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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Good Heavens, I Have an Innings Limit

Nobody should be shocked by seeing their fantasy team run smack into their innings limit at this point of the season but that's exactly what happened to me last year. (This time around, I've been much more discipline: I've only used about 85% of my allocated innings thus far, but that's beside the point.)

Now, I don't write this to admonish more careful innings management over the course of the first five months of the season, nor do I intend to suggest the sort of roster planning that will see you sailing breezily under your limit with space to spare. (That's a good way to kill yourself in Wins and Strikeouts, for one thing.) Quite the contrary, I prefer to rack up a decent amount of starts over the early season, but that also is not the point to which I am meandering.

The point is this: if left on autopilot, all roto format fantasy teams will do one of two things over the course of the next month-and-a-week-or-so: blast through their innings limit and render each of their pitchers completely useless, or leave potential points on the table by missing the limit by a lot. Ugly scenarios, both. Fortunately, the situation is not without its attendant opportunities, which I will now discuss....

'Wait!' yells a chorus of disgruntled readers, 'I don't play in a roto format, I play some sort of head-to-head, and I don't have an innings limit--this article is gonna be totally useless for me. I'm going back to Notgraphs.com!'

Fair point. While those in the most need of late-season roster overhaul are probably in roto formats, those in head-to-head leagues can ask themselves this: are you winning pitching's rate stats more often, or the counting stats? By how much. The tactics I'll outline can be used to great effect in any category-specific format (and many points leagues too, I'll wager, but probably not mine) to provide balance to your team. Or, if you're losing all the pitching categories, unbalance you enough to snag a couple wins.

I must warn you, though, that if you have already abandoned your baseball teams for the glitzy world of fantasy football (or the equally popular fantasy cricket), than this article may not be of use to you.

For those of us with too many innings (often also called a need in ERA and WHIP)

(All others may feel free to skim quickly through the next sections.)

Step 1 
Drop your worst pitcher. Even if he's good. Don't even pick anyone up, just drop the worst guy. If you've got someone like Felix Doubront who might be good (or at least have potential) in wins and strikeouts but isn't likely to help much in WHIP or ERA, that's who you drop. Alternatively, you can drop whoever helps least in strikeouts, if you have multiple pitchers who do about the same things in ERA and WHIP. Right now, I'm making Rick Porcello that drop in one league, and I think he actually merits more than his 21% ownership.

Unless you're neck and neck with another owner that you know can use a pitcher you're considering dropping, don't worry about how good he might be. If you're flying towards an innings limit in a serious way, all but the best starters will probably hurt your team. 

Step 2
On the free agents list (don't use a waiver pick for this unless you have to), pick up the best relief pitcher available. Since losing innings means losing strikeouts, this really means pick up whoever has the most strikeouts or the best K/9 or K% or whichever measurement you want. Relief margins are pretty small and the luck factor is outrageous over the course of a month, so this doesn't need to be an exact science.

I'm picking up Paco Rodriguez, who has a 10.45 K/9, plus a 1.35 ERA and an 0.76 WHIP. Since the innings started piling up for me a long time ago in this league, that makes him my sixth reliever--and in that quantity, these guys can be a pretty serious force in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. Too bad they only add up to about a closer and a half between them....

Step 3
If you're still a long way ahead of where you should be in innings, simply repeat steps one and two. In the example league above, I feel decent about how many innings I'll be pitching for the next couple weeks, but if I'm still ahead of the pace after the first week of September the likes of Doug Fister, Tim Lincecum, and Jeff Samardzija will be fighting for their roster life. 

Useful Relief Pitchers for Your Reference*

The following pitchers have K/9 rates over 10.00, FIP's of 3.00 or lower and are owned in 30% of Yahoo! leagues or fewer: 

Trevor Rosenthal
Cody Allen
David Robertson
Alex Torres
David Carpenter
Jordan Walden
Brett Cecil
Paco Rodriguez
Neal Cotts
Nate Jones

This list doesn't even include guys like LaTroy Hawkins (25% owned), who could plausibly be closing for the rest of the season, J.J. Putz (48% owned), who could get his closing job back, and Dane De La Rosa (12% owned) who may or may not be unseating Ernesto Frieri as the Angels' closer.

The 10.00 cutoff narrowly misses Drew Smyly (25% owned) and Luke Hochevar (just 3% owned), who have the extremely useful distinction of SP/RP eligibility. If and when your team runs out of RP and P slots for relievers, these guys will be quite the assets. If you don't get one of them, you may be stuck with Brian Matusz, which isn't terrible, I guess.

There are droves of other good and great relievers, out there, so if the aforementioned pitchers aren't to your liking, surely you'll find someone you do fancy.

Stop skimming here!

If you need to accumulate more innings for the sake of your Wins and Strikeouts

Choice 1
This option is for those who have trouble throughout their pitching staff and are not having much success in any starter-related category. 

Time to stream.

Not my favorite strategy, but if you're rolling into the last month with something like 700 IP used out of a 1500 maximum and you aren't killing your opponents in the rate stats, it's time to climb the standings in Wins and Strikeouts. How far our you are in the rate stats and how many points you can plausibly gain in the counting stats should determine how much you stream: anything from one pitcher a week to two per day might be appropriate.

When streaming, stream multiple days in advance. Chances are you aren't the only one with this tactic, especially in a public head-to-head league. The farther ahead you stream, the better options you'll have--and the worse that will be available to your opponent.

Option 2
If you're doing decently well in ERA and WHIP, don't sacrifice those hard earned points (or jeopardize categories you count on week-to-week) for the uncertain and possibly immoral benefits of streaming. 

Here you need to take a careful look at the pitchers available to you, with the goal basically being to go for the highest Wins/K's ceiling and the highest floor in ERA and WHIP. You're rate categories will dip a bit, so if there aren't any points to be gained in the counters, maybe you should just stand pat. In head-to-head, take it week by week, start by start.

Some Potentially Available and Yet Decent Starting Pitchers

I actually made a list of quite a few of these guys...and kept seeing more and more names. There are a lot surprisingly decent pitchers owned in 40% or fewer Yahoo! leagues. I'll let you crunch your own numbers and run your own risk/reward assessments, because options abound in all but the deepest leagues.

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