Strategy Room: Time has come to assess categories that count
One of the most frequently asked questions this time of the season is how long does it take for a player's statistics to be a true indicator of a change in skill? But something that can be equally as important in the big picture is asking how long it takes for the league standings to be representative with respect to the distribution of statistics? The idea is early in the season, the top to bottom distribution of statistics in the standard scoring categories is considerably greater than it will eventually become by season's end. As such, early on, it is more difficult to gauge where your squad stands in the categories. Where can you make up ground? Where can you afford to deal from strength? Once the present standings can be prorated to the end of the season, resulting in the usual statistical distribution, category management is a more plausible strategy.
Well, we are just about there. If you take your present standings and prorate them using the expected total number of stats in each category, you should find the hitting counting stats are extremely close to how they should look by season's end. The high end of batting average calls in line though the low end is still a bit lower than it will be by October. Pitching is a little different story as both the counting stats and ratios are still a bit more spread out with slightly higher highs and lower lows. This makes intuitive sense since there is more luck involved with the pitching stats that has not yet equilibrated. That said, it will not be very long before both the pitching and hitting categories are distributed as they will be when all is said and done.
As such, it is time to review some of the consistencies among league champions from year to year with regards to how they usually fare within each category. With the obvious disclaimer that every league is unique and there will be exceptions to the following observations, the fact they hold up year after year is a sound testament to at least consider them when managing your categories or in the extreme case of keeper leagues, deciding if your squad has what it takes to make a competitive run towards the league championship.
Without fail, the hitting category in which most champions excel the most is home runs. Perhaps it is because a homer also leads to a run and an RBI, or perhaps because it is not a team dependent stat so there is less luck involved, regardless, the fact remains if you want to win, you likely need to be competitive in the home run category. In fact, surveying thousands of leagues the past several years, less than 1 percent of league champions fared in the bottom half in home runs. If you are presently in the lower half in the category and do not have some underperforming power hitters or some home run potential coming back from injury, it is wise to ponder shoring up the category.
As important as home runs are to eventual winners, like clockwork, stolen bases is the category victors fare the lowest in. This is not to say they do not fare well, only if you look at the place in the standings of all the categories, steals is almost always low on the totem pole. The reason for this is likely that some prefer to either enter the season low on steals, focusing assets elsewhere, or in-season, deciding to deal a speedster for a player that can help support multiple categories. The take home lesson here is if you are excelling in steals and lagging elsewhere, strong consideration should be made to dealing from that strength, to a competitor that is looking to improve their stead in speed.
To complete the hitting story, runs and RBI are generally quite close in second and third with batting average being fourth. It has been shown the best way to accrue runs and RBIs is to simply maximize your at-bats. This may be the reason why batting average falls a bit short, as often, as the season progresses and injuries set in, you are forced to deploy regulars that contribute to counting stats at the expense of batting average.
The pitching ledger may be a little surprising as the ratio categories of WHIP and ERA lead the pack, followed by strikeouts, wins and saves. The catch is the reason the winners fare most favorably in the ratios is not because they focused on the category early on by rostering top pitchers, but rather they do a better job at the back end of their staff, usually ending up with at least one second or third tier starter ending the season in the top tier. This is not to say that one should not look ignore opportunities to improve one's ratios via trade, just be careful not to do it at the expense of other categories, especially power.
Something that will be discussed in this space as the season unfolds is that it is quite possible to continue to gain points in the ratios late in the campaign. The catch is the principle is most useful when you are in the middle of the pack and want to gain a few more. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to dig yourself out of a deep ratio hole to even get to the point you can make significant gains.
If you wallowing in the ratio dungeon and make the difficult but honest decision that the hill to climb is too steep, all hope is not lost. A viable ploy is to completely abandon all hope of making up any ground in ERA and WHIP and focus strictly on strikeouts and hopefully wins. The idea is you no longer need any quality starting pitchers, so you can deal them in an effort to fortify hitting or possibly saves. There will be ample lower tier starting pitchers to acquire via free agency or trades to bully up strikeouts. Wins are always the key, but there are sufficient weak teams to match up against in an attempt to increase chances for wins.
So while it is still too early to make educated assessments with respect to individual players, now is the time to begin analyzing your teams, as the standings have stabilized to a point you can make confident judgments. If you are looking to make charge, it is best to focus on power in lieu of speed. Then make an objective evaluation of your pitching and decide to stay the course or look to maximize points in some categories at the expense of others, especially if you are really scuffling in the ratios.