FANALYTICS: Strategies for your July league

This Sunday, June 30, is the deadline for you to submit a team for the new July league. A reminder on the important details:

Game format: $300 salary cap for 30 players. Prices based on 2013 performance to date. 30 teams per league.

Roster construction: 2 CA, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, 5 OF, UT, and 9 pitchers active; 7 reserves at any position.

Stat categories: HR, SB, OBP, (R+RBI-HR); W, Sv+Hld, K, ERA.

Roster management: There will be no free agent access and no trades. The 30 players you draft are the 30 players you have for the month. Intra-roster moves (reserve-to-active and active-to-reserve) can be made twice weekly, Mondays and Fridays by noon ET. Essentially, you'll be setting your active roster for each Major League series.

Important Dates
Deadline to enter teams: This Sunday, June 30, 9 PM ET.
Opening Day: Monday, July 1.
First transaction deadline: Monday, July 1, noon ET.
Season ends: Sunday, August 4.

Here is what you need to do to play:

1. If you already have an account at OnRoto.com, log in to your account. If you do not have an account, set one up here.

2. Click on Join a "Beat Ron Shandler This July" League. You'll find several leagues in which you can enter teams. As they fill up, we'll open additional leagues.

Yes, I plan to have a team entered in most leagues, so yes, you can try to beat me. To make it more fun, I will not be rostering Mike Trout on any of my teams. Fate, you are my temptress.

3. After clicking JOIN, you'll be taken to the league home page. Click on MAKE TRANSACTIONS-CREATE ROSTER to start adding players to your team.

4. Enter your team by 9:00 PM ET on Sunday, June 30. Here is the player salary list again (Excel file). You can plan your roster out ahead of time, or wing it online. The interface is pretty intuitive, allowing you to add and drop players at will as you build your team. Each time you click SUBMIT MOVES, it will update your roster and your salary against the cap, informing you if you've gone over $300 or drafted too many players. Make sure you designate actives and reserves as you build it out; you can always change it later.

Note that the information appearing on the website is final. The only players available are those listed. The positions noted for players are the only ones for which they are eligible in this game.

Also note that you can change your team name and a host of other options by clicking on TEAM SET-UP OPTIONS.

ENTRY DEADLINE IS THIS SUNDAY, JUNE 30, AT 9:00 PM ET. After that, you can still adjust your lineup before it locks at noon ET on Monday, July 1.

So that's the pathway to your new monthly addiction. Now let's talk about the player salary list and the decisions you will have to make in assembling your team.

Since you have only one shot to pick the right 30 players, you do need to plan out how you are going to use your roster.

Since the salaries are based on each player's performance to date, this exercise tests your ability to determine which current performances are real. The goal is to stock your roster with both high value players and players who represent profit at their price level. The challenge is to find where that balance rests.

Should you stack your active list with the best, least-risky players and leave your reserve to some $1 fillers? Or should you spread your budget around the entire roster and try to play match-ups?

I suppose either way can win, but that's why I'm running these leagues. Since they are free, you can enter as many teams as you'd like. I'll be testing out a few different strategies myself. So far, I've entered a stars and scrubs team and one built on the best BPVs—my pitching staff has only one player under 100. I'll probably try a few others before the deadline.

Is it really possible to build a team around a $51 Miguel Cabrera? I think a stars and scrubs approach is possible. However, you will have to take some risks. To demonstrate, let's say you draft Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Trout, Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw. That quintet will cost you $202, leaving you just under $4, on average, to fill each of your remaining 25 slots.

So now your roster will have to include at least a few $1 players, and there are many interesting options. Consider injury rehabs, underperformers and rookies. Examples include: Aaron Hill, Tyler Colvin, Jurickson Profar, Brett Lawrie, Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Ruiz, Mike Zunino, Ike Davis, Rafael Betancourt, Fernando Rodney, Tim Lincecum, David Price, Rick Porcello, Cole Hamels, R.A. Dickey, Chris Perez, Zack Greinke, Gerit Cole and Jered Weaver. All are priced at $1.

Does that make drafting a $6 Yasiel Puig or a $1 David Price a no-brainer? Maybe, maybe not. For players with a limited track record (Puig) or proven, high-skilled injury rehab players (Price), you'd still be taking the risk that they will be fully productive in July. But can Puig continue to hit at this pace? And might Tampa limit Price's innings in the early going? So you have to weigh each player's price versus his risks.

