Using the free-agent pool

by BaseballHQ.com on April 10, 2009 @ 00:00:00 PDT

 


Most Rotisserie Leagues have a winter meeting written into their Constitutions or bylaws

In a standard fantasy league, making use of the free agent pool can be a chore. When replacing an injured or struggling player, the choice of replacements is often an uninspiring list of part-timers and underachievers. The most reliable backups are usually long since claimed. And, new additions to the player pool are usually claimed at the earliest possible opportunity, or with an unjustifiably high FAAB bid.

However, in mixed league play, the dynamics of the free agent pool are very different. With the entire pool of major league players to choose from, everyday players are regularly available as free agents, even in 16 or 18 team leagues. Part-time players are almost always available, and new additions to the player pool often go unclaimed, until they prove their value. Rarely will FAAB bidding reach the lofty heights often seen in standard leagues.

Veterans of mixed league play know that this plethora of free agent options can work as a double-edged sword. For while there are benefits to having options, there are also downsides. Rather than claiming any warm body who is getting semi-regular playing time, the mixed leaguer needs to consider their options more carefully.

One factor to consider is that free agent choices have greater consequences. Because each team in a mixed league has more talent in its lineup, quantitative statistics accumulate at a faster pace. Therefore, an injury to a regular player - and the associated period of non-performance - can have a greater impact. Free agent decisions need to be made quickly to provide maximum benefit in the standings.

This concept may not be different than in a standard league, but the method of reaching that goal can be different. Here are a set of guidelines for evaluating free agent transactions.

Offense

Even after only a month's worth of play, free agent transactions should be made with an eye on the standings. Although there will be everyday players available as free agents, each of them will have shortcomings, or risks associated with them. It is critical to be aware of what kinds of shortcomings or risks you can and cannot afford.

As an example, let's say we are looking to replace an injured frontline speedster. Depending on the size of the mixed league, there should be some SB sources available as free agents. But, those SBs may come from players that only play part time, and/or do not offer as much production as your player in other categories. You need to determine whether it is better to take a hit in those other categories but protect your SB position, or to forego the SBs for a few weeks and seek a more productive bat.

To help make this judgment, look at your league's standings, and your team's performance to date. Assess your position in each offensive category. At this point in the year, it is important to note the categories in which your team's performance has already separated from the pack (positively or negatively). With that information in hand, take a look at the early-season statistics of your players, seeking explanations for any of those noteworthy items in the standings.

If you see that you are faring well in the SB race, you should feel less inclined to pick up a free agent speedster. You may wish to try and address another offensive shortcoming with this transaction. Conversely, if the team is well behind in SBs but strong in the power categories, it may make sense to pursue some speed, even in the form of a one-category player.

Starting Pitchers

Not unlike a standard league, the pool of free agent pitching can be a minefield to a fantasy owner. Think like a physician, with the motto "first, do not harm". Protect good ratios at all costs, and focus on quantitative performances second. In the case of a short-term injury to an SP, it can be advisable to play cautiously and claim a "safe" middle reliever for a few weeks. In many mixed leagues, most of the best middle relievers are still available as free agents.

There are, of course, situations where a more aggressive approach is called for. In 5x5 play, it can be costly to carry middle relievers, even for short stretches. Like offensive numbers, strikeouts can add up very quickly, and a few weeks of reduced IP can mean significant lost ground in terms of strikeouts.

There are, of course, times when aggressive play is needed: a pickup that is needed for the long term, or later in the year, when the standings dictate a change in course. For instance, if you absolutely must chase wins, and/or your ratios are either beyond repair or secure in their standings position.

In this situation, stick with the axioms of Baseball HQ: look for pitchers with good base skills. Emphasize those pitchers with good bullpens behind them, as this can help in the pursuit of wins, and by minimizing the scope of bad outings.

Relief Pitchers

The pursuit of saves tends to work very differently in a mixed league. Almost every team will have multiple closers from the start of the year. Very few middle relievers are rostered at any given time, because closers and starters cover more pitching slots per team. Therefore, when a closer role changes in the majors, the new closer is very often available as a free agent. Much more so than in a standard league, it is possible to compete in the saves category without spending significant money for closers at auction. An astute owner who monitors fluid bullpen situations, and manages his FAAB properly, can quite successfully navigate a full season by employing "flavor of the week" closers.

It is important to be aware if anyone in your league is employing this strategy. With saves easy to find, the category will not stratify as quickly as in a standard league. Therefore, every owner should be aware of the free agent relief market. Placing token FAAB bids on those players can have an effect, as you drive up the acquisition price for the interested parties. Over the course of the season, it will work to your benefit to extract more FAAB money from of your competitors.

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