We're just over 80 days from the end of the MLB season, which means there's limited time to make a run and win your league.
What are some important tips for fantasy managers at this time of the season if they're in contention for a title?
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Categorical standings could not be any more important in Rotisserie formats -- whether seasonal or head-to-head -- at this stage of the season. Where you stand in each department has almost everything to do with your planning.
Addressing seasonal first, where evaluating the standings is paramount, a first-place team up two points on the competition could in one league have a virtually clear path to the title, simply by virtue of having the right stats in the right categories -- say, in first place in four hitting categories with handy leads in each. On the other hand, a first-place team in another league could be in severe danger of falling out of the lead overnight with a seventh-place seasonal floor, simply by being bunched up in a good number of categories -- say, in third place in every hitting category but with five home runs, eight RBIs, six runs scored and four stolen bases separating second from ninth place in those individual categories.
It's a good idea to do a comprehensive categorical analysis, certainly before your league's trade deadline (this has unfortunately passed in ESPN standard leagues), determining four things:
Your statistical ceilings in each category (what's the highest slot your current roster could realistically achieve) as well as overall.
Your statistical floors in each category (conversely, what's the lowest you might finish) as well as overall.
Do you have a roster surplus that should be cashed in now for other helpful pieces?
A rough estimate of your competition's high/low points. One thing this will do is show whether your team needs a more conservative approach -- "safer" players, less risks and merely protecting categories, or more aggressive, taking higher-risk, greater-reward players in order to make quicker, larger moves upward.
I always caution fantasy managers: Be more accepting of what might seem "unbalanced" trades in a Rotisserie league, because what might look like a poor deal for one team might be a smart one. A trade of Miles Mikolas for Mallex Smith, for example, might not seem fair on the surface, until realizing that the team getting Smith can gain 5-6 points in the stolen base categories but doesn't stand to gain much by Mikolas' low-strikeout skill set. That applies to add/drops, too, where a team in good shape in the stolen base category might be apt to add Mark Trumbo for Smith (though steals tend to be one of the easiest categories to deal this time of year).
If it's a head-to-head categories league, addressing categorical strengths and shortcomings is a little less important, though it's still a worthy exercise that'll help determine if you have any weak spots heading into the playoffs. As with any head-to-head league, mind your pitchers who could be nearing "innings limits" for the season, a group that could include Luke Weaver and Freddy Peralta, as well as currently DL'ed players whose teams could wind up shutting them down due to being out of contention, such as Michael Fulmer, Tyler Skaggs and Jeff Samardzija.
One handy exercise to consider in head-to-head: Contrast your seasonal totals in each category to your potential playoff competition, perhaps even using the seasonal Rotisserie formula to run a rough "point total" for the teams you see as playoff contenders. Where would you stand, compared merely to those teams? Is there a categorical strength or weakness that stands out, which might be exploited in a seven-day matchup? Now's a smart time to address those problem areas.
AJ Mass: There's an old saying in sports as playoff time comes rolling around each season and that is to "dance with the one that brought you." In other words, there's no need to go looking to make drastic changes to a lineup or roster that has gotten you to the point where you are in contention for a fantasy championship. That said, tinkering on the edges can well end up being the thing that tips the scales in your favor.
To that end, in points leagues, I'd look to players who fall short in certain statistics and, if there's a better option on the waiver wire who can take over that lineup spot, I'd make the move. For hitters, I'd consider cutting/benching any player who has both a wOBA under .300 and a BB/K below 0.33. Guys like Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, Tim Anderson, Dee Gordon and Kevin Pillar all need to be scrutinized very carefully by fantasy managers in points formats.
On the pitching side of things, I would limit my staff to no more than three solid SP, use 1-2 spots to stream any really strong matchups on a given day (waiver wire options facing the Orioles or Mets, for example) and load up the rest with relievers. At this point of the season, you may not find any closers to add to your roster, but there should be plenty of overlooked solid relief options that should be on fantasy teams down the stretch over iffy starters.
Look to guys who sit among the holds leaders who also have a K/BB rate around 3.50 or greater like Archie Bradley, Adam Ottavino, Tony Watson, Tommy Hunter, Alex Colome and Amir Garrett. While none of these guys is all that valuable individually, using your bench to combine several of these options into 1-2 daily lineup spots can often help you outscore another team that's filling that same slot with Mike Clevinger-types.