May 28, 2009

With Memorial Day in the rear-view mirror, it is time to begin the process of evaluating our teams. Note that the key word is evaluating as it is still too early to do anything drastic, unless you are faced with extenuating circumstances such as owning Ricky Nolasco, Scott Kazmir, Manny Ramirez and Rickie Weeks.

A sound approach to the season is to break it up into thirds. The first third -- which runs through the first weekend in June -- should focus upon acquiring as much value as possible without worrying too much about categorical excess (unless you play in a league that does not permit trading or in which trading is difficult). The second third is spent both continuing to acquire talent as well as arranging that talent in such a way to maximize your roto-points scoring capabilities. The final third is spent mostly managing your roster to earn as many points as possible, while still keeping an eye on September call-ups, especially in deeper formats to help accrue as many at bats as possible.

Keep in mind the standings are still quite volatile. Individual players and rotisserie-teams are still on a pace that will exceed their final numbers. Conversely, some players and teams have yet to hit their stride. We are just past the quarter-pole, which is not yet ample time for strength of schedule to even out, meaning some MLB squads have faced tough or weaker competition, and that impacts their statistics. While it is too early to completely abandon your strategy, it is a good time to begin to access your stead as others will begin to do so soon and you will be ready when trading season begins in earnest. With that as a backdrop, here are some general things to look for in your standings.

Granted, it is rather intuitive, but is borne out by years and years of data -- you want to be at least competitive in the home run category. The main reason is because RBI and runs totals are positively correlated to home runs, but it is always nice when research supports anecdotal evidence. Year after year, if you survey the final standings of multiple leagues, you will find the champions collectively fared the best in the category of home runs. For example, in the five year existence of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, a competition that pits hundreds of teams organized into 15-team leagues against each other, collectively, the individual league victors scored the best in home runs. In addition, back in 2003, over 500 12-team leagues were studied and each winner finished in the upper-half of the home run category which could be said for none of the other categories. This is not to say there has NEVER been a winner in the lower half of the home run category, just that it is the extreme exception.

The take-home lesson here is to analyze your place in the home run category to see if something needs to be done to shore up your squad. If you are faring pretty well but are doing so on the heels of Raul Ibanez, AaronHill or Brandon Inge, take that into consideration as players of this ilk are apt to at least slow down their pace. This is not to say that they will stop smacking the ball out of the yard, but instead of prorating Ibanez' 17 dingers to a final total of the 60 he is on pace to hit, temper expectation to 45 or so. In other words, if everyone else on your team continues on the present pace, you will hit 15 fewer homers than your present overall pace when you account for what Ibanez will lose. So if you are barely middle of the pack with Ibanez, by season's end you may no longer enjoy that standing.

A similar analysis can be done with stolen bases, at least in terms of how dependent your success is on a single player performing well above expectations. Carl Crawford is the obvious example. Yes, he is an accomplished base thief, but does anyone really expect a total of 106 pilfers, his current pace? To a lesser extent, Bobby Abreu is giving his owners a somewhat surprising 15 steals as he is on a pace for 53 bags.

The point is when evaluating your situation, be aware of contributions that are apt to slow. Of course the opposite can be true as well with respect to both power and speed. You might be lagging in a category but have reinforcements coming off the disabled list or being promoted from the minors.

The other hitting category to note is batting average and how you are faring with respect to runs and RBI. If your batting average is lower than expected, your associated production should be suffering as well. If you anticipate your average will climb, you should also see a corresponding improvement in runs and RBI. If your runs and RBI are at an acceptable level in spite of a low batting average, chances are your home runs are fine but you will still see a modest bump in production as your average corrects. If your average is at a decent level and your runs and RBI are low, chances are you have been a bit unlucky. And while you should not expect a complete reversal of fortune, a return to a normal pace is to be anticipated which means an ascent in the runs and RBI categories.

With respect to pitching, be wary of your standing in the wins category, as that can change quickly, good or bad. Pay particular heed if Jonathan Broxton is your closer as he has already amassed five wins, which this early in the season can account for multiple places in your standings. In standard 5x5 strikeout leagues, while the correlation is not as close as HR to RBI or ERA to WHIP, you usually fare similarly in wins and strikeouts. If you are lagging in strikeouts but strong in wins, you have likely been fortunate. Conversely, if you are doing well in strikeouts but behind in wins, you have probably been a bit snake-bitten. Keep these factors in mind when accessing your team so you are not lulled into a false sense of security or perhaps make a knee-jerk reaction and so something foolhardy like chasing wins.

As was just suggested, the categories of ERA and WHIP are often correlated. If you are more than a couple of standings places apart, chances are there will be a correction and you will be closer by season's end. Generally speaking, WHIP is the more stable of the two, with ERA being more volatile. That is, more often than not, your placement in WHIP is reflective of where it should be with ERA being lucky or unlucky. As before, you will not have your luck completely reverse where good becomes bad and vice versa, but it is reasonable to assume things will be normal going forward, which should serve to move your ERA closer to your WHIP.

Of course, if your ERA and WHIP are being strongly impacted by a very good or very bad performance, since they are so closely related, you will get double the benefit or suffer double the consequences when things change. For instance, while there is every indication that Zack Greinke has turned the corner and will remain an upper-echelon pitcher, he will be hard pressed to maintain a sub-1.00 ERA and WHIP. When that corrects, your squad will see a rise in its ERA and WHIP. On the other hand, if you own someone like Josh Beckett or A.J. Burnett, your stead will improve as their numbers become more in line with their career marks. Or if you hung onto the aforementioned Nolasco because his peripherals seemed fine and have since replaced him, your team is bound to reap the rewards in not one but two categories.

So there you have it. There is some preliminary analysis you can do for your squads to begin to prepare for the next segment of the season, where the contenders will separate from the pretenders. In the coming weeks, the focus will be on strategies to combat specific deficiencies, in an effort to stay competitive into the fall.

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