Reality Check: Not the time to be stubborn
On May 5, Prince Fielder , now regarded as something of a disappointment this season, was the top first baseman in Head-to-Head leagues, ahead of even Chris Davis .
On May 5, Kevin Slowey , with his 1.81 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, ranked 27th among all starting pitchers.
On May 5, Mark Reynolds was outpacing Paul Goldschmidt , nearly doubling him up in homers while compiling a higher batting average.
On May 5, John Buck ranked second among all catchers, his 10 home runs leading the position.
On May 5, Yuniesky Betancourt , with his seven home runs, was looking like the better bet at second base than Matt Carpenter , who was batting an underwhelming .274. Jason Kipnis , meanwhile, was buried somewhere behind Luis Valbuena .
On May 5, Coco Crisp had outscored Mike Trout by 2 1/2 Head-to-Head points despite playing in 32 fewer games.
"Gee, Scott, that's some mighty interesting learnin' and whatnot, but ... why the fixation with May 5?"
Because that was five weeks into the season -- or exactly how much time we have left.
You know what can happen in five weeks? As I think I just demonstrated, pandemonium. When you reduce a 26-week ordeal to such a small fraction, all those statistical anomalies you've trained yourself to ignore are suddenly within the realm of possibility.
So this time of year more than any other, you have to keep an open mind.
It's a definite hurdle for the experienced Fantasy owner who gets a twisted kind of satisfaction from seeing a novice sacrifice the long term for the short term, whether by going all-in on Kelly Johnson during one of his patented hot streaks, dangling Matt Kemp for 50 cents on the dollar as soon as he hits the DL or dumping a struggling Lance Lynn for a two-start, flavor-of-the-week type like Tyson Ross .
But if, specifically in Head-to-Head leagues, you often find yourself wondering how you can fare so well during the regular season only to lose in the playoffs, perhaps it's because you haven't learned when to take a page from the novice's playbook.
With five weeks to go, what do you have to lose?
I'll admit it's safer not to. Stick with the tried-and-trues, and even if you lose, you'll at least have the consolation of knowing you made the "right" move. I'll admit I often defer to a go-with-the-guys-who-got-me-there approach just so I won't spend the offseason wondering why I was willing to wager a season of careful maneuvering on a relative act of stupidity.
But I'll also admit I'm too often one of those owners who finds himself wondering how he can fare so well during the regular season only to lose in the playoffs. And on those fleeting occasions when I actually do take home the title, I usually have a surprising upstart to thank.
In 2008, it was Shin-Soo Choo , an ex-prospect and presumed lost cause at age 25 who justified my decision to trade Vladimir Guerrero for pitching help by batting .404 (44 for 109) with eight homers and a 1.188 OPS over the final five weeks.
In 2010, it was Jed Lowrie , an injury-riddled 26-year-old who more than made up for a season-ending injury to Hanley Ramirez by batting .295 (28 for 95) with six homers and a .938 OPS over the final five weeks.
Just last year, it was Kris Medlen , a converted reliever with less-than-elite stuff who became the ace of a team that had leaned too heavily on a fading Lance Lynn , taking down every Justin Verlander and David Price in his path with a 5-0 record, 1.06 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings over the final five weeks.
You think I saw that coming on May 5? Pfft ... not even on Aug. 5. But I took a leap of faith at that crucial moment when I had to, and it ended up being what put me over the top.
Now, obviously, you can take it too far. The idea isn't to overhaul your roster with a bunch of flavor-of-the-week types, squandering all that made your team good in the first place -- and I can't help but wonder if columns like this one often go by the wayside for fear of Fantasy owners doing just that.
It's bound to happen. Five weeks from now, I'm sure to get an e-mail saying something to the effect of "I took your advice and dropped Chris Sale for Jonathon Niese , and it cost me a championship! Phony! You're a big, fat phony!"
OK. Except I'm not advising anyone to drop Sale. The guy had a bad start last time out, but it doesn't change the way I feel about him going forward. And if it changes the way you feel, I can't help but wonder how you got this far.
