Small Ball: Fantasy Baseball Game Theory (Week 5)


It’s been nearly one full month of the fantasy baseball season. Injuries are piling up. Prospect FOMO is in full effect. I’m already regretting my Matt Chapman fade but celebrating my cheap Jarred Kelenic/Josh Lowe shares.


Sample sizes are hefty enough that we can start labeling certain categories as “strengths” or “weaknesses.” Many of us have burned a chunk of our FAAB budget. This is the time of year when the best managers rise up and the weaker managers flounder. Don’t be a weak manager. And if you think you might be a weak manager, let’s change that. Like, right now.

And remember…

Making smart decisions in fantasy baseball doesn’t always have to be based on data. Every other week, I’ll take you through my thought process on how to attack this week’s MLB slate and beyond. The ideas in this series will be fluid. My goal is to keep things fresh so you keep coming back for more. It won’t always be about the NFBC either. If you’re in a H2H points league (like me), I’ve got your back too – especially this week!

Game Theory: Week 3 in Review

I’m all about transparency. Most analysts put out great content, but rarely do they go back to review their past takes and “grade” themselves. It’s the best way to hold yourself accountable and review your own personal process. So every other week, I’ll set aside a few paragraphs to review the advice I gave to fantasy mangers two weeks ago. Here’s what I discussed back in Week 3.

Unloading FAAB on Francisco Álvarez

Two weeks ago, I talked about “shielding your opponents” as a form of game theory. Sometimes, focusing on your own team isn’t enough. You need to assess your opponents’ rosters as well.

Knowing I have an Alejandro Kirk/Daulton Varsho duo at the catcher position, it’s a clear edge over the field at a thin position. I wanted to maintain that edge, so I spent $144 in FAAB on Francisco Álvarez, knowing he’d gain catcher eligibility in a short timeframe (he’s officially catcher-eligible now).

Well, that strategy has gotten off to an inauspicious start.

Álvarez has only started 9-of-16 games and is hitting .176 with one home run, two RBI and three runs scored. He’s struck out in 13-of-34 at-bats. Ouch. At this point, it doesn’t seem like he’s in danger of being sent down. He’s catcher-eligible, like I mentioned. But he’s not an everyday player right now. And that hurts.

I don’t regret the decision to spend on Álvarez. He’ll still provide much-needed insurance at the catcher position. Perhaps he’ll figure it out. But it’s also a valuable lesson to carefully consider both the upside and potential downside of spending big bucks on a player. Most people only think about upside. Before you click “save” on your bids, take some time to think about the worst-case scenario for that player. If you can live with it, then go ahead and shell out the dough.

If you think that hot prospect is at risk of getting Edouard Julien –ed (sent for whatever reason), it might behoove you to stuff the cash back in your pocket and let others take the plunge. The grade on my Álvarez decision is still incomplete. But it’s caused me to reassess how I’ll spend my money moving forward. It also took me (somewhat) out of the Taj Bradley/Mason Miller sweepstakes. So that’s something to think about as well for future weeks. We’ll see if that burns me down the road.

Struggling Pitchers Review

Here’s a quick rundown of my “Struggling Pitchers Dilemma” section of the last article, just to tidy that up.

It appears I was right to panic on Tyler Anderson. I was correct to stay patient on Cristian Javier and Sandy Alcantara (so far). Aaron Nola is still up in the air after I said to remain patient. Nathan Eovaldi and Brady Singer should both remain in our lives for now. We’ll revisit this again later in the year.


Week 5 Game Theory: The Points League Carousel

Now, to the Week 5 section of game theory. I promised this biweekly column wouldn’t neglect head-to-head points leagues. Let’s talk about my favorite position on a H2H points league roster.

No, it’s not the utility spot. It’s not the corner infielder. It’s not the starting pitcher who’s listed as RP, SP and doesn’t count against your SP limit (a fan favorite). Instead, let’s talk about a position that technically doesn’t exist – the “carousel spot.”

