Fantasy Baseball Roundtable: Early-season roster management

by Todd Zola, on April 2, 2012 @ 15:12:52 PDT


Well, the season has begun - sort of. Everyone but Seattle and Oakland will play games that count later this week. With deference to those that are still drafting this week and next, I thought it would be a good idea to poll the knights to see how they handle the beginning of the season.

What do you do the first few weeks of the season with respect to managing your team(s)? Is it too early to trade? Do you do anything special with your lineups?

St. Louis Cardinals SP Chris Carpenter
Plan around injuries, speculations

Brian Walton with the opening salvo:

For my initial lineups, the objective is very basic. Get the injured players out of there - if I was forward-thinking enough to draft replacements. A number of players may or may not open the season on disabled list, making this monitoring process a day-to-day activity. Then there is Mike Carp of the Mariners, who went from bad to worse, logging an 0-fer in the opening day game in Japan, only to hit the DL the next day.

In my opinion, it is too early to trade - unless there are unforeseen injuries or one purposely did not draft a fully balanced roster while chasing bargains (cough, cough, Zola in NL Tout, cough, cough). Hopefully in the vast majority of cases, we have enough confidence in the players we selected on draft day to give them a chance to produce.

Rob Leibowitz embellishes:

I pretty much concur with Brian.

Now that my drafts are done, I am focused on setting my lineup for next week with an eye towards replacing/subbing in any players I intentionally took who might be in the minors or disabled to start the season. In Tout, for example, I drafted Drew Smyly and Salvador Perez knowing I might have to make changes, but also bought Josh Donaldson as the A's starting third basemen with catcher qualification, to simply slide over, and took Ben Francisco in the reserve face to slide into my UT slot. My Smyly speculation has me smiling as he won a rotation spot. Of course I also now have to deal with Mike Carp and replace him too for the short-term. Owners need not panic at all, provided he gets a favorable prognosis. He'd be eligible to return around the 12th or 13th, missing 5 to 6 games tops. Depending on how many lefties the Mariners face over those games, that missed time could be even less significant.

Generally speaking I do not actively pursue trades this early and instead want to build the statistical strength in the standings my team was assembled to create before I engage in the trade market actively.

Tim Heaney shares his thoughts:

All fair points: We need to give our teams a chance to prove where they're strong and weak. You need to collect enough of a sample size to judge whether trends are for real. That is, of course, unless a catastrophic injury strikes. In single-universe leagues, that would create more urgency, I'd think.

My lineups won't be tinkered with much unless I have a platoon/matchup setup going for a UTIL or No. 5 OF spot, or the backend of my SP staff.

At this point, I'm doing my best to load up my watch list or scout team with free agents; determine at which positions I need to cover my bases and those spots that seem to be most vulnerable on the waiver wire; and, just enjoying the return to games that count. I find that over the six months, you relish the last one at the highest levels at the beginning and end of the season.

Nick Minnix is in an agreeable mood:

My take doesn't differ much from these guys'. I throw in all my healthy, big-league players (which, in Tout, means that I might be a man short - Corey Hart, Chris Carpenter, Mike Trout and Travis Snider), but I built my roster for the long haul. In a mixed league, it's easier to replace these players, and my reserve picks covered most of them.

I wouldn't tinker with my lineup much, other than for dealing with players who are unavailable. In the short week of openers, you have the opportunity to replace starting pitchers who aren't scheduled to throw until the following Monday or after with quality relievers and pad your marks in the pitching cats just a touch. It may not be worth the effort, to you, but every little bit counts, and several K's as well as a few points in ERA and WHIP, maybe a W, they could play a part on the final day of the season. What is it you say, Todd? A home run in April counts the same as a home run in September? Sorry, forget exactly how you word that.

As for trades, I don't seek them. But it never hurts to listen, especially if someone else is antsy to deal to cover a spot or a shortcoming. I've received a bit of interest in a couple of leagues, and I'm considering a deal in one of them. I'm more inclined to see how what I drafted turns out, but if it's a good deal, check it out. I can't think of another reason to consider a trade this early, though. There are few scenarios, statistics, injuries that should have you overly worried at this stage, unless in January you drafted Victor Martinez in an AL league.

