June 7, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Getting Into the Swingman
Back in February, while preparing for Tout Wars, I penned an article discussing the league’s newest wrinkle: the Swingman position. To recap, Tout Wars announced the Swingman as such:
Starting this season… we’re converting the fifth outfielder slot into a place for any player on the team’s roster, playing any position, including pitcher. Hitters will contribute as hitters, pitchers as pitchers. Micah Owings contributions will come from the mound, not the batter’s box.
At the time unsure of how to fill my own Swingman spot, I debated several options:
Ultimately, I went the hitter route, drafting Casey Blake as my Swingman (oops). The rest of Tout Wars followed suit (by selecting a hitter, that is, not necessarily by selecting an aging, injury-prone third baseman who was two days away from being released), with 11 of 13 NL owners and 10 of 12 AL owners enlisting a hitter to fill their Swingman spot on Draft Day. Now 10 weeks into the fantasy season, I thought it would be interesting to see how that strategy has played out and who is still sticking to it. Below, you’ll find a chart with the number of hitters and pitchers that have been used as swingmen, by week, in Tout Wars NL:
While 11 owners began the year with a hitter Swingman, we’ve yet to see a single week since with such heavy hitter saturation. In Week 3, more pitchers were actually used than hitters, although things have tipped in the opposite direction of late.
At one point or another, nine distinct owners have used a pitcher in their swingman spot. Overall, 32 percent of all 130 Swingman-weeks (13 teams x 10 weeks) this year have been filled by pitchers. And If you exclude the four owners who have never used a pitcher, that number jumps up to 46 percent, with one owner (ESPN’s Tristan Cockcroft) using a pitcher Swingman every single week.
So if 11 owners were intent on using hitters on Draft Day, why have just four of them done so week in and week out? While I can’t say this is true in 100 percent of cases, “injuries” is probably the answer most of those owners would give. In an NL-only league like Tout Wars, if a hitter gets injured, there are very few replacement options available in the free agent pool. Usually, even the real-life replacement player is already owned, leaving owners to pick through a treasure trove of players in which Mark Kotsay and Hector Luna are the shiniest jewels.
Speaking for myself, I’ve endured quite a few injuries in Tout Wars this year (Mike Morse, Jon Jay, Ramon Hernandez, and Chipper Jones to name a few—and that’s only focusing on the hitters), and as a result I’ve turned to a pitcher Swingman five times. Rather than try to milk three at-bats out of Miguel Cairo, I’ve thought it better to play a high-quality reliever like Jason Grilli or Matt Belisle that will deliver some Ks, help my ratios, and hopefully vulture a win.
There’s reason to believe that other owners have come to the same conclusion. On average (excluding Tristan, who’s strategy all along has clearly been to always use a pitcher), teams have used a pitcher Swingman for 2.4 consecutive weeks before reverting back to a hitter—right about the length of a 15-day DL stint. Or maybe not… if we run a correlation on the number of pitcher-Swingman weeks and a team’s current place in the standings, we see that teams using pitchers more frequently (the potentially injury-riddled teams) have performed better (R=0.19, a weak but still significant correlation).
Overall this doesn’t mean a whole lot and is far from substantial evidence of anything, but it’s still fun to look at and speculate on, regardless. The Swingman has added an interesting wrinkle to Tout Wars (for the best, in my opinion), and I look forward to seeing how the rest of the season plays out.