You know what sucks? I can’t say for certain, but my team looked pretty good this week, the first week of playoffs, and I would’ve liked my chances in just about any matchup. Jeremy Hellickson got a complete game shutout. Clayton Kershaw was dominant despite dealing with two rain delays. James Paxton flirted with a perfect game through five innings. Dee Gordon swiped a pair of bags in a day along with notching three hits. Hunter Pence was on a nine game hitting streak. Jose Bautista found his power stroke. Should I go on?
Of course, to perform well in the playoffs, you actually have to make the playoffs. Last week I started my season diagnosis examining my draft, along with a couple of lessons I can take into next year’s draft. But while my draft wasn’t stellar, it wasn’t what lost me my season. On paper coming out of the draft, I have a squad that should’ve put together more than just six wins. In Part 2 of this diagnosis, I’m going to analyze specific lineup decisions I made week to week, which include start/sits, add/drops and trades. Did I start someone when I shouldn’t have? Did I overlook a player on the waivers that would’ve helped? Was I too quick to cut bait with a player who would’ve helped me down the stretch? Or should I have cut bait on someone a lot sooner?
It’ll take forever to recap and go through all 23 weeks, and if you want to read my season recap you can look at previous blog posts, as well as this one for the first half of the season before I started my blog. What I’m going to do though is look at a few red flags throughout the season.
Week 3 – My First Loss
I suffered my first loss of the season in Week 3. It was the third week in a row in which I managed exactly 6 HRs, and I had not won the category in any of the three weeks. I couldn’t catch up to Joe Buck Yourself in runs, RBIs or batting average and found that my team fared poorly among the entire league. And even with a sub 3.00 ERA and 5 Ws, I still lost the categories, both of which would’ve been the difference in the week. So I can chalk those up to a little bad luck. I can’t have expected much more from my pitching staff. In fact one of the reasons I ended up losing in ERA was a result of Jake McGee giving up a blown save and five runs. That’s highly unusual, but maybe not outrageous when you have a closer in Colorado.
I had chased a player with a higher batting average in Miguel Montero, trying to replace the pitiful production by Travis D’Arnaud. Montero hit the peak of his ownership in Week 3, having batted .286 up to that point, so I wasn’t alone in making the move, but he fell apart going 2-20 throughout the week.
Tyler White would’ve also been useless were it not for his home run during the week, but after a stellar first week in the league, I was reluctant to drop the rookie until after Week 5. He didn’t have nearly the season that Trevor Story ended up having for the Rockies, becoming home run or bust awfully quickly.
My problem, if any, was that I was sitting on a backup catcher and two backup outfielders. In the draft you’re told to take the best player available, but that might not make sense when you’re in need of position players who can slot in for slumping players. When your choice is between which of three utility players to start, you end up leaving a lot of production on the bench.
Week 4 – Dee Gordon gets suspended
Hindsight is 20/20, but I should’ve dropped Dee Gordon as soon as he was suspended. Week 4 produced a major decision: keep Dee Gordon on my bench for half the season and hope for the best upon his return, or drop him immediately and run the risk that another team will almost certainly claim my second round draft pick.
The issue with a suspended player is that he eats up a bench spot. You can maybe keep a player who will miss half the season in a DL slot and make a decision if another vital player also goes down, but once I decided not to drop him, that decision was made. There was pretty much no going back. I hung onto Gordon and sacrificed a bench spot I could’ve worked with the entire season. It was the following week that I wish I had never dropped Logan Forsythe, who could’ve been a valuable 2B fill in. He had a slow start to the season, but upped his batting average to as high as .300 by Week 4. Instead I hung onto Denard Span, another utility player I didn’t need.
I also made yet another horrible decision. This proved to be the year of the disappointing minor league pitching prospect. I already had Tyler Glasnow sitting in my minor league slot for the season, but instead the fantasy gurus at CBS hyped Blake Snell, saying he was an immediate must add and suggesting he could be Tampa Bay’s best starter. This is after a week in which Drew Smyly threw 17 Ks in two starts, so I had reason to be excited. Instead he had a mediocre spot start and got sent back down for several weeks. I could’ve cut bait on him in any given week and again made use of a viable bench spot, but it all started here.
Week 5 – My ERA explodes
This is where I hit the panic button. If I had known that my 5.4 ERA in Week 5 would not even be close to my worst ERA for the season, I wouldn’t have believed you. But ERA wasn’t the category I should’ve been worried about. It was my strikeouts that disappeared. I only got 39 on the week. Had those been higher, I think the rest would’ve worked themselves out. And yet my K total had in fact risen each subsequent week. I had hoped it was just an anomaly, but it proved to be a plague for the rest of the year.