Lawr Michaels with his take:

I never like to trade this early. In fact I caution owners to be the same, not bailing on players who get off to slow starts, or who are even relegated to the minors. For if you pay $17 on Adam Dunn on draft day, and he does get off to a slow start, and you trade him after a month, should Dunn get hot, you basically get nothing for your $17, while your opponent gets all the production for that same nothing (of course this assumes Dunn does not repeat his awful 2011 and knocks 20 homers at least and hits .260).

I do try to set the best lineup as I can, but I also try to watch the late cuts and fill holes, for the more full timers-and good ones-you can plant on your roster, the better.

But, fantasy ball is a game of patience.

And it pays to be just that, at least for the first couple of months of play.

Lord Zola's Wrap-up

Nick touched on a point which I feel is very important hence deserves some embellishment. One of the primary themes running through today's advice is to be patient with your players, which is absolutely necessary. However, there is a big difference between giving up a player and giving up ON a player. I understand giving your players a chance to produce, but if someone is willing to trade you someone you think will produce MORE, then why not do the deal? To that end, while I do not solicit offers, I will usually respond to a cattle call sent out by a competitor, if only to gauge where they are at and what they may be willing to consider. I will not trade a guy because he has an 0-fer the first game, but I will trade him if I like the return more than what I am giving up. Plus, at minimum, responding to trade offers helps grease the wheel and facilitate future trades. It helps to have the reputation that you are at least willing to trade. You can always respectfully decline, but the point is, you should always be on the lookout to improve your roster, regardless of the means. If a rival is willing to deal you a player you like more than someone you own, oblige them.

Speaking of looking to improve your roster, one of the more common early season miscues is scanning your active rosters for injuries and if there are none, calling it a week. The thing is, you should also be on the lookout for players emerging early that are better than your present reserves. You may not have an injury now, but trust me, you will. The available replacements are most plush now, not later. The best time to get the best replacement for that future injury is now, not then. So do not get lax if your current starters are all healthy, make the extra effort to peruse the waiver wire for upgrades to your reserves.

Along those lines, if you play in daily leagues, this is the time of season you can really gain an edge by maximizing your at bats on Monday and Thursday. Early in the year there are more off days in anticipation of bad weather. If possible, treat a couple of roster spots as fungible and churn players through on Monday and Thursday, because as Nick alluded to, a home run, steal, win or strikeout in April counts the same as one in September. One trick to hitter streaming is to secure the Monday of Thursday hitter a day or two in advance of when they are necessary, so you are not competing with your league mates for hitters playing that day.

Another early season ploy effective in daily leagues (and all year as well) is to populate pitching spots with solid middle relievers, especially if they are high strikeout guys. The reason for this is two-fold. Most daily leagues have an innings maximum to regulate streaming of starting pitchers. The strikeout category in leagues with an innings max is really best thought of as K/9 and not simply K if you plan on approaching the maximum. Often, middle relievers carry K/9s better than some closers. The other utility of these middle relievers is to build up a buffer in your ratio stats to facilitate spot-starting down the road, keeping in mind that you should also consider the K/9 of the starter as well as his wins potential. Just as it is wise to pick up hitters in advance of needing them, paying heed to the probable starters a few days in advance is helpful as well.

The final piece of advice for today is when setting your early season lineups, ignore perceived strength and weakness and start the best players. You have 26 weeks to make up for deficiencies. Don't leave a bunch of homers on your bench just to get a steal from Jason Bartlett. One injury to a slugger and you will be ruing leaving that production on the pine. There is plenty of time to manage the categories into the most points possible.

Good luck everyone. It is going to be a great year for baseball.

Todd is the Content Manager for the Mastersball Platinum Subscription product, featuring frequently updated player projections, values, rankings and profiles along with unique Excel tools, Minor League rankings and cutting edge strategy essays. Click HERE for details.

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About Todd Zola,

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at and, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums. Fantasy Baseball

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