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Saves and steals: an Adjustment in Perception

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. It is estimated that 6,775 people pass-away daily within the US. Some lives have been better lived than others, but at the end of the day, they all have a story to be told. Most stories become footnotes in your local newspapers, while a very select few are given front page recognition. Does this headline treatment make one’s life better than another? Hardly. The special recognition is more often caused by a level of notoriety or celebrity that creates a social differentiation.

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With the half-way bookmark of the All-Star game having passed, the fantasy season is now heading into the home stretch. If success has not found you to this point, I would not be expecting a package to be sitting on your doorstep Monday morning. For those in contention, now is the time to become overly critical of your team. Focus on your need areas, find your areas of strengths, and pull from those strengths to fix your weakness. A concept that sounds simple enough, but it can be very difficult to implement.

Just four months ago we all invested countless hours ranking players in a manner we saw fit. This time commitment along with the valuing process subconsciously forms player preferences in which we become married to. This loyalty, if you will, is an admitted weakness of mine. That isn’t to say I don’t alter my player values as the season progresses. Where I struggle is separating my team context from my personal preferences and choosing what is better for my “team” rather than getting the better player. Effectively, implementing this method of thinking could provide you with the differentiation needed to finish on top of the coveted standings.

Two areas in which I feel this very practice is magnified is in stolen base threats and save earners. Without question, these two statistics are the most unique skill-sets in fantasy. A home run hitter feeds into 4 standard roto categories with one swing of the bat. A SB threat could essentially be a one hit wonder. Even if the batter gets on via a hit there’s no guarantee that 3rd category (runs) will be impacted. While a Closer is more job-related than a skill-set, the lack of multi-category assistance is much the same. It is this limited appeal that leads to such a decisive divide in how they are valued among league owners.

Let’s begin with Stolen Base threats.

Would you believe that it has been more than a decade since double-digit players have swiped 40 or more bags? Not since 2013 has more than four players accomplished the feat, and 2009 was the last time a player swiped 70 bags or more in a season. Flash forward to 2017 – while we won’t see many 40 stolen base options, there is a chance that more than four could surpass the mark. Dee Gordon could surpass 50 on the year, and Billy Hamilton has a really good shot at hitting the 70 mark.

With these numbers in mind, go back to the beginning of the season. Billy Hamilton had an ADP of 52 in NFBC drafts. In each of these draft rooms I suspect 2-3 owners were disappointed he hadn’t got back to them, while 5-6 mocked at the idea of drafting a .240 hitter with no pop to speak of before proven middle of the order hitters and second tier starting pitcher options.

Today the Hamilton owner is likely at or very near the top of the stolen base standings in your league. While those stolen bases are nice, and the run total as well, his overall value comes up short due to the lack of production everywhere else. The mockers in the room likely scoffed at the idea of drafting a Dee Gordon or Jose Peraza. If those same owners missed out on a resurgent Elvis Andrus or waiver wire additions like Cameron Maybin or Jarrod Dyson then their SB totals could be pedestrian.

I am a Hamilton owner. My roster strengths are easily identifiable. Regardless of whether I win stolen bases category by 1 or 50, the points awarded does not change. Aware of the statistical roster hole Hamilton creates, I overcompensated for power and overall offense on draft day. This pursuit left me with Masahiro Tanaka as my staff ace – as expected my offense is top overall within the league while my pitching ranks last.

In March I valued Hamilton as a Top-50 player. Even though he has lived up to my expectations, I’d be happy to move him for a mid-tier SP2 at this point. Would that be selling low? From a rankings standpoint it could be. In retrospect from my preseason thoughts, Absolutely. Most importantly, though, does it give my team the best chance to win now? Yes.

Flip the script. I mocked the selection of Hamilton on draft day. That ridicule perhaps fueled my mid to low tier ranking in stolen base production. Lorenzo Cain is my leading stolen base provider, and the rest of the contributors on my team are of the 10-15 variety. Otherwise my offense and pitching is solid. My power has led me thus far, and though the standings are tightly contested, any slippage would not result in a free fall. I could attempt to nickel and dime the totals with free agent pickups or lower priced trade targets such as Mallex Smith; but what type of ground would that makeup? Would it even be enough to offset the losses elsewhere?

Instead, I could go big with a target such as Hamilton. The potential for 30 steals down the stretch could result in a 5-6 spot increase in rankings. Meanwhile, the negative effects of Hamilton are minimized to a degree. The .240 average has far less impact on your bottom line over 70 games than 155. In addition, the statistical surplus on your squad has already been determined. Acquiring him at this point is not causing you to overcompensate elsewhere. In March I would have drafted Ryan Braun 30 spots higher. Given this example, I’d without hesitation move Ryan Braun for Billy Hamilton.

