I’ve been thinking recently about that age-old question: is it better to keep a bad pitcher in your deep-league lineup than no pitcher at all? Maybe I feel this way every season at this point, but right now it seems like there are more starters than ever who are providing negative value. No matter how you plan your draft, in the deepest leagues, you’re probably going to end up with at least a couple of pitchers that no one would sniff at in a “normal” league. If you can figure out which of these guys are going to be able to eat some innings in your lineup without killing your ratios (or if you just luck into an Ervin Santana or Jason Vargas), you’re a step ahead of the game. But in a really deep league, if you get a few duds, it could ruin your year.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

I’ve been trying to figure out if I should use a percentage-owned threshold to determine which players I cover in this column, but have come to realize that it’s probably best not to use a hard and fast rule for this. There are just too many different sizes and shapes huddled together under the “deep league” umbrella, and a few differences in rules and roster restrictions can make a huge difference in how deep the player pool goes. I have a 12-team one AL-only league where we have huge rosters, we’re only allowed to add minor leagues at a supplemental draft once a year, and we can never add a player on the DL. The waiver pool is miniscule, consisting mostly of players who are 0-1% owned or less in CBS leagues. I have a couple NL-only leagues, meanwhile, where there are often a handful of 20 – 40% CBS owned players.

One of the reasons I’m mentioning this is because I’ve gotten in the habit of using percentage owned as my go-to way to sort players when perusing the waiver wire, trade possibilities, etc., and I want to make sure I’m not using it as an unnecessary (or even harmful) crutch, especially in my shallower leagues. I feel like in the past, I’ve actually gone to pick up a player in a mixed league and changed my decision at the last minute because it seemed so wrong to be adding a guy who was 8% or 17% or 25% owned in a league where every lineup is packed with 80%-plus owned players. (I guess the deep, ‘only’ league equivalent of this is picking up a 0% owned player… nothing like the boost of confidence it gives you to see that you have a couple guys in your lineup that, according to the internet, basically don’t exist in fantasy baseball).

While ownership percentages can be a good way to sort players, I think paying too much attention to them can be a big mistake, including when it comes to evaluating trade value. If you think a player can help your team or have a gut feeling about a guy, don’t let others’ perceived value of him keep you from pulling the trigger. Now if you can squeeze more out of the other owner by mentioning that you’re taking on lesser-owned players, go for it. And you can feel free to use it to your advantage the other way as well – if you’re trying to move, say, Julio Teheran, who hasn’t looked like he belongs on a fantasy team of any size all season, feel free to mention that he is owned in an absolutely inexplicable 91% of CBS leagues (but don’t include the part about it being inexplicable). With that being said, on to some deep-league names…

Please, blog, may I have some more?

One of the things I enjoy about NL and AL-only leagues is that they often provide a comfortable home for fantasy baseball’s otherwise undesirables. I’m amazed at how many players there are that I’ve just flat out never heard that get promoted each year, no matter how well I think I know every MLB team’s roster and depth chart, and no matter how much time I put into trying to improve my knowledge of the minor leagues. Most of the players that get called up and have been completely under the radar do exactly what we’d expect them to – perhaps make a little splash as they dive into their first cup of coffee, but then quickly fade into oblivion. A few defy the odds and become mixed-league relevant. And some do what we deep leaguers need them to do – play just well enough that they are worth rostering. Much like actual baseball teams, it doesn’t seem like many deep league fantasy champions get through their 162-game seasons without a few spells of random help from players who seem to have appeared from completely out of the blue.

It’s still May, but we are already seeing many players who may ultimately fit this description come October. There are always a handful of guys that are somehow able to outperform their stats/projections/abilities, and I always think of 2016 Junior Guerra as the poster boy for this phenomenon. When writing about him last year, the more research I did, the more I realized that he didn’t have a single peripheral in his past stats to suggest he could do exactly what he did: have a prolonged run of success at the major league level. Yet somehow watching him pitch, there was an intangible (Grit? Moxie?) that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but made me want to own him. Back to the present:  in the last couple of weeks, I feel like every time I turn around there’s a newbie that’s being thrown into a major league starting rotation. This week, I’ll be highlighting a few of these pitchers amongst the other players that might be available on the scrap heap that is your single league waiver wire…

