Hey now! You’re an All-Star! You got your game on, got paid. OK, maybe you weren’t an all-star. Maybe you’re like me and drafted the front five Padres batters in RazzSlam. That seemed reasonable, what with them making something like $8 billion in contract money. What did the Padres do in the first half? A 103 wRC+ and trailing the Minnesota Twins in homers. I mean, I can feel foolish for having a bad fantasy team, but at least I didn’t spend the GDP of Panama on players who can’t outperform Joey Gallo.
You can — and probably will — win many leagues with imperfect teams.
Because it’s fantasy football season, I’m reminded of my 2020 DataForce Charity League win, where I claimed victory over 10 full-time fantasy industry vets. My football team that won? Had zero points all year from the Kicker position. A whole position that played every week with nothing. It was a draft and hold league, meaning no waiver wires or FAAB. I drafted two kickers at the end of the draft, and they both suffered injuries and got cut in the pre-season. Because I couldn’t add players to my roster due to the league rules, my team had zeros in the kicker spot all year.
But did those zero scores matter? Not really. My imperfect team won the league. How?
I knew that kickers mattered very little in fantasy football. They’re like catchers in fantasy baseball — very low ceiling, and general equity in scoring amongst the field. While other drafters took kickers early — sometimes stocking their roster with 3 kickers (1 starting and 2 backups), I continued taking players with high-upside. I took vulnerable kickers at the end of the draft, and they ended up outside of the NFL when the games mattered.
Nonetheless, while other drafters took kickers at premium cost, I took other quality footballers that claimed the league win in my favor.
Was my team imperfect? Yes. Did it win? Yes.
Many fantasy sports players are enamored with efficiency and perfection. We want to put the right player in at the right time and win. But, so often, even the best players can perform beyond our worst expectations.
Timing is Everything
At the end of 2022, Gerrit Cole‘s final 5 regular season games — likely your fantasy championships — resulted in a 2-1 record with a 5.22 ERA as he allowed 9 homers. On the way to the fantasy playoffs, Corbin Burnes — your SP2 in the 2022 pre-season — went 2-4 from August through September, with a 4.80 ERA. Immediately after the 2022 All-Star Break and lasting through September, Shohei Ohtani went 1-4 with a 4.00 ERA.
So, you could have gone into battle with the top 2 starters of the 2022 pre-season and the reigning MVP and consensus 1.01 pick and still found yourself foundering in the fantasy playoffs. Your perfect team had a bad streak.
Meanwhile, Spencer Strider — a Roleless Rob turned starter who was still available on most waiver wires in July — went 7-2 after the All-Star Break with a 2.20 ERA. Martin Perez — probably the least interesting pitcher in MLB — exited the All-Star Break and went into the fantasy championships with a 5-4 record and 3.12 ERA while also facing off against Houston, the Blue Jays, and the Rays. Oh, and a stop in Coors Field. Chris Bassitt was available everywhere, and from the 2022 All-Star Break until the fantasy championships, he went 8-2 with a 2.57 ERA.
Why bother drafting? You could have sold the farm to acquire three consensus first round picks — Gerrit Cole, Corbin Burnes, and Shohei Ohtani — and performed worse in the fantasy playoffs than a team that just added Spencer Strider, Martin Perez, and Chris Bassitt off the waiver wire.
Embrace imperfection. Don’t worry about acquiring the perfect team. Focus on acquiring players who will have the most amount of playing time. Focus on players who have the highest chance of success. For starting pitchers, this means high K/9 rates and high IP volumes.
Teams that won in 2022 — and in general — would have combined their stalwart starters with one of those upside combos. As Gerrit Cole struggled down the stretch, they had Spencer Strider balancing him out.
Let’s take a look at some of the tactics you can do to help your team in the second half.
Stack the Odds in Your Favor
It goes without saying that you should take every possible chance to start pitchers — it doesn’t matter who — against awful teams.
The Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals are on track for 50 win seasons. Given that these teams will probably trade off any talent they have and purposefully tank for the rest of the year, they could easily be sub-50 Win teams. Start literally any warm body against these teams for the rest of the year.
Let’s take this to the next level of strategy. It’s easy enough to say, “Matchup against historically bad teams and profit.” I’m a jeanyus! We can look at team K% and wOBA and home run rank to see some other easy matchups. As far as teams go, the Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners, and Milwaukee Brewers are leading the league in K% (in a bad way). The Mariners and Brewers have more favorable matchups because they have nearly 20% fewer homers than the Twins.
