By the time you read this there will be 23 games left in the regular season and if you are in contention, or in a head to head playoff situation, the time for missteps is passed. That means taking some time to analyze your team and take a hard look at maximizing your at bats and innings pitched. That may seem obvious, but with the September call ups already swelling the benches of every team, and with teams battling for playoff spots, things can get a little topsy turvy.
Since you do want to maximize all of your stats, especially in a tight league, trying to judge who to play and who not to play is critical and can be complicated by all these factors. This may require you to make some hard but crucial decision about if a pitcher is worth starting if he’ll get fewer innings, or if a star’s two at bats are worth more than someone else’s five at bats.
Basically there are five factors that impact fantasy rosters more at this time of year than at any other and need to be considered.
1) Up and coming players who are auditioning for next season. This is the time of year when non-competing teams evaluate the talent in their farm system. Established players who are neither stars, nor above average players are likely to have their playing time diminished as teams look at the guys they are grooming to take over those positions at some time. Highly regarded youngsters, first round draft picks, and almost major league ready talent will get the most playing time, and steal the most from established players (which should be the concern of fantasy owners as most youngsters are not great fantasy options). Even stars may find themselves getting an extra day of rest or two, but players in demanding physical positions, like catchers are more likely to get some time on the bench if they’ve been banged up. Even on competitive teams, these young players may take time away from veterans if the game seems to be locked up.
2) Guys who are at the end of a contract or are likely to be traded in the offseason. Players playing what is likely to be their final year with a team and are unlikely to be renewed are very likely to lose at bats to possible replacements from the farm system no matter how good they are. Expect stars and fan favorites to get starts, but don’t be surprised if hitters get pulled in the late innings for replacements and starters are given fewer innings.
3) Players trying to make numbers. Lots of players are trying to meet numbers to get bonus or to put themselves in better negotiating positions for offseason contract talks. That guy who has 23 home runs is likely to get his 25 (or the pitcher with 132 Ks is likely to get his 150) as most managers, and even opposition players want him to reach his goal and get his bonuses, just like they want to get theirs. These players may get a few extra at bats and probably will get some opponents easing up on them if the game isn’t critical to a playoff race or their own bonuses.
4) Teams competing for playoff spots. Teams in the thick of a playoff chase are not going to bench their best players for young talent while there is still hope of getting to the playoff. That doesn’t mean there won’t be late inning defensive replacements, or young arms getting their chances, but it does mean that established contributors to you fantasy team from contenders will probably not lose many chances until the playoff races are decided.
5) Players being rested for the playoff. With only the Angels all but assured of a playoff spot (but still competing for home field advantage) only a handful of fantasy owners will find themselves in this spot at this moment, but that will change as races begin to shake out. Still if you own any Angels don’t be surprised (especially after they clinch the west) if older key players like Vlad, Torii Hunter, Chone Figgins, Garrett Anderson, John Lackey and others start but only go 5 or 6 innings, before being pulled, or get extra days off to heal and recuperate to be at their best for the playoff. Barring a collapse, expect to see Tampa and the Cubs begin to try to take it easier on their starting pitching immediately, and to really rest players starting as soon as they feel comfortable with their lead in their respective divisions. The rest of the playoff teams will follow as they reach comfortable leads. Key players battling injury, or with a chronic injury history. (Pedro Martinez, Josh Beckett, Carlos Zambrano. Mike Lowell, John Maine, David Ortiz, etc) will likely be coddled as much as possible unless hard charging opponents force managers to really stretch them out in the final weeks.
Trying to figure out who to start and who to bench is more complicated at this time of year than at any other period. You may even find yourself digging deep into your bench or the free agent pool in your league to get the best matchups and to watch lineups carefully in the hours before a game starts - especially if your hitters are coming up against young pitchers from AA or AAA who have not dominated at that level.
It’s often by these decision that that fantasy titles are won, and the guys with the best knowledge of prospects, contracts, incentives, walk years and injuries can have a serious advantage, but even if you are clueless on these matters a little research and forethought can help keep you in the running.
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