And yet batting also suffered in the same week and I hardly noticed. I should’ve dropped Tyler White far sooner, and maybe even considered benching Jose Bautista, who didn’t have a great April. By Week 6 I eventually added Nick Castellanos, who was on a tear throughout April but then came back down to Earth in May, just when I picked him up. I wish I had diagnosed my power problems a lot sooner looking back.
Week 5 – First Trade Offer Comes In
The Rockford Peaches offered me three trades on April 29. (1) Tanner Roark and Joe Panik for Sonny Gray, (2) John Lackey and Neil Walker for Jose Bautista and (3) Carlos Rodon, Joe Panik, Adam Jones and Troy Tulowitsky for Sonny Gray, Xander Bogaerts and Adrian Gonzalez. Looking back, I would say two of those trades look very promising. Tanner Roark had just come off an inflated start that made his numbers look dazzling, and it wasn’t clear yet what exactly was wrong with Sonny Gray. I also could’ve used a replacement for Dee Gordon, but I felt, rightly that there were equivalent replacements on the waiver wire. Except Roark proved to be the real deal, and Gray never bounced back. Buatista would later go on the DL for a big chunk of the season, while Lackey went on to be one of the better pitchers in baseball. Walker had huge HRs in April but little else. Bogaerts was my team’s MVP up until then, and I wasn’t about to part with him for anyone, least of all for a then struggling Adam Jones and Troy Tulowitsky. But the season long payoff for those players would’ve likely been higher than what I eventually got from Gray and Gonzalez. Even today I look at all three of these trades and am unsure if I should’ve done them.
A week later the same team would offer me Adam Wainwright, Rodon and Tulo for Bogaerts and Bautista. Now THAT would’ve been a mistake.
Throughout the month I made a number of other trade offers to other teams trying to get incremental improvements at pitching and offering up some of my batting depth, guys I had pegged as sell-high candidates (Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto, Vincent Velasquez), with no luck. Part of the reason for why these deals fell through was that I was swinging for the fences with some of the players I was interested in, and with position players so deep and pitching so thin, there was no finding a hole in someone’s roster.
Week 7 – Dumb pickups
For Week 7 I added an injured A.J. Griffin into my DL slot, not realizing just how far away he was from returning, and then Chris Devenski of the Astros and Tyler Duffey of the Twins. Devenski didn’t even have a spot in the rotation at that point, and Duffey was an upside candidate, but truly for a league even deeper than ours. What I saw in these guys wasn’t consistency but recency bias. They had hot starts over the last several and I missed out on guys like Chris Tillman, Wade Miley, Robbie Ray or Bartolo Colon.
Week 9 – The 10-0 Blowout
Week 8’s loss was a disappointment because I played decently against a team that played wonderfully, but in Week 9 I lost to every team in the league and was completely blown out by Hog Heat. Hunter Pence had gotten injured mid-week and was set to be out for two months, so that certainly didn’t help. But the real weak link was Adrian Gonzalez. In the month of May he had only two home runs, despite batting as high as .299. In Week 9 he was still owned in 99 percent of leagues and started in 88 percent, but he had stopped being a viable starting first baseman for the bulk of the month of May and through June.
Beyond that, I had actually made some smart, valuable pickups. Michael Fulmer, CC Sabathia, Steve Pearce and Rajai Davis were all valuable, but Pearce suffered an injury and I had benched Davis, who proved to be a steals specialist and even had some power during June.
Week 11 and 12 – Jake McGee, Vincent Velasquez and Jose Bautista all get injured…
You only have two DL slots in this league, which is maybe more than some leagues have to work with. But with four players vying for those two spots, you have to make some choices. Pence I had decided I had to keep, and the same went for Bautista. I don’t regret dropping Velasquez, but I do regret not dropping McGee. He had been a reliable source of saves early in the season, if an unreliable source of ERA or WHIP. But there’s no good reason to hold on to a closer. Unless they’re truly elite, you can get by. I benched him for three weeks, only to find out he had lost his job upon his return. I even started him, and with a guy like McGee in Colorado, there’s no reason to start him if you’re not getting saves as well.
Week 13 – And then so does Kershaw
By Week 13, I made a mental note to check my original drafted team. By that point, only four players on my original team had not been injured, dropped or suspended. Those were Matt Kemp, Santiago Casilla, Jung Ho Kang and Adrian Gonzalez. I already mentioned how disappointing Gonzalez had been, but only Casilla had truly been really reliable. Matt Kemp went on a tear of 7 HRs following the All-Star Break, but I could’ve used his production far sooner.
