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Grey Matter

Getting to the point: Tips for managing your team down the stretch

Posted: Thursday August 07, 2003 4:19 PM
  Frank Thomas Relying on Frank Thomas to help your homers is good. Relying on him to help your batting average isn't. AP

By Jason Grey, Special to SI.com

With just a couple of months left in the season, you already have a pretty good idea whatís going on the standings and what you might be able to do to change that, if needed.

I have seen the first-place team in a tight race just start running away from the pack from this point forward, yet I have also seen the sixth-place team come from 12 back to win it on the last day of the season. I have seen the fifth-place team make a run at it while the third- and fourth-place teams dump.

A lot of your upward movement potential is based on how tight the standings are. For example, in American League Tout Wars, 13 points separates first through sixth, with many points decided by a couple of runs or a couple of wins here and there. The race is still wide open. If you are one of those teams that can make up some ground, how much can you gain? And how can you go about it?

As fellow Tout Wars participant Trace Wood pointed out in our annual this year: At this point in the season, based on the average amount of at-bats a contending team has (and it is a rough estimate of about 4500), a team currently hitting .280 that wants to improve to .282 needs to hit .287 the rest of the way. For one guy to make up that difference, he has to hit close to .310, assuming the rest of your team hits at its current place. Trading for a guy who hits .285-.290 will not help you appreciably.

Obviously, we have the cumulative categories, but some are easier to gain ground in than others. That may seem odd, but it is really rather intuitive. Home runs and stolen bases are categories where the differences from top to bottom and from place to place tend to be not as great as others. They are also a little easier to grasp from a prediction standpoint as they are not team-dependent stats to a certain extent, such as runs and RBIs. In sum, all things being equal in terms of points you are chasing, it is somewhat safer to pursue homers and steals first.

In leagues where teams are allowed free weekly transactions, playing the weekly matchups is especially important in trying to get runs and RBIs. A four-game series against the Tigers? Letís load up the hitters. Trace again provided a nice acquisition strategy when examining players to get or trade for: ďIdentify the teams that have the weakest schedule remaining, and zero in on the 3-4-5- hitters.Ē

When you look at pitching, you have a much more difficult time. Roger Clemens cost me back-to-back Tout Wars titles in 2001. I was in desperate need for wins, so I traded in August for Roger Clemens. This was when there was a lot of hoopla surrounding Clemensí win streak. He had lost just one game all season. So I trade for him. First start: loss. Second start: loss. One of the relievers I traded away wound up with the same amount of wins from that point on as Clemens. My lack of ground gaining in the wins category cost me a title.

If you need wins, load up on starters and hope for the best, but that win stat, alas, she is fickle. Counting on gaining ground in wins is not what you want to hope for. Just last night, Kris Wilson goes five innings, gives up two runs but gets the loss. I had started him in a deep AL league over Jake Westbrook, who gave up six runs over five-plus but got the win. Go figure. Of course, the better teams have chances of getting wins, but again, remember that is no guarantee (witness Darrell Mayís win total in light of his overall numbers. His numbers match up with Seattleís Gil Meche in every category, but he has five wins to Mecheís 12, and heís on a division leader to boot.)

If youíre looking for saves, the top guys can generally get you 6-8 per month. If you must mine setup guys for saves help (other than looking for teams with shaky closing situations), teams with starting rotations that generally do not work deep into games are also good bets.

Unlike batting average, you have a smaller group of players composing your ratio and ERA pool. However, you have already accumulated a substantial amount of innings. You really canít expect one pitcher to change your fortunes. Either way, you have to hope the rest of the guys get on a good run so as not to negate the gains.

Some people suggest replacing poorer starters with good relievers. I find that in practical application, though, that just helps to stabilize your numbers rather than produce large gains, and it can be offset by losses in wins. If things are so tight that stabilization would be good, then go for it. If you are expecting to make a significant move in pitching though, it generally requires one ace and a lesser starter who is performing better than one of your worst current starters. I donít try to make a move in ERA and ratio without two relatively significant starter acquisitions.

Examine your categories, then examine who might be available to help you move in the categories you stand the greatest chances of gaining. Then evaluate your chances of actually doing so. (Is it in a tough category like wins? Do you already have so many innings pitched it will be tough to gain ratio ground?) Figure out if that will get you where you want to be and then do it. In keeper leagues, keep your expectations realistic so as you donít blow your base to try to win next year on some vain hope of going from fifth to first. Good luck.

Jason Grey is the publisher of The Masters of Fantasy Baseball at www.mastersball.com, a free daily source for news, analysis, insight, and opinion.


 
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