Most head-to-head points leagues have standard rosters with weekly transaction limits and/or pitching “start” limits. For example, my home league allows four weekly transactions and a maximum of 12 starts. The goal is to roster enough starting pitchers where you naturally hover around 12 starts per week without having to make many moves. Some weeks, depending on two-step pitchers, that’s easy to accomplish. Other weeks, you might need to use 2-3 of those four acquisitions to get to 12 starts. 

Well, what if your shortstop gets hurt? You have to use one of those transactions on a replacement. Now you’re down to three moves. What if you roster Michael Fulmer and his blown saves are killing you? Now you’re down to two moves. It takes some finagling to maximize your roster for a weekly matchup. It’s why I love having a “carousel spot” on my pitching staff.

Before I explain, here’s quick story:

It was the 2018 season in the FB World Championship league based out of Hackettstown, NJ (my home league). I had one title under my belt. But I was in a drought. Despite several regular-season titles (and points titles), early playoff exits plagued my team. So to combat that, I built a super team ahead of the trade deadline with some blockbuster deals.

My staff looked like this:

The sticky stuff was clearly working for Max Scherzer that year. Either that, or Phil Cuzzi wasn’t around. Bad dum, tss!

Anyway, history was repeating itself in the quarterfinal round. I was (somehow) behind with only 1-2 days remaining in the matchup. Losing would put me out of the money. I needed to pick up some starts. But who the heck was I supposed to drop? Naturally, I bit the bullet and dropped Tanaka to keep my playoff hopes alive. And the story concludes like this:

I ended up squeaking out the quarterfinal matchup by the slimmest of margins. However, Tanaka was picked up by one of my opponents. And of course, it was the opponent I played in the semifinals. And of course, I lost by seven points – with Tanaka playing a major role in my own, self-inflicted downfall. Sounds like something you’d read in a Matthew Berry column. I promise it’s true. 

Tanaka posted a 5-4 record with a 2.85 ERA over his final 12 starts that season. Yet I was forced to drop him in a playoff setting because I lacked roster flexibility – AKA a carousel spot.

Carousel (noun):

1. A revolving door position to add/drop free agents (at will) without sacrificing the integrity of your roster.

2. A “last resort” slot used to stream gas-can pitchers when absolutely necessary.

3. A strategy used by shrewd fantasy baseball managers to provide maximum flexibility on a week-to-week basis, therefore increasing their chances of winning games.

It’s the Oprah meme spot on your roster. You get a pitcher, you get a hitter, you get a “whatever you need this week.” Typically it’s a pitcher, but hey, it’s a free country. Use it at your utility spot and stream batters playing at Coors Field. This sounds like extremely obvious advice, but not enough fantasy baseball managers actually utilize a carousel spot on their roster. Some managers have big egos and think “I can’t drop the last pitcher on my staff. He’s a stud.”

Bro, it’s Tyler Anderson. You can drop him.

Others are just lazy and think “Well, 11 starts are enough for me this week. I don’t want to rock the boat.” Lazy (or stubborn) is the best way to describe playing without a carousel spot. It can be the difference between winning and losing games. It can be the hitting or pitching lifeline that saves you in a tight spot.

And the best part is, there’s no commitment involved. It’s like speed dating but with fantasy baseball players. It’s having the ability to stream the flavor of the week and part ways when the next hot prospect comes along. It’s like that other meme with the guy walking down the street with his girlfriend but turning around to eye someone walking in the opposite direction.

You don’t need to build the perfect roster. You don’t need to build a super team like me in 2018. You just need a solid foundation, some positional depth and a little bit of flexibility. Don’t forget about flexibility. It’s your friend.

That’s it for this week. Next time we reconvene, I’ll have a whole new section on game theory – most likely focusing on the NFBC, since we dabbled with H2H leagues here. I’ll revisit Álvarez and some of the other top prospects we all bid on in FAAB (Taj Bradley, Mason Miller, Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee etc). Hit me up on Twitter @Adam15Young and let me know what’s on your mind.

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