This year I’m doing an 5×5 AL-only experts’ league sponsored by Going 9 Baseball. The format is head-to-head, but with daily lineup changes. Each category counts as a separate “game”, so there’s 10 “games” each week.
This week, I was in a tight match with Evan Tarraciano, aka RotoWizard. With one day to go, I was up 6-3, overall, but trailing 3-2 in the 5 pitching categories. Both of us had pitched well in percentage terms – he led in ERA 1.69 to 1.87, and in WHIP 0.88 to 0.92, and was 1 win ahead, while I had a 2-0 edge in saves and a large 46-28 lead in Ks. In this league you only need 7 innings per week to “qualify” for percentages.
The batting stats were tight also, but there’s less tweaking you can do there. For a Sunday afternoon, you basically start your best players and hope they pull through for you.
But with pitching, there can be more strategy. I’d recently added a starter from the waiver wire, the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel, who had a favorable matchup against the White Sox today. I thought about how best to maximize my chances to gain in pitching. If my opponent’s ERA and WHIP didn’t move, I’d have needed four perfect innings to pass him in both those categories, so my chances of making up the ground with only relievers didn’t look good. If I started Keuchel, and he pitched very well, then I might get a win (to tie there), and also pass Evan in WHIP and ERA. If he pitched poorly, well, I was already trailing in all 3, so not much lost, right?
Well, I checked Evan’s team, and saw he had Indians’ rookie Corey Kluber slated to go against the Nationals in an inter-league game today also. That changed my thinking. While Kluber has pitched rather well, even an average start from him might be enough to let me take both ERA and WHIP. Luckily for me, Kluber’s game was at 1:00 EDT, while Keuchel’s wasn’t until 2:00. So I could check Evan’s lineup, and if he left Kluber in, I’d leave Keuchel on the bench, and hope the Indians got hit hard. If instead he benched Kluber, to try to protect his percentages, then I’d start Keuchel and hope for a great start.
Evan left Kluber in, so I benched Keuchel, despite having just added him.
Well, Kluber was brilliant, pitching 8 shutout innings, and yielding just 7 hits in a 1-0 win over the Nationals. So I’m going to lose wins, ERA and WHIP despite my strategy. Keuchel pitched well also, giving up 4 hits, 2 walks and 2 earned runs in 6.33 innings to beat the White Sox, but I would have done no better if I had started him.
But the point is that fantasy baseball is a game of percentages. My strategy wound up not helping (or hurting) in this case, but it probably did improve my chances of winning the pitching percentages.
As for the matchup, I wound up winning 5 categories and losing 4, with one tied. The pitching categories didn’t change on the last day, but a 3-run homer from Travis Hafner broke a 6-6 tie in HR, and allowed the Roto Wizards to tie me in RBI.
In fantasy, you can’t control the outcome, but you can control your decision making process. And weekly head-to-head leagues with daily moves offer chances to tweak your lineup based on how the matchup is going – if it’s clear the other team will win strikeouts, you can bench mediocre starters to try to protect ERA/WHIP. Or if you’re losing the percentages badly, loading up on mediocre, or even poor, starters can at least help pile up a few more strikeouts while giving you an extra chance at wins.
Not every decision will work, and indeed sometimes the “right” decision can give a bad result, while a “wrong” decision can work out better.