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August 22, 2005

Fantasy Focus

Roster Management During the Stretch Run

by Erik Siegrist

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With only a handful of weeks left until the regular season is done, crunch time has arrived in your league's pennant race. In the real baseball world, teams in contention are trying to field the most talented, healthiest lineup they can. In rotisserie baseball, however, it's sometimes counter-productive to use your "optimal" lineup every week. The goal in a roto league, after all, isn't wins but categorical dominance in certain statistics. Experienced owners have a number of little roster strategies up their sleeves to get them closer to that goal--here are just a few of them.

Shooting Your One-Trick Ponies

Players who only, or mainly, contribute in one valuable category are prized commodities at auction, but may be of limited usefulness to you at this point in the season. If you have a 30-steal bulge on your nearest competitor, for instance, and little hope of catching the team ahead of you (if there is one) there's really no statistical reason to keep a Jose Reyes or Scott Podsednik active. A lesser player, such as Jose Castillo or Jay Payton, might be able to help you more in areas where you need the help, as opposed to needlessly padding an insurmountable lead.

In fact, if your league's trading deadline hasn't yet passed, you should consider trading the 'surplus' player where he can do the most damage. If your closest pursuer is, say, fifth in stolen bases, dealing Podsednik to the team in sixth (for a player who better fits your current needs) can both boost your chances and slow down the opposition--a true "win-win" deal.

A low-batting-average slugger (Ryan Klesko, for instance) might also be counter-productive, if BA is a more vital category for you than HR or RBI.

Rates and Measures

Protecting a lead in ERA and WHIP (or making up ground in them) is not as simple as protecting one in batting average. Generally speaking, the pitchers on your staff who are the biggest threats to your rate stats are the ones who are your biggest source of wins--namely, the rank and file starters who make up the bulk of your rotation. Few owners have an all-elite starting staff; most, instead, have one or two aces (Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy) supplemented by lesser lights (John Lackey, Jason Marquis) While it would be easy to bench those second-tier starters in favor of safe middle relievers, Wins is usually too tightly bunched a category to put at risk. Unless you luck into a vulture run by one of the relievers (Cliff Politte, for instance, won five games in three weeks earlier this year) any gains you make in ERA/WHIP will probably be given right back in W.

The key is to strike a balance. As with Batting Average, you are looking to minimize the "bad" innings rather than trying to maximize the "good" ones. Examine your staff's projected starts for the week--obviously any staff filler pitching in an extreme hitters park such as Coors Field (or the homer-friendly Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati) should be benched, but you should also consider sitting them down if they are scheduled to pitch against a dangerous offense like the Yankees or Cardinals.

Look at the matchups for every non-ace starter you have and make the conscious decision to use them, rather than just leaving them active by default. Ducking just one ugly line a week can provide all the edge you need in fighting off your pursuers.

Stocking the Shelves

If you're competing for a title, or even a spot in the money, there's simply no excuse for having a dead bench spot this late in the season. Every player on your roster, regular or sub, should have a purpose for being there. This goes beyond dropping players like Scott Rolen who won't be playing again this season; if you have someone on your bench who you can't imagine using, or who you wouldn't trust if you were forced to use him, cut him and pick up someone else. There's little sense in carrying a player you'd think twice about activating.

Make sure if you can that all your injury- or slump-prone starters have someone ready to take their place. (A multi-position utility player, such as the Rockies' Luis Gonzalez, is ideal for this purpose, especially if your league has limited reserve spots.) If you plan on cycling pitchers as recommended above, make sure you have enough "safe" pitchers stowed away to pull it off. And if you have two hitters who fill essentially the same role (say, Jayson Werth and John Rodriguez) don't be afraid to drop one of them to acquire a player with a different position or skill set.

Most importantly, don't worry about who might pick up these players after you let them go. They might be an upgrade for another team you're competing with, but unless the league is very shallow talent-wise the odds are five weeks of production from a bench player aren't going to make that much difference. Worry first about your own roster needs before becoming paranoid about what Pablo Ozuna might do if he joined the opposition.

Erik Siegrist is a beat writer for RotoWire, covering the Marlins, Nationals and White Sox. He can be reached here.

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