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Fantasy Baseball Round Table: Strategy for month-long leagues

By Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

Six months is a long time. Managing a fantasy baseball squad for half a year is a grind. Understandably, this serves as a detriment for some considering giving the hobby a go. Fortunately, our colleague Ron Shandler has a solution that is a compromise between the marathon nature of the full season and the variance inherent to the daily games that have become quite popular -- monthly games. You can read all about it on www.ronshandler.com.

Monthly leagues still entail much of the player projection and valuation aspect of traditional leagues as well as the economic considerations since the brainstorm Ron has unveiled is a salary cap game. Specifically, you choose 30 players each assigned a salary based on his performance to date according to the league's scoring system. The only caveat is the aggregate salary for all 30 is capped at $300 and you need to be able to field a legal lineup from those 30 players.

Toronto Blue Jays SS Jose Reyes
Reyes: too good to pass up?

Twice a week you'll be allowed to make moves between active and reserve, but you are stuck with the original 30 players for the duration of the month as there are no free agent pickups. The scoring system is roto-style 4x4. Hitting categories are HR, OBP, runs+RBI-HR and SB. Pitching categories are W, K, ERA and saves+holds. Note each side has only one ratio category, which will be relevant during the ensuing strategy discussion.

The inaugural setup has 30 teams per league. The response was outstanding as 372 individuals (including Ron) are managing 444 squads. The champion of each league can claim bragging rights with pride, of course done in a dignified manner.

Knowing several of the Knights entered squads I posed the following question to the assembly:

Who entered a team in Ron's new monthly league contest? What were some of the strategies you employed?

Perry Van Hook was the first to respond.

Monthly games are a great idea and while I haven't played them (or midseason leagues) they are a good concept. I will not be participating for the exact opposite of some of the reasons Ron stated reasons for people to play. I'm still very much alive for a money spot in several leagues and want to focus my attention there.

Rob Leibowitz followed.

Since the values/budget is based on player values to date in the season, I focused to great extent on players who under-performed and/or did not accrue significant at-bats to derive a high value. Case in point would be Jose Reyes at $5. While he could be a complete bust if the ankle becomes an issue or he fails to start stealing basis, it is hard to find players with his upside at that price point. I also elected to draft 3 relievers per team and wanted to make sure I had an excess of starting pitchers so I can stream them in and out of my roster given the two transaction periods of every week, a backup catcher, and a position-flexible bench. I also took a chance on Josh Hamilton as an end game/maybe he'll start to come alive $3 speculative pick.

Tim Heaney's strategy:

I joined a league at the last minute and enjoyed the concept of putting this squad together. Considering the one-month window, you have to put the scope in perspective when it comes to price and performance. You have to catch certain players at the right point, those that are somewhat peaking.

Some values ($6 Yasiel Puig, $2 B.J. Upton, $1 Aaron Hill, $5 Jose Reyes, $2 Matt Cain, $3 Yovani Gallardo and $1 Hanley Ramirez among them) for players coming off early-season struggles or injuries -- or in Puig's case, a late ascension into brilliance -- opened up my strategy to fit in similarly accomplished players at more bona fide prices. Manipulating the somewhat artificially deflated market value should be your first step in salary cap games of this makeup.

In a defined window, it helped to target and time the use of hitters with loaded weekly schedules and 2-start pitchers to stream as many K outlets as possible; the way the schedule falls, some will have a better chance at a PT advantage. In the end, I probably didn't cultivate these as much as I could've, as I instead focused chiefly on skills.

The fact that this league combines SV and Holds tempered, in my opinion, the need to focus on RPs. It's an easy category to ease up on, if not punt.

Ron has pointed out on numerous occasions that the fantasy world should offer a balance between your typical fantasy league and the rising trend of daily games. I agree wholeheartedly and think this is a building block toward that goal of appeasing every type of fantasy player. This should serve as an intriguing baseline to see what facets of the game could be added or removed, and tweaked.

Lawr Michaels also is playing.

I'm in league 15 but only have one reserve pitcher, deciding instead to make sure I maximize at-bats with my reserves.

Perry commented.

Seems pretty short on pitchers to me.

Lawr responded:

Not if they don't get hurt or anything.

I got seven starters (as in pitchers). Not sure how much more streaming would help. In a pinch I got Aaron Crow. Maybe one more arm would have been good.

Lord Zola's commentary

We have our first disagreement with respect to strategy. Perry feels the reserves should have more pitchers while Lawr opted to load up on hitters. I chimed in with the following:

It's only one month and you only get 7 reserves and you're allowed moves twice a week.

I think the play to win mindset is to assume everyone is healthy and design a roster to have optimal strength each half week.

I understand wanting to have injury hedges over a 6 month draft and hold, but in a one-month contest, I think you go for it.

Nick Minnix agreed.

Todd makes the point well, I think. If it's a blend between a daily game and a full-season game, then there's a blend between short-term risk and long-term reward (blandly speaking). If you get a few injuries, in a one-month league, you're probably done anyway.

I don't have a team. Those who can't do teach. Or coach. Or fake writing about it.

