How free access to free agents affects draft strategy

by on March 10, 2010 @ 00:00:00 PDT


The fantasy equivalent of hell is enshrined in Article XII of the Rotisserie League Baseball Constitution. This is the article that mandates "a team may replace any player on its 23-man (or 25-man) roster who is

  • placed on the disability list
  • released
  • traded to the other league or
  • sent down to the minors by his major league team."

The hellish element is left unsaid: No player can be replaced unless he meets one of these limited criteria. You cannot just drop a once-promising player who is wreaking absolute havoc on your stats. Your team may be stuck with him for months, unless another GM can be induced to accept your stat-wrecker in a trade, or you can pick up a better player off waivers.

Many leagues disregard this requirement entirely, allowing GMs to freely replace roster members with players from the pool of free agents. This Rotisserie variant has several strategic implications:

  • More risk-taking is encouraged.
  • Dollars shift slightly to superstars.
  • More $1 players are prevalent.
  • Position scarcity merits greater attention.
  • Saves can be punted more easily.
  • Trading is de-emphasized.

First, fantasy GMs can be less cautious at draft time. A young player can be drafted because he has potential, and later discarded if he fails to win the fight for a regular job. The LIMA Plan stratagy works particularly well when a pitcher can be easily replaced if he falls short. Picking cheap pitchers with good base performance indicators but no record of achievement at the major league level carries less risk in a free-drop league.

Choosing an unbalanced group of hitters with a few high-priced players augmented by several $1 picks is normally a recipe for Roto disaster. But spending a few extra dollars on Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds makes better sense in a league with free drops. The difference between a $4 fourth outfielder and a $1 fifth outfielder is slight if you can easily replace the latter with a better player from the free agent pool in a few weeks. While it doesn't make sense for your team to accumulate a half dozen hitters at $1 or $2 prices in the draft, you can manage with three or four in this range. The strategy is to shift auction dollars from position players valued at under $7 to more established producers, since the latter are less easily replaced with free agents.

Position scarcity becomes a factor as outfielders and pitchers are more easily replaced from the free agent pool. Try not to draft too many cheap catchers and middle-infielders, because good upgrades in these positions are seldom available in the free agent pool.

Perhaps the best free agent pool pick-ups are closers. Rather than over-spending on high-priced closers or co-closers, some GMs are temporarily punting saves in the draft in hopes of trolling for free-agent saves later. Even if you have a closer already, it makes sense to be alert to newly-emerging firemen during the season.

While it is possible to find a starting pitcher in the free agent pool to help you in three categories, you are even more likely to help yourself by dumping a stat killer. In a standard Roto league, your rotation may never overcome a few months of a 7.50 ERA. But in a free-access league, he's gone whenever you pull the trigger.

In standard Rotisserie, drafting an unbalanced team that is dramatically stronger in certain categories and weaker in others can be remedied through a mid-season trade. But a free-drop league reduces the incentive for trades for many teams, which can at least hope to address their category weaknesses through free agent pick-ups. This may reduce the number of potential trading partners in some leagues.

While allowing ready access to the free agent pool may sound like a small change, it can result in significant alterations in draft strategy.

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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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