In fantasy baseball, owners often take some heat from fellow owners when they elect to “stream” pitchers. Streaming is the act of essentially adding and dropping an entire rotation on a daily or weekly basis to maximize the number of starts and innings your pitching staff can amass. The theory behind this is that the more innings you throw, the more strikeouts your pitchers will get and the more starts you have and the more chances to get wins you have. The drawback of streaming arms is that you often suffer in the ERA and WHIP categories, though you can also strike gold and do really well in these categories. The more innings you pitch, the more likely your team will head in the direction of league averages.
In many styles of leagues, the practice of “streaming” is a strategic maneuver to win. If you play in a weekly league that rewards pitchers for strikeouts, wins (and often innings pitched) at a higher level than loses or runs allowed, it is worth the risk to trot out as many 2-start arms as you can. If you play in a daily league that is head-to-head category, you can pump up your strikeouts and odds of getting wins if you play a full rotation of starters every day or as full as possible. And in basically every roto league out there you will see owners streaming pitchers as the season comes to a close since most will be below any inning cap and want to try to make up ground in wins and strikeouts, while even poor performances will most likely do little to negatively impact their overall ERA and WHIP.
While streaming with pitchers appears to be a common theme, I don’t think I see as much discussion on streaming of hitters. Yet, especially in a roto league, this would appear to be a strategy that should be readily employed.
A typical 5×5 roto league uses batting average, runs, HR, RBI and steals as the 5 offensive categories. Four of these (or 80%) are simply counting categories. The MLB season runs over the course of 182 calendar days (not counting the 2 games in Australia to start the season). The MLB All-Star break will run from July 14 through July 17 (4 days off). This means that over the course of 178 days, MLB teams will play 162 games. This leaves 16 open days where a roster spot is open for a hitter on your team at a minimum. Championships are often won by a mere run (I should know, having finished ½ point out of a title last year, missing by 1 win or 3 RBI), so owners should maximize the number of at-bats they are getting to produce.
When you factor in players getting off-days, there could be 20+ days that you need to find a replacement hitter. I am assuming that most owners place injured players in DL slots and plug-in replacements there, but often hitters sit on the bench for 3-4 days trying to recover before hitting the DL officially. With a lot of uncertainty, how can owners be sure to maximize their at-bats by streaming hitters?
A lot of these decisions will have to be made in the draft room, and will ultimately shape your daily league strategy. If you are already content to stream pitchers, your strategy might be based on a rotation that does not include an ace but has 2 to 3 top-tier RP. Every day you add as many SP as you can, and don’t worry about the fact that you are often dropping very solid arms. When SP are not available you stock up on middle relievers who tend to get an inning or so every day. Transferring this sort of strategy to hitters could pay dividends. Your hitter streaming strategy may depend on your initial draft strategy. Here are 2 possible draft scenarios (load up on power hitters or load up on speed), then we will look at your streaming options.
Power Up: In this strategy, you focus all your draft capital on landing as many power hitters as you can (This is a strategy I employ in roto leagues). It may be too early to tell, but there appears to be a trend of fewer hitters reaching 25 HR in a season. Over the past 5 years, the total numbers of hitters to reach 25 HR in a season went from a high of 55 in 2009 to only 30 in 2013.
Looking back a few more years the trend is stretching from the “Steroid Era” when in 2004, 58 players hit more than 25 HR. In 2001, 65 hitters reached 25 HR, including Barry Bonds with 73, Sammy Sosa with 64, Luis Gonzalez with 57. In fact, in 2001, 12 players hit 40 HR and the 30-player cutoff would have been 34 HR (compared to 25 HR in 2013).
If you are going to stream hitters, it makes sense to load up on some elite power early in the draft since most streaming options will not be power hitters. If you land 3-5 players who hit 25 HR, you could take a large piece of the pie. Along with the HR, comes RBI and runs. The 30 players who hit 25 HR in 2013, combined to hit 918 HR, drive in 2,805 runs and score 2,446 runs. They averaged 81.53 runs scored, 93.5 RBI and 30.6 HR. The lowest batting average was Adam Dunn’s .219, while the highest was Miguel Cabrera at .348. 14 of the 30 hitters had an average above 0.275 (which is about the group average for these 30 hitters).
