MLB Baseball Column: Closer by Committee
2013 Salary Cap Points Primer
Aloha and welcome to the third year of Salary Cap points games at Fantrax. This will also be the second year of the weekly “Closer by Committee” columns and while I may have lost some bat speed, my partner will surely eliminate any chance of a sophomore slump. Since we embarked on this adventure last spring, Chris Mosch, the younger member of this dyspeptic duo, has taken on additional assignments at Rotostars.com, Rotowire, and ESPN. He’ll be back on board next week for a preview of catchers for the salary cap game.
A quick tour of the website reveals a pair of significant changes to the points contest. Leagues have been pared down from 25 to 16 teams each - affording individual managers a better chance of winning prizes. Meanwhile, the open bench has been deep-sixed for a structure that limits starting pitchers on your bench to a maximum of five and closers to a maximum of one. While there has been a lively discussion on the Fantrax Forum about the efficacy of the structured bench rules, there is little doubt that the new rule will force managers to change their strategy.
Limiting the total number of starters per roster ensures that the game is less predictable than in the past. Managers can no longer simply load up on starting pitchers in order to maximize two–steps. With more hitters on the bench, managers will have additional choices to make about who to roster initially as well as similar decisions each week on which hitters to start or bench. Many managers will surely start out with a 7 pitcher/5 hitter bench ratio, although that could change if spring training unearths a quality starter who is listed as a reliever.
Ironically, having fewer SPs on one’s roster means more strategic decisions as managers will have fewer double start pitchers - which are automatic plays in a given week. That means that mangers will need to be more adept at playing single start match-ups this season.
Because managers will have more hitters to deploy, there will also be more opportunities to roster hitters who play in hitter-friendly venues such as those in Colorado, Philadelphia, Texas, and Cincinnati in order to take advantage of extreme home/away splits. Additionally, the new bench structure means that managers will not necessarily need to be as quick on the trigger in dropping injured hitters or relievers.
The bench limit on relievers recognizes the fact that there are often pitchers who start out in the bullpen (and, consequently are listed as relievers) and later move to the rotation. However, the new bench structure also allows Fantasy managers the option of carrying a reliever on the bench – should a closer suffer a short-term injury - without dictating whether that spot comes from a Fantasy squad’s allotment of hitters or pitchers.
There will also be structural changes in MLB itself in 2013 as the hapless Houston Astros - coming off back-to-back seasons of 105+ losses - move from the NL Central to the AL West. Imagine the damage that the Rangers or Angels could inflict on a pitching staff that had nary a single starter with a sub-1.35 WHIP in 2012. Jered Weaver, Yu Darvish, and King Felix will get 3 or 4 additional starts against a line-up devoid of anyone who hit as many as 20 homers last season and with only one player who scored more than 46 runs in 2012. By the same token the NL Central teams will no longer be able to pad their stats with 18 games against the Lone Star cupcakes.
Likewise, the fact that there are an odd number of teams in both the National and American Leagues this season means that interleague play will be a constant theme rather than a mid-season anomaly. Fantasy managers who roster the likes of David Ortiz and Victor Martinez will need to be on their toes.
The 2012 season was another year where pitching dominated. While Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun, and Mike Trout each eclipsed the 690-point mark, there were just five other hitters who scored as many as 600 points. Meanwhile, there were 9 pitchers (including 5 closers) who racked up 600 points or more.
It’s a counting game and you want to choose hitters who play for teams with potent offenses such as the Yankees, Angels, and Rangers. It’s instructive to note that there were no Mariners or Astros position players who appear among the top 60 point-scoring hitters for 2012. Likewise, hitters who generally are slotted for the first five positions in their team’s batting order are going to get more at bats and, hence, more opportunities to score points.
Maximizing games played is another important strategy to employ in playing points. You should never roster players who are part of a platoon situation or who frequently get the day off against tough southpaws. Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera are examples of everyday players who seldom take a day off and are valued for their durability. In addition, as you set your weekly roster, it is advisable to check the schedule and make sure that those hitters with 7-game weeks are active for that week.
The top 17 scoring starting pitchers in 2012 all threw for 190+ innings and 190+ strikeouts with the exception of Johnny Cueto (170 Ks) and Max Scherzer (187 innings). Ideally, you want to roster innings-eaters who miss bats. Finesse pitchers who induce ground balls and field their position with aplomb are of little value in this format. Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson – I’m looking at you!
Finally, try to assemble a roster that affords you the ability to maximize use of cap space without having such an expensive bench that your flexibility is limited. I try and aim for an overall roster salary just south of $87 million. It’s impossible to roster all of the 3000+ players that you would like. However, I generally roster a few more expensive players than I can fit in my starting line-up initially knowing that cheaper plays will inevitably become available as the season wears on.
This column will be a season-long endeavor with weekly articles on league and overall strategy, analyzing player ownership percentages, using your player purchases effectively, and devising a winning bench plan. Next week we’ll begin a position-by-position analysis of the studs to roster and the duds to avoid while assembling your Fantasy roster. We’ll start off the series with a look at catchers.
The Silver and Bronze games are ready for signups and Kyle Lohse is still looking for a suitor. Lance Armstrong, Oprah, Manti Te’o and his imaginary friend are all in my rearview mirror. The World Baseball Classic beckons. Pitchers and catchers can’t get here soon enough.
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