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Roto Arcade: Category satisfaction

Mick Jagger once sang "I'm all sixes and sevens and nines."

That was 1972, so he probably wasn't referring to a roto league. But if he had been, Mick would have been in a terrific position to make a big move in the standings.

It's difficult to imagine Jagger being an attentive fantasy owner in the early 70s, but still. In a typical 12-team league, sixes and sevens and nines at this point in the season are just fine. Even fours and fives are manageable.

Basically, if you're near the middle of the pack in a bunch of roto categories in late July, you've still got a fair chance to finish among the leaders. It only takes a trade or two – and a marginal improvement in the right categories – to make a dramatic upward move.

If you're all ones and twos, though, it's really over. Thanks for playing.

It's often much easier to make the leap from three points to 10 points in a category than it is to jump from one point to three. In a normal distribution of data, you're going to have a couple of outliers and a cluster around the mean.

Usually the teams that finish in first and last place in any given roto category are separated from the league average by a mile, but nearly everyone else is packed more tightly.

Let's look at the Yahoo! Friends & Family League to find an example of this. (And no, the intention here is not to highlight my position in the standings. I've made some disastrous start/sit decisions regarding pitchers lately, so I'm not feeling especially proud of my recent performance). We're really just looking at how stats are distributed in a typical competitive league.

Here are the up-to-date totals and ranks in HR:

Totals Ranks

HR HR
Y! - Behrens 194 13
Y! - Romig 169 12
Fantasy Guru - Pianowski 142 11
PROTRADE - Wilkins 141 10
Y! - Falzone 138 8.5
Y! - Buser 138 8.5
Y! - Lago 137 6.5
Fantasy Auctioneer 137 6.5
RotoWire - Erickson 133 5
RotoWire - Liss 130 4
Y! - Funston 127 3
Y! - Evans 121 2
KFFL - Dodson 103 1
Mean 139.2

The outliers are clearly Ryan Dodson and myself. The difference between one and two rotisserie points in the category is 18 home runs. The difference between a 12 and a 13 is a whopping 25. Those are wide gaps, and they only represent a gain or drop of a single roto point for the teams involved.

But let us look at, say, Jeff Erickson's team. He's in seventh place in the overall standings, yet he's still in decent shape. Jeff can make smallish improvements to his team yet realize significant point gains.

In home runs, the difference between five points and 11 is only nine homers. That's it: nine. That's completely achievable via trade. Am I saying that Jeff can win the league? Well, no. It's probably a two-team race.

But can Jeff finish third? Sure. Third place in a public league gets you a virtual trophy for your avatar. In a private league, it's probably more lucrative.

So the message here is simple: don't concede anything just yet. Look at the totals behind the category ranks, and you'll likely find places where a small change can lead to a substantial gain. Sixes and sevens and nines are, on July 23, completely OK.

• Finally, Jon Lester is getting a start for Boston. The bad news: it's against the Indians, and they're third in the AL in runs scored (526). I wouldn't start Lester here, but I'd own him. He's walked 10 batters in his last 19 minor league innings, so those issues aren't completely behind him. Lester and Kason Gabbard have to both be considered trade chips for the Red Sox.

Jonathan Broxton needs to be added in all leagues. Takashi Saito's shoulder is ambiguously injured. According to the Dodgers' website, Saito has compared the discomfort to disc issues he experienced while pitching in Japan. The fantasy community nervously awaits MRI results.

• One of the more foolish things you can do in fantasy is to win a category by a huge margin. Whether you beat the guy behind you by one or by 100, it's still just a point. If you'll return to those F&F league numbers above, you'll notice that I have an almost urgent need to trade away home runs (R and RBI, too). I'm 52 HR ahead of the guy with the third-most homers. I really need to deal. Pianowski has been acquiring players like he's Wayne Krivsky at a relief pitcher buffet, too.

• There's a fantastic discussion thread in the forums at Fantasy Baseball Cafe right now: "Worst Yahoo Player Profile Photos." It begins with the cheerful loopiness of Nick Swisher and Antonio Alfonseca, but quickly drifts into the haunting creepiness of Ryan Wagner and Vicente Padilla. It's well worth your time.

Andy Phillips is hitting .348 in July, and he's hit safely in 16 of his last 18 games. Any Yankee who's playing every day – even when they bat eighth or ninth – is worth a look. Jason Giambi isn't expected back until August. New York gets the Royals and Orioles this week.