Being patient has got to be the most difficult trait for a fantasy baseball manager to exhibit year in and year out. The difficulty is born out of the internet age where you have instant access to every single pitch going on in any game and with that the ability to alter your lineup on a daily basis (in many leagues, there are still plenty of leagues that limit teams to weekly moves). Of course just because the opportunity is there doesn’t mean you have to take it, but still many fantasy managers see their team wallowing near the bottom of the standings on Tax Day and feel the only appropriate measure is to start tinkering or worse, making wholesale moves.
Others think they have exhibited enough patience if they wait until the calendar at least flips a month over to May. Still some have a mid-May mark mapped out while some use Memorial Day as a demarcation point. How long do you wait on a struggling player? The answer, unfortunately, is that there is no universal answer. One guideline that has gained steam comes from Cory Schwartz over at MLB Network and MLB.com and it is to take the 26 weeks of the season, subtract the player’s round you drafted him in and that is how many weeks you should wait into the season before even considering a cut. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but for those who struggle with an exact date, this is a quick measure that can help you make the difficult choice. There are far too many variables at play to give a definitive answer. Another major factor is your league’s free agent pool.
Often to roster a new guy, somebody has to leave. There will invariably be roster-worthy guys in your free agent player pool whether they went undrafted and have now acquired some playing time that they are doing well with or they have been called up from the minor leagues and have the talent to make an impact. Every team has those last few rounds worth of picks that are often fliers and sleepers and they should probably be your first gone if you feel you *must* take a chance on a waiver player hoping that he is the next Jose Bautista. But even that isn’t always a great idea. More on those types later.
What I really want to focus on right now is the good players and how much patience they deserve in a given year. In most cases, 80-85% of your early round picks (say 1-12 or 1-15, assuming 12 team leagues here) are spent on guys with significant track records spanning three-plus years of work. How long do these guys deserve to be rostered before you cut bait for a flavor of the week? Waiting until mid-May or Memorial Day sure feels like a long time, but is it?
Through Memorial Day of this season Nick Markakis had a .249/.316/.324 line with four home runs, 17 RBIs and four stolen bases. As a career .297 hitter, he was well below expectations in the category you expect him to excel in. He was starting to turn up on a lot of waiver wires. An outfielder hitting .249 with mediocre production everywhere else just isn’t that enticing. But is that really a large enough sample to turn your back on a 9th round pick?
His home run totals have declined yearly since 2007 and at 27 years old there likely isn’t about to be a massive turnaround for him in that area. His pace after May 31st was 14 which is actually an increase from last year so that wasn’t on the list of reasons to drop him. If you had misguided expectations about his power, that is on you. Meanwhile his 14 stolen base pace would actually mark a four-year high. The major issue, without question, was that he wasn’t delivering in his best category.
But do you cut a guy with 3202 at-bats (his total after Memorial Day 2011) because he has underperformed his career mark in batting average for 7% (213) of them and that 7% just happens to be at the beginning of a baseball season making it look worse? Looking at it on a season-only level, he had expired about 33% of his expected at-bats with a .249 average. Again, it feels like a lot, but he still had two-thirds of the season to get back on track. He would need to hit .322 over his remaining 67% of at-bats to reach the career mark of .297, does that sound feasible for a guy with 3341 at-bats of .297 batting average under his belt?
Many of you probably realize how this is turns out. Markakis hit .351 in June with 12 multi-hit games (out of 25), a 19-game hitting streak from June 8th-30th and just four hitless games in the month. Only two of his five games in July have been hitless while the other three are all multi-hit games including a 5-for-5 effort on July 3rd. He is hitting .294/.340/.386 while still pacing for 14 home runs and stolen bases. He’s the 34th rated outfielder at ESPN despite runs scored and driven in paces that don’t reach 70.
In 10 and 12-team leagues, the waiver pools are deep and while I often encourage fantasy managers to practice extreme patience, especially with their studs, it would have been tough to blame someone who gave Markakis one more week after Memorial Day before making a decision. That was his only lull in the month with all four of his hitless games coming in that week as he went 3-for-24 pushing his average down to .236 for the year. I bet he was cut a lot in the eight day period from May 31st to June 7th, just before he went on his torrid pace. Can you blame somebody, though? According to Schwartz’s guideline, with Markakis going anywhere between the 8th and 10th rounds, he should’ve been held until the 15th-17th week area. Memorial Day week was only week nine, way too early to even consider a cut.
For me, he is this year’s Wandy Rodriguez. Last year Rodriguez just didn’t look good through mid-June. He posted a passable 3.65 ERA in April, but that came with 5.1 K/9 and 1.8 K/BB rates. The strikeouts ticked up a bit in May and June (6.5 & 6.8), but his strikeout-to-walk rates held firmly below 2.0 at 1.8 and 1.6 for the months. After a June 18th start against Texas during which Rodriguez was ripped for six runs in three innings, his ERA was at 6.09 (the worst since his second start when it was 6.10) in 75 innings.
