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September 4, 2013

Sporer Report

Five Tips for the Contender Endgame

by Paul Sporer

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Here we are, ladies and gentlemen, in the sixth and final month of the season. As I mentioned in an earlier piece back in August, part of me is really bummed, because that means the season is almost over. Before we know it, the bow will be placed on the 2013 season, no later than Halloween, which will hopefully be a Game Seven win for my Detroit Tigers over the Pittsburgh Pirates (or your favorite NL team… what do I care as long as my Tigers win, right?). Of course, another part of me is excited for the finishes in the leagues where I am in contention.

Hopefully you are in contention in at least one league, if not several. Of course, this month is difficult because things are so different from the other five. The biggest difference is roster expansion which creates a playing time crunch for many players. Your sneaky fringe guys who crushed it in their side of the platoon are losing precious at-bats to hot prospects or ailing stars and semi-stars need to rest up for the MLB playoffs so they are sitting out games or have nothing to play for and thus no reason to push through at 85-90 percent health.

Whether you are contending for win, place, or show, you need razor-sharp focus in this final month, and these tips help you make the best decisions possible in your quest for gold. For the sake of these tips, let’s assume a redraft league because keeper situations make almost all of this moot.

PLAY THE HOT HAND
We are at the point in the season where variance is massive. With a maximum of 25 games left and as few as 22 for some teams, there simply isn’t enough time for players to fall down to or rise up to their water mark, which means you need to be very aggressive. Wade Miley had been brilliant for three months (2.66 ERA in 105 IP) before his destruction at home against Toronto on Tuesday night. Ain’t nobody got time for an inning and two-thirds with five earned allowed, so dump Miley for a Padre who has yet to pitch this week: Eric Stults, Tyson Ross, or Andrew Cashner. I wouldn’t normally overreact like that to one implosion in the face of three great months of work, but time is of the essence.

Nick Franklin is one of my favorite prospects and I’m excited for his long-term potential, but he’s been an abomination at the dish for a month now posting a .111/.216/.211 line since August 1. Assuming you’ve held on this long, dump him Christian Yelich or Trevor Plouffe or even B.J. Upton, whose sense of urgency has started to perk up per usual. He does his best work in September, with an .808 OPS, and he looks ready for another big one, closing August strong and starting the month off right with a .440/.517/.640 line in his last seven games.

Apply this within reason**, though. I don’t care if Paul Goldschmidt is hitting .167 with a .667 OPS in the last week; you aren’t cutting him for Moises Sierra’s .429 average and 1.190 OPS over the same timeframe. Same goes Adam Wainwright after two catastrophic defeats against the Reds. If your superstar fades down the stretch, you deal with it, but you cycle those last 6-10 guys on your roster (depending on your league size and waiver wire quality) like a revolving door these last few weeks.

THE EXCEPTION
There are some instances where star-level players might be on the chopping block in our redraft leagues down the stretch. They are in cases of workload management and nebulous returns from injury.

Are you in huge battles for pitcher wins and strikeouts? You might consider dumping Julio Teheran, who recently had his next start pushed back to September 10, giving him a max of four starts left, assuming they don’t afford him another long break or two. There are certainly several capable arms available to replace him. The extra start or two from your replacement could be the difference. But let your standings be the deciding factor here. If it ERA and WHIP you are after, then Teheran—even in a shortened workload—remains valuable especially with that next start coming in Miami, but also down the line, as Atlanta’s schedule is a cakewalk.

If you are in a standard redraft, then chances are you only have one or two DL spots to fill, meaning a rash of injured players are cutting into your normal reserve spots. It’s time to move on from these guys. David Wright, Matt Kemp, Jason Heyward, Johnny Cueto, Clay Buchholz, and Brandon Beachy are all among the types that I am talking about here. They have uncertain timetables and they may never even get another chance to contribute this year. If you play in a daily transaction league where those clogged roster spots are costing you the ability to put in hitters on Mondays and Thursdays, or stream pitchers all week, then it is time to cut bait.

RAID THE BULLPEN
Let’s add 14- and 16-team leagues to mix with this one. Are you protecting a tenuous ERA or WHIP lead and remain deathly afraid of your average-to-slightly-above-average starters going all Miley on you (no, not that Miley… this one, which isn’t quite as gross) and costing you several points? It seems cheesy to go all Jose Reyes on the league and simply bench the potential culprits; in fact, your league may not even allow it.

Take a different approach and send the would-be offenders packing for studly middle relievers. The David Robertsons and Paco Rodriguezes are almost certainly available in all mixed formats and the likelihood them damaging your ERA and WHIP is much lower than that of a Jarred Cosart or Joe Kelly, who have both put up numbers, but never really gained your trust.

FORECAST, FORECAST, FORECAST
It will never be 100 percent accurate, especially in September when everything is fluid, but if you want to leverage platoon advantages with your players then do the legwork of projecting forward to see what kind of slate your guys will likely have coming up. This is an extreme example, but let’s say we get to the final week and Yelich has a slate of six straight righties. You could consider playing him over Michael Cuddyer, who has just five games the entire week, including three on the road.

Maybe the Diamondbacks have four lefties lined up in a seven-game week, making Cody Ross (1.012 OPS vs. lefties this year; 938 for his career) an option ou may have never considered in your outfield of Wil Myers, Torii Hunter, and Andre Ethier (why didn’t you draft a better outfield?) . Again, these examples are at the extreme, but you get the point. You need to be scouring for any potential edge when every hit, run, and strikeout matters.

(And it’s not so much that the run is worth more now than it was in April, but in April you had 25 weeks to make up ground, now you have but 25 games.)

BE REALISTIC
Last but not least, be reasonable about the points you can actually gain at this juncture. You’re not making up a 30-RBI difference or a 15-stolen base gap—hell, 20 and 10 in those categories will be a challenge without some superior performance across your roster. Focus on the single-digit gaps in counting categories and the smallest of differences in ratios. I’m talking the second decimal in ERA and WHIP, and the third one in AVG or OBP.

With that in mind, attack those spots where points come easiest. If you are 10 home runs from a single point, but six stolen bases from three points, then you dump Pedro Alvarez for Eric Young Jr. or Justin Morneau for L.J. Hoes. If sixth place is no different from eighth except the two spots in the draft order, but fourth place is legitimately within reach with a big month and earns back your entry fee, then make the necessary moves. Too often, I see fantasy managers get hung up judging the trade as if it were taking placing in early-June as opposed to early-September. This is also why it’s hard to ask for advice on these moves without as much context as possible.

I don’t care how much you need stolen bases in June, I wouldn’t have advised dumping Alvarez for D.J. LeMahieu (he had eight that month) because Alvarez would net more via trade at that point and there was still more time and better ways to address your stolen base problem. But if you aren’t likely to gain or lose a home run point depending on whether or not Alvarez’s six or so remaining homers are on your roster or in the waiver pool, then the remaining steals of someone like Young (or the aforementioned LeMahieu, who is more widely available at this point) are worth the move.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

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