Some of this advice may seem a little repetitive to some of you, but I’m okay with that. I know that in addition to being fantasy players, most of you are serious baseball fans. Still, I know a few who like fantasy more than the actual game itself, and even as a die-hard fan, something really struck me on Thursday night (August 30) as I was watching the Giants and Astros play. What really occurred to me was this: This game would likely be a lot different from a fantasy perspective if it was two days later. Allow me to elaborate.
Take a look at the line of Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong from the game in question.
Six innings pitched, seven hits, four runs (all earned), one walk, seven strikeouts.
Not a perfect line by any means, but Vogelsong also picked up the win, which makes things look a lot prettier. Now, the Giants’ bullpen was a little worn out, as the night before, Barry Zito had not made it out of the third inning. In that game, every bullpen pitcher not named Sergio Romo appeared for the Giants, so they were a little tired and reliant on Vogelsong to go at least six.
But if this game was played on September 1, the Giants would have had as many as 15 extra players on the roster, and I’m sure a fair amount of them would have been pitchers. While I don’t know exactly what Bruce Bochy would have done in this hypothetical situation, I can imagine that when Tyler Greene cracked a solo homer in the third inning, Vogelsong’s night would have been done. Now, let’s take a look at what the line would have looked like.
Two innings pitched, five hits, four runs (all earned), no walks, one strikeout.
Of course in this situation, Vogelsong would not have recorded a win either.
Now, Vogelsong’s actual line was still not pretty. A one-start ERA of 6.00 and WHIP of 1.33 won’t exactly be pretty to your pitching line, it’s not hard to make up. Case in point, on the same night, I had Edwin Jackson on my fantasy team. He went eight innings, allowed four hits, one earned run, two walks, and recorded 10 strikeouts. So, between the two, this was my pitching line for Thursday night.
14 innings pitched, 11 hits, five earned runs, three walks, 17 strikeouts, and two wins.
So, I had a 3.21 ERA and 1.00 WHIP between the two. No complaints. But, if this was September and Vogelsong had been pulled when I assume he would have, this is how his start would have averaged out with Jackson’s gem.
10 innings pitched, nine hits, five earned runs, two walks, 11 strikeouts, one win.
Ironically, the WHIP would still be a nice 1.10, but the ERA would be a much less clean 4.50.
Alright, we’ve done the math, now let’s get to the overall point of it.
The league in question is a head-to-head league, so it wouldn’t take too much to jack my ERA and WHIP up to a pretty high level if I had that line. When you consider that that team also had Jose Quintana who got shelled that day (3.2 innings, seven hits, five earned, one walk, one strikeout), I would likely be in a spot where I’d be punting two categories. The extra four innings out of Vogelsong (give or take a few hitters) really made things a lot more manageable.
As a basic rule, teams are in one of two boats right now.They’re either contending for a playoff spot and aren’t going to be too patient with a struggling veteran, or they’re out of contention and want to give the young guys a look and see the September roster expansion as the perfect time to do that.
So as a starting pitcher, you really don’t have a lot of time to get going on a given day. The manager’s job is to do what’s best for the team, not the individual player. When he has a deeper bullpen at his disposal, what’s best for the team is to get the struggling pitcher to the showers ASAP.
So, if you’re in a head-to-head league, you’re now very close to the playoffs. When you’re setting your pitching rotation up for the week, my advice to you is to be very careful. Now obviously you can’t neglect categories like wins and quality starts and go with a small rotation. Even if you could, that would be an incredible gamble, as one bad outing could seriously inflate the ERA and WHIP. But just remember that by and large, pitchers are not going to be given the same opportunity that Vogelsong had to straighten things out. They have a deeper bullpen and in the case of NL pitchers, more potential pinch hitters.
That doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop doing Dixon’s Picks. Streaming is an oft-used strategy and if you’ve been using it all year, I doubt you’re in much of a position to stop now. But generally a part of taking these guys for a start or two is gambling. Now, you have to be a little more certain.
Remember, in the above situation, I was talking about Ryan Vogelsong. While he’s struggled a little bit over the last month, Vogelsong still sports a sub 3.00 ERA and with a decent September should at least generate some Cy Young votes (though right now, my vote would go to Johnny Cueto). Dixon’s Picks guys generally don’t have Vogelsong’s production.
Again, be careful. Know your categories. Know that pitchers aren’t going to be on a long leash, so a bad start to the game could now result in some terrible numbers. Don’t give up on the strategies that got you here, but just like real baseball, remember that everything is magnified. If you make a bad decision in June, it doesn’t really stand out. By the end of the year, you probably won’t even remember it. But if you make the same mistake in September it could be the difference between winning and losing a championship.
When you consider that the mistakes pitchers make are also magnified, the best advice is to keep your poker chips a little closer to you. It’s still okay to push them to the middle of the table and yeah, you may get burnt if that happens. Just be sure that if you go down, you go down with your best and not a dumb bluff that was easily read.