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A Starter For Ten

by Matt Smith

At first glance, the opening week of my Fantasy Baseball UK challenge did not go well.  The Week 8 competition was won by Kris Marriott’s KillaKlowns team, who picked up a very impressive 673 points.  Danum Knights and Igto’s Tribe came in second and third with 656 and 652 points respectively.

My team scraped its way to 413 points, just about good enough to crack into the top 2,000. 

You may think I should give up now and save myself the humiliation, but there was a genuine reason for my relatively low total last week.  Up until now, I have been concentrating on the season-long competition and you have to approach that in a certain way (not least focusing on picking up cheap youngsters at the start of the season and keeping them for the duration).  Now that I’ve switched my attention to the weekly competition, a shift to a new strategy is required: one that looks for instant results.  Disregarding value for short-term gain is something that I have (unintentionally) proved to be quite good at, so this may just pay off.  Week 8 was therefore sacrificed as a transition period, happily trading away points to set up my plan for Week 9.

My FBUK challenge will be built on a few simple, commonsense plans that should produce short-term gains.  I will be using each of the plans on several occasions over the rest of the season, with the hope that one may bring success somewhere along the way.  This week’s plan is called ‘A Starter for Ten’.

In FBUK, you have a $12m budget from which you select a minimum of nine position players, five starting pitchers and a closer (you can also have up to four bench players and a sub reliever if you wish).  The most high-scoring single category is ‘wins’, which are worth twenty points apiece.  So, it stands to reason that one way to have a great week is to get plenty of wins from your five starters.

FBUK works on a four day rest rule for starting pitchers, i.e. if Tim Hudson pitches on Monday, his spot cannot score any points again until the following Saturday.  That makes sense when you stick with the same pitcher because it’s unlikely that he will pitch again before that point, but it’s something you have to consider when you are swapping one starter out for another.  And in particular it’s something you must consider when playing for the weekly crown.

A week in FBUK runs from Sunday to Saturday inclusive.  Let’s say Tim Hudson pitches on Sunday in Week 1.  He would next pitch on Friday (still week 1), followed by Wednesday (week 2), Monday (week 3), Saturday (week 3) and so on.  The key here is that in week 2, Hudson would only make one start.  Because of injuries, rainouts and suchlike, the pattern doesn’t continue exactly every five days and often your five pitchers will be pitching on different days in any case.  This means that some weeks you may only get five or six starts from your rotation, which greatly limits their point-scoring potential.

The ‘A Starter for Ten’ plan is simply to make sure (injuries and acts of god notwithstanding) that all five of your starters make two starts during the chosen week.  My poor showing in Week 8 was largely because I wanted to realign my rotation to give me the best chance of ten starts in Week 9.  This meant parting with several good pitchers who I had picked up at a decent price earlier in the season (Sheets at $594k instead of his then-current value of $795k, Greinke at $445k instead of $637k), but these sort of ruthless/reckless decisions have to be made.  I wanted to make sure (as far as I could) that all of my starters pitched on Tuesday 17th.  This would make their next possible scoring spots to be Sunday 22nd (the first day of Week 9) and would mean that they would then pitch again on Friday 27th.

To achieve this, I was more than prepared to pick some fairly average starters who would fit the schedule.  As it turned out, I was able to select an extremely promising group of Kazmir, Lester, Cueto, Duchscherer and Johan Santana.  To put the icing on the cake, this rotation only cost me $6,000 dollars more than my previous one ($3,520,000 rather than $3,514,000) so I didn’t need to undertake any major surgery on my batting lineup to come in under budget.

Week 9 began at 18.00 on Sunday and as the minutes counted down I have to admit that I was feeling strangely confident.    Kazmir, Lester, Cueto and Duchscherer were all set to pitch that evening, with Santana scheduled to start on Monday against the lowly Mariners.  My ‘A Starter for Ten’ plan was set up perfectly, all I needed to do was sit back and wait for the points to roll in.

Or not.

Kazmir and Cueto both lost their games and Lester got a no decision, although Justin Duchscherer did pick up a win (this was a relief in more ways than one: I normally never pick an A’s player for fear of sending them into a slump).  ‘At least Santana will make it two wins from five’, I thought.  Felix Hernandez’s grand slam put paid to that idea.

Five starts in and I’ve got one win to show for my efforts.  Thankfully you also get points for strikeouts and innings pitched, so my rotation has earned me a respectable 101 points.  Kazmir is facing the Pirates on Friday (‘ding, ding, ding’; points please!).  On Saturday, Lester is facing the Astros, Cueto’s facing the Indians, Duchscherer starts against the Giants (although Lincecum is the opposing pitcher) and Santana takes on the Yankees.   With a little bit of luck, three or four wins plus plenty of strikeouts and innings pitched could take me to around 270 rotation points on the week, which would give me a very useful total for the offense to build on (the KillaKlowns rotation earned 223 points last week, for example).

Will my ‘A Starter for Ten’ plan prove to be successful?  Friday and Saturday will hold the key. 

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