Maximizing Playing Time in Fantasy Baseball
by Mac Squibb
February 4, 2019
It’s already February and baseball season is just around the corner. Many of you have started joining mock drafts and those that haven’t are likely beginning your draft prep. That’s where this article fits in. Hopefully this article presents you with some useful information or at least a concept that might help you craft your championship team.
A lot of time is spent in the offseason analysing the top ranked players. There are always articles focusing on “Who should you take with X pick?” or this year “When should Vlad Jr. be drafted?”. And while those articles have value, in reality, a fantasy season isn’t won or lost in a teams first couple of rounds (barring injuries/suspensions) and more than likely not the first five either. What separates owners is their performance in the back half of the draft where skilled owners extract every scrap of value from their role players and bench. A lot of strategies exist when drafting reserve players; there are sleeper picks that you think are wildly undervalued or handcuffing a starting player with his backup. But what about looking at your players schedules? What I’m proposing here is that you consider a players schedule and how it meshes with the schedule of the other player(s) that you already have on your roster before drafting them.
No matter the style of league, (head-to-head/rotisserie) the goal of fantasy baseball is to accrue the most or best statistics over the course of the season. In 2019, the MLB regular season spans 194 days, from 3/20 to 9/29, with games on 185 of them. The advantage to considering the schedules of your players is that, by playing on as many different days as possible, it gives them additional opportunities at accumulating stats. Consider this example: another owner in your league drafts Mike Trout who, along with all other MLB players, has 162 opportunities at playing and accumulating stats this season. Whether he plays all 162 games is to be determined, but he at least has the opportunity. Let’s say that you draft Mitch Haniger and with one of your later picks also select Kevin Kiermaier as his backup. While neither Haniger nor Kiermaier are of the same caliber as Trout, for this season, because of how the Mariners and Rays schedules overlap, there are an additional 17 days in which the pair can accumulate stats that Mike Trout can’t.
This strategy can also be used when deciding what to do at the catcher position. As Jeff Zimmerman pointed out,
the catcher landscape is a barren wasteland with only a handful of viable options. What if, instead of using a high draft pick on a top catcher, you decided to take two lower ranked catchers that maximized the number of days that at least one could play on? While that doesn’t guarantee that your two catching options will be playing during those extra games, it does at least give you the opportunity of creating a decent catcher in the aggregate in a similar manner to what Billy Beane did in Moneyball.
Here is what I call the “Game Overlap Matrix” and the list of the most and least overlapped schedules for 2019.
It isn’t a coincidence that both Seattle and Oakland appear on the top overlap lists. The two clubs play against each other in Japan on 3/20 and 3/21 to open up the season a week before Opening Day on 3/28. At this point I’m unsure how fantasy sites will handle these games so that is something that will need to be watched and taken into consideration. Another unique game this year is between Texas and Houston on 7/11, the day after the all-star game, which is the only game that day. The last wrinkle of 2019 is the scheduled doubleheader on 6/29 between the Diamondbacks and Giants which means the two teams only play on 161 days.
One of the faults of this article is that it doesn’t consider what could be done with the additional roster spot needed for this strategy. It is possible that a team could be better suited using that roster spot for something other than holding a second catcher or other player all year; streaming pitchers or stashing top prospects. Also, some fantasy leagues don’t run the entire length of the MLB season and thus the Overlap Matrix includes a portion of the MLB season that isn’t used for the fantasy season. Furthermore, the additional games gained from the Overlap Matrix by the teams by no means guarantees additional games played for the players. Obviously every player doesn’t play every day, especially catchers, so there are situations where neither or both of the two players are playing on a given day and thus no value is added. Despite this, there is an 8.2% increase in the number of games between 162 and the average overlap of 175 and even a 7.1% increase from the lowest overlap to the highest (169 and 181 respectively). Ultimately, every marginal improvement matters, and thus at the very least this is something worth considering. With all this said, further research definitely needs to done on this topic as a lot of corners were cut. But, the purpose of this article was to introduce a new concept worth considering for upcoming drafts and I think that that's been accomplished.
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