This is an updated version of an article originally posted in 2013 and then reposted in 2015.
As we get closer to our league trade deadlines (if it hasn’t passed already!) and the final month of the season, and the effect any individual player will have on our place in the standings gradually diminishes, this time of year represents one of the final chances to improve our teams. It probably doesn’t need to be stated, but it’s important to reiterate for those still clinging to preseason values (I usually cling to them far longer than most, but even I know to give them up at this point!) — you need to essentially throw player values out the window and trade for needs based on your position in the various statistical categories. Don’t worry about overpaying if you still expect the trade to net you positive points. Obviously, you want to make a trade that brings back the greatest value in return and gain you the most standings points; but if the best return available to you is a so-called $15 player for your $25 player, it’s still easily worth accepting if you expect that it gains you points.
At various points during the season, I put together a little Excel spreadsheet to help me determine which categories I could gain and lose points in. The exercise helps me identify the type of players to target and which players on my own team are tradeable. It looks like this:
Column B represents the points I could reasonably gain in each category without any trades or free agent pick-ups. Column C represents how many points my team could lose in those categories, again assuming I don’t trade anyone away and my team remains the same. It is important to remember that we’re not trying to be 100% accurate by using RoS projections for every fantasy team in your league. That would be too time consuming and not provide enough incremental value. This is just a simple way to see how clustered the categories are and how likely it is you could gain or lose points if your team performs better or worse than normal over the rest of the season. Column D is the sum of the absolute values of the gain and loss columns. I want to know which categories have the potential for the most total movement; these are the categories I need to focus on improving so I could either gain points or prevent the loss of any.
The ratio categories are a bit more difficult to assess. You could choose to really dive deep by looking at your total at-bats and innings pitched, then picking various rest of season rates your team might post and calculate where your rates would end up given those various rest of season marks. But then you need to also remember that the teams around you could jump up or down, so it’s not as cut and dried as just considering the movement of your own team. So I typically like to assume I could gain or lose an extra point than I might realistically be able to using actual math.
For pitching, it’s the standard “anything could happen”. As usual, the strategy is to just start good pitchers and cross your fingers. The WQS stat is Wins + Quality Starts. We switched from straight wins a couple of years ago, and let me tell you, my chances of suffering a heart attack have been greatly reduced.
After you set up the categorical table, you could then set up another spreadsheet detailing all of your players’ projected rest of season contributions. It might look something like this:
You would project whether each player on your roster will contribute positive (+), neutral (blank) or negative (-) value in each category over the rest of the season as compared to replacement level at his position. This enables you to quickly visualize who is contributing in which categories and how that relates to your teams’ strengths and weaknesses. Cross-reference this table with the one above and instantly learn who you should be looking to trade away, or even bench.
Trading From Depth
In my various fantasy leagues, I consistently see pretty good players sitting on the bench who I believe to have positive value and should be starting for a team. Whether the reason this player is sitting on the bench is because he is in the midst of a cold streak and was reserved “until he heats up” (a mistake by the way) or the fantasy owner is starting a better player at the position said reserve player qualifies for, this fantasy owner is giving up potential points.
On the surface, holding onto these players seems like a good idea. They provide a nice safety net in case of injury and peace of mind has emotional value. But you only accrue stats from your active players and guys sitting on your bench are worthless. Why go all season with a $5-$10 player just to have around in the event of an injury? What if that injury never occurs (something you obviously are hoping for!)? You have just wasted an opportunity to parlay your depth into more production from your active roster.
So what’s the solution? A 2-for-1 trade. These are my favorite, though sometimes opposing owners dislike receiving them as they consider it a quantity for quality trade. But this type could still benefit the team receiving the two lesser quality players. By executing this type of trade, you use your depth to improve your active lineup, the group that actually affects your stats. You don’t necessarily have to trade your bench player either; instead, you could opt to trade the better player you currently have active at that position, along with another hitter you decide to upgrade. Move your currently benched player into the slot of the player you traded away and no longer do you have a positively valued player wasting away doing you no good.
I’ve been in that situation in AL Tout Wars, a league notoriously difficult to trade in. I did finally pull off a trade effective this week, but I still have starting hitters sitting on my bench and will likely be getting more back from the DL soon. It’s a good situation to be in, but then it requires work to seek out a trade.
Trading is extremely hard and frustrating. Even if you think you made a fair offer, it’s still unlikely to be accepted. Fantasy owners generally grow attached to their players, and if they drafted them, there’s a good chance they value them more than you do (and I value players differently than most, so it’s even harder for me to make trades). And no one wants to be the chump who trades for a hot player just to get the cold version over the final month. So they are afraid. Really, the best way to make a trade is to focus on the opposing team’s needs and offer them exactly what they are looking for. There are no guarantees, but your chances skyrocket when you offer Billy Hamilton to the team last in steals with six easy points to grab. Of course, then they are likely to scoff at the home run points they may lose. You just can’t win!
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.