Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Player Multi-Functionality

Before I delve into the fantasy baseball strategy talk, let me take you back to September of 2014 when I discovered a television show on the FYI channel called Tiny House Nation hosted by John Weisbarth, a San Diego sports broadcaster and former host of Yahoo Fantasy Football Live, and Zack Giffin, a tiny house expert and builder.  If you don’t know what Tiny House Nation is or what tiny houses are all about, you are missing out!  As John Weisbarth proclaims in the opening of the show, “Tiny homes are the next big thing!”

I’ll give you a brief insight into what tiny houses are and then show you how it relates to fantasy baseball.  The tiny house movement is a social phenomena where people are downsizing the space that they live in (to houses less than 600 square feet in size), and subsequently pairing down their belongings as well, to enjoy a more simplified way of life, often influenced by environmental and/or financial concerns, or just to have more freedom from the materialistic things in life.  But in order to accomplish the design of these homes and to live efficiently, there is one keyword that is incredibly important within the tiny house community, and that word is multi-functionality.

With pieces of furniture or parts of the home that are multi-functional in tiny houses, the use of the limited space is maximized for a high level of efficiency, allowing for many of the same conveniences and amenities that a traditional home may have the space for.  In fantasy baseball, I believe that multi-functionality is also a very important thing to have.  With multi-functional players, a fantasy baseball team owner is able to maximize the efficient use of a roster.  What I mean by a multi-functional player is a player that is eligible to fill more than one position on a fantasy roster.

Let’s first take a look out how multi-functionality comes into play with hitters on a fantasy baseball team and then we will examine how it helps with pitchers.

HITTERS

For a hitter to be eligible for a position varies depending on what site that you play on (Yahoo, ESPN, CBS, etc.).  So you are going to want to make sure that you are familiar with the settings that determine position eligibility in your league.  But generally, heading into a season, a hitter needs to have played anywhere from at least 10-20 games at a position in the previous season to be eligible at that position for the upcoming season.  While the season is in progress, a hitter generally needs 5-10 games played at a position to become eligible for that position in the middle of the season.

The degree to how much a fantasy baseball team owner can take advantage of multi-position eligible players depends on the league type, but it is certainly an asset in any type of league and it comes at zero expense to your fantasy team.

For any league that allows for daily lineup changes, there is usually going to be a limit on how many games that you can use at each position, and usually that limit is 162 games (the same amount of games that each Major League Baseball team plays in a regular season).  But in case you haven’t realized, it is extremely unlikely for a player to appear in all 162 games of the season.  For reference, from 2012-14, there have only been four players in each of those seasons that played in all 162 games.  So any time that you have a hitter in your fantasy lineup that doesn’t end up playing on any given day, it is a missed opportunity to accumulate counting stats (HR, RBI, R, SB) if it’s a roto league, or points if it’s a points league.  Yes, it is true that there could be a negative effect on your team in AVG or hitter K’s if that’s a category in your league, but the number of categories that can possibly be contributed to in a positive way by using all 162 games (or as many as possible) at a position definitely outweighs any possible negative effects over the long run.

So how do you get the most out of the 162 game limit for each position in these types of leagues?  The multi-functionality of hitters to be able to slot into more than one position on your fantasy roster is what will help to maximize efficient use of your lineup, just like how the multi-functionality of furniture or parts of the home in tiny houses maximizes efficient use of the limited space.

I will use one of my current 2015 fantasy teams as an example of how a situation might arise where it is useful to have these multi-functional, multi-position eligible players.  The league is on Yahoo and is a 16-team 6×6 roto league with the hitter categories being AVG, HR, RBI, R, SB, and K, and daily lineup changes are permissible.  I have Hanley Ramirez as my primary SS, but he is also eligible for the OF so I do use him there sometimes as well.  But he missed a few games from May 5-8 with a shoulder injury, and at the time there was no telling how long he would be out for.  Also on my roster is Yunel Escobar, eligible at SS and 3B, whose hot bat at the time I was plugging into my lineup at 3B or UTIL.  So when Ramirez was injured for those few days, I was able to use Escobar at SS and was still able to still get my starts at 3B with Jimmy Paredes to help keep me on pace for 162 games at each position to use every opportunity to accumulate counting stats.  Also, whenever Ramirez or Paredes do not have a scheduled game on a particular day, I can turn to Escobar and insert him into the lineup at either of their positions, assuming Escobar does have a game scheduled.

