Fantasy Stretch Run   (08/09/00)

Most fantasy leagues use August 31/September 1, the date on which all major league playoff rosters must be set, as their trading deadline.  However, by that time, unless you are in a very close race in specific categories, there's very little that can be done at that point.  There's just not a whole lot that can be done in just one month.  If you need to make up significant ground in a category, now is the time to make your move.  The question then really is how much is "significant ground"?

Batting average.  Depending on how many teams are in your league, the average number of at bats per team to this point is probably somewhere around 4500.  If your team has a batting average of .280, for every .001 of batting average you need to increase, your team will have to bat around .00325 higher for the rest of the season..  So if you're sitting on .280 and need to make up .002 to catch the next guy, your players will have to bat an average of .287 for the rest of the season to catch him.  If you're trading for help in this category, for one guy to make up that kind of difference, he'll have to hit at least .307 the rest of the way.  Of course, the rest of your team will have to keep on hitting - last year, I traded for Tony Gwynn down the stretch and he came through hitting .362 over the final 6 weeks of the season.  Unfortunately, the rest of my team hit 5 points lower than they were hitting when I traded for him and I ended up losing points in batting average.

Home runs and stolen bases are much easier to account for since they are accumulations rather than averages.  If you expected a guy to hit 35 homers this year, he should have around 24 by now.  If you trade for that guy, you are basically trading for 11 home runs.  If he's replacing a guy on your squad who averages 12 a year, you are gaining 7 home runs by making the deal, as the guy he's replacing could be expected to hit 4 more the rest of the way.  The same is true in steals.  It should be noted that these two are the easiest categories to make up a lot of ground in.  There are two reasons for this: 1) these stats are not dependent on how well the rest of the player's team is doing, and 2) the difference between the top teams and the bottom teams each week in these categories is usually only about 5-6.  That is, each week, the teams at the top will only have about 5-6 more than the teams at the bottom.

Like homers and steals, RBI and runs are accumulations, just on a larger scale.  However, they are much less reliable since they depend a great deal on the team that a player is on.  Finding the best candidate to trade for might be best addressed by looking at the schedule.  Identify the teams that have the weakest schedule remaining and zero in on the 3-4-5 hitters on those teams.  Also look for teams who are going to be facing injury depleted pitching staffs or still have a few games in Colorado.

Wins are usually incredibly hard to predict.  However, the best odds are for veteran pitchers on good teams.  Those guys should get decent enough run support to win and they know how to pitch even without their best stuff.  If starters are too expensive in the trade market, a good middle reliever can be just as valuable.  They rarely get stuck with bad outings - contending teams simply can't afford to blow off any games.  So anytime he gets in trouble, he gets yanked, minimizing the damage.  Being on a good team also increases his chance to vulture wins down the stretch as good teams are usually proficient at comeback wins.

Saves can come from a number of different sources.  A manager on a contending team doesn't want to wear his closer or his bullpen out, so if a middle or late inning reliever is hot one night, he might let him finish out a game, especially if his team doesn't have a star closer.  A good closer can be expected to garner between 13 and 17 saves over the last 8 weeks of a season.  A good middle reliever or set-up man might get 5 or 6 opportunities to pick up a save, either due to a night off for the closer or one of the 3-inning variety.  Look for teams that don't have star closers or teams that don't register a lot of complete games for the best bets for extra saves.

ERA and ratio are similar to batting average in that you've already accumulated a significant amount of playing time and improving an average at this point is difficult.  If you already have 900 innings pitched and an ERA of 4, your staff will have to finish the last 8 weeks with an ERA of 3.6675 to lower the overall to 3.90.  Likewise, if you have a ratio of 1.375, they will have to compile a 1.2925 ratio the rest of the way to get it down to 1.350.  About the only way to get either of those done is to get an ace-type pitcher or hope that your staff gets really hot.  For one guy to affect that kind of change, he'd have to, well, he'd have to pitch like Curt Schilling has for the last few weeks, offering 40-45 innings (6 or 7 starts) of sub-1.00 ERA and a ratio of around 1.00.  Another move that will help is to replace any bad starter you might have with a reliever.  Yes, you'll probably sacrifice wins, but you'll most assuredly gain ground in ERA and ratio.

So there it is.  There's still time for improvement and unless you're in a keeper league and someone is asking for your best prospects, you might as well give it a shot.  The greatest single last ditch performance by a team that I've ever seen came in 1994, when one of my competitors, whose aptly named Golden Flashes hit 9 homers and drove in 32 runs in the final 3 days of the season, jumped 4 spots in the standings.  Of course, he still finished 7th.  But it was still pretty awesome and it's still something we talk about every year.  And that guy will tell you, it was definitely worth making the trades.

Sleeper for next year

During the course of the trading frenzy at the end of July, a possible sleeper player for next year changed teams.  Up 'til now, he's been a platoon player, but his minor league record indicates he might be a pretty good everyday player if given a chance. It just remains to be seen if he'll be given the chance.  He just turned 28 this past November, but his numbers for the past 2 years are eerily similar to those of another late bloomer of note.

Age  BATTERS          BA   SLG   OBA   G  AB   R   H  TB 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO SB CS  E  OPS
27   Player A       .290  .505  .384  82 283  49  82 143 19  0 14  39  43  37  0  2  1  889
27   Player A (adj) .290  .505  .384 101 350  61 101 177 23  0 17  48  53  46  0  2  1  889
27   Player B       .269  .460  .396 112 350  56  94 161 19  0 16  66  73  75 10  5  5  856

26   Player A       .286  .568  .338  59 199  28  57 113 18  1 12  35  16  45  0  2  0  906
26   Player A (adj) .286  .568  .338 111 377  53 108 214 34  2 23  66  30  85  0  4  0  906
26   Player B       .268  .459  .368 130 377  62 101 173 15  3 17  61  63  50 13  3  6  827

Player B is Brian Giles.  He was a platoon player with Cleveland until given an opportunity to start in Pittsburgh.  We know how that story has turned out.  Player A is Bubba Trammell.  He is a year younger than Giles but his numbers bear a striking resemblance.  Tropicana and Jacobs Field are very similar hitters parks so there's no ballpark advantage either way.  Trammell's numbers also bear another similarity to Giles in that his career righty/lefty batting average and on base splits are almost identical: .277/.274 and .353/.355.  It remains to be seen whether or not the Mets braintrust recognizes the talent and gives him a chance to play everyday.

Wild Wild West

On a final note, many commentators and pundits gave the NL West title to the Diamondbacks when they traded for Curt Schilling.  However, they neglected to note that the Diamondbacks have a brutal schedule over the last 2 months of the season.  They still have 6 more games apiece against Atlanta, Florida and Los Angeles and 3 more games with the Mets and 7 more games with the Giants, of which 3 come in the final series of the season.  Meanwhile, the Giants just have 3 more with Atlanta, and with the exception of 3 with Los Angeles and the 7 with Arizona, don't play another winning team for the rest of the season.  Even if Schilling and Johnson win every start from here on out, that only gets the D-backs to 84 wins.  Someone else is gonna have to step up for the D-backs for them to win the division.  The race for the NL West is long from over.