Deep League Bench StrategyApril 28th, 2012 by Rudy Gamble in General Guidance
One of the key differences in drafting and maintaining a fantasy baseball roster in deep leagues (NL/AL-only, 10+ teams) vs. shallower mixed leagues is the huge dropoff in playing time for ‘replacement level’ players. While the shallow league replacement pool will often be stocked with less desirable major league starting players, deep leagues offer slim pickings varying from hitters who play in less than half their teams’ games, middle relievers with little chance at saves, or minor leaguers not hyped enough to get drafted.
This huge gap in replacement level has several ramifications ranging from increased dependence on the draft and trades for team success to increased difficulty in overcoming injuries. On the flip side, this gap between starter and replacement level also provides a bigger upside should an owner land players who can contribute at starter-level.
So what is the ideal strategy for stocking a bench? Here is some of my thinking:
I prefer to have more pitchers than hitters on my bench to swap in/out based on matchups. While projected player value is most important, I’d prefer to have some position diversity in my hitters. I also want a balance between players that may help immediately vs. prospects & injured players who are dead weight until May or later. I’m also not a fan of taking fliers on trade targets from another league until closer to the trade deadline.
Hitters - Does this player have a path towards starting and what is their upside? If this bench player requires auction dollars, how difficult is it to find a short-term replacement? What position(s) do they play?
Assuming good health, many of the players in starting lineups and rotations on draft day will indeed be in the starting lineup and rotations by end of year. But there are always roster spots where you know the player’s name is written in pencil. In these situations, I try to avoid spending too much on the starter and take an interest in the next best option. An example from this year was the Oakland A’s 3B situation where it was clear that Eric Sogard (a SS not good enough to supplant Cliff Pennington) and Josh Donaldson (a C not good enough to supplant Kurt Suzuki) were likely to be supplanted by end of April unless they played above their talent level. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any obvious replacement for those two players to draft and, not coincidentally, the A’s picked up another team’s castoff (Luke Hughes) in hopes of getting lucky.
Another strategy is to draft players who have potential to start later in the year after recovery from injury or a call-up from the minor leagues. This was my main bench hitter strategy in the Draftday league as I invested $4 in both Mike Trout and Salvador Perez as well as a $0 claim for Ryan Kalish. In the case of Salvador Perez, I didn’t want to invest heavy in Catcher and figured I can get a solid backup later in the draft – after my desired choice got picked (Tyler Flowers), I held off until free agency to pick up Brayan Pena. Cheap selection of Robert Andino ($3) and Bobby Abreu ($1) gave us some decent filler until Trout gets called up.
A last element I consider is the player’s position. Everything equal, I prefer OFs and multi-position IFs because there are more roster spots that they can fill in case of injury. In addition, there are more roster spots on my opponents’ rosters they can fill which can increase their value. An example from this latest draft that illustrates the issue is Scott’s drafting of two extra 3Bs (Danny Valencia and Wilson Betemit) while having a DH clogging up UTIL in David Ortiz. While he got these players at solid value, their trade value is limited as these players can only fill three roster spots (3B, CI, UTIL) vs. 6 for an outfielder.
Starting Pitchers – What is their path towards starting and what percentage of their matchups will be favorable?
The great thing about having extra starting pitchers on the bench is that you can choose to start them only when they have a favorable matchup. I ran AL data from 2009-2011 to see the difference in pitcher home vs. road ERA using 100+ IP as the cutoff. Here is the comparison:
Home: 3.78 ERA / 1.27 WHIP / 6.8 K/9
Road: 4.35 ERA / 1.36 WHIP / 6.7 K/9
So if you were to just start a marginal pitcher when they pitch at home, you are shaving off about 0.25 ERA and 0.05 WHIP vs. their season average. I assume switching a few ‘easy’ road starts for difficult home starts (NYY, TEX, etc) would improve those ratios a bit further. I would also assume that this Home/Road disparity is greater for pitchers in pitcher parks like Seattle and Oakland – making these pitchers that much better than their season stats might indicate. Conversely, pitchers in hitters parks or in difficult divisions (AL East) have less appeal for matchups.
Assuming all current starting pitchers are rostered or are at or below the Luis Mendoza line, I’m looking for SPs with some chance to get a spot in the rotation. I’m drafting Danny Hultzen (SEA) before I’m going to draft Manny Banuelos (NYY) because Hultzen (whom I did draft this year) has lesser competition and a team with little to lose.
Relievers – What is their strikeout rate? How good/bad is their team? How shaky is my closer?
I view relievers on the bench as solid options when my weaker SPs have bad matchups. It is generally fool’s gold to find Saves (got lucky with our Francisco Cordero pick) so I would rather get a pitcher with solid peripherals (K/9, WHIP) and hope they can get lucky and contribute some vulture wins. Given the unpredictability of year-to-year middle reliever success, this is usually an area where teams can find useful players.
An exception to the above would be if I drafted a shaky closer. In those cases, I'm more likely to put one of their backups on the bench until I feel more comfortable in their job security. For example, we drafted Jim Johnson in other leagues and felt it necessary to keep Kevin Gregg on the bench as insurance against injury or losing the closer gig.