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Here we are in week 8, so you know what time it is: it’s time to take advantage of the apathy of others. It was a rough weekend in the Holt household, as I checked in Sunday afternoon to find that Tajuan Walker, the one guy who’d been healthy and pitching semi-decently on my deepest NL-only team, had randomly hit the DL with a blister issue. Meanwhile, Trevor Cahill, who’d practically been carrying my pitching staff in the same league before he got hurt, was headed for an MRI that gave me the sinking feeling that he wasn’t gonna be pitching again any time soon. After slamming my computer shut and spending about an hour behaving like a 7-year old having a bad round of miniature golf, I needed an attitude adjustment. I went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy, and remembered that if Chris Pratt can go from being a tubby sitcom fifth banana to a universe-saving mega-movie star, I can keep fighting in the world of fantasy baseball until October. Now that I’m looking at the comparison with a clear head, sure, it may make no sense whatsoever, but it inspired me to spend an hour Sunday night scouring my various league waiver wires in an attempt to improve my teams.  By the way, if you missed out on Parks and Rec when it was on the broadcast television, it’s one of the rare network sitcoms of the last decade that’s worth going back and watching, IMHO (has it been so long since anyone used the term “IMHO” that it’s retro now?)

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Well, here we are gentlemen and five girl readers. Hmm, if I’m one of the five girl readers and I’m writing this [Jay’s Note: You forgot my mother.], does that mean I should only be addressing 4 girl readers? Or should I just stick with 5, since I’m certainly vain enough that I’ll be reading my own work once it’s published? Hold on, is “published” the wrong word since we’re talking about the internet, and does my use of it make me sound out of touch? Wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, here we are: week 7! Most MLB teams have played around 40 games now, so we’re about a quarter of the way through the season. Have any owners just flat-out quit in your leagues? In one of my keeper leagues (which of course are a different animal than re-drafts when it comes to punting a season), there were several blockbuster trades over the past weekend… those “in the hunt” have definitely distinguished themselves from those who are “playing for the future”. Meanwhile, I have a few re-draft leagues where some owners are barely setting valid lineups. Does this happen in your league? And if so, do you care?

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Much like in real baseball, in fantasy, timing can be everything. On Monday, Grey mentioned that he’d like to find a term for a guy who does what Tommy Pham did this past Sunday – that is, a guy who goes off on Sunday afternoon, driving up his Sunday night FAAB price. I need a slightly different way to describe this phenomenon in my deepest NL and AL-only leagues, as both have weekly waivers that get processed on Saturday night. I’ve been in one of the leagues for years now, and I’m still not used to it. I don’t know why the founding fathers of this league thought it was a good idea to run waivers on Saturday when everyone and their dog knows that Sunday evening is the proper time to be thinking about one’s FAAB budget (hell, I half expected my computer to auto-correct when I typed the phrase “waivers on Saturday.”) I can only assume it’s to put those of us who might be extra busy/drunk/etc. on Saturday at a disadvantage, and I’m afraid that this particular strategy works on occasion. The week in 2014 that Jacob DeGrom and Anthony DeSclafani were called up, it was hardly my fault that I wasn’t sober enough to rank DeGrom ahead of Disco in my waiver claim list! It haunts me to this day, as it’s a keeper league where I would still have DeGrom at a bargain-basement price… as opposed to the three weeks of bargain-basement pitching I received before I unceremoniously dropped DeSclafani.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

