At this time of year, when looking at your standings reports with a little more angst than in May, it is critical to make sound strategic maneuvers for the stretch drive. With multiple scenarios, concerns, and options swirling around in your head, it is critically important to be mindful of a few key points:
1. Set a REALISTIC goal: Before considering late-season adjustments to your roster, determine your objective for the rest of the year. Yes, it is everyone's objective to finish first, but for a good number of teams that idea vanished weeks ago. If you are still in the hunt, then by all means play to win. But if you find yourself in 8th place out of 12 teams, and 22 points out first, then it might be time to set a different target. Aim for fourth place (or your last money spot), aim to finish above your arch-rival, or simply aim to get out of the cellar. But definitely set a target, and make it one that will not require supernatural assistance.
2. Make standings-efficient trades: Most leagues have standings that are mostly stratified at this point in the year. A couple of categories are pretty stagnant, and it has become clear that one or two other categories hold the key to the championship. In terms of your individual position, the same basic facts are true. There are some categories where your position is safe, and others where there are potential gains and losses to be had. This is the time to redistribute your resources for maximum benefit in the standings. If you have one closer, and you are 10 saves from moving in either direction in the category, it is absolutely time to sell your closer to someone who can still move in the category.
For optimal late-season dealing, you not only want to sell your non-essential assets for help that can impact the standings, but you want to sell to the right people. Late in the season, a point taken away from a team that you are chasing is every bit as good as a point you gain yourself. If you have that extra closer, and a team ahead of you in the standings has a tenuous position in saves, your preferred trading partner becomes the team that can negatively impact the position of a team in front of you. In fact, in a critical situation, it may become necessary to receive less than 100 percent value for what you trade away, just to ensure that your traded commodity can get to the place where it can help you most, even if that place is on someone else's roster.
3. Abandon pet projects: Back on draft day, everyone had a favorite sleeper. Some worked out well, and those teams that were successful with more of their sleepers are probably near the top of the standings. Other sleepers who were less successful were cast aside along the way, be it out of frustration or limited roster flexibility. If, however, you find yourself still holding on to such a favorite sleeper or pet project, and he has not yet blossomed, this is the time to let him go.
On draft day, the speculative selection with the high upside is generally preferred to the safe, replacement level player with no room for growth. At this point in the season, though, the pendulum swings back in the other direction. Speculative, gamble-type players are running out of time to make an impact, while steady numbers from average, unexciting players can mean a lot in tightly-bunched categories. In concrete terms, an "unexciting" Randy Winn or David DeJesus can be far more helpful than taking a flier on someone with less-than-assured playing time.
4. Take calculated risks: If you are looking to gain a significant amount of ground in the standings, your options are limited. There will be some tough judgments to be made, likely in a classic quantitative v. qualitative analysis. For instance, if your team is lagging behind in wins, you may need to deploy an extra starter and run the risk of an ERA hit. In general, this dilemma is preferable to the opposite scenario, where you need to improve your ERA or WHIP, but cannot afford to lose ground in a quantitative category, like wins. For a few weeks, even a lesser-skilled player can defy the odds and maintain a decent ERA, WHIP, or BA while providing some help in other categories. But, if you decide to leave part-time, backup, or even inactive players in your lineup to protect your qualitatives, there is very little chance of them suddenly making a contribution for you in other areas.
5. Manage your playing time well: From this point forward, the best way to cause a change in the standings is to get more playing time from your roster than your opponents. This means being aware of veterans on your roster who may be at risk of losing playing time, whether due to nagging injury, a hot prospect getting an audition, or a trade. Similarly, when evaluating the potential of a call-up or new league crossover, projected playing time is a key consideration. Your position in the standings, or your level of desperation if you will, should govern how aggressively you chase playing time in the second half. If you are leading, play it close to the vest. But the more ground you need to make up, the less there is to lose.
6. Check your limits: It is critical to be aware of any statistical requirements you or your opponents have to meet. Know every team that is in danger of missing a minimum limit, such as innings pitched or games started. You do not want to be surprised by a reshuffling of the standings in ERA/WHIP on the last day of the season. Similarly, keep an eye on maximum limits such as games started or games played per position, for these may lead to some opportunities to trade for stretch drive help at a discounted price.
This is a very fluid time of year for Rotisserie GMs, with many factors changing the outlook for the remainder of the year, practically on a daily basis. Amid the chaos, those GMs who cut through the non-essential concerns and focus on the few ideas listed above, have the best chance of tasting Yoo-hoo in October.
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