended up with McGee as well as Kelvin Herrera. Those four really helped out when guys like Lester flamed out on me, and I even won the SV category a few times, which I never did in previous years.

9 years ago
Reply to  RC

If they are sitting on the bench, they won’t help your team. If they get lowered in the batting order, they aren’t going to see the pitches they would see if they had two men on, and were batting clean up. So, you certainly could have several of those .240 hitters that end up hitting 8th or 9th. So, you take a big hit in the categories you’re trying to build, along with a terrible batting average.