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Through three weeks, all of my teams are bad. It’s early, I have Fernando Tatis just back in two leagues and Justin Verlander yet to play in two more, but that’s not sufficient to explain where they sit right now:
My best team is in 10th place out of 12 because it’s two spots from last place. Two more are one spot from last and one is in dead last. I look back on my drafts, and they still look fine to me — I’m not despairing yet — but I haven’t even had that much bad luck with injuries (other than Verlander.)
One thing I’ve noticed is my pitchers have been active for their shellings and often benched for their good outings. That’s really a recipe for disaster because if you take a pitcher who a 3.83 ERA and miss two of his top three outings, but have his two worst, maybe he’s at 4.30 or higher. This isn’t even the fault of my managers who might have benched a non-ace after a shelling against a strong lineup, and then the pitcher dominates from my bench. It’s frustrating for me to see, especially because I check the box scores first, then look to see if the guy was in my lineups. How could you have so-and-so on the bench when he struck out nine and allowed two earned runs?
But the manager doesn’t have the benefit of seeing the result *before* making the start/sit decision. What would I have done before knowing the result? It’s impossible to know. I might not even have picked up that pitcher in the first place!
Irrespective of my personal feelings about it, there’s an element of luck and skill in this, what I’ll call a player’s usable stats. It’s easier to see in football when you have an unestablished, high-ceiling wide receiver get only three targets and one catch in a cushy matchup, and the following week he goes 12-10-123-2 against a tough corner on everyone’s bench (or waiver wire.) If you drafted that player, he might finish with 75-1009-8, but if you missed that game, he didn’t pay off that sixth round price, even though it would seem that way from his year-end stats.
That doesn’t mean you were wrong to draft him, it just meant his productivity was ill-timed for fantasy purposes, and there isn’t much you can do about it. Or can you?
One theory Peter Schoenke used to have was to draft elite receivers in the first two rounds in part because you auto-play them every week, and you won’t deal with this problem which is more common with receivers, whose opportunities are more volatile week to week than running backs. So while the timing of a player’s production (whether it’s usable or not) is often dumb luck, there are ways to draft around it. Put differently, maybe drafting receivers early gives you less theoretical upside, but a better ratio of active points to bench points every week.
I didn’t take a lot of pitching early in my leagues, so my managers are dealing with the Chris Bassitts (leave him in!) of the world, and you can see how that makes lineup setting quite a bit harder than had I gone with Gerrit Cole or Spencer Strider with my first two picks. There will always be decisions for hitters at the bottom of your roster no matter how you draft, so whether you have a couple extra stars probably doesn’t change that equation quite as much. And the pitching start/sits are usually more consequential each week than the hitting ones anyway, as one two-inning, eight-earned-run outing can take weeks to undo.
Anyway, I still believe in my teams, and the managers are doing a good job. I just realize that I handed them difficult teams, and the jumpy ball and insane pitcher volatility has made it even harder than usual. But it’s possible that volatility will redound to my benefit over the next few weeks too. We’ll see. As I said, it’s early.