That's not to say two bad starts would be enough turn me off a guy. Look at the way Mike Minor bounced back last time out. Perhaps not even a series of bad starts would do the trick. Those who pulled the plug on Jeff Samardzija with his bumpy beginning to August may end up missing out a terrific finish, given the way his last two starts have gone.
I don't know that I can give you an exact number -- in terms of starts or at-bats -- for when to pull the plug on a "proven commodity," but it's on the higher end. When predicting future performance, five months' history should count for more than five weeks' history. Still, there's a difference between riding out the waves of a 162-game season and going down with the ship.
For certain players, based on who they are, how long they've underperformed and where they are in their careers (among other factors), you can just tell they're not going to do much for you the rest of the way.
And I'm not talking about players you booted from your roster weeks ago, like Raul Ibanez and Daniel Nava . I'm talking about supposed "mainstays" still owned in 85-90 percent of leagues. Guys like Starlin Castro , Asdrubal Cabrera and Jimmy Rollins haven't done a blessed thing for you all season. Gone. Chase Headley is in the same boat. Get him out of there. Nick Markakis was adequate to begin the season, but with a .302 slugging percentage since June 1, he's nothing but deadweight. Forget about him. Tim Lincecum ? Yovani Gallardo ? Jeremy Hellickson ? Hasta la bye-bye.
You hold on to them because what's on the waiver wire doesn't appear to be any better, but that's because certain alternatives haven't been around long enough to close the gap on your league's stats page.
Such as? Well, that's the fun part. To me, the prime candidate to make a worthwhile contribution down the stretch among players who weren't on anybody's radar just a couple weeks ago is Khris Davis , who has assumed Ryan Braun starting left field job in Milwaukee. If he seems too obvious to you with his six home runs in his last 15 games, well, that's really not the point. For you to justify putting a relative unknown like him in your lineup at this crucial stage of the season, he better be doing special things.
I'm not guaranteeing he'll sustain this pace. In fact, I suspect he'll cool off to some degree before season's end. But I'm not any more skeptical of him than I was of Choo five years ago or Medlen last year. Sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith, especially when your alternative is someone completely uninspiring like Michael Brantley or Andre Ethier . Davis did hit .350 with 15 homers and a 1.055 in 260 at-bats between three stops in the minors last year, so it's not like this performance is completely out of left field. And given how well he drives the ball the right field, I get the feeling he'll still be a factor in April.
If you need to set your sights a little lower than a player already owned in 61 percent of leagues, L.J. Hoes has emerged as sort of a poor man's Shane Victorino since taking over in right field in Houston. He has terrific plate discipline for a 23-year-old, helping him get the most of his extra-base power, and he's proven to be a better base-stealer than expected. He didn't have big steal totals in the minors, but steals are one of those decision-based stats that don't depend so much on track record. As long as Hoes doesn't run into outs, the Astros will keep sending him.
Speaking of steals, Emilio Bonifacio has been reborn on the base paths since coming over to the Royals in a mid-August trade, becoming the prolific base-stealer he was in his final two seasons with the Marlins. His bat is still in question, but with seven steals in 11 games with Kansas City, he's a potential game-changer off waivers in Rotisserie leagues.
Scooter Gennett has been surprisingly productive since taking over as the Brewers' starting second baseman, particularly in terms of power. Maybe those favorable scouting reports count for more than the minor-league numbers after all. I'd rather have Brian Dozier or Brad Miller , but hey, they're all better than Marco Scutaro and Jurickson Profar right now. A quality second baseman is hard to find.
Since returning from a hamstring injury three weeks ago, Marco Estrada has looked like the pitcher everyone pegged as a sleeper coming into the season, using impeccable control to pile up strikeouts. And though Sonny Gray got hit hard last time out, he showed enough in his first three starts -- in terms of efficiency, endurance and just pure stuff -- to deserve a roster spot in mixed leagues.
Or you can play it safe and hope Mike Leake gives up two earned runs instead of four next time out. Or Travis Wood , whatever. Those two aren't Sale. They're not even Samardzija. Based on what I know about them -- their peripherals, their track records, their pedigrees, etc. -- what they've done recently is what they should have been doing all along.
Unless you think that's good enough to win you a championship, what do you have to lose by trying out something else?