You have seven days. [click] Maybe you’re a fan of The Ring or Ringu or Scary Movie (they’re all basically the same, right?), and you know the plot device well: there’s a limited amount of time for you to achieve a goal, or you’re out of the picture. This is where we’re at in the fantasy season — you gotta go matchup by matchup, regression be damned.
“True skill” stats like FIP, SIERA, and whatever other acronyms we develop often take 1-2 months to align. This is why my particular ranking system has no concern with where a player currently is on the Player Rater. For most of the “top picks”, the true skill stats and the baseball card stats align pretty well. This is why it’s not very meaningful to talk about Gerrit Cole, other than his annual span of 6 weeks where he turns into a pumpkin. Cole has — without fail — always regressed back to his usual performance. It’s like Star Trek. There are going to plot arcs that you don’t care for. But there are so many damn episodes that, eventually, things will get back on track and you’ll be setting it and forgetting it.
But now, we don’t have the luxury of time. Deep leagues are entering the fantasy playoffs, and normal leagues are in the final stretches. It doesn’t matter if Reid Detmers should be doing better. It matters that Reid Detmers is playing on a team that has quickly decided to tank and his future starts are completely meaningless in real life. The Angels are out of the playoffs, Detmers isn’t eligible for arbitration, and in 2024, he’ll be right back where he is now, minus an Ohtani. The Angels didn’t trade Ohtani and didn’t bring in a king’s ransom of rookies to push any of their players. Sorry Anaheimers. This is where the narrative is a superior predictor of future performance compared to things like SIERA. If you’ve got potentially millions of dollars on the line, do you burn your arm out in September baseball, or do you do your job every 5 days and start planning for off-season changes?
So what do we do now?
We adopt a mentality borrowed largely from DFS strategies.
Here are some general rules to follow going into the fantasy playoffs:
- Take starters from winning teams and play them against losing teams. This is Fantasy Sports 101.
- Avoid September cup of coffee darlings. A ton of rookies will show up in the next month, and most of them will get 4 IP per start. This is relatively meaningless for fantasy.
- Avoid injury rehabbers unless you’re desperate. As much as we like the concept of Chris Sale, he’s still not above 5 IP per start. This was also true of his 2021 return from Tommy John — 9 games started, and only 1 of those games qualified for a Quality Start.
- If you’re desperate, play suboptimally. If you have a 90% chance of losing, then assume you’re going to lose and take every chance to win. When the odds are stacked against you, you’ll need to use high-risk maneuvers in order to stay in the game (of course, be wise if you’re doing this with actual money).
- If you’re at a Games Started limit, fill your roster with Roleless Robs who will accumulate stats without accumulating starts.
- If you’re at an Innings Pitched limit, play only the safest players.
- If you’ve got bench space, pick up any hot hand and put them on your roster, which prevents your opponent from rostering and benefitting from these players.
Going forward, I’m going to highlight matchups / players that I would target. As always, variance is a huge part of fantasy — even the historically bad Cleveland Spiders would have a 35% chance of pulling out a win against the New York Yankees.
Luis Castillo has been pretty bleh over the last month and has struggled — conceptually — in his last three outings (8 K/9, 5.68 ERA). The Mariners are still in the playoff hunt, and Castillo faces off against the White Sox and Royals. Remember what I said about targeting the AL Central? Do it.
Carlos Rodon ranks highly on the Streamonator, but I’d recommend avoiding him this week. He’s coming off yet another injury, and he’s failed to pitch 6IP in his appearances this year. He’s still available in some leagues, and might be worth a stash for later in the season. Although it’s napkin math, Rodon seems to be slated to land starts against the Tigers, the Pirates, and the Royals during various points of the fantasy playoffs. That could be a nice recovery for a pitcher who looks to be locking into the Bronx rotation for years to come.
The Streamonator likes Mike Clevinger a lot, putting him in the top 10 starters for the week. Clevinger’s available in just about every league and has a 2-1 record over his last 4 starts, with a boring 7 K/9 and 1.57 ERA to a 3.18 FIP. It’s nothing to get excited about, but he matches up against the Athletics at the end of the week and that’s worth an add by itself.
Zack Littell has transitioned from a Roleless Rob into a starter in a depleted Tampa Bay Rays rotation, and he’s been extremely Martin Perez-like. Littell is 2-2 over his last 4 starts, while striking out less than 6 batters per 9 IP. His 2.78 ERA aligns with his 3.22 FIP, which is fair enough. For a guy that’s available in nearly half of leagues, he’s a worthwhile pickup for this week and going forward.
Jose Urquidy — remember this guy? Geez, seems like my last place dynasty team sure does. Urquidy’s been all over the place recently, and is slated for two starts, either against the Red Sox twice (eek) or BOS/DET (slightly less eek). If you’re desperate and looking for some high-risk players to boost your team, Urquidy would be a target. He’s a pretty bad choice for teams looking to maintain status quo position, though. Last thing you want to do with a first place team is march out a guy that the Astros barely trust.
Chris Sale has the Streamonator sale — I mean, seal — of approval. Except, he’s facing off against the Astros and the Dodgers this week. As I hinted above, Sale hasn’t been the pitcher of record in an MLB game since May, and his fastball velocity is way down compared to his average. If the Red Sox are going to make the playoffs, they’ll need Sale to pitch more than 4 frames, which makes him a fine suboptimal play this week. But for managers who need to maintain a status quo and not lose points in the standings, it’s a big risk to take a guy who has little chance at a Win and put him against two top teams in a playoff race. I’d avoid Sale this week unless you’re in a high-risk position.
As usual, I respond to comments on the day of publication only. It’s been fun hearing all the responses, but I need to carve out some me-time as well. For up-to-the minute advice, please check in with Grey or consider adding a Razzball Premium Subscription to your playoff arsenal.