Money in the bank! It's like taking candy from a baby! Many of you may have had these thoughts cross your path during the early stages of your draft this year. There he was, on your team. Like Gollum's ring, he was your own. Your ppreecciiouss!! That stud that you went all-in on. He had been consistent his entire career, and all of the other fools in the league are going to bow down to your managerial skills. He was going to be the savior to guide your team to a fantasy championship, he was going to hit .325 with 40 homers and 120 RBIs.
::Flash forward to May 10th::
What the hell happened?
Many of those same managers are now tearing their hair out in frustration that the same players who were supposed to be studs are absolutely killing their team. Although it's still relatively early in the season, many of the players who were projected in the top 20 overall have struggled mightly (headlined by someone whose name rhymes with Shalbert Drojols). What is a manager supposed to do? How long should someone wait on one of their stars before pulling the trigger on a trade or even going so far as to drop them entirely?
Fear not, for the Roto-Wizard is here with his big pointy hat and magic wand to attempt to help.
This isn't fantasy football
First and foremost, everyone needs to understand that patience is a virtue, especially regarding fantasy baseball. Managers who are used to playing fantasy football may have developed a quick trigger finger in regards to their team, and will be chomping at the bit to trade under-performing studs. Some folks don't get used to the drastic difference in length between the fantasy football (usually 13 weeks) and fantasy baseball season (20 week regular season, not including playoffs). Due to the extra two month window, you need to be much more patient with players that get off to a slow start.
On the other hand, if you know that a manager is apt to be rash and release players who are struggling and doesn't have the patience to let them develop, you might be able to work this to your advantage by using the classic buy-low, sell-high philosophy. Trading for a player when their value is at their lowest is a very smart idea, especially since what you will need to give up for them will be greatly reduced.
Experts aren't always correct
One of the pre-draft resources that I pretty much swear by is Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster. Along with having very good projections for most of the players that are fantasy-relevant (both current players and prospects), there is also a section of the book dedicated to "Gaming Research Abstracts", which are articles usually a page or two in length about a particular topic.
Shandler wrote one himself this year that caught my eye called "The Science of the First Round", which broke down the likelihood of a player who was projected to be in the top 15 actually reaching that mark. The truth was pretty alarming. Here are some highlights of the article:
- Two-thirds of players finishing in the Top 15 were not in the Top 15 the previous year
- Of those who were first-timers, fewer than 15% repeat in the first round the following year
- Established superstars who finish in the top 15 are not guaranteed to repeat
The article goes on to suggest that as a fantasy manager, you should trust your gut with players that you feel will bring you top value, despite their pre-season average draft position (ADP). Players who have career years are doomed to regress somewhat, and that you should anticipate lower numbers, both from coming back down to Earth, and from age.
Fact is, experts aren't always correct. If I take a snap shot of how ESPN's top 15 players are currently doing, some are struggling mightily.
Albert Pujols (Projected 2nd overall) .198 AVG, 10 R, 1 HR, 11 RBI
Jose Bautista (Projected 5th overall) .182 AVG, 16 R, 5 HR, 15 RBI
Robinson Cano (Projected 7th overall) .270 AVG, 17 R, 2 HR, 9 RBI
Jacoby Ellsbury (Projected 8th overall) .192 AVG, 4 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI
Justin Upton (Projected 9th overall) .235 AVG, 22 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI
Adrian Gonzalez (Projected 14th overall) .279 AVG, 16 R, 2 HR, 19 RBI
A lot of "studs" are off to slow starts, whether it be to injuries or other factors. Looking at this list above (save for Ellsbury, due to the amount of time that he'll miss with his injury) I have absolutely no doubts that the players will return to their natural productive states.
Players need time to get back into the "swing" of the season, or recover from injuries
I probably could have told you that Pujols would struggle with his first foray into the American League, especially during the month of April. He hadn't seen any of these pitchers before, he had to move his family across the country to live in a completely new city, the talent level was higher than the National League (I'm sorry, but it is overall) and he had to get used to playing on an entirely new team.
