In two different roto leagues this year, I’ve seen a team jump out to a seemingly insurmountable lead. In both of those leagues, that team is now in a real fight.
In sports, runaway leads are not necessarily a good thing. The last thing you ever want to do is get comfortable.
I’d like to relay something that I’ve observed as a fan regarding my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants, and their last four playoff appearances.
2000: 97-65 record, National League West Champions, best record in the majors, clinched playoff spot early. Lost 3 games to 1 in the Divisional Series to the Mets.
2002: 95-66 record, National League Wild Card winners. Clinched playoff spot on second to last day of the season. Advanced to World Series before losing a seven-game series to the Angels.
2003: 100-61 record, National League West Champions, second best record in the National League. Clinched playoff spot early. Lost 3 games to 1 in the Division Series to the Marlins
2010: 92-70. National League West Champions. Clinched playoff spot on last day of the season. Won the World Series.
If you’ll notice, the two years where they were in a race until the end of the season, they made deep playoff runs. In the two years where a playoff spot was officially clinched with about two weeks remaining and effectively clinched by mid-August, they didn’t show up in the playoffs. That’s not to take anything away from the teams that beat them, but the Giants were heavily favored in those series.
As a fan, I believe that in 2000 and 2003, they got so comfortable early on and didn’t really have the ability to turn the switch back on when the playoffs rolled around. Conversely, in 2002 and 2010, their opponents fell into a similar trap as the Giants in 2000 and 2003, where the Giants were so used to the heat of a playoff race that the adjustment to the playoffs wasn’t that great. They were already in must-win games for most of September.
In this case, the comparison to fantasy baseball is easy.
If you jump out to a big lead, you almost forget how long the baseball season and fall into a trap. No, you don’t have any say over how your players perform, but you do have a lot of say in what players are on your team and what ones aren’t.
So, where the people behind you are looking for trades and searching the waiver wire in hopes to improve their teams, you’re wrapped up in your big lead, which is giving you a false sense of security.
Who really cares if one of my top players is struggling? I’m still in first place. Or, yeah, that team behind me is making some progress, but I still have a big lead. There’s no need for me to make any moves to keep my own momentum.
That kind of logic works fine if the season ends on June 15. But the baseball season is very long, meaning that while the deficits may be great, the time given to make up said deficits is also great.
If you aren’t starting off in first place, or you’re in first place but with a small lead, you’re constantly trying to improve your team and keeping an eye on the teams around you. With a big lead, it’s too easy to fall into a trap.
Now, I understand that some of you may be saying something like, “Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I can’t say that I don’t understand that approach, but be very careful with it.
If you had a star like Albert Pujols who had an abysmal start to the season but still managed a big lead, then I can see not really looking to improve your team. Even if some of your other players were over-performing early and will fade late, you have to know that a guy like Pujols is going to perform to the numbers on the back of his card, more or less.
On the other hand, a player like Alex Rodriguez is at a different spot of his career. He’s still an effective player, but injuries and age have taken their toll on him. So, if you had him early on surrounded by other early achievers, you’d be foolish to think that he’ll bump his numbers up at the end while the others fall back towards normal. Chances are pretty good in May that he’ll spend some time on the DL throughout the season, which he has. Besides, even if he didn’t get hurt, he’s just not anything close to the Triple Crown threat that we got used to seeing. As Clave has pointed out, you need to know what year you’re in and not get stuck in the past.
Another situation to be constantly afraid of is that one of your stars will get hurt. For example, let’s say that you built a big 2012 lead on the strength of a big start from Matt Kemp. What can possibly go wrong? After all, the guy seems like not only a legit Triple Crown threat, but someone that can also nab 40-50 bases in the process.
You want another situation? Look at Josh Hamilton. He was a real Triple Crown threat early. If you had him carrying the team, you were golden. Well, now he’s hit a bit of a slump and isn’t the kind of guy that will carry a fantasy team.
If you fall into any of the last three groups, you’ve fallen into a false sense of security and are probably in a much tighter race than you thought you’d be in at this point. I’m guessing that you got overconfident, saw why that was a bad idea, while your rivals were finding ways to improve.
Now, I am not saying that you shouldn’t look at the standings early. That’s not only effectively impossible, but also just a bad idea. But you should always run your team as though you’re in a race. The top is a lonely place to be, as you are in the cross hairs of every one of your league’s rivals. Running your team as though you’re in a race gives your opponents a moving target to chase. If your rivals don’t know what they have to do and you have a big lead, you’re going to win the league and probably easy. But if you stay stagnant and give others a clear view of what they need to do, you’re going to get caught.