Does chasing hot streaks pay off?

Dustin Ackley has shown that starting streaky hitters in Fantasy isn't always a day at the beach. (USATSI)
Dustin Ackley has shown that starting streaky hitters in Fantasy isn't always a day at the beach. (USATSI)

As Scott White mentioned in a recent post here, on Monday's edition of Fantasy Baseball Today, we decided to talk a little late-season strategy. One of the topics we discussed -- and debated -- was whether it makes more sense to stick with players on a hot streak in the final crucial weeks of the Fantasy season than it does earlier in the year.

I'm not a big fan of the strategy during the rest of the season, and I'm not convinced it makes more sense when the stakes are higher. As I stated during the segment, I view the process of setting a lineup each week as a series of bets on which players are going to produce the most among the available options. Because just about any player good enough to play in the majors has a chance to sustain a hot streak for a couple of weeks, using the preceding weeks' production as a main criterion for roster decisions doesn't seem compelling to me.

Barring the presence of some other relevant factor, like a change in health status, I'm generally distrustful of players with mediocre skill numbers, even if they've gotten hot. I also tend to be patient with highly-skilled players who seem to be in the midst of a garden-variety slump.

Though I'm not planning on ditching this bias anytime soon, I decided to look at some recent stats to see how well the strategy would have worked. Let's say I was looking to play the hot hand in setting my Week 20 lineup in a Head-to-Head points league. A sort of the top point producers from Weeks 18 and 19 combined generated a top 30 hitters list that included seven players whom I normally might not start.

Of these seven, three would have clearly justified their inclusion in the lineup. Chris Carter and Adam LaRoche were the first- and second-ranked first basemen for Week 20, respectively. I almost certainly wouldn't have started either, so I would have missed out on that production. Also, Norichika Aoki finished as the 13th-ranked outfielder, though I consider him to be a borderline option in three-outfielder points formats. Coming on the heels of two hot weeks, I just might have started him.

Starting any of the other four on the basis of their two good weeks wouldn't have ended well. Dustin Ackley was merely tied as the 18th-ranked second baseman. Pablo Sandoval had an unusually bad week, finishing in a tie for 35th-best among third basemen. David Peralta barely registered, scoring five points and tying for 123rd among outfielders. And J.P. Arencibia scored zero points.

This clearly doesn't prove anything, but it does confirm -- at least for this one week -- my suspicions that playing the hot hand is a hit-or-miss proposition. I'd just as soon stick with the players I've trusted all or most of the season than get stuck with a bad week from Dustin Ackley or J.P. Arencibia.

Data Analyst

Al Melchior has been playing Fantasy Baseball since 1994, getting his start in the Southern Maryland Anthropomorphic Baseball League (SMABL). He has been writing about Fantasy Baseball since 2000, getting... Full Bio

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