Overall, 75 innings isn’t a major sample, but it was 38% of his expected inning total and in the “Year of the Pitcher”, Wandy managers watched as several viable starters were picked up by their leaguemates while they held onto the struggling Rodriguez. A friend of mine asked if he should cut Rodriguez (I honestly don’t remember for who) after that June 18th start. He is chronically impatient and I encouraged him to hang on through May and early June, but after that implosion I gave him my blessing figuring he had waited long enough. Whoops.
Rodriguez would allow more than three runs just once in his remaining 18 starts as he posted a 2.03 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 and 3.7 K/BB in 120 innings as one of baseball’s best pitcher. His season ERA landed at 3.60 which was an increase from 2009’s 3.02, but in the grand scheme it was about eight extra earned runs which is negligible for a nine man fantasy staff. Did my friend and other fantasy managers who cut bait in mid-June wait long enough? Rodriguez wasn’t an elite arm of the Halladay-Lincecum class coming into 2010, but he was certainly in that second or third tier depending how strict you are with your #1s. Using the Schwartz Method, he should have been held until week 16 or so. June 18th was in week 11.
Obviously given his league format, a 10-team mixed league, I thought he was patient enough. I think I would have green-lit his move in a 12-team league, too (by the way, the Schwartz Method is tailored to standard 12-team mixed leagues). This is why there isn’t one standard answer. It all depends on league size, league rules and who is available. This is more of a thought exercise than a piece filled with answers. My stance is and always will be to error on the side of too patient, especially with your better, more proven players (i.e. guys with legitimate three-plus year track records).
It isn’t just about being patient with your best, though. What about your sleepers? You spend all winter crafting your lists and poring over the numbers to find your late round gems only to dispatch them to the waiver after a slow month. I understand they are more expendable than someone like Markakis or Rodriguez because they were your 20-something round pick, but why even draft them if you aren’t going to give them a reasonable chance to prove you right?
Take James McDonald for example. He had a strong second half with his new team last year after a midseason trade and many (including myself) liked him for a breakthrough season under the radar in Pittsburgh. He was available very late in just about any league (even NL-Only leagues unless you encountered an owner or two who felt the same way and pushed the bidding or draft position up a bit).
He was toting a 7.66 after April with more walks than strikeouts. Even allowing for the fact that his stretch run in 2010 was a sample size of just 64 innings, it was still much larger than the 19-inning sample many used as grounds for cutting him after his April 21st start where he was bombed out for eight runs in just three innings. He has a 2.95 ERA in 73 innings since April 27th. In fairness, the WHIP is very high at 1.49 due mostly to his walks, but he has delivered a strong 7.2 strikeout rate. He was almost certainly your final pitcher selected so it wouldn’t have tanked your season to see things through for more than 20 innings or even ideally at least 60-65.
What about Erik Bedard? It has never been about talent with Bedard, only health. You knew the Mariners were going to ease him into things in an effort to get as much out of him as they can considering how injury-riddled his Seattle tenure has been thus far. He didn’t go more than five innings in any of his first four starts and carried a 7.71 ERA into his April 27th start. Home runs were destroying him (seven allowed in four starts including two in each of his first three). His HR/FB rate was 16%, odd for a guy who only once topped 9% in his career (12% in 2007).
Over the next two months, from April 27th to June 27th, he posted a 1.77 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 and 4.5 K/BB in 71 innings. You took a flier him obviously recognizing his talent and the low cost on draft day. Why not see it through more than four starts at the beginning of the season? I am not saying everyone cut him, but I can speak to his availability being significant because he featured in Trolling the Wire for his May 8th, 25th, June 1st and 5th starts and I don’t recommend anybody that isn’t widely available (50% or more) at all three of the major outlets.
So we have run the gamut here. From star-level players to young sleepers to injury risk talent and the one conclusion I think we can come to is that Tax Day, May 1st and May 15th are all out as viable “patience points”. Tax Day was never viable… never, ever, ever, but I guarantee you some names will hit the wire two weeks into next season that will end up being major contributors for a different team in your league. As for May 1st and May 15th, I just don’t know how you can reasonably say that they are legitimate samples from which to make a decision as large as cutting a player.
Your league format will play a role, but even then I think only May 15th should be the only those three early dates to come into play because if your league’s waiver wire is that deep, it is still going to have talent in mid-May so you can least hold out that long before making major cuts that could come back to hurt you. What everyone needs to understand is that even mid-May or the end of May simply might not be long enough when you are dealing with all single digit and early double digit round picks. That should sound like “no duh” advice, but playing in a wide variety of leagues year in and year out, I see guys released who have no business being on waiver wires before the first day of summer.
Just this year I saw a fantasy manager, who prides himself on being patient, cut Markakis on June 9th to get out in front of the latest prospect, Anthony Rizzo. Guess who that idiot was?