This particular league that I am referring to is currently in its 12th year of existence and I have won the championship in 9 out of the 11 previous years.  And every year I generally meet the 162 games limit at each position or come within at least a few games of doing so (except for catcher because usually carrying a second player that is catcher eligible in a “one catcher” league is not a great use of a roster spot, but with the right players in the right situation I would recommend a second catcher eligible player).  Meanwhile, my leaguemates often find themselves a double digit amount of games off the 162 game pace at each position whether it be due to not having multi-position players, forgetting to set their lineups on some days, or just the mere thought that they think it’s not that important.  This is where I have a leg up on them as I am able to pad on “extra” counting stats with strategic use of my multi-functional players.

The question may arise of “What happens when you reach the games limit at a position with a week left in the season and you don’t get to use your star player(s) for that last week?”  Well, to that my response is it is better to have reached the games limit before the season ends and to have had the opportunity to produce those “extra” stats than it is to risk it and not even give yourself the chance of reaching the games limit.  Every game counts and you want to use as many games played as you possibly can, even if that means you max out at a position before the final day.

For leagues where you set your lineup once or twice a week, this strategy isn’t as applicable, but having the multi-position eligible players is still a useful tool.  These types of players will allow you to adjust your lineup if there are any injuries that force players to the DL, and they also give you flexibility when you want to play matchups in any type of league.

Playing matchups is a strategy piece in itself, which I will save for another time.  But what I mean by playing matchups is to start hitters who have a favorable matchup, whether it is a hitter playing at a hitter’s park like Coors Field, a hitter who has a historically good track record versus the opposing starting pitcher, or a hitter who does really well against the handedness of the opposing starting pitcher.  However, sometimes in order to play matchups effectively, it helps to have multi-functional players on your roster so that you are able to shuffle your lineup around to squeeze in all the players that you feel have good matchups for the day or week.

For an example of this, I will use a hypothetical situation.  Say it is a weekly league on Yahoo (either roto or points) and you have Marcus Semien (2B/3B/SS), Starlin Castro (SS), Yasmany Tomas (3B/OF), and Anthony Gose (OF).  You really like the matchups for the week for Semien, Tomas, and Wong, but you don’t like Castro only slated for 5 games in the week visiting the Mets and then the Nationals to face the likes of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGromMax ScherzerJordan Zimmermann, and Stephen Strasburg.  What do you do?  You bench Castro who normally is your SS, move Semien from his normal 3B spot on your roster to SS, move Tomas from OF to 3B, and move Gose from your bench to the OF.  Situations aren’t always going to be as clear cut as this, but it just illustrates the use of multi-position eligible players and how you can use them to your advantage.

PITCHERS

For pitchers in fantasy baseball, they are either a starting pitcher or a relief pitcher.  And just like for hitters, it is going to vary on what determines their position eligibility depending on what site and settings your league uses.  Generally, for an upcoming season, a pitcher will qualify as starting pitcher if he made at least 5-10 appearances as a starting pitcher in the previous season — and it is the same thing for qualifying as a relief pitcher.  For a season that is in progress, generally a starting pitcher will gain relief pitcher eligibility if he makes 5-10 appearances as a relief pitcher — and vice versa for a relief pitcher gaining starting pitcher eligibility.

Even though pitchers have only two separate positions that they can qualify for, pitchers with the dual eligibility can be extremely useful.  But once again, it depends on the league type to what degree a fantasy baseball team owner can use this to their advantage.

For dual eligible pitchers, it is the weekly leagues that get the most benefit out of using them.  There are two situations that can arise:  1.) Putting a SP who has RP eligibility into a RP slot.  2.) Putting a RP who has SP eligibility into a SP slot.  I will outline both.