Lawr added:

And the completely clueless teach a class on how to write about it?

My late wife, Cathy, always said even if you are an idiot, if you continue to call yourself an expert at something, eventually the world will recognize you as one.

To which I replied:

Or you get a show on SiriusXM Fantasy </rimshot>

Perry got us back on topic

Los Angeles Dodgers SS Hanley Ramirez
Han-Ram books cheap

The point is with moves twice a week you need to maximize starts to do well in K and W  and SV -- the FBPC and formerly WCOFB used the same format and with an eight player bench five if not six of them should be pitchers.

And while I agree, I do see a major difference between a full season league and the monthly format which I shared with the Knights:

I think we're dealing a little bit with apples and oranges. You can make weekly pickups in the yearlong league -- we can't.

That said, I do agree one pitcher is light -- but I don't want 5 or 6 of my 7 reserves to be pitchers either.

Nick commented that a couple of injuries and you're in trouble.

I don't think it's the case because of the nature of the inventory. There are ample solid players with cheap salaries that your reserves can be every bit as good as your starters. The prices are based on year to date so there are some under-priced options.

Maybe I'm greedy, but with such solid choices to fill the entire 30-man roster, I want to be greedy and maximize both hitting and pitching. I think the ability to ramp up at-bats is being overlooked. The way I see it, hitting counting stats like homers, steals, runs and RBI are more likely to follow from extra at-bats while pitching counting stats like wins and saves are too fickle.

I do feel Ron was smart making the ratio categories being equal for just this very reason. If one side had more ratio categories (like pitching does in traditional 5x5) the need to boost up hitting counting stats with maximum at bats would be integral to success. As is, I'm looking to play both sides of the fence and try to maximize both innings and at-bats with four hitters and three pitchers on reserve. Had I elected not to back up my catcher with Yan Gomes (also first base eligible) I may have flipped it to 3 hitters and 4 pitchers, especially since I loaded up with position flexible players like Matt Carpenter, Hanley Ramirez, Ben Zobrist, Chris Davis and Allen Craig.

Lawr replied.

I understand the principle, but over a month it won't really matter with a five man draft and deep rotation. If your starters go the same cycle you will have two weeks of two starts and two of one roughly.

I think you grab too many starters it is a lot of busy work for the same results.

And we shall see.

Nick added:

The opportunity to take advantage of twice-weekly adjustments that Perry points out is a good one. I'm getting a better grasp of the format just from the discussion. Perhaps, as Perry suggests, "odds" may favor people who have more reserve pitchers, or that might just be a more common strategy. If you do as most others do, eventually, it becomes less fruitful to do so. As Todd alludes, there just might be room for more flexibility in the risk-taking -- the ways to "go for it" -- given the short-term nature of the league.

Lord Zola had more to say.

The concept of two-start pitchers is often blown out of proportion in traditional fantasy.

Most full season starters will get 33 starts -- that's seven out of 26 weeks they get two starts -- or one a month with one month they get two.

The thing is this setup allows both hitters AND pitchers to be replaced twice a week which means there is a chance to ramp up the starts a little more.

As suggested, I think one reserve pitcher is light while five is heavy. Here's the way I break it down.

I want 3 relievers, leaving 6 active spots. About 40 percent (two of five) each week get two starts, actually fewer since there are off days. Say I have nine starters on my roster. That means three will get two starts while the other six only one. So now I have three two-start pitchers, three relievers and three open spots to stream the remaining six starters with one start. The math works perfectly so each guy gets to be active for his start. The catch is I can't pick and choose match-ups; each of my pitchers has to be active to maximize my starts. This could hurt ERA.

The above entails having a reserve of three pitchers. Adding a fourth avails some ability to pick and choose (and cover for injury). I'm beginning to see the utility in this but I still feel five is too many as I want to also maximize hitting and want as many batters with four games from Monday to Thursday as possible.

Tim capped the discussion.

I concur with the 2-start pitcher strategy on the whole being overvalued, as schedule changes via weather, pitcher injuries and what have you throw a wrench into those plans. Still, in leagues with a limited calendar when you can gauge by schedule who may have an advantage, it makes a bit more of an immediate difference -- not by itself, mind you, but as a bigger part of the umbrella strategy to load up. 

And yes, the lineup flexibility was a big factor in me drafting positionally diverse guys like Martin Prado and Hanley Ramirez.

Lord Zola's Wrap-Up

Since I had more to say as the discussion was unveiled, there isn't much to wrap up. Obviously, multi-eligibility players are paramount. How the pitching conundrum unfolds will be quite interesting to follow.

That said, I wouldn't use the results of this particular month as gospel with respect to whether the winners had more or fewer pitchers. The All-Star break is going to skew the flow. Plus, injuries are going to make a big difference. Due to the nature of the pricing, there will be several players on a ton of teams. If a commonly owned hitter gets hurt, the ability for each team to replace him will influence the standings and that ability is a function of the reserves.

At the end of the day, Lawr is right.

We shall see.

If this format is of interest, trust me, there will be other opportunities to try it out. Just go to www.ronshandler.com and sign up for Ron's newsletter.


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