MASTER NOTES: Who's crazy now?

A few weeks ago in this space, Phil Hertz detailed his unorthodox stretch-run approach in the Tout Wars-NL League: he traded away all of his starting pitchers, and is going with a reliever-only approach down the stretch.

In my NFBC league, I'm doing the opposite.

My partner and I found ourselves in 13th place in the 15-team format at the end of July. We also found ourselves on an island in the saves category: there was the possibility of gaining some points if we could move up in saves, but we were a dozen or so saves from losing any points in the category. Meanwhile, our low standing in wins and strikeouts left a pile of potential points available to us. Of course, our results to date suggested that those pitching points weren't going to be accessible by just sitting back and continuing to do what we'd been doing so far this year.

To chase those points in Ws and Ks, we were going to need more innings. Lots of innings. So, we benched our closers and committed to running nine starting pitchers per week.

Let's be clear right up front: in most cases, this is an extremely high-risk strategy. Chasing wins and strikeouts usually means putting lesser SP in your lineup, a strategy that comes with a fair amount of peril to your ratios. Most of the time, the resulting ERA and WHIP damage will wash out whatever wins/strikeouts gains you can realize.

In our particular situation, though, those risks were mitigated: having less than 30 of a possible 75 pitching points, there were only so many points we could lose. In particular, our 4.00+ ERA was near the bottom of the league, and we were similarly buried in WHIP.

Plus, let's face it: sitting in 13th place in the league, things can't get much worse. If nothing else, the exercise is something we can have some fun with now, and it might teach us something that we could apply in future seasons.

But the real selling point for us was the Hail Mary aspect of the move: the off chance that we could catch lightning in a bottle and rack up lots of good innings from these starting pitchers, allowing us to make up ground in ERA and WHIP as well as wins and Ks. That outcome certainly wasn't the likely one; after all, our pitching to date had been bad, and adding more waiver-wire caliber arms isn't a recipe for a sudden reversal of fortune. However unlikely this Hail Mary was, this was the only available path to making up significant ground in the standings.

We made this decision at the end of July. (Patrick Davitt and I discussed it on HQ Radio recently.) A month into the experiment, how is it going? Actually, not that badly!

In 4 1/2 weeks of this lineup configuration, we have accumulated:

  • 315 IP (over a full season, this would be almost a 2000 IP pace!)
  • 277 strikeouts (7.9 K/9, which isn't half bad given the theoretical lesser quality of SP we're using here.)
  • 22 wins (we only had 47 over nearly four months before trying this strategy, now we have almost 50% of that total in one month)
  • 3.75 ERA and 1.287 WHIP (that's enough of an ERA gain to move our YTD ERA down under 4.00, and the WHIP is basically neutral).

This hasn't yet translated into a standings gain, as the offense has given back some points concurrently, and the strikeout/wins gains have moved us closer to the main pack but not above many people. Still, if we can pull it off, another month on this pace could yield some real standings impact. For that to happen, it's going to mean getting another good month's work from our waiver wire SP crew of Tyson Ross, Alex Wood, Jonathan Niese and Marco Estrada (or whoever else we churn through). But we're halfway through the experiment, and it hasn't gone off the rails yet. That's something in itself.

For this team, this is an entirely academic exercise: we have no shot at a money finish. The point, though, is that sometimes the unorthodox approach, be it my approach detailed here, or Phil's as detailed last month, is the best choice from a list of bad options. Besides, it's always fun to try something new, especially when you aren't particularly concerned that you might crash and burn. After all, this team already crashed and burned. There's nothing else left to do but to push the wreckage over the finish line as best we can.

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