Sometimes in the course of writing about baseball – or anything else, really – you find yourself with nothing to write about. It happens from time to time, where some of your longer-term projects aren’t ready for primetime yet, and your short-term interests aren’t particularly interesting for general consumption. There are also times, when you play in as many leagues as I do (five, currently), where you don’t really get a chance to climb up to 30,000 feet and examine your assorted teams with the proper depth and rigor they deserve. So I’m going to do something in this space I’ve never done before: engage in a (self-serving) examination of some of my takeaways from the season’s first month, in the hope that some of the strategy and logic that comes out of the process might help some of y’all along the way. Call it group therapy. So for full public consumption and with the understanding that I may be providing undue competitive advantages to several opponents along the way, here are some early-season thoughts from personal experience.
There is Downside to Investing in Veteran-Heavy Rosters
I have always been one to prefer going older in dynasty formats for several reasons, chief among them that investing in veterans can be both a cheaper and more stable method of roster construction. Booming and busting with shiny new toys offers an inherent set of its own risks, chief among them that baseball is hard, young players often fail to actualize, and gauging proper value based on theoretical projection rather than proven performance creates greater variance in outcomes.
Old guys are great, overall. You generally know what you’re getting, you can bank on a likely range of outcomes rooted in track record, and the quest for The Next Big Thing often leaves their boring, known production available at a market rate discount. Case in point, I play in one 13-team league run by my colleague J.P. Breen, and my co-manager and I took down the trophy in Year One last season. Bully for us! And we did it precisely by investing all but exclusively in veteran leadership, from the draft on down to our in-season moves. Flags fly forever, as they say, and there’s confirmation bias to the strategy in our banner flapping overhead.
But now in Year Two everyone’s been hurt and/or much less effective in April than they were a year ago. Now Jose Bautista, Matt Holliday, Jacoby Ellsbury, Howie Kendrick, Brett Gardner, Russell Martin, and about a half-dozen others are producing diminished returns and dooming us to eighth place. My TDGX team is incidentally in a similar predicament, and getting worse with each injury-riddled day. Leagues that deep – 20 teams, 40-man rosters – are like poker tournaments: Skill is important, but luck keeps you at the table. And bad luck out of the gate can make it late really early.
Poor Aprils raise uncomfortable questions for owners sitting on stockpiles of old-man talent. Nobody wants to be the captain who goes down with his ship after missing the window to divest and rebuild before the fall. Patience in the early-going is all the more important with veteran squads, however. You have to trust the process and the players who’ve performed over the long haul of multiple seasons to start getting to – or at least reasonably near – their levels. Worst-case scenario, even in the deepest of formats, is that too many of them don’t get there quick enough, you fall too far behind, and you can still sell in July.
It’s Okay to Sell Young Players While You’re Rebuilding
This point piggybacks off the above, insofar as a kind of value cult can emerge around youth, especially in deeper dynasty formats. Young players – any and all of them – can take on a mythic privilege as desired assets, wherein creating a prospect wave becomes the driving goal in a rebuild. But while rebuilding a franchise certainly requires forward-thinking about sunnier skies down the trail, rigidity is dangerous. Assets fluctuate, and that creates different opportunities at different times to generate surplus value for owners willing to discuss anyone at any time.
My other 20-team league is a standard five-by-five save for (mercifully) using OBP instead of AVG. I took over a perpetually middle-of-the-pack team prior to last season and promptly embarked on a season-long renovation that started and stopped as I lurched towards my goal of a more-or-less full take-down. That process is still ongoing, with an aim to start opening up a competitive window next season. I acquired Trevor Story last season, and bully for me! The kicker: I traded him a couple days ago for Matt Chapman and Joe Musgrove, two players I like a good bit but who have longer timelines as Double-A guys than Story does as Mr. April already in the big leagues.
They deepen my pool, though, and I’m betting that their combined efforts will produce more value for me starting in 2017 than Story and the random high schooler I jettisoned to take on the two-for-one. His early start opened a window through which I was able to add prospective value by trading him in spite of his value in a longer-term format.
Investing in Dodgy Closers Remains a Terrible Idea
I really screwed up my TDGX draft this year by burning a second-round pick on presumptive Phillies’ closer David Hernandez. I drafted him in another league for good measure. I forfeited significant value in my speculation in both cases, and it was value I could’ve used now to flip for more established Saves without the uncertainties of spring training clogging the landscape.
Saves have always been a challenging stat for me in standard roto formats, in part because I’ve steadfastly refused to spend on relievers earlier in drafts and that has left me constantly wading through the David Hernandez’s of the world to claw my way to the middle of Save packs. It’s a rough strategy, and it leads to occasional flare-ups of over-indulgence like my TDGX draft. Cobbling together enough Saves to avoid torpedoing your competitiveness takes discipline and opportunism, and this particular path is narrow enough that if you falter in either of those things you can really put yourself up against it.
Basically I’d sell my own mother for a stable closer or two at this point in multiple leagues, and that’s never a good mental place to find yourself. If you’re setting up for a run, do yourself a favor: lock down some stable Saves as an order of early business.
Thank you for reading
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