Intuitively, a fantasy veteran knows that statistics this early in the season are all but worthless. Certainly, a few trends can be seen in such insignificant numbers, as lingering questions from spring training begin to get answered. And even though it does not get you a Yoo-hoo shower, it is better to be in first place than last in mid-April. Remember, though, that the first few weeks' standings in your league will likely bear no resemblance to the final standings.
Although we are reminded over and over again not to over-emphasize early numbers, we still cannot take our eyes off of them. Maybe it is because we are so excited to see box scores after a long winter. Maybe it is a symptom of a post-draft spurt of energy, where we throw ourselves into the season head first. Or perhaps it is because at this time of year, every fantasy player still has a chance to finish in the money. Whatever the reason, the fact is that the stats from the first 10% of the season get far more attention than any other 10% snapshot.
Even a rookie fantasy leaguer knows not to be too concerned about the slow start of superstars. Come October, we can reasonably expect them to have posted their usual stellar season, assuming they stay healthy. But further on down the food chain, this logical thinking seems to deteriorate a bit. A mid-level player off to slow starts will generally draw concern; if this player went through such a slump over 50 ABs in June, his performance would not attract nearly as much attention. But in April, it has some of his owners thinking about replacing him.
Now, add the power of the Internet into this mix. Most online leagues offer daily standings updates, daily lineup changes, daily free agent transactions, and even an updated list of available free agents. With such instant gratification available at your fingertips, a slow start is reinforced every time you log on to your league's home page. Additionally, everyone can see those available free agents that homered the night before, while your player took another 0-fer. This only makes the situation worse, pushing the impatient player to make a panic move that could prove costly over the long term.
Of course, nobody is saying that every player in the majors will play to his projections. No set of projections are 100% accurate. Similarly, your league's free agent pool is not to be totally dismissed.
So, how do we strike a balance between patience with our slow starters, and aggressiveness in acquiring free agents who can help us? The best thing that can be done is to try and explain unexpected performances. The more supporting data we can find for a small set of statistics, the more confidence we can have in them. If you cannot find support for the numbers, it is far more likely that they are anomalous, and will return to projected levels.
Once that information has been gathered and evaluated, you will find yourself in a far better position to make an informed decision. Be cautious, though. In the case of underachieving players, even if you can build a compelling case explaining a bad start, keep an eye to the long term. When you drafted this player, you obviously saw some value in him. No matter how bad their first two weeks were, chances are the reasons you drafted the player are still valid. If you must get someone out of your lineup, reserve them and drop a lesser player instead. The newly reserved player can then play out their struggles on your bench, where he cannot hurt your team. If they turn things around, you can reactivate him. And if they continue to struggle, you can at least continue to study the situation before dropping him.
While it is advisable to be extremely cautious in giving up on players, it is better to be aggressive in acquiring free agents. Once you have a free roster spot to work with (after an injury, trade or release), use it to "audition" free agents. Rather than claim a replacement level player with little upside, grab someone who you see as a potential sleeper. This is a low percentage game, but the risk involved is low as well. Most players will not pan out, or you will no longer be able to wait on them. At that point, simply make another selection from the free agent pool. By taking this "revolving door" approach to your last roster spots, you maximize your chance of finding a free agent who can provide significant help.
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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