When should fantasy owners start to worry?
Yes, it is early and thus struggling owners should not panic. But the question they have is exactly when is it okay to start getting worried? How long into the season do we need to be before something stronger than a wee bit of concern is justified? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer as there are too many factors that are specifically league dependent. However, there is an exercise that can be followed to better gauge if panic is warranted.
If you look at the final standings of several rotisserie-style leagues of a similar format and generate average final standings, it is quite remarkable how the categorical distribution remains quite consistent over time. There will be slight differences as overall home run, run and stolen base totals change a bit each season, but if you look at it on a percentage of total stats basis, the team leading the category does so with a similar proportion of the overall stats in that category year after year. The same is true for the average last place team and all spots in between.
How is this helpful? Take a look at the standings of your roto league. Most teams have played 20 or so games, putting us about one-eighth of the way into the season. Multiply the first place team in homers and the last place team by 8, so you are prorating their totals over the entire season. Now compare those numbers to the season-ending totals for the past few seasons. In almost all instances, the pace of current home run leader far exceeds the season-ending pace, while the last place team is lagging behind the usual pace of even the last place team. In other words, the top-to-bottom standings distribution is very spread out, the standings are not at all stable.
There is a flaw in this exercise, as the overall home run pace the initial 20 games is not usually what it is for the season, historically fewer homers are hit in April. But at least to this point, the first to last place distribution should be so extreme that the effect can still be observed. But if you are so inclined, convert the raw number of homers to the percentage of homers in the category and compare that to the final proportions and you will no doubt see the accelerated pace of the first place team and the lagging pace of the last place team. Alternatively, you can also look at the ratio categories like batting average, ERA and WHIP as these do not change that much from year to year. Again, the first place team in batting average, ERA and WHIP will have a far better number now than the eventual first place team while the last place team's ratio is far worse than it will be come season's end.
For those that do not have historical standings for their league handy or just don't like doing math, here are some numbers derived from this year's National Fantasy Baseball Championship, using the 15-team Main Event competition as our model. Through the first eighth of the season, the average number of homers counted in the standings is 502. For the season, this would equate to 4016. Last season, the average standings totaled only 3703 homers, suggesting we are on a faster home run pace than the past several seasons, so it would be best to look at the numbers in terms of percentages. The average first place team has amassed about 45.5 homers, which prorates to 364, well over the 297 last season's leaders accrued. By percentages, so far, the HR leader has 9.1 percent of the total. By the end of the season, this will drop to about 8%. The last place team's total averages about 19.25 or 154 on the season, considerably fewer than the expected 192. Via percentages, as of now they have hit only 3.8% of the total, this will rise to around 5.1 percent by October.
Similar results occur using the ratios. Right now, the batting average leader is hitting .293. This will drop to about .286. The last place team is hitting .234 which will improve dramatically to about .262 when all is said and done. On the pitching side, the average ERA leader is at 2.89 which will rise to about 3.54. The WHIP leader is averaging about 1.17 which will climb to the neighborhood of 1.24. The worst average ERA is now 5.59 but it will improve to 4.65 whereas the lowest average WHIP is 1.55 but it will lower to 1.42.
Obviously, the actual numbers do not mean anything, but there are a few global points to be made that will hopefully provide some comfort for struggling owners. The season still is young as evidenced by big distribution of stats from top to bottom. There is nothing unique about the first 20 games of the season. Each 20-game stretch will have a similar look. When you total up each 20 game period, by season's end the distribution will be compacted. But who is to say that you will always finish in the lower third every 20 games? As the saying goes, "why not you?" Why can't your team have an awesome 3-week spell and climb up in the standings? Why can't your pitchers throw a few gems? Until you do this little mathematical comparison and the relative distributions are the same, the standings should be considered even more volatile than normal. That is, many external factors like the number of home and away games and strength of competition have not equaled out yet. Until they do, the standings distribution will reflect this instability and you can hope your team will be on the favorable side of fortune and make an ascent.
Once the distributions are indeed close to what is expected by season's end, which usually occurs in the middle third of the season, if you still find your squad mired in the depths of the standings, take heed, there are a plethora of strategic ploys you can utilize to help climb. But until then, trust the rankings you labored the entire spring formulating. Do not do anything drastic, let everything play out, let all the luck factors subside and then do an honest evaluation when the distribution between categories has stabilized.