Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2017 Fantasy Baseball: Upside vs. Winning Playing Time

Senior Fantasy Baseball Expert explains the difference between upside players and winning playing time to help you understand his thought process when attempting to DOMINATE your league!

My head as a Fantasy player is full of thoughts and comments that may only be relevant to my little world. In the past, my waiver wire piece used this line “The toughest decisions for Fantasy owners to make will be deciding on upside talent and winning playing time”. My editor pointed out to me that this wasn’t a common thought process and it would be helpful if I defined more clearly my thought process on this idea.

In Fantasy baseball, I believe it is each Fantasy owner’s job to build a solid foundation to their Fantasy team in their drafts with a focus of gaining edges in categories whenever possible. To accomplish this, a Fantasy owner needs to have a strong feel for the player pool, the draft flow, and the quality of your competition.

With this idea in mind, the two important aspects of drafting to me over the last few years have been the dual ace theory and 75/75 goal for batters.

By having dual aces, a Fantasy owner is trying to gain an edge in ERA, WHIP, and Ks with the hopes of the wins falling in line. Each year the player inventory will change, which leads to changes in draft flow. At the same time, the overall quality of hitters and pitchers will fluctuate. Based on available talent, a Fantasy owner will need to identify the starting pitchers he or she believes offers the biggest edge. Once targets have been discovered on the pitching side, the Fantasy owner will need to merge his thoughts with his plan to build the start of his offense. Again the goal by drafting dual aces is setting a strong foundation in the four pitching categories.

The change of player flow and the weakness in hitting inventory has led to the 75/75 theory moving into the second position in my draft plan. My goal in each draft from a hitting prospective for my top three batters in finding edges at positions plus building a five category balance core to start my team. I’m looking to draft three players who will give me about 75 home runs and 75 stolen bases plus strength in batting average. Each draft slot will offer different opportunities so a Fantasy owner will need to be creative to accomplish these goals.

With this plan for hitting, I would like to draft a solid .300 hitter with a 100/30/100 skill set, a nice balance 20/20 type player with a positive batting average, and an edge base stealer with 10 to 15 HR power. In 2005, this start would be ideal – Manny Ramirez (.292 with 112 runs, 45 HRs, 144 RBI, and 1 SBs), Carl Crawford (.301 with 101 runs, 15 HRs, 81 RBI, and 46 SBs), and Bobby Abreu (.286 with 104 runs, 24 HRs, 102 RBI, and 31 SBs). I know this start was impossible to accomplish that year in drafts as all three players were being selected in the first round, but the overall player pool offered more comparable pieces to build a strong foundation.

In 2017, the target batting average for your lead batters is much lower plus the overall targets in hitting are less. Due to the change of inventory, a Fantasy owner will have many different paths to execute this plan on the hitting side. Maybe the 75/75 bar is too high, but it can be done from certain draft positions.

By building a base to all five categories in hitting, a Fantasy owner will have more paths to the finish line to complete his or her roster. The owners needs to get a fair share of 20 HR hitters and a couple more 30 SB players. Ideally. I’d like to roster three batters that have a chance at 30+ home runs and three batters with the ability to steal 30+ bases. A player like Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, or Jonathan Villar almost count as double base stealers while offering a negative in other categories.

With the idea of having a strong foundation on the batting and pitching side, a Fantasy owner will need to get solid at bats at all other positions and serviceable innings on the pitching side to reach his or her goals in each category. With this in mind, I’ll swing back to the idea of upside talent and winning playing time.

The ultimate goal is for your upside talent to get the winning playing time that your team needs, but the major-league teams don’t play their game to help Fantasy owners. At this same time, young players don’t develop as quickly as Fantasy owners think they will.

On one of my rosters in a high stakes league, I have Jose Berrios, Luis Severino, Chris Devenski, and Eduardo Rodriguez on my bench. I have an elite ace (Clayton Kershaw) with a 2nd pitcher I consider an upside ace (Julio Teheran) plus Matt Harvey. With only one closing option (Jeurys Familia), I have the core to a winning pitching staff if I can fill the middle of my rotation with solid innings plus find the secondary saves.

Now, this is where winning or losing can happen. Did I draft enough pitching depth to make this easy? Did I identify the backend upside arms that will get jobs early in the season to help make my staff elite? Did I leave too big of a hole in saves to compete in that category?

I gambled and lost on Shawn Kelley as my second closer and it appears he will be launched to the free agent pool next week. My other shots on saves are Matt Bush, Juan Nicasio, and Hector Rondon. Bush looks positioned to get a “winning opportunity” with Sam Dyson sucking the life out of the Rangers’ chances three times already, but Matt developed a sore shoulder this past weekend. Both of my other options for saves look weak so I need to keep an open eye on the options identified in this week’s closer reports on Scout.