Players often need time to adjust to changes in both their life. Prime example? Pablo Sandoval struggled with an ugly child custody suit and had a terrible year in 2010, only to bounceback in 2011 and regain form. It took a DL stint for Joey Votto to get back into form after the death of his father. Life happens. If your star is struggling, and you know that it isn't due to an injury, keep an eye on what else might be an adjustment outside of baseball. Players are only human. Just like me and you- except with huge muscles and a boatload of money.
Players who start the year off with a minor injury might need several weeks to pull it all together. Justin Upton is just now starting to hit the ball well after he struggled in the beginning of 2012 with a thumb injury.
Adrian Gonzalez is working on getting his swing back into form, after coming off of shoulder surgery. His ability to not have a ton of "follow through" on his swing sapped his power, so he has been in the process of fine-tuning it to get everything back.
Bottom line? Make sure to give players who have adjustments (both in and out of baseball) time to get their heads and swings straight!
Some players are just slow starters
I could pretty much just type the name "Mark Teixeira" here and close the section, right?
For those of you who haven't had Maddening Mark (as I like to refer to him as) on your team previously, he pretty much disappears for the majority of April and May each year, only to turn into a one man wrecking crew by the time the fantasy playoffs get here. Adam LaRoche is another historically slow starter. It is never a bad idea to see if your stud has a history of starting off slow only to turn it on late.
So just how long should you wait?
Its very hard to point to a specific date and proclaim "If your player is still doing poorly by X date, you should look to drop or trade him". Obviously some factors need to be taken into consideration:
Generally, the higher that you drafted someone (or in the case of auction leagues, the more money that you spent on them) the longer you should wait. This is ESPECIALLY true regarding starting pitchers, who only really toe the mound once every 4th or 5th day. Unlike positional players, I find that they tend to take longer to get adjusted into the season. As a rule of thumb, I generally think something along the following lines:
- Players who were rated in the pre-season top 25 I'd wait until at least mid June to move them
- Players rated between 26-75 I'd wait until late May to move
- Players rated from 75-150 I'd wait until mid May to move
In auction leagues (operating on a $260 budget and I'll assume a 10-12 team league since they are the most common):
- If you spent $40+ dollars on the player, I'd wait until at least mid June to move them
- If you spent $30-40 I'd wait until late May
- If you spent $20 I'd wait until mid May
This of course assumes that your league isn't like mine where the stud players go in the $50+ range, which isn't normal. Auctions are a little harder to state according to dollar values since each should be treated as a separate entity. League rules and keepers play a part in values, so I stress the fact that the above is a very, very loose interpretation.
Also, keep in mind the following factors:
- Size DOES Matter -The smaller the league, the less time that you have to wait until you drop or trade an underperforming player. On the other hand, the larger the league the more time that I'd wait with a player to turn it around.
- Keeper Leagues - are a whole different breed of animal, especially with rookies who are struggling. I'll go with the example of Matt Moore this year. Remember how I said that if a person is experiencing some sort of change or transition that you will need to allow more time for the adjustment to occur? This is ESPECIALLY true in the case of a rookie, and I can't stress that enough. Making the jump from AA or AAA ball to the majors is an absolute HUGE adjustment talent-wise, so I'd wait on those players much longer. You don't want to be the idiot that drops Stephen Strasburg because you were impatient with him.
- Trust your gut - You might notice something that really bothers you about a particular player, or you might know that someone else in your league would still pay through the moon to acquire one of your struggling stars. Everyone in my eyes is tradeable, but it has to be for the right price.
Bottom line? PLEASE BE PATIENT!! Trust me when I say that it is much more gratifying to hold onto a stud and see him turn it around, rather than sell low and see someone else in your league reap the benefits.
If you are still struggling with the idea of getting rid of a player, please feel free to send me a tweet or e-mail (my contact information is at the top of the page) and I'll be happy to let you know my opinion.
Best of luck,
~ The Roto Wizard