Roto Arcade: Beyond the draft

At this point, we've basically found every possible way to recommend Billy Butler. There have been columns and videos. We've discussed him in radio segments. We'll be canvassing and phone-banking this weekend, and Butler surrogates have been dispatched to important swing states. Will.i.am has produced a stirring tribute (or at least we believe this to be his work).

Every player you need to know for fantasy purposes, from Abreu to Zumaya, has been ranked and re-ranked. They've been primed, and they've been mock-drafted. There's not much else we can do by way of draft-prep. It's time to start thinking about how to actually manage your team.

In all likelihood, you didn't draft well enough to take the next six months off. You can't remain inert and expect to win a fantasy league. (Unless you're me and the league in question is Brad Evans' Y! H2H Invitational, where an epic mauling is about to begin. And even there, in a league in which the virtual trophy is already being virtually engraved, I've already made four adds and a trade).

Today we'll discuss a few in-season roto management principles, and next week we'll venture into the somewhat more complicated area of head-to-head strategy. Rotisserie scoring obviously doesn't allow you to administer the weekly beat-downs that many of us find so entertaining; it does, however, have its moments. There are things you can do at various points during the season – beyond simply making the right adds and drops – that will give you a better chance to win your league.

The first of these things involves not listening to fantasy experts …

Don't wait to address obvious needs
Many fantasy writers will insist that it's imprudent to make significant roster moves before June 1. This advice is generally based on the assumption that you can't possibly know what your category or positional needs will be for another ten weeks.

But if you can't even imagine right now what categories you'll need to address, then you've either had a dead-on perfect draft or you're not a particularly good fantasy owner, and you're suffering from a failure of imagination. Most of us recognize fairly quickly – perhaps even mid-draft – the categories that are likely to be weaknesses. And in roto, the stats you accumulate (or fail to accumulate) in April and May are worth just as much as the stats you accumulate in August and September.

This is a massive difference between roto and head-to-head scoring. In a head-to-head league, once you've qualified for the playoffs, the first five months of the season are essentially erased. All that will matter is the next match-up. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that the entire purpose of the regular season is to construct a roster that will be great from Sept. 15 through Sept. 28, in the championship round.

The owner who wins your roto league will have had the best roster over the full arc of the regular season. It's not enough to simply finish strong. If you failed to draft stolen bases, then Jose Reyes is more valuable to your team today – with all 70-something steals ahead of him – than he will be on June 1. If you neglected saves, then Billy Wagner is as valuable to your team right now as he's ever going to get. Don't wait to fix clear deficiencies.

Reach the games-played and innings-pitched maximums, or at least get close
In exactly the same way that you shouldn't have $25 left over at the end of an auction, you shouldn't have 25 innings left un-pitched at the end of the roto season. That's a great way to lose a competitive league.

The default maximums for games and innings can be found right here, within the fantasy rules. Every non-pitching roster spot gets 162 games, and your pitching staff gets 1250 innings. If you fall short of those maximums, you're just giving away counting stats. And if you're giving away stats, then you're going to give away rotisserie points.

You'll find that 1250 innings isn't really such a difficult number to reach. Don't waste those innings on pitchers with poor ERAs, WHIPs and strikeout totals. The absolute last thing you need on a rotisserie pitching staff is Dontrelle Willis' 2007 season: over 200 IP with fewer than 150 Ks, and atrocious ratios (5.17 ERA, 1.60 WHIP). You don't want innings-eaters; instead, you want talent.

There is one small loophole within the games and innings limits that's worth noting: "All players active on the day a maximum is reached will receive credit for their stats."

This means that if you enter the day with 1249 innings pitched, it could very well be in your best interests to drop every pitcher on your staff and add a few probable starters. All numbers accumulated on the day you reach 1250 IP are yours to keep, whether they're good or bad.

There's more than one way to increase a lead
In roto leagues, sometimes the best deal you can make is one that negatively impacts a competitor. It's often easier to accomplish this than it is to negotiate a trade that directly helps your rank in any given category.

We mentioned this tactic last season, and the feedback was not entirely supportive. Many of you consider it outside the boundaries of fair play to make any sort of transaction that is not exclusively about the betterment of your roster. But in rotisserie leagues, that's a bit impractical. If you're in a fierce competition for points with another owner, you need to think about the consequences that any transaction will have on the league standings – not simply your place in the standings, but also theirs.

You shouldn't dump talented players in order to somehow disrupt competitive balance, of course. That's specifically outlawed. But you'll notice that the fantasy rules state that transactions should be executed with the goal of "improving the owner's team and/or its standing within the league." (Emphasis mine).

Oftentimes, the best way to improve your standing within the league will be to make a deal that hurts, say, Scott Pianowski at least as much as it helps you.

Avoid the category extremes
This isn't to say that you shouldn't win a category, and thus earn the maximum number of points. We're only saying that it's not necessary to win a category by a wide margin.

If the team in second-place in home runs has 280, then every homer your squad hits beyond No. 281 will be superfluous. If you win a few categories by huge margins yet lose your league, it's safe to say you didn't manage your team very well. Clearly you had surpluses to deal, but either failed to identify them, or failed to find the right trading partner and execute a deal.

If you intend to punt a category altogether, you'll have very little margin for error elsewhere. You'll also find that it's basically impossible to un-punt. If you ignore saves, for example, you're likely to fall far enough behind by mid-season that the effort required to move from one point to two is monumental, and ultimately destructive. There's rarely a tiny gap between the last-place team in a category and the next-to-last-place team.

If you choose to give away 11 points in March, well … suit yourself. Just don't try to get any of them back.

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