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Silver League Update: What Would Winners Do?

Now, I know it "ain't over till it's over," but it's the beginning of June, and the standings are starting to matter a lot more than I wish they did. Nobody is close to running away with the Silver League, but there are two teams sitting close together at the top of the standings: The Great Badbonis and the E-Z Sliders. Their success (and my own seemingly cemented place in ninth) got me thinking about a quote from Malcolm X that I'll paraphrase: "Whenever someone else is more successful than you, they're doing something you're not."

It's a simple enough idea, but not always the easiest one to put into practice when your own strategies seem so smart but haven't exactly brought the best results. I was going to ask the owners what their secrets are, but a warning from Dogbert stopped me short: "Beware the advice of successful people -- they do not seek company." So I'm left to do my own investigating. The good news is that you know you can trust my advice from my place in the standings.

The two teams have taken separate strategies to the top of the standings, with the Badbonis dominating the pitching categories and Sliders showing more balance and hitting strength. How dominating is dominating? The Badbonis sit in first place in wins and WHIP, second place in ERA and strikeouts, and a lowly third in saves. It isn't an unbalanced team either, with runs its only low-scoring category. The Sliders, meanwhile, are at or near the top in all hitting categories and are above the water line in all the pitching categories except strikeouts.

Perhaps most telling, though, are the categories in which both teams are about equally successful: batting average and steals. Steals, like saves, is one of the easier categories to ensure doing well in -- it's just that you usually have to make some sacrifices to get it. Batting average, with individual players' high variances, seems to me a lot tougher to win on purpose. So ... are these teams lucky or good?

The key here seems to be the balance. There are plenty of steals-only players that can rack up huge thefts numbers all by themselves but tend to be liabilities in other categories. Take Emilio Bonifacio for instance. The guy's injured but still leads the Majors in steals. Oh, and he had only six RBIs and no homers when he got hurt. There's a reason I'm leading the Silver League in steals and losing in the other hitting categories.

The Badbonis and the Sliders seem to have a more balanced approach (and a little good luck on their side, too). Spreading their speed around, the Badbonis have four players with at least nine steals and three more with at least five. Of them, only Alcides Escobar should be considered a "steals-only" player -- and he's hitting .303. I don't imagine the Badbonis are even missing Brett Gardner right now. The Sliders are even more balance-oriented, with six players with at least six steals and a couple more from almost everyone else on the roster. For the moment, they're tied for second place with 61 steals each.

Batting average is a little tougher to depend on, and my first thought was that these teams were -- like several in the Silver League -- plying the waiver wire for as many extra at-bats and good matchups as they can. There's certainly a correlation between effort and success, but no, this can't be the answer, as the teams have made just 18 and 21 transactions.

It's tough to predict the high end of good batting average, but it isn't so hard to find players who might just have terrible batting averages. Outside of their catchers, both the Badbonis and Sliders have managed to avoid such players. In their starting lineups are just two non-catchers batting under .240: Erick Aybar and Eric Hosmer, who hasn't even been with the Sliders all season long. Hosmer proves you can't always see an average sink coming, but players like Mark Reynolds, Pedro Alvarez, and Alexei Ramirez shouldn't surprise anyone. This sort of risk avoidance has gotten the teams averages of .270 and .272. While players like Melky Cabrera and Mike Trout are likely to see drops in their BA as the season goes on, teams like these are built to weather hits like those. Of any category, though, I can still see this one changing the most as the season goes on.

Though neither team is streaming hitters, both are carrying two bench hitters. That doesn't sound like much, but in a league with only three total bench spots, it can make a big difference in which matchups you can play. The flip side of this choice, though, is that it means carrying only seven starters and, with just two points in the category, that's been hurting the E-Z Sliders. Not so for the Badbonis, as they sit in second place in K's thanks to efficiency that's unmatched in the league: 491 K's in 495 2/3 innings -- nearly a batter per inning! Of their 10 pitchers, only Ervin Santana has a low K/9 (6.72), and six are striking out at least a batter per inning. Taking Craig Kimbrel early doesn't hurt, and neither does Joe Nathan's sudden return to awesomeness.

I'm not sure if we've stumbled on a perfect formula for success, but this seems to be the basic idea: avoid true BA sinks, and grab lots of the sort of hitters that tack a few (maybe 15 on the year) steals on to their total. Players like that might be more likely to beat out ground balls and up their averages, too. Don't punt anything and use bench spots to play your matchups. Don't be afraid to reach for a closer that racks up strikeouts, and while everyone else is concentrating on hitting in the middle of the draft, grab some risky high-K pitchers. Oh, and don't worry about catchers.

Finally, make sure to get at least one hitter to hit way more homers than expected -- like Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Beltran, or Josh Reddick. Obviously, every winning team is going to need a little good luck to get through the year. Sometimes it evens out, and sometimes it doesn't, but putting yourself in the right place to capitalize on your luck is a good way to start winning.

Off to an awesome season? Have a winning strategy that you just can't help but brag about? Think my ideas are crazy? Start a discussion in the comments.


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