Especially if you’re in a league where IP limits or Game Start limits don’t apply, just grab whatever warm body is pitching against the AL Central and see what happens. Can’t be any worse than Gerrit Cole in 2022, can it?
Consider Your Limits
Let’s follow that caveat from the last paragraph, about IP and Game Start limits. If you’re in an RCL or a league that gives you XYZ amount of starts per year, I would prefer to use most of those starts now. This especially applies to your hot pitchers or top starters.
We know that most teams — both MLB and fantasy — are “still in the race” at this point. It’s before the trade deadline, meaning crappy teams tell their stars that they have an “out” if they perform well. Additionally, teams in the middle of the pack aren’t tanking quite yet. There’s a great Wild Card chase developing in the NL, and most of the AL teams can still stake a claim to a division title with a well-timed hot streak. Right this minute, all of your favorite starters are going out there every day to rack up stats and win.
Fast forward to the end of August. Did you save your IP or Games Started, maybe in the belief that you could see how the field played out? If you did save them, then the situation you’re looking at looks something like the following. The trade deadline passed, and Justin Steele got traded to the Rays. Only, the Rays rotation got healthy and now Justin Steele is a Roleless Rob. The Tigers fell out of contention, and Tyler Skubal is put on an inning limit. Spencer Strider reached 140 IP and the Braves are 15 games ahead in the NL East, so he’s on an inning limit too. The Blue Jays fell out of contention and decide to give Kevin Gausman a rest while Alek Manoah figures himself out for the fifth time.
The Orioles are playing the Athletics, but they call up a minor leaguer to take the start and get their cup of coffee. This pushes Tyler Wells‘ next start into the crucial division rivalry series against the Tampa Bay Rays. There goes your favorable matchup.
Personally, I’d take the known quantities now rather than wait for the unknown quantities later. You don’t have to use up all your IP or Games Start in July/August, but if you’ve got a good rotation going, take those points now instead of risking uncertainty in the future.
SAGNOF, but with Streamers
We know that steals and saves ain’t got no face (SAGNOF). But with Streamers — it’s the same idea. Stop worrying about the name behind the position and start worrying about what you need to Win your rankings.
Behind in Wins? Martin Perez and Andrew Heaney are available in a bunch of leagues and they play on a team filled with All-Stars. Michael Wacha, Drew Smyly, and Rich Hill are all available on the waiver wire right now with teams that are “in the race” and have positive Win values on the season. Five players you could pick up right now and help your Win category. I don’t like the concept of Martin Perez or Rich Hill either, but y’all know that they’re going to get IP and Wins when healthy.
Should you start crappy pitcher against elite offense? No, not unless it’s literally your last game of the season and you need a hail mary. These are streamers — they are players to acquire and throw away without worry. Like a stream, they come and go. Don’t worry if your favorite streamer has a cold streak. Even Gerrit Cole, Corbin Burnes, and Shohei Ohtani have cold streaks. It happens. We can’t control cold streaks. But we can diversify our approaches.
Don’t forget the pitchers who don’t really have a set spot. Colin Poche has seven wins on the year and his ratios look like Martin Perez’. You know who leads the AL Cy Young odds right now? Framber Valdez. Who has as many Wins as Framberino? That Colin Poche guy.
I know we collectively gave up on Matt Strahm. Y’all know what he’s done since we decided to quit our favorite May 2023 Roleless Rob? 9 appearances, 2-0 record, 1 Hold, and 19:1 K:BB ratio with a 3.00 ERA. That’s the same amount of Wins as Kevin Gausman over the same period.
Griffin Jax hasn’t allowed a run since Memorial Day while chalking up 3 Wins and 7 Holds. Griffin Jax has as many Wins since Memorial Day as Dylan Cease and Sandy Alcantara have on the year. Cease and Alcantara were consensus Top 10 starters, and I saw Alcantara going in the second round of many drafts.
Especially if you’re in RCLs, you need efficient pitchers. Roleless Robs will save your day. But treat them just like streamers — don’t get attached to their adequate performance, and don’t rely on them to save your team. But if you run out of Games Started or near your IP cap, you can always go to the Rob Hole to get your next streamer.
Are we cool with that term? The Rob Hole? Let me know down in the comments what you’re thinking.
As a reminder, I rank on a per IP confidence basis and multiply by the games started that Rudy projects. My rankings are aggressive to give you an idea of pitchers to pick up or drop. If you want the actual performance of pitchers, please see the Razzball Player Rater.