I recently participated in a draft for my 10-team NL-only rotisserie league and I employed a strategy that I have not previously attempted. Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the strategy let me first lay out the scoring settings:
Hitters: C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, OF, OF, Utl, Utl
Pitchers: SP, SP, RP, RP, P, P, P, P
Bench Depth: Five
Categories: Standard 5×5
Max Innings: 1425
Max Add/Drops: 25
Here is the strategy: corner the market on saves by landing the two best closers in the NL and use 20 of my allotted 25 add/drops to stream starting pitchers. The motivations for this strategy are simple. First, the pool of pitchers who can earn saves is much smaller than the pool of players who can earn wins. Second, it is harder to predict which pitchers will earn 15+ wins than it is to predict which pitchers will earn 30+ saves. Third, accruing the most saves in the league is worth the same number of roto-points (10) as accruing the most wins in the league.
At this point, it should be relatively obvious who my two most important draft targets are: Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. On top of those two, I wanted to take one of the top strikeout pitchers in the league so that I can compete in the strikeout category. The final piece of the puzzle, on the pitcher side at least, is to target highly efficient relievers late in the draft to bolster my ERA, WHIP, and K totals and use all of my bench positions to carry extra pitchers. The strategy on the hitting side of the equation is not as complex. All I wanted with my hitters was a starting lineup full of players who are slated to start 150-162 games this season.
Primary Example: David Hernandez + Sean Marshall > Mat Latos
Latos 5×5: 14/0/185/3.48/1.16
Hernandez + Marshall 5×5: 7/13/172/2.51/1.10
Granted, in order to get the numbers from the Hernandez/Marshall platoon you must use up two roster spots. I would have a problem with this if the result of adding these two relievers together wasn’t so amazing. Although there is some difference of opinion on Mat Latos, it is relatively safe to call him a top-15 pitcher in the National League. As such, if you want him on your team then you are going to spend a decent draft pick on him. On the other hand, if you want Hernandez and Marshall on your team it is only going to cost you a couple late round picks. My hunch is that most managers will ignore pitchers like Hernandez and Marshall because they are set-up pitchers and do not accrue many saves. This is exactly the kind of incorrect attitude that I want to capitalize on. Adding two relievers together in place of one semi-decent starter can get you equal or better statistics in ERA, WHIP, and K. Don’t reach for a Tim Hudson when you can get better numbers in 4 out of 5 categories from adding two late-round relievers together.
The second part of the strategy is to land one top-end starter. This is done for two reasons: 1) to maximize the effectiveness of a deliberately thin starting rotation, and 2) to remove a large chunk of the total number of strikeouts from every other roster. It is essential that you land one of the 200-K pitchers from the pool, and, if possible, the top K-getter in the league. In my league I was lucky enough to nab the 10th pick, giving me a chance to grab a top-10 hitter and a top-3 pitcher. I went with Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw. Harper has 30-30 potential this season and Kershaw is the best fantasy pitcher in the National League. With my 3rd and 4th round selections I grabbed Chapman and Kimbrel. At this point, it would be nearly impossible for another team to best me in saves and I had over 450 strikeouts on my roster. After locking down the cornerstone pieces of my strategy, I focused on filling out the rest of my roster with hitters who start and are decent across the 5×5 board. Once the top pitchers were gobbled up and I felt comfortable with my hitter core, I moved on to the lesser starting pitchers like Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez. I also targeted pitchers who are currently injured that I can stash on my DL, like Francisco Liriano and Chad Billingsley, while I tinker with my relief core. For a low-K pitcher like Richard, I can use his wins and augment his lack of strikeouts with my relief core. For a pitcher like Volquez, I can use him for his home starts and steal some wins and strikeouts from half of his starts (the AL version of Volquez is Tommy Milone).
The next part of the strategy is to use my allotted number of moves to artificially increase my number of wins by adding 20 starts to my season total using free agent streaming. This aspect of the strategy is a touch more flexible than the other two. If a decent starter emerges from the free agent wire then he should be picked up. That said, you can really only use the wavier wire to find a starter once or twice because the strategy calls for filling each available RP and P slot with a reliever every day and you want to use as many of your allotted moves for stealing wins off the wire. Streaming pitchers in an NL-only or AL-only league is largely a crapshoot, but, then again, so are pitcher wins. All I am really trying to do with those 20 add/drops is add 10 wins to my season total. Anything else I get is gravy.
Problem 1: If your team suffers through a lot of injuries, then you won’t be able to use 20 moves on streaming alone. This is a big problem if the injury is to your one front-line starter. However, because there isn’t a penalty for pitching a low number of innings the loss of a starter can be mitigated by a deep reliever core. If the injury is to one of the big-ticket save pitchers, well, then you are really in a pickle. To be honest, if you suffer a lot of big injuries in an AL-only or NL-only league you are probably toast regardless of your strategy.
Problem 2: Drafting closers so early can make it difficult to fill out your hitters with respectable bats. The two pitchers I wanted most, Chapman and Kimbrel, are significantly better than any closer in the league, AL or NL, but the strategy works even if you only get one of those pitchers and settle on someone like J.J. Putz for your number two RP slot. If you don’t feel comfortable taking two closers with your 3rd and 4th round selections, then you can go closer, hitter, closer, hitter, and improve the overall quality of your hitting. However, as good as Putz is, he is nowhere close to Kimbrel and Chapman in terms of total strikeouts. Remember, your pitching staff is thin, so if you decide to split up your closer picks and get stuck with a lesser closer, then you must get someone like David Hernandez to boost your overall strikeout numbers.
The strategy is a simple: do not worry about hitting your total number of innings, but focus on locking down the saves, ERA, and WHIP categories by using a skeleton starting staff and a nasty relief core. Do not pay for middle-of-the-road starting pitchers. Instead, pair two relievers together and get dramatically better numbers in ERA, WHIP, and (hopefully) K’s. If you use the right relievers, then you should be able to compete in the strikeout category, especially if you own one of the top SP in the league.
In a league that does not cap roster moves I would carry two starting pitchers and focus my pitching entirely on relievers and streaming. Also, I think that this strategy can be effectively employed in almost any league and any format by. The value of high quality reliever innings can be the difference in roto, H2H, AL-only, and NL-only formats. That said, when playing in an AL-only or NL-only league, the pool of quality players is cut in half and the value of awesome reliever innings is increased dramatically. Do not be afraid to lean heavily on relievers for your statistics. If you are playing in a mixed league, then you will probably have to lock down three or four closer in order to make the strategy work, but you will be able to stream better pitchers overall. Regardless, the production from pitchers like Tim Collins, Jake McGee, and Luke Gregerson should not be lost in free agency. One manager’s trash is another manager’s championship.