A little over four years ago my girlfriend and I moved in together. Or, more accurately, I moved from my mom’s basement to my girlfriend’s basement. Shortly after the move, my lady and I were having dinner with my grandparents. It was during this meal that I received some of the only praise I’ve ever received from my grandfather: “Nice work Donkey, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free!?”

You’re probably wondering what this is going to have to do with fantasy baseball. What’s the milk going to be in this analogy? And is Bartolo Colon the cow? Of course he’s the cow! But not for the reasons you’re thinking. He has big bones, people! Cut Big Boned Bart some slack! I’m going to leave you on the edge of the toilet seat in your office bathroom, contemplating this analogy for just a little longer.

First, I need to add a preface; the following bit of fantasy baseball theory is mainly geared towards season long rotisserie leagues. If you only play head to head leagues you can feel free to flip back to that pornhub tab for the last few minutes of your bathroom break. Unless of course you’re looking for more sage life lessons from Grandpa Donkey, in that case stick around.

In recent seasons you may have noticed the league-wide pitching numbers are on the decline across the board in a big way. Starting pitchers are throwing fewer and fewer innings while giving up more and more runs. Whereas only a couple years ago it may have taken a 3.25 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP to win those categories in your league, this past season a 3.75 ERA and 1.20 WHIP was plenty to land the top spots in many roto leagues. I’ve compiled some data in the tables below to support these claims.

 

Decreasing Innings Pitched
Year # of 220+ IP SP # of 200+ IP SP
2014 8 34
2015 7 28
2016 6 15
2017 0 15

 

ERA Amongst Qualified SP
Year # of Sub 3.00 ERA SP # of Sub 3.50 ERA SP
2014 22 39
2015 12 31
2016 8 26
2017 8 17

 

WHIP Amongst Qualified SP
Year # of Sub 1.10 WHIP SP # of Sub 1.20 WHIP SP
2014 15 33
2015 15 28
2016 13 28
2017 7 16

 

Elite pitching ratios: that’s the glorious milk we all crave. At this very moment there are dozens of cows anxiously waiting for us to ask their hands in holy fantasy baseball matrimony: Ty Blach, Homer Bailey, Tyler Mahle, even your boy Bartolo Colon. And all of these cows certainly have the potential to yield that delicious milk. But is the risk of a messy early season divorce worth the little bits of milk you might be able to squeeze from the teat? Is it really worth the risk of putting your innocent ERA and WHIP thru this unnecessary trauma so early in their lives?

You might now be asking where you can acquire some of that mythical free milk without the cow shit. Settle down you milk fiend! It just so happens there’s a bunch of relief pitchers giving that sweet milk away down on the waiver wire. I know, I know, the idea of using high strikeout setup men and middle relievers to bolster your ERA and WHIP isn’t exactly an earth shattering revelation, but I’m going to make a case for why it might be advantageous to take this strategy to the extreme early in the season.

One huge advantage of waiting several weeks into the season before sliding some cows into your starting lineup is the development of trust, and a feeling of security with the cow. The larger the sample size we have before committing to a cow the better, and the more we’re able to trust the cow won’t crap all over our ratios. Of course, it would be wise never to fully trust a cow, but at least after 3-5 starts, we’ll have a much better idea what we’re getting ourselves into. Also, the further we get into the season, the more information we’ll have regarding the true strength of the opponents these fringe pitchers are facing.

With starting pitcher’s innings down across the league, we can afford to be a little more patient and judicious in deciding which pitchers we employ and when we employ them. I’m not saying it isn’t worth rostering some pitchers that start the season hot, I’m just suggesting you consider leaving them on your bench until they prove themselves or come into juicy matchups. By building a solid ERA and WHIP foundation early in the year, we give ourselves a little more leeway to gamble on riskier pitchers later in the year when we have more information at our disposal.

Another benefit to rostering a large stable of upside relievers is the potential to fall backwards into saves. Each season, as information becomes increasingly plentiful, the competition for saves via the waiver wire becomes increasingly fierce. Get some of these setup men on your team before their path to saves is apparent, and enjoy the frothy goodness of free saves.

Remember, roto leagues are a marathon, not a sprint. Always keep your league specific format and settings in focus when considering these types of strategies. In many formats its fine to fall behind in wins and strikeouts early in the year; trust in your managerial ability, the Fantasy Master Lothario, and streamonator to help you find those numbers later in the season.

In shallow leagues, consider adding some of these relief arms available in over 50% of Fantrax leagues: Keynan Middleton, Adam Ottavino, Tony Watson, and AJ Ramos. In deeper leagues Jordan Hicks, Yoshi Hirano, Steve Cishek and Joe Jimenez are some nice options.

Before wrapping up, I am required to throw one disclaimer into the mix. As my girlfriend frequently reminds me, there’s really no such thing as “free” milk. Anytime there’s talk of free milk, there’s always going to be strings attached or risks involved. Being kicked in the groin for 5ER in 1/3 of an inning by Mychal Givens or Tommy Kahnle is one of those risks.

Now is this risk of testicular destruction greater than the risk of a messy cow divorce? Each fantasy seeker must look inside to answer this question. We each must find our own path to fantasy glory.

 

 

   
  1. Grey

    Grey says:
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    Who knew Donkeys knew so much about cows… Great stuff, Donkey Teeth!

    • Donkey Teeth

      Donkey Teeth says:
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      @Grey: Thanks, Grey! I was actually raised by cows.

      I really tried to get this published last week to advise the people against rash commitments, but was traveling. Hopefully everyone’s era and whip survived the week!

  2. Fogimon says:
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    Why not mention Josh Hader in that first list of beautiful heffers? He’s been as good as anyone.

    • knucks says:
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      @Fogimon: Is he available in your league? He was prob drafted and not dropped in most competitive leagues.

      • Fogimon says:
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        @knucks: He’s on my team! I drafted him as a bench arm hoping MIL would come to their senses and start him. I’m still holding, but considering just plugging and playing (weekly lineup lock) in my Roto.

    • Donkey Teeth

      Donkey Teeth says:
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      @Fogimon: He’s at the top of the list if available, just too highly owned to recommend. Middleton has probably reached that point now too…

  3. LenFuego says:
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    Josh Fields is another one – picked him up last week. 12 Ks in 9 innings with only 7 baserunners and 1 earned run, and has a W to boot. And if it turns out Jansen has some kind of injury causing his early season problems, Fields could slide into the closer role and have monster value.

    • Donkey Teeth

      Donkey Teeth says:
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      @LenFuego: Agreed

  4. Chris Mirkovic says:
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    You can always find free milk and rolls in the advertisement photo of the lady sitting on her bed usually below most of your posts.

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