I associate the word “punting” with failure. It’s because of football. If a team punts, they failed to get a first down. Their last offensive maneuver gives their defense a better chance.
When you punt in Roto fantasy baseball, you stop competing in a specific category. I wish that I could say punting is as cool as bluffing at cards by raising your bet, or as fierce as sacrificing a pawn for checkmate in chess. Heck, I’d like to say it’s as strategic as punting on the fourth down in football. But usually, it’s a bad idea. In a 12-team league, you have a chance to win 12 points in every category.
If you punt one, you’re already down 11 points from the outset. Why would we start a race by shooting ourselves in the foot? Also, when you take a hands-off approach to one category, it can lead to problems in other categories, especially if you’re not truly isolating the punt. Imagine punting ERA this year. That choice also drags down your WHIP (or even your Wins). It’s like that one law of ecology: you can never do one thing.
Nevertheless, I think short-term punting is a strategy, and you may use it to achieve greater focus elsewhere.
Punting as a Draft Strategy
Several years ago, I learned about the Marmol Strategy on the FantasyPros website. If you don’t know, this pitching strategy requires a manager to punt Wins and Strikeouts. Instead, you draft a bunch of closers (and ignore starting pitchers). These closers will own Saves, ERA, and WHIP. If successful, this gives you 38 points on the pitching side. It also allows you to prioritize offense early, so you can win every offensive category. This is possible because closers usually get drafted later.
It feels luxurious during a draft to ignore an entire position. If you can manage 10-12 points in each offensive category (50-60 points), that leaves you with 88-98 points overall. In my league, that’s usually enough to rank, even if I don’t get first place. Some people will take that. I tried the Marmol Strategy once for kicks, and it worked well for half the season, but with so few innings, everything was ruined with one bad outing. So my two punted categories affected several others because of the limited number of innings pitched.
This year, the Marmol Strategy is harder because people are drafting closers earlier than ever. We’ve got pocket closers in the first few rounds. In addition, out of the top 20 relievers in saves last year, seven of them had an ERA over 3.30. It is tough to guarantee complete dominance in ERA and WHIP.
Here’s a better short-term strategy. Find a category that can be isolated, like saves, and punt it in the draft – but not during the season. This works best if you play in a league that uses wavier priority instead of FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget). You must have waiver wire patience. It’s possible in FAAB leagues, but harder.
Why punt in the draft? What I remember most from the Marmol Strategy was the luxury of eliminating starting pitchers. While another manager is drafting a starting pitcher in the third round, I’m taking their top-50 hitter. It feels like jettisoning a ship to make it go faster.
Consider the possible advantage of punting saves during the draft in a year where closers will go at a premium. In your league, when does the big closer-run happen? Somewhere between Rounds 10-13? This year, it will happen earlier. Let everyone else have their closer, and take the top hitter or starting pitcher that they leave behind. Josh Hader (RP – MIL) and Liam Hendriks (RP – CWS) are going in Round 4 or earlier! By the time we reach Round 8, four more closers will disappear. Three more get picked by Round 10. Take a look at the players that you can grab in Round 4: Austin Riley (3B – ATL), Pete Alonso (1B – NYM), or Robbie Ray (SP – SEA). In the next batch, instead of Iglesias, you could get Jose Abreu (1B – CWS) or Joe Musgrove (SP – SD). You may have a chance to pick players that will have a greater impact on more categories.
Once the draft is complete, I’ll wait until I have top waiver priority, and then I’ll sit and watch for a closer to get injured or fail miserably, and I’ll pick up the promoted setup man. My first successful grab was Jordan Romano (RP – TOR) last year. It happens. Then you wait and do it again.
You can see it’s not a complete punt. It’s punting in the moment, with a strategy.
Punting Late in the Season
Sometimes, by the trade deadline, we realize that we’re not going to compete in a category. In fact, we’re not even going to overtake the manager who is right ahead of us in that category. If this happens, punt the category for the rest of the season. If you’re behind in saves and own a couple of closers, trade them to compete in winnable categories. (Warning: Do not make this decision too early. Baseball is a marathon, and you can gain ground late.)
This late-season punt is more like the football punt. You’re giving up, but you’re putting yourself in a better position to defend the other categories. The same philosophy works for the reverse of this strategy when you have a huge lead in a category. One year I had a 40 home-run lead so I traded power guys for closers and speed, and quickly gained points in those categories. Similarly, if you absolutely can’t compete somewhere, you might as well focus your energy elsewhere.
You should rarely punt, but if you do, make sure it gives you a clear advantage. If punting risks hurting you in other categories, it’s a bad strategy. Only punt categories that can be reasonably isolated.
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