HQ VAULT: Time to Punt a Category?

Over 20+ years that BaseballHQ.com has been in existence, and going back another decade to the Baseball Forecaster newsletter, we have accumulated hundreds of articles on fantasy strategy. These reside in the Strategy Library section of the site, and many include timeless tips on all aspects of fantasy league play, at various times in the fantasy league calendar. In a series to run occasionally throughout the season, we will be highlighting selected articles from the Library as part of a HQVAULT series. We welcome reader interaction with these older articles in the comments section below. Enjoy! —Ed.

by Ray Murphy

As Ron Shandler pointed out, the act of punting a category is perhaps the most powerful weapon in an owner's managerial arsenal. The decision to invoke this strategy, however, is a difficult one. Careful analysis of the ramifications is required.

In mixed leagues, there are even more factors to consider. With the deeper talent pools in mixed leagues, category standings can begin to stratify even earlier in the season. Injuries and changes in roles can bury a team in a relatively short amount of time.

Keep in mind that punting a category is not a strategy for the weak of heart. Many an owner will look at his roster all summer, waiting for a dormant team to catch fire. At some point, though, realism has to set in. For a mixed league player, the time for realism is now. The sooner a decision can be made, the sooner your team will start to reflect the impact of your changes. To make the correct decision two weeks too late is to make the wrong decision.

So, use the overview below in your decision-making process, as well as all of the other tools at your disposal. Beyond assessing your players' performances, take a hard look at your league's standings. Assess the volatility of the category you are considering punting, and who stands to gain from such a move. Punting is less attractive if it will gift-wrap extra points for the teams ahead of you in the standings. Make a similar judgment regarding the categories you seek to improve. If you can potentially move past teams that are ahead of you in the standings, the gain is effectively doubled.

There are still other factors to consider, depending on what category or categories you may be punting. By category, here is a rundown of those factors:

HR/RBI

There is a very specific set of circumstances where it may be advisable to punt these categories in tandem, a maneuver known as the "Sweeney Plan." In short, your league standings must be bunched enough that you can still win the league (or attain a money finish, if that is your goal) with last-place finishes in these two categories. That will generally require a sweep or near-sweep of SB, BA, and the pitching categories. As a result, you must be very particular about what you get in return for your traded players.

SB

Punting SBs can be a very viable strategy in mixed league play. In standard leagues, if you find yourself near the bottom of the SB standings, that generally indicates that you have little or no speed, and thus no assets to trade. You therefore suffer the standings impact of punting the category, without the benefit of getting something back in a trade. In a mixed league, though, it is possible to lag behind in this category even if you own a speedster. Thus, these kinds of SB weapons can prove to be excellent trade bait. If you lack the depth of speed on your roster to make a move up the category, consider trading your major source(s) of speed.

BA

Very rarely will an owner intentionally punt BA from the start of the season. However, often an owner will see his team get off to a bad start in BA, and realize that they did not draft enough high-BA players during the draft. A bad BA can be one of the toughest categories to turn around. In certain cases, it can be better to embrace a bad BA, and work around it. Once freed from the shackles of having to protect your BA position, all sorts of doors can be opened. Any high-BA bats you do have can be dealt away for help in pitching, power, or speed. And, low-BA bats who can provide HR, RBI, or SB are suddenly more valuable to you, and may be acquired at a discount from a competitor who devalues those players because of their low BA.

Wins

Many readers are acutely familiar with the process of punting Wins, as it is the single unfortunate side effect of the LIMA plan. In mixed leagues, though, the LIMA plan is not typically recommended because the pool of available starting pitchers is not tapped into as deeply. LIMA or no LIMA, if you find yourself lagging behind in Wins, you may be able to exploit the situation. By dumping your high-profile starters in trade, you should be able to improve your offense or bullpen as needed.

Furthermore, in most mixed leagues you will find a fine collection of middle relievers on the waiver wire. Replacing your starters with those high-skill middle relievers should maintain your ERA/WHIP, and may even get you enough vulture wins that you will not miss your departed starters. Warning: If your league has a minimum IP requirement, be careful not to dump so many starters that you put yourself in danger of missing that number. Similarly, this strategy is not advisable for 5x5 play, because of its negative impact on the strikeout category.

Saves

The saves race in mixed leagues is often very different from a standard league. In smaller mixed leagues, each team may very well have three full or part-time MLB closers on their roster. A team trailing in saves may have one or even two closers on the team. Those closers could certainly bring value in trade. However, in many cases a deficit in saves is an easy one for a mixed leaguer to make up.

In a typical mixed league, newly emerging closers are typically not rostered until they actually claim the top job for themselves. With deft roster management and judicious FAAB bidding, it is possible to chase saves via waivers, as new sources of saves emerge around MLB over the course of the season. As such, a saves deficit is often a hole that is worth fighting out of.

ERA/WHIP

This is tough to pull off in a standard 8-category league, but becomes more reasonable in a 5x5 environment. Like a low BA, If your ERA and WHIP spiraled out of control from the start of the season, that can be a tough trend to reverse. As with the Sweeney Plan, it takes a tightly-bunched league to punt two categories and survive, but it is not impossible. By trading away any top starters and dumping any middle relievers, and then filling in your staff with as many as 7-8 mediocre starters (or previously avoided COL starters), you may be able to maintain or even improve your position in Wins (and strikeouts in 5x5), while getting some other value in return for your departed starters.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.