Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Roster Decisions-The Big Fly

One of the trickiest aspects of fantasy baseball is knowing when to drop a player. When a player is off to a slow start, do you stick with him and hope he turns it around soon or cut your losses?

One important point to remember is that baseball has a long season with 162 games. A player's peformance will usually revert to his established mean over the long run, meaning if he's an excellent player and slumps for the first month or so, he still has an excellent chance of turning it around. Gary Sheffield is a prime example. He started this season in a prolonged slump, hitting worse than some pitchers. However, he rewarded his patient owners with a nice rebound, which should be expected considering his career norms.

The opposite also holds true. Mark Hendrickson is a prime example of a pitcher who overachieved in his first few starts only to be out of the rotation about a month later.

Those are the easier situations to deal with. It's not a tough decision to stick with Gary Sheffield. What about a younger player who has a good if not great minor league record but does not have enough major league experience to project his numbers with reasonable accuracy?

My rule of thumb is: if he's starting every day, it's usually a safe bet to keep him in your lineup. I figure major league teams have much more at stake than fantasy owners, so if they feel comfortable starting him, then you should too. Like any rule of thumb, you still have to use your own judgement. A team may be in rebuilding mode or, especially later in the season, have thrown in the towel and want to test out some different players. Generally, though, this method works.

The Padres slated Kevin Kouzmanoff as their everyday third baseman after he tore the cover off the ball in AAA. As of May 10th, he was batting .108, in one of the worst slumps in recent memory. Bud Black, the Padres manager, remained patient and still gave him the majority of starts. Most teams would have either benched him or sent him back to the minors, but he eventually turned things around and hit well over .300 for the month of May.

On the flip side, I drafted Wes Helms in a couple leagues this year fresh off a season where he batted .325 and slugged .575 in part-time duty. In fact, his career has been on the upswing for a while now. At the beginning of the season he didn't perform badly, just not up to expectations, and the Phillies panicked. As of this writing, he has started only two of their past eight games and I dropped him off my rosters.

In a situation like that, where a player is playing only half the games or less, even if he performs well his contribution to your team will still be limited because he's sitting on the bench half the time. Also, it's difficult for a player to develop a rhythm when he's shifted in and out of the lineup. Generally, it's best to move on.

Another way to help with personnel decisions is to keep in mind the value of each player, as I discussed in a previous article. If a player is still starting, or for pitchers if they are still in the rotation or the team's closer, then they still have value close to their pre-season projections. Watch for impatient owners dropping a player off to a slow start or target underperformers in trades and you could be well on your way to a strong run in the second half of the season!

I love to talk baseball, so please feel free to post any comments and opinions or email me at tim10966@gmail.com.