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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Win it Any Way You Want

  The morning after the regular season ends is always a time of somber reflection for fantasy players.

Or it’s the time when you rush desperately to your computer to see if you added things up correctly in your head last night and see if your really did hang on and win your fantasy league by a single point.

Maybe it’s a little of both.

Whether your league’s winner ran away with it all like the Orioles, barely limped into the finish like the Tigers; whether your playoff seat was safe for months like the Nationals or you fell just short in your last desperate gasp like the Mariners…where was I going with this? After a moment’s pause and another sip of replacement-level coffee I remember: there is no one way to win a fantasy baseball league (or come close), no matter how often you’ll hear otherwise.

I played in three leagues this year with rules universal enough to bother discussing here, and none of the winners were put together with exactly the same strategy—despite what you’ll hear about drafting (or not drafting) starters, paying (or never paying) for saves, or steals or whatever else. Today we’ll take a look backwards (‘cause what else are we gonna do?) and take note of three of the thousands of possible winning combinations of players that formed fantasy baseball teams. 

Old Hoss Radbourn

If you don’t know who the original Old Hoss was, look him up. True to his legacy, this winning squad of mine was pretty dominant in pitching. (Untrue to his legacy, wins were my worst pitching category.)

I almost always go after strikeouts, because they’re the only truly predictable pitching category, and they brought me 12 points (first place). I also finished with 11 in WHIP and saves, 10 in ERA (thanks to a lousy last day), and 9.5 in wins. So you can win the league by going for pitching—really. My hitting got (most) of the job done, as I scored 9.5 or better in average (lucky me), homers, and steals. I was okay in RBI (7) and my weakness was in runs (just 4 points). So you can win with a below average category. And there’s enough luck in runs scored (and RBI) for you to do well in overall hitting and still have the category for an outlier.

Or you might not. The teams that came in second and third in this league managed 11 or 12 points in runs, homers, and RBI. So you can do it that way too. Considering I was just one point away from second place myself, it would be dishonest to say that the power-counting-stats approach isn’t a good one. It totally is and it nearly toppled me. 

How’d I build this squad? Looking back with some surprise, I didn’t draft as heavily on pitching as I usually do. Andrew McCutchen was my first choice, and a rock. Joey Votto (fail—even winning teams have them) came next, followed by Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Sale, David Ortiz, and Greg Holland (see, paying for saves). A winning team always strikes gold on some mid- and late-round picks, which I’ll call a mix of luck and preparation. Mine were Jose Altuve (9th round), Scott Kazmir (18th), Ian Kennedy (20th), Todd Frazier (21st), and the fact that two of the four closers I drafted kept their jobs all year long (Steve Cishek was the other one).

This is why the draft is only half the ballgame (or less). I survived injuries and ineffectiveness to plenty of my picks: Hyun-jin Ryu, Matt Cain, A.J. Burnett, R.A. Dickey, and pretty much all of my late-round hitters. You know what? This wasn’t a good draft at all.

Fortunately, I made a big trade when I saw how painful my pitching was, swapping Stanton (and some other stuff) for Clayton Kershaw (and less other stuff). That was my only trade (that I remember) and it was the turning point in this team’s season. My preferred strategy is to get two aces and play matchups, and that’s what Kershaw let me do.

On the waiver wire, I made use of pieces like Adam Dunn, Josh Beckett (hey, he was really good for awhile there), Jake McGee, Chad Qualls, Danny Santana, Josh Harrison (yeah, that helped), Jenrry Mejia…and I practically streamed my way through September to meet the innings cap, all for one more point in wins.

How’d I win? A clutch trade, an active waiver wire, an early draft with no more than one loser (Votto), and some late-round shots in the dark that paid off. I paid a little more than usually recommended for saves and starters, and I don’t regret it.

RobertCop

If my squad (above) was the Tigers, limping into the division win at the last day, then this squad (owned by my boss, Tim Dierkes) was the Angels, dominating the season and finishing far ahead of the competition. This team finished first in runs, RBI, wins, strikeouts, and WHIP. In a league that counts holds and OPS, this team bagged 10 points in homers, average, and OPS, and at least seven points in every other category. Now that is a balanced team.

How’d he do it? In a draft with its own ups and downs, naturally. Edwin Encarnacion, Votto (I’m not the only one!), Jose Reyes, Jose Fernandez, Hunter Pence, Matt Holliday, Jonathan Lucroy and a bold, early choice of Jose Abreu ended up being a pretty nice collection of talent. RobertCop managed to bank early returns in pitching from Fernandez and from Masahiro Tanaka, but that ended up being only about one great season between them. How’d this team still dominate the pitching categories? Enter Corey Kluber (19th round). This squad also got some great work out of Frazier (23rd), Dioner Navarro (21st), and Brett Gardner (14th).

Interestingly, the team paid a little for saves (mid-round picks on Bobby Parnell and Jim Henderson) and got nothing for their investment—yet still managed an above-average finish in the category. Just because I paid for saves doesn’t mean you have to. After all, he got Francisco Rodriguez on waivers. James Paxton, Gregory Polanco, Travis d’Arnaud, Jose Quintana, Chad Qualls, Jake Arrieta, and Collin McHugh all made an impact off the waiver wire (to one degree or another). He also made good use of non-closers to excel in holds, ERA, and WHIP.

Also interesting: this team didn’t make a single trade, in what was a very inactive trading league. Apparently it wasn’t necessary.

This team won it through an excellent draft—but it still wasn’t (and didn’t have to be) a perfect one. His waiver claims didn’t include any of the year’s most amazing surprises; instead, they were a steady stream of quality players making marginal upgrades at a lot of positions. This team didn’t pay for saves, but it paid a little for pitching—and even though it lost a bet on Fernandez’s health, still came away looking good. If enough things go right, plenty of things can still go wrong on the way to a dominant season.

Springfield Sultans

This team won a head-to-head league, but the principles are similar enough. This squad had a winning record in every hitting category and dominated wins and strikeouts. Lest you think they were a streamer, it’s worth noting they played nearly .500 ball in ERA and WHIP. Their only bad category was saves.

In the auction, this team put down big money to secure Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen, so that’s a pretty good hitting base right there. Josh Donaldson and Starlin Castro also came up big for this offense—though they swung and missed on players like Eric Hosmer, Brett Lawrie, and Martin Prado.

This squad wasn’t afraid to take on injured pitchers like Hisashi Iwakuma and Cole Hamels, and Hyun-jin Ryu, and that patient risk-taking reaped significant rewards. Andrew Cashner and Lance Lynn added plenty of value too, though this team wasn’t without it’s pitching bombs: Shelby Miller and Tony Cingrani didn’t do them any favors. 

This team did most of its heavy lifting in the auction, making no trades and only 24 waiver wire moves all season. But the moves they did make counted. Charlie Blackmon was the biggest-impact, while John Lackey, Mark Melancon, Chad Qualls, Seth Smith, Kyle Seager, Josh Harrison, Lonnie Chisenhall, Hector Rondon, Carl Crawford, and Carlos Carrasco all helped to one degree or another. Where was I on these waiver wire moves? Seriously. Anyway, this owner got a lot of value (and plenty of saves) without paying for it in the auction.

While auction strategies are a bit different to draft strategies (obviously), this owner bet big on the biggest talent and it paid off. This was a bold, risky team coming out of the auction with a lot of value tied up in a few players, and their best pitchers all acquired on injury discount. Could it have gone another way? Totally. But it worked.

There you go, three teams, three strategies, three paths to victory. Next year: win it your way.

 




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