Entering the final month of the season, approximately 83% of the games have been played. What strategies might aid you down the stretch? Making the proper decisions during the final month of the season could make or break your chances. Let's look at some possible strategies to consider.
ERA / WHIP
If your team has a typical mix of pitchers then it may have thrown anywhere from 800-1200 IP thus far in the season. Large changes in your team's ERA or WHIP are unlikely at this point. Unless your team could gain several points by moving up .10 runs in ERA or .01 in WHIP then it is probably best to look elsewhere if you need to gain a few points. If, however, you are in a defensive position in these categories and need to gain in the other pitching totals categories then you can rest easy knowing it would take a rather bad month for your averages to dip considerably.
If your team has amassed 1000 IP at a 4.10 ERA then it would take a 3.20 ERA over a final 200 IP just to drop your overall ERA to 3.95. Even a less successful 200 IP of 3.50 ERA would only drop you to 4.01.
Likewise, if your team as amassed 1000 IP with a 1.30 WHIP then it would take a 1.18 WHIP over a final 200 IP just to drop your overall WHIP to 1.28. A more modest 1.24 WHIP over the final month would yield you a final WHIP of 1.29.
Examine your possible gains in these average categories and do some calculations to determine if your goals are reasonable. Obviously, if you need 200 IP and a 2.00 ERA or 1.00 WHIP to improve, then you may want to look elswhere.
Wins / Strikeouts / Saves
These pitching totals categories stand to be where you can make your biggest gains in September. Typically, by this point in the season, the standings in these categories have become somewhat tiered with small groups of teams tightly bunched and then gaps above and below to the next tiers of teams. If you are in need of gaining points, then locate the categories in which you are at the bottom of a tier and focus your efforts there. If you are in a defensive position then being at the bottom of a tier could be beneficial to you. For example, if your team is 8 saves ahead of your next lowest competitor but 3 wins from moving up 2 points then you may consider benching all of your closers and adding a couple of starting pitchers in an attempt to pick up those wins. Here are some strategies to consider:
Saves are the hardest to come by in this group. Most late season saves must be acquired via trade and many leagues have an August 31 trade deadline. If your league allows trades in September then a move here may be viable. Otherwise, do not expect to make large gains in saves simply by picking up players with new opportunities. Remember that even a 30 save/year pitcher will only garner about 5 saves per month or slightly more than 1 per week. Saves depend in large part on the success of the team before the closer gets an opportunity. If you are attempting to make a move or trade for saves, keep in mind that it is probably best to acquire closers on teams vying for playoff positions and/or teams with favorable schedules in September.
Wins and Strikeouts are the easiest pitching categories to manipulate this late in the season because they are primarily a function of the number of starting pitchers/starts a team can deploy in a given week. If these are two categories where you can make significant gains, then consider using as many starters as possible during the month. It is possible to make up 50 strikeouts or 5-6 wins in a month just by benching 2-3 relief pitchers and replacing them with serviceable starters. If your league allows unlimited free agent pickups then pay special attention to late season schedules and two start weeks, and use those to your advantage. If you can add 15 starts to your team over the course of the month, it should help you gain significantly in both categories.
One final note about pitching. Be advised that teams who have made the playoffs will begin shuffling their rotations and limiting their starting pitchers during the final few days of the season. Many starters may only go 5 IP and some may not pitch at all. Pay attention to this when you make your final roster moves.
As in the pitching examples, it is very difficult to gain ground in BA this late in the season. Most teams have had 5500+ AB to this point. Odds are that one or two players will not help or hinder your average significantly in the final month. It would take a more concerted total team effort to make a strong push. A team that presently has 5500 AB and a .275 BA would need a .293 BA over a final 1100 AB to move up to .278. Possible? Yes, but unlikely unless you acquire a very high average player to anchor the move.
HR / RBI / SB / RS
As with pitching the totals categories in batting are the easiest to make a move in. However, batting totals can be drastically effected by several factors down the stretch. One needs to carefully weigh all of these factors before making decisions on certain players or strategies. Gaining in these categories is primarily a function of opportunity (AB) for a player with a given skill set. If this opportunity is increased or decreased by events in September then his predicted outcome may affect your strategy.
Will the player be pressed for playing time in September by a minor league call-up? Review or anticipate the lists of players who are called up as quickly as possible to make a determination as to which incumbents may lose AB. If you believe a call-up to be a viable option then you may consider acquiring one or more to replace veterans on your team who may lose AB.
Does the player play on a team contending for a playoff berth? If your players are in a pennant race then it is more likely that they will continue playing at their current pace and producing at their current levels. If, however, they are far ahead in a race or far behind then they will be more susceptible to unpredictable playing time lapses. Front-running teams may begin resting regulars more frequently, thereby cutting into their AB and production.
Players who have missed lots of time to nagging injuries throughout the season will likely be rested more frequently in September in favor of various replacements. This is especially true if the team is not in playoff contention or has clinched a playoff berth already. If one of your players falls into this category then do not count on him to give you a 'normal' month of production. You may want to acquire his probable replacement as insurance.
Take all of those factors into consideration when deciding which batters to acquire for the stretch. Likewise, there are simple factors that may gain a player a few extra AB. Look for players with 7 games in a week. Look for the double-headers being played to make up for earlier season postponements. Look for players getting more time at the top of batting orders. Every AB counts.
In summary, your stretch strategies should be focused on the totals categories for the last month of the season. Look for opportunities to gain playing time advantages over your competitors. Every extra AB or IP you can acquire for your team will aid in your quest to gain points.
Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.
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