Disaster struck my squad in Week One. I sat in 17th place out of 20 in the TDGX league, with some significant warning lights flashing already. My first round draft pick, Ryan Braun, can’t feel the thumb on his throwing hand. More importantly for our purposes, that thumb happens to be kind of important for swinging the bat, something Braun did not do well at all out of the gate. My elite speed guys didn’t steal a single base. One of my primary AVG/Runs guys, Omar Infante, took a fastball to the face and went down like Eddie Richardson taking a left hook from Mike Tyson. On the pitching side, my #1 starter gave up 8 runs in his debut start. My ostensible #6 starter, a late-game pick I was extremely proud of, mind you, lost out on a rotation spot to Lucas Harrell. Lucas Harrell. A guy who had a 5.86 ERA and 89:88 strikeout-to-walk ratio in over 150 innings last season. And there still exists no plausible scenario in which anybody on my roster will log even one save this season. Clearly it was time to sell, sell, SELL!
Or not. Deep breath, kids. It’s the second week of the season. A couple solid days in a row already boosted me back up to 11th as of this writing, and the larger takeaway is that it is way, way too early to consider drastic measures of any kind. Even if your team hasn’t gotten off to the banner start you envisioned when you cackled maniacally to yourself in the dark after your draft ended, it’s important to not overreact to small sample sizes. Still, it’s never too early to start evaluating your team’s performance, so that when the time comes you’ll be in the best position possible to make the most appropriate moves. Let’s take a closer look at a couple of the early storylines with my team in the context of early season strategy.
The Perils of the First-Round Blow-Up
The absolute worst case scenario in a league this deep and this longterm-oriented is for your first round pick to blow up in your face, and that possibility is staring me in the eyeball as we speak. After getting off to a 3-for-20 start with no extra base hits, my boy Ryan Braun went off on Tuesday, drilling three homeruns to provide a clutch reminder of his talent level and serve notice that all might just not be lost. Still, he is apparently unable to hold a bat properly, which…hmmm. In that linked piece he reveals that surgery offers nothing in the way of guarantees, and it would likely cost him a significant majority of the season to roll those dice. So basically my first rounder is either going to play out the season one-handed or shut down for several months of surgery that may or may not work. Not good. I’m obviously going to wait this one out for a while longer, but this story has huge ramifications for my team, specifically whether I’m going to be able to realistically hope to compete this season or not. A healthy Braun is a .300/30/20 player with upwards of 180 Runs and RBI, and the drop-off from that production to the replacement level filler I’d have to troll the wire for is franchise-altering for the current season. Beyond that, the ripple effect is diminished production and ten-cents-on-the-dollar trade value for the future. I need him healthy and producing more days like Tuesday, and so far that looks like a questionable proposition. To be continued.
Patience with Pitching (even when it’s a disaster)
I’m definitely counting on starting pitching to be a core strength of my team, but so far…not so much. Cliff Lee got knocked around like a piñata in his first start and followed it up with a Houdini act to survive seven innings in his second start despite yielding ten hits. And then Shelby Miller and Corey Kluber have looked decidedly mediocre in their first two turns as well. So would my position in the standings look a bit different if those guys had thrown the six games they’re capable of throwing, rather than six that ranged from just okay to epic disaster? You bet. But pitching takes a bit of time to evaluate, and you’re not going to get an accurate sense of how things are shaping up until you’ve seen at least a handful more turns through your entire rotation. Per Pizza Cutter’s landmark 2008 study on sample size validity, it takes a bare minimum of 150 plate appearances before the first few useful metrics (K%, GB%, LD%) begin to stabilize into useful data points. 150 plate appearances works out to somewhere around six to eight starts. So unless you’re trying to hustle an opponent by using an artificially hot start from one of your guys, it doesn’t make much sense to look at dealing pitchers just yet. I’m glad I’m aware of these things, because my first-step reaction to a start like this is to blow the whole thing up. But I’ve still got Iwakuma angling towards a late-April debut, and I remain fairly confident I can expect some better days ahead for the rest of my rotation. I plan to keep my pitching largely on the shelf until mid-May at the earliest, at which time I’ll be able to make a more comprehensive evaluation and adjust accordingly.
Beyond the Braun situation I’ve run into a couple other injury situations already. The first is not the biggest deal in the world, as Brian Wilson hit the DL with nerve irritation in his elbow. Relievers – even in a league as deep as this one – are easily the most fungible asset in the game, and I haven’t had any trouble replacing his present production from the waiver wire. He was more of a long-game speculation on future saves than anything, so really no harm, no foul. My other situation is slightly more pressing, as Omar Infante is my starting second baseman and I have no other internal options. The timing of his injury was a worst case scenario for a weekly league, as I’ll now have to wait a full week to replace him (if necessary) and take a donut on second base production for this period. Depending on how long he’ll be out I may or may not need to go shopping for a trade partner as well, as the pickin’s are slim to say the least for 2B-eligible players. As things stand if Infante’s on the shelf for a while my best bet’ll be to cross my fingers that Marco Scutaro won’t require a lengthy rehab assignment and can return from his own DL stint next week. Beyond that I’m looking at 10-15 ab-bats from a mediocre utility player. Such is life in a Jacque Cousteau-deep league, though. And it’s important to remember that the injury issues you encounter along the way won’t be unique to you; everyone has to overcome them at some point or another. No sense in overreacting and creating new holes to fill your current one.
Trends of Note
Despite standard caveats about sample size and early stats and trends not really mattering, the reality is that sometimes they do. Managers will start showing their cards on seemingly counter-intuitive usage patterns, and things of that nature. So there are a couple early trends worth noting with my team:
- So far, so good on Adam Dunn’s playing time. Jose Abreu looks like a beast in the making, but so far the squeeze hasn’t cost Dunn any playing time in a non-NL park. It looks like Konerko really will be a spare part bench piece rather than a semi-regular starter, at least so far. It’s early still, but so far that’s good news for me.
- The Royals outfield appears fairly locked to the top three, and Jarrod Dyson is not a useful player so far. I suspected Kansas City may try to ride Lorenzo Cain into the ground for as long as his body allowed it, and so far that indeed appears to be their strategy. Neither Dyson nor Justin Maxwell started any of the team’s first five games, and they now have a combined one start between them through seven. I still like the idea of Dyson as a bench play in case injuries open up a spot for his disruptive speed, but he’s not a viable starting outfielder with playing time this scarce.
- Denard Span has sat in two of the past four games as of this writing, which is also cause for concern given Matt Williams’…shall we say “unorthodox” lineup choices to date. He certainly didn’t do himself any favors in slumping into an 0-for-13 stretch, and Nate McLouth’s hitlessness may be playing a role in Williams just trying to get him off the schnide. But it’s something to monitor, as I really can’t afford for Span to fall into any kind of a timeshare with McLouth.