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The lack of a second closer does create a window to bank some wins and Ks with hopefully plus innings. Due to my chase for saves, I only have one extra starter (Jose Berrios) who is currently in the minors. He did throw six shutout innings with seven Ks in his first minor league start so his ticket to the majors should be punched by the end of the month.

With a Kershaw based foundation of my pitching staff, I need to avoid disaster at the backend of my pitching staff. I have the right mix of upside, but will they give me enough innings? Is it more important to chase some veteran arm to stabilize the backend of my rotation? Here’s a look at all my starting pitchers:

  • Clayton Kershaw
  • Julio Teheran
  • Matt Harvey
  • Robbie Ray
  • Eduardo Rodriguez
  • Luis Severino
  • Shelby Miller
  • Jose Berrios

I’d love to think I won’t need to add another starter for a while. The key is for me to pace over four wins and 55 Ks per week in 15 team leagues. In leagues with only one day to set your lineup and 9 pitching slots, the target number to be in the top 20 percent in wins is about 104, which works out to four wins per week over the 26-week baseball season. League size will change this target number slightly. In strikeouts, the target number based on the NFBC Main event in 2017 (15 team leagues) is about 1400 (54 per week). This number will move to 1450 Ks in 12 team leagues. Your target for Ks will be slight higher if you play in a 10 team league.

Based on these two targets, my aces and two reliever slots hopefully deliver 575 to 600 Ks (Kershaw and Teheran = 450 Ks plus Familia and player to be found = 150 Ks). For me to reach my goal in Ks, I’ll need to get about 170 Ks per pitcher for my other five pitching slots. With each week that I use my 7th pitching slot for a 3rd closer, I’m raising the target number for strikeouts and wins for my other four pitchers. This is where a Fantasy owner will need to be on his or her toes when trying to find a balance in wins, Ks, and SVs while continuing to keep ERA and WHIP in line.

I’m hoping you have a better mental picture of what it takes to win on the pitching side plus help you understand you’re pitching inventory on your roster.

Based on my current roster, I need to make sure I maximize starts in the 5th and 6th slot on my team to help offset the use of a 3rd closer at some point later in the season if I even find that closing option. By having more pitching useable in my pitching inventory, I’ll have a much better chance to execute my game plan.

Now back to the quandary that I was originally talking about. I like my upside arms at the backend of my rotation and on my bench, but I may need more starts to reach my goals. On the waiver wire this week, I had a chance to pick up Matthew Boyd, C.C. Sabathia, Scott Feldman, Hector Santiago, and Derek Holland. The inventory is pretty thin in 15 team leagues especially in a non-trading format. Of these options, only Matt Boyd is a player I would view with upside even with disaster risk. Sabathia and Feldman are inning eaters at best with a chance to add some wins and Ks.

So here it is, do I cut an upside arm with no present value for a double starter? Do I view Boyd’s talent higher than Sabathia, Feldman, Holland, or Santiago?  With each week that passes, if my team falls behind in wins and Ks, I’ll have less time and limited pitching slots to overcome my shortfalls. So I’m presented with keeping upside talent or adding pitchers that will give me chances at wins and Ks. If I identify the right free agent pitchers to add to my roster, I will be adding players who have a chance to give me winning playing time (active starts).

Without going through the long winded version for hitters, I cut right to the chase. If I drafted the right team structure on the offensive side, I may only need at bats with minimal upside in power and speed to reach some of the counting targets in runs and RBI.

Byron Buxton is an exciting young talent who played great last September, but he does still have failure risk due to his high K rate. His skill set is very attractive when he arrives, but will he make an impact in the majors this year? And will he end up delivering favorable stats? With my bench roster constructed to carry upside arms, I can’t really carry Buxton or even Yoan Moncada if I drafted either players.

The owners that drafted Buxton are in a tough spot as they now need to find a replacement for him in their starting lineup while pushing him to the bench. His talent screams upside, but he could be a black hole on your bench for a month or so with trip back to the minors being a strong possibility. In this case with any other outfield injury, a Fantasy owner must pick up a playable outfielder just to get at bats plus replace Buxton. In this scenario, winning playing time could be worth more than the upside player.

Winning or losing in the Fantasy baseball happens over a series of decisions from draft day through the season via the waiver wire. A successful season will be the result of your players playing well and staying health plus finding a balance between current needs and long term upside. In the end, we can’t win without winning playing time from all areas of the game.


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