29 days. As I write this, that’s how many days of fantasy baseball have transpired in 2017. Sure, in a way it feels like we just started, but at the same time, I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted and it feels like the season has been going on as long as the movie Boyhood. Which doesn’t really make sense, I realize, because that movie was less than three hours long, but it felt like it lasted for about twelve years, and when it comes to some of my leagues, that’s about how long it feels like 2017 has been dragging on. Maybe this happens every year and I block it out, but I just don’t remember a season where so many fantasy teams appeared to be dead in the water due to catastrophic injuries just as the calendar was hitting May. And this year, it’s the NL-only teams that appear to be hardest hit… at least those that feature some combination of Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndegaard, Rich Hill, Jon Gray, Shelby Miller, Starling Marte, Adam Eaton, and David Dahl. Some of these names were first-round picks in an NL-only draft, and even guys like Gray and Eaton could legitimately have been a team’s number one starter or outfielder in very deep leagues.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Fantasy baseball can be a lot like dating. Well, perhaps you’ve never made this particular comparison, but it comes into play time and time again for me. Sometimes it’s easy to spot a jerk – for instance, even if a fellow treated you pretty darn well for most of 2016, once he gets accused of assault, you realize he has outstanding DUIs in like 4 different countries, and then isn’t even allowed to come back to the U.S., it’s obviously time to cut the cord. (Obligatory shout out to the Pittsburgh Pirates: sending a pitching machine to a guy who fits the above description so he can keep practicing baseball, which I heard you did, might not be the best way to cut the cord). Then there’s the one that got away, the guy you avoided because he just seemed too good to be true. This can lead to heartbreak, like when you didn’t believe a beautiful, muscular, 6-foot tall 30-year old whose nickname in Korea translated to “God” was the real deal, and you miss out on what would have been one of the most beautiful relationships of your young life. (Note to self: when someone’s nickname is “God,” in real-life or fantasy baseball, that could be important). Then there’s the guy who you dated for months – you waited so patiently while he would go days without texting you, and then when he finally did take you out, you went to a chain restaurant for a meal you ended up paying for. You just KNEW he had it in him to be a great guy… but finally had to give up and dump him, only to see him treat his next girlfriend to handpicked flowers every morning and gourmet meals every night (so far in 2017, I call this guy Jason Heyward).

Please, blog, may I have some more?

This morning, I decided to look at my deepest NL-only league to see who the highest-ranked player who went undrafted was. It didn’t take long to find him: as of Tuesday morning, Anthony Senzatela was ranked as the eleventh most valuable pitcher in standard, mixed 5×5 fantasy baseball leagues. My NL–only league includes a fairly complex farm system as well, so it is beyond hard to find a diamond in the rough, since most minor league players with any decent prospect status at all were drafted years ago. It’s clear why Senzatela slipped through the cracks, though – he was a mid-level prospect at best, who entered spring training as a long shot to be part of a pitching rotation in the worst pitchers’ ballpark baseball has ever seen…

Will Senzatela still be the eleventh best pitcher in fantasy at the end of 2017? Uh, no. We’d have to expect some major bumps along the way even if half of his starts weren’t going to come at Coors Field. But he’s owned in just 20% of Yahoo leagues (21% of ESPN), which I think is too low. I am basing this almost entirely on the gut feeling I had while watching him pitch. In fantasy, upside can be overrated: just ask the Robert Stephenson owner in the league I mentioned above. Stephenson has been taking up a minor league spot on his owner’s roster for four years now. Even worse, now that he’s on the big club and his owner feels pot-committed to him, Stephenson and his 5.40 ERA are taking up a valuable active roster spot. There is no guarantee that even the highest-ranked prospects will even reach star status, either in real baseball or the fantasy variety. Taking a flyer on gut feeling won’t always work out either, and sometimes can be fairly disastrous, but it’s a risk that I think you need to take from time to time in a deep league. Otherwise, how will you ever find this year’s Junior Guerra — that guy whose past statistics make you absolutely sick to your stomach, but looks damn good on the mound every time you watch him pitch… and before you know it, has been a major contributor to the success of your single-league team.

Moving on to some other deeper-league names, starting with the AL…

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Being in a crazy deep league can be a double-edged sword. Planning for a draft or auction where you know your last roster spots are going to be filled by players who are literally listed as 0% owned in some formats can be mildly terrifying. But in a weird way, it can make the first few weeks of the season easier. When the names at the top of the waiver wire are Rickie Weeks and Matt Cain (and, yes, those are actually the names at the top of the wire in my deepest AL and NL leagues, respectively), you have no chance to second-guess yourself. If you were worried about Jharel Cotton or Mike Foltynewicz’s atrocious first starts, for instance, you couldn’t just rashly dump them to take a flyer on Charlie Morton or Hyun-Jin Ryu… because those players are already ensconced on another team as someone’s third or fourth best starter.

Please, blog, may I have some more?