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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Knowing your Place in the World

I wrote the above title and my first thought was to open with a quote from Beowulf (not the terrible film), but something warned me that I might be the only person with sufficient enthusiasm for fantasy baseball and Old English epic literature, so I'll spare you the self-indulgence.

I actually got the article's idea, not from the superhuman exploits of legendary heroes, but from the very mundane, very real last-days-of-August trades. Hat tip to this Fangraphs.com article for giving me the inspiration; you can check out the real-baseball analysis of what happened at the link above.

Quick rundown on those deals, for those with their heads under the proverbial rock of not checking MLBTradeRumors incessantly at all times of year:

Pirates trade for Justin Morneau
Orioles trade for Mike Morse
Indians trade for Jason Kubel
Cardinals trade for John Axford

Technically, each of these teams had a trade partner, but the flip side of each trade ends up looking the same:

Out of contention team trades for minor prospect and mild salary relief.

Now, what does this have to do with Beowulf or knowing your place in the world? Each of the eight teams involved in these trades made the move in the context of their place in the standings and their specific needs. For many teams (like the whole NL), a flawed player like Mike Morse isn't exactly a boon--but he's just what the Orioles needed.

What does that have to do with your fantasy teams (or mine)? First of all, each of these is a small move--no blockbusters like last year's Dodgers-Red Sox deal made it through with the waiver trades--and small moves are all that are left to us. With the trade deadline past, blockbusters are out the window and any improvements we can make are incremental. Also like the real teams above, our fantasy leagues have sorted themselves out into several groups (more on that below), each with their several needs. 

Each type of team can (and should) make the type of addition that will maximize their chances going forward. And when I say chances, I mean it in the strong, high factor of luck sense of the word. Because anything can happen in the space of three September weeks. I mean, even Willie Bloomquist had a good September once. Outside of keeper leagues, the first thing that all types of team can do is this:

Ride the hot hand.

If some guy you've never heard of is killing the ball, feel free to pick him up and toss him into your lineup. Even if he only plays well for another week before returning to the oblivion from whence he came, that week will have accounted for a full third of the remaining season. And if he keeps hitting for two weeks...consider Donnie Murphy and his nine homers in the last month (who even is that?), or Jarrod Dyson and his 13 steals, or...you get the picture.

The second thing that anyone can do is:

Know the schedule.

Check out last week's episode of RotoAuthority Unscripted and last week's Stock Watch for my overview of upcoming MLB schedules. Or look 'em up yourself. (But be warned, it was way more work than I'd expected--hence the two-part series.) It's a simple thing, but it can mean big differences in the short-term value of all ballplayers.

In the Playoffs (as in the case of the Pirates and Cardinals above; roto leaguers may read: leading for a money slot)
Chasing the Playoffs (see the Indians and Orioles)
Out of It, With Something to Play For (a hearty consolation round or fear of being kicked out of your league, perchance)
Out of It, Keeper League (like most real-life teams this time of year)
Out of It, Nothing to Play For (but, hopefully you're doing it anyway)

As it happens, I've got teams in most of these categories, and you've got...well, you've got at least one, because this should cover everything. I guess I could make a category for, "I Have my League Totally Wrapped Up and I've Been Given the Prize Money in Advance," but if that's you, you're probably not looking for advice so much as a chance to gloat.

Let's start from the bottom up, to see what kinds of moves these teams should make.

Out of It (Nothing to Play For)

This one's a tough one, I'll admit, but if you're reading this, than maybe you've got league pride to defend or last place to avoid. For teams like this, the highest risk/reward moves are the best: you've got nothing to lose. If you nab Jose Nobody from the waiver wire, and he goes oh'fer the week, oh well. And if that same Jose Nobody smacks three random homers off a similarly unknown pitcher, well great. Keep a particular eye out for prospects (like Billy Hamilton) and you can at least enjoy the schadenfreude of keeping them from the league's winners.

Out of It (Keeper Style)

You really want those prospects. If there are any worth nabbing as they get called up, snag 'em and worry about which ones you keep later. Feel free to ditch any player on your roster you don't intend to keep--even productive veterans, if you see a prospect opportunity.

Out of It (Something to Play For)

This one depends a lot on what it is you're playing for and how far you are from it. If your league boots the bottom four owners, you may want to mitigate your risk to make sure you aren't kicked out...or make a wild attempt to jump from number nine to number eight.

If it's money that's on the line, in the form of a consolation prize, this is definitely the right time to make huge-risk moves. Don't worry as much about probability of success; focus on magnitude of success. Consider this: Rick Porcello and Scott Kazmir are fringe-useful pitchers, available on many waiver wires, and both have favorable upcoming schedules. Over the course of the season, Porcello's relative steadiness makes him the better choice. In this situation, though, Kazmir's upside (especially in strikeouts) makes him the pitcher to target--even though his chances of success are lower and his downside is pretty drastic. You don't care about those things; you're trying to win the lottery.

Chasing the Playoffs

Here is the place where making the right small moves has the biggest chance to make a difference. (Remember, this isn't just for head-to-head, but anyone out of the money and chasing the money. By the way, if you're team has anything less than a bye in the first round of head-to-head playoffs, this is where you belong, even if you've locked that playoff slot up.)

Teams in this station have a lot to lose and even more to gain. Look to make moves with more upside than down, but also a high probability of success--and tailor them to your needs. There's no general answer to the previous Porcello vs. Kazmir question in this category. Know which categories you have the most room and opportunity to improve in the standings, or know the your strengths relative to your potential playoff matchups. 

You don't need to make a bold move for a flashy prospect so much as you need any player likely to perform any better than any player you currently have. That's a long rule, so maybe an example will illustrate. I'm second in steals by five in one of my leagues...and I'm ahead of third by about 40 points. I didn't need to pick up Billy Hamilton (which I did), but I should have targeted any player who looks like he could generate more production than the worst player on my roster. I don't need lightning in a bottle, just a slightly better light bulb than I've got.

In the Playoffs

This category refers to anyone on top of their league looking down. Unless you've got some low-hanging fruit in a category, you don't need to worry about getting better so much as mitigating risk against getting worse. If you're deciding between Porcello and Kazmir, the steadier Porcello is probably your choice. Or maybe you're better off with a reliever who won't change your current numbers by as much.

Risky players and those with the most brutal upcoming schedules should probably find their way off your roster; at the same time, you should be looking for the same types of acquisitions as the teams in the previous category: small marginal gains with a high probability of success. 

As in all categories, teams in this position are only so similar: there are a lot of different ways to be leading your league, and the specific players you should pluck from the free agent will be highly varied indeed.


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