While Billy Hamilton is the poster child for midseason stolen base additions, Jonathan Villar is also a person of interest to target. By all accounts he has had a miserable season in regards to ADP. On the plus side, Villar still takes a good amount of walks for a stolen base threat, and Milwaukee once again leads the league in stolen bases. No immediate in-house replacements means Villar will be given every opportunity to work it out. Villar posted 4 months of double-digit stolen base production last season – 20 down the stretch could move your team 4-5 spots in the standings.




Moving on to saves – I’ve subscribed to every method of drafting saves at some point. Over the years I’ve found myself having as much success as failure; method be damned. Naturally, and without fail, somewhere in my vast array of teams I will have saves trouble. In an attempt to combat these issues I will ponder trade offers in these trouble spots. I’ll filter rosters, look for opportunities, and draw up the beginnings of negotiations. Just before I hit submit, I’ll review it once more before saying to myself, “Why in the hell am I sending anything of value for an arm who throws 3 innings a week?” I quickly delete the rough draft offer and honor the 24 hour grace period before doing it all again.

Like it or not, the save is a small part of the game that just happens to come with 10% of the scoring. Like stolen bases, much of the production is isolated into one category. We are at the point in the season where you can no longer ignore the obvious issues your team faces. Where I touted the pursuit of elite options in stolen bases, my approach for saves would be the opposite.

Elite closers like Jansen, Chapman, and Kimbrel came with a hefty draft day price tag because of their 75 IP potential, 100+ K production, and excellent ratios. Their saves total could very well be equal or below the lowest rated closer to begin the season with the job. At this point in the season you are now cutting that workload down to maybe 35 innings so the impact on your ERA and WHIP is negligible, and those 45-50 strikeouts will not gain you much ground. So now one needs to ask themselves just what that premium in the pricing is for.

Instead of overpaying for the elite names, target safe and boring options and overpay with middle tier talent rather than those in the upper-tier. With the trade deadline looming, one must be cognate with developments that have a greater chance of happening. AJ Ramos is one name floating around the rumor mill to be traded. Does he close if traded? Who replaces him if he does? Unlike stolen bases, saves can be the easiest statistic to overhaul quickly. Those efforts can be exhausting, but they serve as another reason not to overpay for premium content.

Here are a few current closers whose asking price could net you positive gains in saves along the stretch run.

Brandon Kintlzer – His 24 saves came with a bottom-five closer price tag. His success and lack of bullpen help around him have built up a nice cushion. Success has the Twins in the race, leaving them as contenders by the deadline and Kintlzer as the safe assumption for closer for the remainder of the season. Early success and an All-Star appearance has his price at an all-time high. At the end of the day, however, it is still Brandon Kintlzer and you know the owner is just waiting for the shoe to drop.

Brandon Maurer – Ugly bottom line, but underlying numbers have been very good. Brad Hand is the Padres most desirable trade chip and the only real threat to Maurer’s job. Expect Hand to be in a new uniform by the end of the month. I’m not confident in the Winning % of the Padres moving forward, but it always seems some lower tier team finishes the season strong. Perhaps 2017 will be the Padres season to do just that.

Edwin Diaz – Diaz was a top-tier option back in March, but early struggles and a removal from the role has put a chink in the armor. Toss out his 4 innings in July and his monthly ERA splits don’t indicate a distinctive uptick in production. All this could have Diaz owners eager to rid themselves of his services. His K/9 of 13.18 over the last 14.1 innings resembles that of last season, and his BB/9 of 3.14 over the same span is a significant drop from his early season struggles.

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The name Gordy Coleman will likely not resonate with many readers. Perhaps someone will recall the former First Baseman who played for both the Cleveland Indians (1959) and Cincinnati Reds (1960-1967). The Gordy Coleman I’m referring to is my beloved uncle James Alvin Coleman. Nicknamed Gordy by his Little League teammates (after the aforementioned former Reds slugger), James Coleman was a larger than life figure. An avid motorcyclist who embodied the biker dude persona.

My uncle lived hard, rode harder, and positively impacted the lives of thousands with his jovial laugh, ear-to-ear smile, and intellect that few could rival. On Monday July 10th the headline of my local newspaper read “Remembering Ashland’s King of Sole”. A front page headline typically isn’t reserved for the President of a local motorcycle club; then again, not many motorcycle club Presidents moonlight as a cobbler.

The profession itself played no part in making my uncle the great man he was. What the uniqueness of the profession did was move his story from the back of the paper to the front. In fantasy, both saves and stolen bases have a unique quality to them. It is this uniqueness which causes a market value fit for the back pages, but with headliner pricing. Making concessions to past assessments is something one must due in order to accept the market value for both saves and steals. What once was a marathon has now become a sprint. Isn’t now the time to look for short-term answers rather than starting with a brand new pair of shoes?

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.
Josh Coleman

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