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It was more than 20 years ago that I played in my very first Fantasy Baseball league, a league I still play in to this day. The whole experience from draft day right through to the final day of play was so much fun that I was hooked, but it was also filled with some hard learned lessons, mainly because there was a shark among our tight knit little group of Fantasy managers. He ran away from the league that first year, sitting atop the standings from wire to wire, leaving the rest of us to battle for second and third place to collect from the small pool of money we all chipped in.
In a nutshell, his strategy was to draft as many Colorado Rockies hitters as he could and to exploit a loophole in our rules regarding pitcher innings. On draft day, he very quietly scooped up a dozen closers and not one starting pitcher. He was one of only two managers drafting remotely via telephone that day (this was an offline draft, as that convenience was not yet available), and none of the 10 managers in the room, myself included, was paying any attention to what he was doing. We were all distracted by conversation and trying to keep our draft whiteboard and personal notes up to date.
During the season, his crew of closers racked up saves at a scary pace that nobody else came even remotely close to matching. His ratio stats were microscopically low compared to the rest of us and he was even competitive in wins. When he’d built up an insurmountable lead in saves, he traded off most of his staff of closers for few starters and even more offense (he was already killing us in the offensive categories), and he started streaming pitchers. He picked them up and dropped them just as quickly as he could (we had daily moves) and as September rolled around he was middle of the pack in strikeouts and wins, still far ahead in saves and the ratio categories, and had almost a 20 point lead in the standings. He cruised to victory and left us all in the dust.
We closed that loophole before the next season, adding innings limits and maximums and requiring five starting pitchers to be active at all times during the season. We didn’t do anything about streaming, though, and to this day it remains a viable strategy in our league, and really, in most leagues. So, today we’re going to discuss streaming as a strategy and also touch upon working around innings minimums and maximums during the Fantasy season.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, streaming is a pitching strategy whereby you pick up the probable pitchers for a particular time period, whether daily or weekly depending on your league’s roster movement rules, and drop them for a new pitcher or group of pitchers for the next scoring period. It’s very common in leagues with daily moves, less so in weekly leagues but still a regular practice and strategy. This process of churning your roster enables you to run up your strikeout and win totals faster than you would with single group of starters that stay on your roster. It’s not for the faint of heart, however, because there is a very real risk of ruining your ratio statistics, ERA and WHIP, if you’re not careful about the pitchers you choose.
When choosing pitchers for streaming you must carefully consider the matchups with the team’s they will face. Ideally, you should choose pitchers with at least some track record of success when they are facing the weaker offensive teams. It’s easier to stream pitchers later in the season than during the early weeks and months because the later in the season it is, the more of a track record the pitcher has and the more obvious the weaker offensive teams are. I rarely stream pitchers during the first two months of the season unless I am falling behind the pace of the rest of the league in counting stats like strikeouts. It’s tough to chase wins no matter when you stream because pitchers so rarely work deep into games, and since the pitchers you are most likely to stream are the fourth and fifth starters on their respective staffs, they are even less likely to be top quality pitchers and thus less likely to pitch beyond the fifth or sixth inning.
The matchup is everything but there are a few general practices you can follow for greater success. First, it’s a good idea to forget about streaming pitchers against the Colorado Rockies at home. It’s still the single toughest park for any pitcher to be successful. Other parks that should be low on your potential streaming list are Chase Field in Arizona, the Rodgers Centre in Toronto and Yankee Stadium in New York. These are the most hitter-friendly parks in terms of home runs and run production in MLB. There are times when it is OK to stream against these teams at home, but more often than not it is best to look elsewhere.
Conversely, it’s a good idea to stream pitchers in the more favorable pitcher’s parks. Safeco Field in Seattle, Nationals Park in Washington D.C. and Petco Park in San Diego all offer tougher environments for hitters, which makes them more streaming friendly than other parks. Remember to pick on the teams with poor offenses. If you must stream in the coming weeks, the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins are all expected to struggle offensively this season. As the season wears on and more data becomes available, you can expand the teams you stream against depending on their weaknesses on the road or at home, or against pitchers from a particular side. You should also consider two-start pitchers in any given week, which will make it a bit easier for you because you won’t need to hit the waiver wire as often. Our pitching planner is always a great resource for making streaming decisions and we will have a weekly column from Matt Zylbert, who does a great job of identifying potential streaming candidates.
Working With Innings Maximums and Minimums
As I mentioned earlier, the league I’ve played in for more than 20 years uses innings maximums and roster minimums to control pitcher usage in the league. This is something many leagues do to keep the playing field level and prevent Fantasy managers from utilizing strategies like my shark friend did that first season. Innings maximums are easy enough to deal with if you just plan ahead a little bit. For example, our league allows a maximum of 1500 innings pitched during the season. Once you reach the limit your pitching statistics become frozen and you can no longer accumulate stats.
Assuming that a starting pitcher will amass about 200 innings pitched during a season, then it would follow that during a 26-week Fantasy game you should plan on accumulating no more than 57 innings per week. That’s quite a lot of starts when you consider the average starter throws about six to seven innings per outing. If you have five starters on your staff, then all five of them would need to start twice per week (approximately) to reach your limit. Since you probably need at least a few innings for your relievers to accumulate saves, it would be unwise to make 10 starts per week with your starters. I’ve found that anywhere from 6-8 starts per week and keeping four or five relievers active in any given week will usually work out nicely, leaving me plenty of innings to work with later in the season to use for streaming if necessary.
If your league has a maximum, divide the amount by 26 (weeks) to figure out how many innings and starts you need each week and plan accordingly. Don’t worry about reaching the maximum each week; you can do that by streaming later in the season when there is more data available to make better matchup choices. At the same time, don’t let too many weeks go by in which you make only five or six starts. You will get far behind in the counting stats quickly, making more streaming necessary to catch up. Keep a close eye on what your league-mates are doing. If they are streaming, you’ll need to accumulate more innings per week to keep pace. If they aren’t streaming, stick with your planned weekly maximum.
League minimums per week shouldn’t be a problem to reach. If they are, then you and your league-mates should consider a revision of the rules. Generally, if you have the standard nine active pitchers required, then the minimum per week should probably be no more than 35-40 innings. You should be able to achieve that amount easily with five or six starts and your relief innings. One thing you should definitely do is plan on using all of your innings up by the end of the season. Unless you are well ahead in the standings with no chance of being caught, you should work things out to reach the maximum by the end of the Fantasy season. If you work it out right, you can load up your roster with starters on the final day of the season and end up going over the maximum because most leagues will allow all the innings accumulated in a game day despite any innings pitched maximum for the season.
Got questions about how to approach your league’s innings requirements? Hit me up on Twitter @Tim_RotoExperts with your questions any time.