Putting a SP who has RP eligibility into a RP slot:

The most common instance where you would want to do this is when a particular SP is slated for a 2-start week.  If the pitcher has a 2-start week, especially if one or both the starts are favorable in terms of the offense they are pitching against and/or the stadium they are pitching in, then that gives the pitcher more opportunity to log a win and to rack up strikeouts.  For a head-to-head league, this is actually a very useful strategy.  I will use a league that am in to show this.

It is a 12-team head-to-head 5×5 roto keeper auction league on ESPN with weekly lineup changes, and the pitching categories are W, SV, ERA, WHIP, and K.  The lineup settings are 3 SP, 3 RP, and 4 P.  I co-own the team with a friend and we generally have the strategy to not spend big on closers at draft time because of the volatility of the position, the ability to pick up closers from the waiver wire in-season since the position is so volatile with a lot of turnover, and the preference to target quality RP eligible SP’s for the versatility that they can provide (such as Carlos Carrasco and Alex Wood for 2015).

Last year, we drafted Tyson Ross who had the dual eligibility and we picked up guys like Danny DuffyYusmeiro Petit, and Drew Pomeranz during the season and they all possessed the dual eligibility as well.  This gave us many different options to choose from when setting our RP slots in our lineup.  Because it is a head-to-head league, we examined our upcoming opponent’s lineup to see what they planned on throwing at us.  If we saw that they had 4 closers going and we only had 2 closers on our roster, then we would take that opportunity to bench our 2 closers and not take the risk of competing for saves against a team that had more closers than we did.  And we would then insert 3 RP eligible SP’s into all the RP slots (if their matchups were decent to favorable), which gave us a virtual lock to win the wins and strikeout categories for the week since we had an abundance of more starts scheduled.  Essentially we were punting one category knowing that we were all but guaranteed wins in two categories, and obviously two is greater than one.

This was our strategy nearly every week, and it became such a regular occurrence that we felt that it was the way to go.  So our top closer, Kenley Jansen, became a very expendable and valuable trade chip for us.  So we ended up trading Jansen in a multi-player deal that netted us Mike Trout, which was another key to our success.  Our team went on to win the league championship even though we were near the bottom of the league in total saves because we blew away the competition every week in wins and strikeouts.

There is a potential drawback to this approach though, and that is if the SP’s that you insert into the RP slots implode and have a terrible week.  If that were to happen, then you almost assuredly would not add any additional wins, the strikeout tallies those pitchers have could be negligible, and it would hurt your team’s chances to win the ERA and WHIP categories — not to mention already punting the saves category.  However, there are preventive measures to take so that this does not happen.

Do not just insert any RP eligible SP that you grabbed off waivers into an RP slot.  As mentioned earlier regarding the hitters, the same thing applies to pitchers:  play favorable matchups.  Using this strategy only when your pitchers have favorable matchups, or decent matchups at the very least, will limit the potential risk involved and still offer the high upside of winning the majority of the pitching categories in head-to-head leagues.

Putting a RP who has SP eligibility into a SP slot:

It is a very rare occurrence where a closer has SP eligibility, so a situation where you would do this is few and far between.  But it comes in handy in head-to-head leagues in the exact opposite scenario of what was described above.  If you can gain an advantage in collecting saves for the week in a head-to-head matchup without sacrificing much in wins and strikeout potential, then it might make some sense to insert a SP eligible closer into a SP spot.

For points leagues with a weekly lineup setting, it could also make sense to do this if you have a bunch of SP’s that are scheduled for one start and/or have poor matchups scheduled.  In general, closers have more upside to score points in a week than starting pitchers in one-start weeks because closers could end up racking up 3-5 saves in any given week, which would most likely be more valuable than one start from a SP.  However, with the higher upside comes the greater downside as well, as closers may not end up pitching in a save situation at all in any given week.

These are not fool proof strategies, but they are certainly blueprints to a fantasy baseball approach that can provide great returns for you like they have for myself.  Just like how the blueprints for the design of a tiny house need to pay attention to all the details to maximize the efficient use of the smaller space, fantasy baseball team owners need to have their own types of blueprints and strategies to know what it takes to efficiently use their roster space.  This is real living in a fantasy world!

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