Making your moves
For some of us, a weekly transaction league just doesn't cut the mustard. Baseball is played seven days a week -- why shouldn't we manage our fantasy teams the same way?
The popularity of daily transaction leagues has increased significantly. If you're used to the patient approach of a weekly league and this is your first time in a daily transaction league, you've come to the right place: Today we're going to discuss several tricks specifically designed for daily moves. We'll assume the vast majority of daily leagues are of the shallower mixed variety, providing an ample pool of undrafted players. You will no doubt pick up on the recurring themes of maximizing at-bats and looking for favorable pitching matchups.
1. Cheap catchers are good. One of my favorite ploys in daily leagues is to churn inexpensive catchers. Instead of investing what it takes to land Joe Mauer or Brian McCann, I prefer to spend that money or use that high draft pick elsewhere and look for free-agent catchers playing in the better-hitting parks or facing weaker pitching staffs. The key is to always make sure your catchers are scheduled to play that day. Due to the more grueling nature of the position, catchers are given more days off than the other position players. So even if you have Victor Martinez and Russell Martin manning the position, you will still get zero at bats from one of the spots once or twice a week. Look for catcher tandems that use platoon splits or a backup who always catches a certain pitcher. In most instances, a catcher will be rested the day game after a night game. If executed properly, this churning of catchers can result in above average production for the bare minimum cost. Be warned, however, this is a very high-maintenance endeavor and thus may not be for everybody. The last thing you want to do is forget to bench or release Jose Molina after a series in Arlington when he is scheduled to face Johan Santana next. There is considerable downside if you are unable to take the time to search out the most favorable matchups. On occasion, you will not find a receiver you are comfortable activating. In these instances, it is best to choose someone not likely to play or someone like Mike Redmond who doesn't embarrass himself with the bat very often, so if he does play you probably won't be saddled with an 0-4 with 2 Ks.
2. The more at-bats, the better. Last week, we mentioned the notion of maximizing at-bats during off days. This is an often overlooked, yet integral means to success in daily leagues. Everyone knows Monday and Thursday are travel days for several clubs, so you're left with a hole or two in your lineup. In April, instead of stocking your reserves with pitchers to stream (more on this later), the better plan is to load up on bats. Try to have a few players eligible at multiple positions. Then just activate as many sticks as you possibly can, maximizing your at-bats to add cumulative stats. Why do I specifically suggest this in April? In some leagues, there is no separate DL and reserve list. Early in the season, you are less likely to need to reserve an injured player you prefer not to release. This opens up more spots to fill with hitters. As the season wears, your opportunity to do this wanes as the injuries pile up. Also, due to weather considerations there are more scheduled off days in April, not to mention unscheduled ones. If you have enough advance notice a game might be called, you can even replace players on the affected teams. Over the course of the season, you can add enough at-bats to gain several standings points.
3. Shop at the dollar store. Another pet ploy of mine is to fill my corner infield, middle infield, utility and two outfield spots with $1 players or very late round draft picks. These players are essentially fungible, since there is always a similar player available for pickup. Now you look for favorable matchups or ride a hot streak. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of analytical data helping us differentiate a genuine hot streak from a lucky streak, so this can be risky. Personally, I've had some success by assuming that in a hot streak, a player strikes out less than usual, while in a cold streak, he whiffs more than he generally averages. So if a guy is five for his last 15 but has fanned six times, I figure a couple of those hits were bloopers or seeing-eye grounders, so I don't rush to pick him up. On the other hand, if a .250 hitter is six for his last 17 with a homer, two doubles and four walks, I figure he's genuinely swinging a hot bat and I'll funnel him in my lineup at one of the five spots I mentioned before.
4. Oh, what a relief. In daily leagues, almost everybody employs some form of pitcher streaming. But the additional layer I like to add is not just claiming and activating pitchers with favorable matchups, but fortifying my staff with solid middle relievers that rack up strikeouts, vulture the occasional win and even pick up the odd save. Additionally, I now have a solid base of innings with a low ERA and WHIP, so I can be a little more liberal with the starters I float in, being able to withstand an occasion where I chose poorly. Plus, in keeper leagues, if you're lucky (or smart) enough to roster the likes of Scot Shields, Joel Zumaya, Jonathan Broxton or Scott Linebrink, you could have a prime keeper for next year as there's a great chance one or more of them assumes the role of closer come 2008.
5. What have you done lately? When looking for favorable hitting or pitching opportunities, I don't worry about how the player fared historically against the other team, since the sample size is usually too small to render a significant characterization -- unless the performance is so extreme it cannot be ignored, say a hitter going 10 for 24 against a certain pitcher with six homers, a double and a triple. Instead, I prefer to look at recent performances -- the last week or two for hitters and two or three appearances for pitchers -- using the previously discussed strikeout indicator for hitters while similarly looking at a pitcher's walk and strikeout rate.
6. Plan, plan, plan. This is perhaps the most important element. To most efficiently execute any of the above moves, plan in advance and already have the desired player(s) on your reserve before you need them. Others in your league may be using the same strategies, thinning the pool of available useful players, so you beat them to the punch. Don't wait until Monday morning to see which visiting catcher hits in Coors that day. Instead, do it over the weekend. Not only will you outwit your opponents, but you'll also demoralize them when they discover you've already grabbed the player they wanted.