With this many major players down, it’s hard to know what to do. Kershaw was such that it was uncertain when he might return. He could’ve been back in a few weeks, or he could’ve been done for the season. If you drop or try to trade him, you lose a key player and your most valuable potential freeze target for the following season. But you also give up any hope of making the playoffs now, and such ended up being the case.
In arguably a panic move, I dropped six players from my team. Doug Fister and James Paxton are the two notables, guys who had their ups and downs that season and whom I would’ve gladly benched week to week, but only if I had bench spots to work with.
Week 16 – Trade Deadline
Following the All-Star break, I went into selling mode. The biggest trade I performed was Xander Bogaerts and Sonny Gray for Joey Votto and a 5th Round Pick. The thinking was that I was more than willing to dump Gray, and that Bogaerts, who had been solid but not electric like he was in the first half, I could replace with another SS on waivers. In retrospect, I should’ve sold Bogaerts and Gray for a higher pick and given up on Votto. I had hoped that he could power me to a comeback playoff run, and he proved to be a highly valuable addition after a slow start to the season. He could easily be a second round pick in 2017. But what that allowed me to do was to also sell Adrian Gonzalez for what I thought would be a reliable pitcher, Trevor Bauer. Of course Bauer hit a rough patch and for a few weeks looked droppable, whereas Gonzalez powered the Dodgers to become the hottest offense in August. I also made a deal for Santiago Casilla for Seung Hwan Oh and a 7th round pick. Honestly I had felt Casilla and Oh were relatively equal in value, but Oh was the new closer without the experience, and Casilla had the more consistent job, and his owner was willing to pay to get him. A win for me. I finally traded Jose Bautista for a 5th Round Pick and Anthony DeSclafani, and I already wrote about the debacle that caused.
Lesson #1: Make sure you have depth with position players.
It simply doesn’t pay to have more than four OFs, maybe five, in a three outfielder league. There’s value to be had with many of these guys, but it’s value that you can find on waivers throughout the season. Unless someone is highly promising, there’s no use hanging onto a guy who could become your #3 OF or a weekly utility player. Better to have a more consistent utility player, such as a DH, or a multi-position player who can help you in a jam and provide more flexibility if a position player starts slumping or has bad matchups.
Lesson #2: Don’t waste a bench spot
With Gordon, McGee and Snell, I learned that bench spots are very valuable. You’re holding someone there for future production and sacrificing current production that will help you reach the postseason. It simply doesn’t pay to have a guy who you know you’ll never start eating up space. If the worry is that someone else will get the value of owning that player instead, let them also take on the risk of owning him in the first place.
Lesson #3: Be willing to sell or even sell low
I mentioned the trades I was offered early in the season, and my reluctance to pull the trigger because I felt that Sonny Gray could still bounce back and that Jose Bautista could as well. Not all of those trade offers would’ve worked out for me, but there were some that certainly would have. No fantasy analyst will recommend selling low on a player, but I had uncertainty about Sonny Gray early on, and I should’ve been willing to take what I could get. Not having him in my lineup could’ve made a world of difference.
Lesson #4: Don’t force a sell high deal
I made an effort to make some trades with guys I thought were potential sell high candidates. I targeted players I thought were of equivalent value because of a certain player’s surprise production, and no one took the bait. If those sell high opportunities arise, take it and don’t look back. But the truth is, even if a guy had a weak position and my trades weren’t unfair, they’re not sexy deals for the person on the other side of it. I would’ve been better off offering Bautista or Bogaerts upfront for other high value players because the difference it could make to their team could be enormous instead of just incremental. You have to consider your trade target’s ceiling and floor for a given deal, and if you stand to have more upside than they do, they won’t make the trade.
Lesson #5: Don’t keep closers
Relievers have way too much turnover and viability at the position, and if one goes down for an extended period of time, almost no one is so valuable that he demands a DL slot.
Lesson #6: Diagnose the right problem
Throughout the season I chased ERA and WHIP and failed to notice that I likewise had a declining strikeout rate. ERA and WHIP are unpredictable categories, but strikeouts tend to lead to good things. I chased batting average but didn’t necessarily get guys who were actually racking up counting stats on good teams, or those who had consistent power potential. My team had a lot of issues this year, but I didn’t give enough of my attention to fixing the right ones.