These hitters did not contribute much to steals with only 226 between them. Seven players did swipe at least 10 bases (Trout 33, Pence 22, Cargo 21, Alfonso Soriano 18, Goldschmidt 15, Adam Jones 14, Jayson Werth 10), but owners should look to add a few stolen base experts later in the draft or as streaming options during the season.
Burn Baby Burn: In this strategy, you elect to load up on speed in the draft. Looking over the past 5 seasons, here are the number of players who swiped 25+ bases.
By these numbers you can conclude that elite base stealers are more rare than power hitters, but if you compare to say 1985 when Vince Coleman stole 110 bases, there were still 32 players swiping 25+ bases. As much as the game may have changed since then, it appears that the number of base stealers may not have changed that much. In 2001 when Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, there were 31 players who stole 25+ bases.
Along with the stolen bases you would hope to get a good number of runs scored. In 2013, those 18 base stealers scored a total of 1,326 runs (an average of 73.67). That is nearly 8 fewer runs per player than the power hitters. The batting average across this group was not much better (.278 compared to .275). These speed demons averaged 10.67 HR (Trout, McCutchen and Carlos Gomez toping 20, while Eric Young and Jarrod Dyson hit 2 HR apiece).
Baseball Reference does a great job of tracking MLB league averages back to 1871. Taking a look at some league-wide statistics further illustrates why streaming hitters is a solid strategy. Since 1990, the average plate appearances per game has been less than 38 only once (in 2012 the average was 37.9). This means that most teams are going through their lineup 4 times in a game, meaning 4 plate appearances per batter. The league batting average has been between .253 and .271 over this period. Broadly speaking, you would expect your streaming hitter to get 4 plate appearances and probably a hit in any given game. Runs per game reached a high of 5.14 in 2000 and recently have settled in around 4.3 runs per game over the past 3 seasons. Essentially, each time through the lineup someone scores, giving you an 11% chance that your streamer scores a run. L eague averages for stolen bases per game was at a high of 0.78 in 1990, bottomed out at 0.53 in 2004 and 2005, and then climbed back to around 0.6 over the past 4-5 seasons. Meanwhile, HR/game have been no less than 0.94 since 2000. You have a 50% better chance of having your streamer hit a home run than stealing a base.
Streaming Strategy Considerations: Whether you load up on speed or load up on power in the draft, there are a few things to consider when deciding how to stream hitters.
One important thing I look for is multiple position eligibility for players on my roster. It is great to have a player who qualifies at 2B and SS, or 3B and SS, or 1B and OF. These additional flexibilities allow you to move them around when other players have off-days and leave room on your roster for other players.
A second consideration is whether you play CI/MI slots and how many OF positions you have. In a league with 4 OF, it is probably valuable to have an outfielder on your bench who you can plug-in at the last-minute. This player might be a stolen base guy, and you basically hope he can swipe a base anytime he is in your lineup.
It is also important to consider how a player is utilized by their team in a game situation. If your strategy is to stream players in the hopes of getting stolen bases, you may add a burner like Jarrod Dyson. However, the Royals may not start him so he may only get into the game in a pinch running situation. If the Royals never see that situation, Dyson never sees the field. The same can be said of power hitters who may not face a pinch-hitting situation. The best strategy is to add players who are in the starting lineup (as best as you can) ensuring several plate appearances in the game.
Finally, a classic mistake is to mismanage your bench. In a keeper league this is much easier to do than in a year-to-year league. As an example, I currently have Gregory Polanco and Javier Baez on the bench in my roto league. I am hoping they each get called up this year and are productive, and I could use them as trade chips or as keepers in the offseason. While I am playing to win the league this year, these roster spots might be better served with players currently on the free agent wire, say Marcus Semien and Jhonny Peralta.
Whichever strategy you employ in your leagues, I recommend considering streaming hitters. Happy Streaming.