The Importance of Tracking Your Early-Season Moves (Fantasy Baseball)
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I don’t know about you, but I tend to brush past bad experiences and focus on the good things in life. If we apply that logic to fantasy baseball, we see that most of us tout our good add/drops or trades to our friends, but we overlook what went wrong. However, reviewing both the good and the bad can make you a better fantasy player. Tracking your early-season moves can make you a better player during the dog days of summer, and going forward in the future.
One caveat: The strategies below apply to a normal, 162-game season. However, in a shortened season, fantasy owners need to act faster with less available data. In 2020, a lot of adds/drops will be made for you, given the likely spike in injuries and rapid increases/decreases in playing time.
Reasons for Drops
The main benefit of tracking early-season moves is to understand not only who you have added and dropped, but why you added or dropped them. The “why” is significantly more important, as it will help guide your future moves. Drops are typically made for the following reasons:
- Playing time decrease
- Poor performance
Injuries, well…we can’t do much about those. If your transactions are mostly injury-based, then you’re doing pretty well. An important note is that a decrease in playing time is not always correlated with poor performance. A star player could have been injured late in Spring Training, and the player you rostered to take over his playing time was always just a short-term fix anyway.
Dropping players due to poor performance, however, should be analyzed closely. Most early-season sample sizes are not stable enough to make conclusive decisions. For example, former Indians Corey Kluber and Edwin Encarnacion are notorious for being slow starters. If you traded these guys in generally any season aside from Kluber’s injury-plagued 2019, you likely regretted it. Below you’ll find key metrics and when their samples stabilize.
|Type||Metric||Time to Stabilize|
|Hitter||Strikeout rate||60 plate appearances|
|Hitter||Walk rate||120 PAs|
|Hitter||Barrel Rate||50 batted ball events|
|Pitcher||Strikeout rate||60 batters faced|
|Pitcher||Walk rate||170 BF|
|Pitcher||GB/FB rates||70 balls in play|
If you tend to drop players before any of these metrics start to stabilize, stop doing that. Immediately. There is plenty of time for a player’s true skill level to rise from the ashes with a subsequent positive regression to the mean. Similarly, if you’ve added players based on a week or two of strong surface-level numbers, those numbers are expected to negatively regress to the mean — unless that hitter (change in approach, swing path, etc.) or pitcher (change in mechanics, pitch mix, etc.) has made a significant change.
Positional and Category Trends
Are there certain types of positions that you drop quicker? For example, after tracking your April and May moves, you realize that you tend to drop more pitchers than hitters as a result of poor performance. That may be an indicator that you are worse at evaluating and drafting pitchers than hitters. Hey, we all have strengths and weaknesses. As a result, consider taking pitchers higher in the draft, since the data shows that you are better at getting value on hitters in the draft.
Similarly, your add/drops and trades in the early part of the season could reveal that you chased after certain categories that you lacked after the draft, such as steals or saves. Tracking your early-season moves may show that you did not emphasize targeting those values post-draft as much as you should have. Knowing this, you can now specifically target these categorical values throughout the remainder of the season.
Discovering this sooner than others in your league can give you an edge, and it can even put you over the top. If you did a good job of actually targeting those categories, but you are still coming up short, you can dive deeper into those moves by understanding why they didn’t work. Maybe you conclude that you weren’t looking at the right underlying metrics, the player didn’t get as much playing time as expected, or it was just dumb luck. If these are categories that you are having trouble with across multiple leagues or multiple years, it’s probably time to pay up for those positions at the draft.
Preparing for the Stretch Run
To piggy-back off the point above, tracking early-season moves across your spectrum of leagues will help you understand what you do well in and what you can improve on. Further, it will also help you understand which moves were good for your team, and which moves left a lot to be desired. For example, if you picked Eduardo Escobar off waivers in 2017 or 2018, you knew that that move paid off in the long run. Understanding what made that a good move (low strikeout rate, consistent line drive rate with an optimal launch angle for homers), can help you target similar players down the road.
Taking the time to review what your past self did well — and not so well — can pay dividends down the road. Your future self will thank you.