Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Managing Your Bench

It is probably too early (or too late) to start talking about this, since this problem usually emerges around midseason, but this year seems to be full of players with injuries and poor play. It happens every season. No matter how well you draft, one or more of the players who you were counting on as an integral part in your fantasy machine will go down. Hopefully, it will only be for a short time, and it won’t be someone who is irreplaceable like your first round pick. But it is something you should expect and prepare for.

If you were smart you drafted a couple backups and stashed on your bench. If not, you’ve have some work ahead of you. Regardless of where you fall in terms of preparation, it is important to start the season with a solid bench strategy. All leagues allow for bench space, but who you keep on your bench can be the key to your season. The more limited the bench space you have, the more difficult your decisions are going to become.

So what makes the ideal bench player in fantasy baseball? In truth, that depends a great deal. In a perfect world you would want to have the best player possible to replace any star player who might go down. Unfortunately, a GM rarely has one good stud player per position, let alone extras, which means that the bigger the guy who goes down the harder he is to replace. With that in mind, you should expect that your bench players are a step down from your starters, but it doesn’t have to be a drop to the bottom of the barrel.

If you use your bench properly, you should be able to fill holes in your roster with a solid replacement. In order to ensure that you come out on top after a downturn or injury you need to practice one or all of the following bench strategies:

1) Stockpiling guys who can help you in the most positions: Multi-position players can be the most valuable bench men in baseball because they can be slotted into several positions, and especially if they in positions that are traditionally weak. Someone like Yunel Escobar who can play second, shortstop and third base, or Kevin Youkilis who qualifies at 1st, and 3rd, or Ty Wiggington who qualifies for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base are very good choices. If you can’t find a good multi-position player, then grab a player who you can slot into the position where you expect to have trouble. It is also important to consider whether these players can help you in lean areas, like stolen bases. If you have a second baseman on your bench who steals a lot, then slipping him in when you starter isn’t playing can to provide your team with steals. This is especially good in deep leagues where it is difficult to find free agent replacements.

2) Stockpiling the best player possible: This strategy works best during the draft, where you would fill out your roster and then just take the very best player available. Whoever he is will have trade value and can be slotted into a lineup if you need him. These guys are only valuable if other managers don’t have some better on their bench and no one comparable is a free agent. Value increases when another manager needs a substitute badly (so keep an eye on injuries affecting the other teams in your league).

3) Stockpiling guys who possess skills in short supply: Sometimes this might be a position, like catchers or outfielders this year. But don’t limit yourself by position; players who are superior quality at one category like base stealers or closers also make excellent choices. If you can’t use them, someone else probably can. But when it comes to closers, you should expect at least one of the top guys to go down at some point during the season, which makes replacements incredibly valuable. Although this kind of stockpiling is focused on acquiring trade bait, having a few one category guys on the bench you can add at the right moment could add a crucial boost to your stats.

4) Stockpiling players you know other managers will desperately want: This is a constricting and risky strategy. The idea is to grab players who you know other managers might want. This only works if you have a GM in your league that is a rabid fan of one specific team. The more the GM wants the hometown hero, then the more valuable that player becomes. Home- town fans often act irrationally when it comes to getting their favorite players. But the problem with this strategy is that if you can’t trade the hometown hero, then you just wasted a roster spot unless you can actually use him.

All of these strategies have some merit, and which one will work best for you will be based mostly on personal choice. What you need to remember is that fantasy baseball is about planning. If you plan well enough, then you will always be able to manage any single (and most multiple) problem as it appears. The only exception to this rule is if your team’s success depends on a single player, because then the loss is the harder to circumvent.

Planning for problems can be tough, but it can make the difference between being in contention at the end of the season and finishing at the bottom of the league. If you didn't include this contingency in your draft, then it is a good idea to start scouring the free agent list for players who went undrafted or poorly starting players who might get dropped by an impatient manager. The sooner you build your bench, the better. The free agent list is a great place to find replacements, but a little forethought about who is sitting on your bench can go a long way.

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