For those of you who are scuffling in the middle to bottom of your head-to-head (H2H) league standings, I've got some great news. In my first season of playing fantasy baseball (5x5, H2H) several years ago, I was still feeling my way around the game and was consequently struggling. My hitting was below average and I just wasn't getting quality starts from my pitchers. As a result, I considered it a good week when I broke even in the 10 categories. Then, at about the midway point of the season, I stumbled upon a strategy that would help lead me to four consecutive finals appearances (including that year) and back-to-back league titles – steaming pitchers.
Steaming is defined as constantly adding and dropping starting pitchers on a daily basis. Fantasy baseball veterans probably have a good idea of what I'm talking about. And for those of you who are unfamiliar with this method of play, you'd be well served to read further. Granted, the strategy works best if you're playing in a daily H2H league, since there is typically an innings limit for pitchers in a rotisserie format. But a modified steaming tactic could also be very effective for the roto player. The focus of this article will be with the H2H league member in mind.
A basic concept of steaming is simple – no starting pitcher on your staff is sacred. In other words, once he's locked into your lineup for a particular day, you drop him to pick up a replacement. That's right, even if he throws a no-hitter, he becomes fair game for the rest of your league. Sound insane? It's far from it. In fact, if you're competing for the five traditional fantasy pitching categories (wins, strikeouts, saves, ERA, WHIP), it's the percentage play. The strategy angle is to drastically improve your chances at winning the first three aforementioned categories each week. As the year rolls on, those statistical victories add up.
To meet your steaming goals, however, you must do your best to accomplish the following:
A) Own a solid bullpen – Since "saves" is a category that you're looking to secure each week, you must have the horses in your bullpen to do it. Possessing at least three quality closers is a must, although four is preferred.
B) Get to know your resources – The one challenge with steaming is knowing for certain that your pitcher of choice for a given day will actually pitch. Rainouts occur and managers can occasionally make life miserable for the steamer with rotation changes, especially during the regular season's final weeks. Find multiple web site sources and determine which ones are typically the most accurate when it comes to probable pitchers for the following day.
C) Look at past performances and matchups – As a steamer, you'll become more familiar with major league pitching staffs than if you were to sit with the same starters throughout the year. Take advantage of it. Study recent performances and use caution when picking up a guy who has gotten whacked around in his most recent outings. Also, look at matchups against opposing teams (How has he fared against this opponent for his career? And who is pitching for the opposition?); the site of the game (Is he starting in hitter-friendly Coors Field or pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium? What are the weather forecasts?); and the current status of his team (Is he pitching for the Devil Rays or the red-hot Athletics?). Depending upon the amount of steamers in your league, there might not be much to choose from in the free agent pool. But remember this important steamer adage: Throwing one body out there is better than no body at all (even if a pitcher doesn't win, he could still earn some strikeouts for your team).
D) Don't panic over losing ERA and WHIP – It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the more starts you accumulate each week, the worse chance you have at winning ERA and WHIP. Look at it this way…your main goal from the beginning is to win three of the five pitching categories. Victories in ERA and WHIP, which are not impossible for the steamer to attain, can be a welcome bonus. This is not to say that your three sought-after pitching points are guaranteed each week, but the odds of winning them have turned heavily in your favor.
E) Get plenty of rest – Steaming is not for the faint of heart. The successful steamer is required to expend a tremendous amount of time and energy while perfecting his craft, thereby giving him a significant statistical edge over his non-steaming opponent. And if you're matched up against a fellow steamer, an intense battle is sure to follow, further sharpening your steaming skills.