Roto 101 – Analyzing The Standings

When your job is fantasy baseball analyst, you get suckered into joining a lot of leagues. I’m in eight this year, which isn’t Eno Sarris crazy, but it’s hard to keep up with them all when daily fantasy is the top priority. The hardest part is staying current on the standings in each league. That’s how I learn where my team is weakest, which waiver wire players will help me most, and the best ways to weaken my rivals. In short, it’s my Toyota Key to the Game.

The sheep are satisfied with monitoring the overall standings, but raw point totals are relatively unimportant. In a standard 5×5 league, the point total is usually skewed towards some bad rosters at this point of the season. You know, the owners who are 200 innings ahead of pace and lead strikeouts and wins despite having the worst strikeout and wins per inning ratios. It’s the standings by category you need to monitor if you want to win your league. Here’s an example from the Blog Wars league, which also happens to be my worst league this season. I believe this link should work too, let me know if it doesn’t.

Fantasy Leaderboard

Blog Wars is a 13-team, deep roster, 5×5, redraft league. It’s populated purely by baseball bloggers. One wrinkle I’ve struggled with is a three man bench. My team has too many players who are slightly better than waiver fodder, so I’ve been slow to embrace the wire. Since I usually win by streaming, this probably explains half of my struggles.

The league doesn’t count games played, but it’s one of the most important stats to track. Games played correlates strongly to overall performance – probably because counting stats like runs, RBI, home runs, and stolen bases can be acquired through both quantity and quality. My team ranks ninth in the games played category, which is a big red flag. It’s not a perfect measure for performance – the first and second place teams ranked second and third in games played. The team with the most games ranks 12th overall (mostly due to atrocious pitching).

The top problem areas on my team are home runs and stolen bases. Steals has turned into a punt category. I never advocate punting, and it certainly wasn’t my intention. I was pretty sure Ian Kinsler, Andrelton Simmons, Jed Lowrie, Martin Prado, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jayson Werth would steal more than 14 bases through one-third of the season. Now I’m 15 steals back from 12th place, so it’s best to toss the category away.

Home runs should be easier to address. I’m only 23 bombs behind the point leader, and I believe my roster will pop homers at a greater pace over the rest of the season – at least as long as Miguel Cabrera and Jose Bautista stay healthy. I currently have Conor Gillaspie sinking my corner infield spot. If I can acquire a 20 home run outfielder, I can push Gillaspie into a platoon with Prado. I could easily gain six points in home runs with careful management. Another three to five points in runs and RBI is possible.

On the offensive side, the point of this exercise is to identify which categories offer the most upside and downside. For me, chasing home runs can offer double digit upside. Assuming Cabrera, Choo, and Werth hit a bit better over the rest of the season, my batting average should remain pretty stable with a power-only pick. The other common multi-category situation is with runs, stolen bases, and average. Sometimes, adding a leadoff hitter who steals and bats .290 can have an out-sized impact on your point total.

The pitching side is a little different. For most leagues, wins are the only real counting stat. Strikeouts are deceptive; an innings cap usually transforms them into a rate stat. When you’re mostly playing with rates, quality becomes the most important factor.

Even though the focus is on quality, the place to begin your analysis is with innings pitched. This is a problem area on my roster. I’m 60 innings over pace, and way too many innings have gone to R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada, and worse. I have about 40 points out of 60 possible on the pitching side, yet the total is exaggerated. My win and strikeout totals are buffed by the overage in innings. Sure, some of my rivals might not hit the innings cap, but most will.

I really only have one choice, improve the quality. My starting pitching staff consists of Corey Kluber, Dallas Keuchel, Jesse Chavez, Drew Hutchison, Estrada, and Dickey. As I mentioned, the three bench player requirement has hurt my offense, so finding a place to jettison Estrada and Dickey could kill two birds with one stone. I currently use only five relievers and two of them – Trevor Rosenthal and Jenrry Mejia – are hurting as much as they’re helping. In a 13 team league, saves are valuable no matter who provides them, so it might be worthwhile to trade Mejia too. Adding a superior reliever or two could help me to trim my ERA and WHIP while improving my strikeouts per nine. Alas, I’ll need some luck to grind out more wins.

After running through the details, it looks like it’s time to hit the trade block. Winning the league is probably out of the question, but a third place finish is within reach. When you evaluate your own point totals, remember that offense is a function of quantity and quality, while pitching leans more heavily on quality.

Before we fold up shop for the day, there’s one tricky situation worth discussing – what if your team is way below the pitching pace? Waiver wire starters will hurt your ERA and WHIP over time. I’ve pulled hundreds upon hundreds of starts from the wire, so I may qualify as a true expert on the topic. You’ll need to patiently target pitchers who can pitch over six innings, strikeout a reasonable number of batters, and hope the rate stats follow. Matchups and ballpark are important too. I err on the side of caution (i.e. pitching too few innings), when I find myself in that situation.

You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam

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Ruki Motomiya
Ruki Motomiya

Does anything change for pacing if your league uses games started and not IP, like a standard ESPN league? My #1 team (It has very K rates as well) team is about 45 games above pace due to some roster tinkering earlier giving me more starts than usual and an above average amount of SP (My pitchers are Lance Lynn, Anibal Sanchez, Josh Beckett, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Michael Wacha, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Shields.). Should I just skip some of their starts or what?