And how many other teams might consider these types of players as no-brainer picks? If you draft them, you might only be keeping pace with those other teams. If you can find a different, equally profitable roster configuration, you might be better off.

Should you stock your reserves with positional backups? Since there are no free agents, your reserve list has to cover all contingencies. Picking at least a few players with multi-positional eligibility could help. For instance, a $6 Ryan Doumit would give you a back-up at both catcher and outfield. If you think there is a surge left in Martin Prado, he could be very useful too.

What are the considerations when building a pitching staff? With a nine-man active staff, you face the same decisions as in standard leagues. You can go with a 6-3 starter-reliever configuration, or 7-2, or try something more extreme on either end. Relievers tend to be lower priced in this game–and with Saves+Holds as the category, there are many more of them to choose from—so that might influence your decisions.

You will probably want to make good use of your reserve list. Given that you are setting your roster before each Major League series, some starters won't be scheduled to pitch. Rather than have a dead spot on your staff, one option is to keep a stash of starters on reserve to fill in. The only downside is the possibility that those arms might not be pitching in a particular series either. Another option is to backfill your reserves with high-skilled relievers.

Any reliever-heavy strategy comes with one main downside, as always—the reason starting pitchers are more valuable in this 4x4 game is because they influence more scoring categories.

How can I find the best undervalued players? There are two methods I use to uncover hidden gems that might provide a boost in July.

The first is to run the BaseballHQ.com "Custom Draft Guide" using the eight categories for this league. Your dollar values will not match the price list exactly (since the list was run last week), but they will be an adequate proxy. Then run some sorts and see which low-priced players bubble up to the top. Sorting on stats like BPV or the Mayberry grades are very revealing. Take a look at guys like a $6 Jonathan Papelbon, a $13 Jeff Samardzija or a $6 Corey Kluber.

The second method is to go to the YTD actuals on the "Stats and Projections" charts and run sorts on the Last 31 days. Some talented players may have had a poor June that depresses their price tags. As the weather continues to warm in July, they might be candidates to normalize back to their historical productivity levels. Players like a $25 Justin Upton or a $16 Mike Napoli might provide some profit at those prices.

By the same token, you might want to consider avoiding players who had an extraordinarily good June if you expect them to regress in July. I'm looking at names like a $25 Domonic Brown or $9 Pedro Alvarez.

Any other considerations to note? One thing that a monthly league does allow is some MLB schedule-watching. For instance, it is helpful to know that . . .

  • the Rockies' July home schedule is almost entirely against weak-hitting teams (which makes Colorado starting pitchers more intriguing).
  • 26 of the Padres' 30 games are against teams with records over .500.
  • the White Sox have 17 of 27 games against intra-divisional opponents.
  • the Rays open with 14 games against weak teams before the All Star break, then face a string of 15 games against intra-division rivals and contenders. Many teams use early July performance to make a final determination about whether they will be buyers or sellers at the non-waiver trading deadline, so that pre-break stretch could be very important.

If you scan through all the teams, you will find other actionable scheduling insights.

What are some of the risks to avoid? July is a volatile month. The All-Star break often causes some roster manipulations. But the bigger issue is the MLB trading deadline on July 31. Be careful of players from losing teams who might get dealt some time this month. It's tough to predict how they will fare on their new clubs, so rostering a $6 Ricky Nolasco or a $1 Matt Garza entails some risk. Closers are risky as well, though using Saves + Holds does mitigate some of the risk of a closer being traded into a set-up role on another team.

And remember that this season does extend through August 4.

Finally, as I mentioned last week, this is a test, so I encourage any feedback you have. Suggestions, comments, complaints . . . send a note to july@ronshandler.com.

RON'S HITS & ERRORS . . . Here is an interesting point about monthly leagues that I neglected to mention last week.

I've heard some feedback that a one month time span is really not long enough to determine which teams are good or bad, citing the volatile standings we see each year in April as evidence.

It is true that April is a volatile month, but the standings movement is what provides the daily drama. What's more, the standings do tend to settle down by the end of the month. In fact, the research I wrote about in this piece revealed a very interesting tidbit:

Of the teams that would eventually go on to win their league, 80% finished the month of April in 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th place. Again—eight of 10 winners were already sitting in a money spot after one month. So that is enough time to provide some realistic standings.
 

 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.