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Deep League Bench Strategy

April 28th, 2012 by in General Guidance

One of the key differences in drafting and maintaining a fantasy baseball roster in deep leagues (NL/AL-only, 10+ teams) vs. shallower mixed leagues is the huge dropoff in playing time for ‘replacement level’ players.  While the shallow league replacement pool will often be stocked with less desirable major league starting players, deep leagues offer slim pickings varying from hitters who play in less than half their teams’ games, middle relievers with little chance at saves, or minor leaguers not hyped enough to get drafted. 

This huge gap in replacement level has several ramifications ranging from increased dependence on the draft and trades for team success to increased difficulty in overcoming injuries.  On the flip side, this gap between starter and replacement level also provides a bigger upside should an owner land players who can contribute at starter-level.

So what is the ideal strategy for stocking a bench?  Here is some of my thinking:


I prefer to have more pitchers than hitters on my bench to swap in/out based on matchups.  While projected player value is most important, I’d prefer to have some position diversity in my hitters.  I also want a balance between players that may help immediately vs. prospects & injured players who are dead weight until May or later.  I’m also not a fan of taking fliers on trade targets from another league until closer to the trade deadline.


Hitters - Does this player have a path towards starting and what is their upside?  If this bench player requires auction dollars, how difficult is it to find a short-term replacement?  What position(s) do they play?

Assuming good health, many of the players in starting lineups and rotations on draft day will indeed be in the starting lineup and rotations by end of year.  But there are always roster spots where you know the player’s name is written in pencil.  In these situations, I try to avoid spending too much on the starter and take an interest in the next best option.  An example from this year was the Oakland A’s 3B situation where it was clear that Eric Sogard (a SS not good enough to supplant Cliff Pennington) and Josh Donaldson (a C not good enough to supplant Kurt Suzuki) were likely to be supplanted by end of April unless they played above their talent level.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t any obvious replacement for those two players to draft and, not coincidentally, the A’s picked up another team’s castoff (Luke Hughes) in hopes of getting lucky.

Another strategy is to draft players who have potential to start later in the year after recovery from injury or a call-up from the minor leagues.  This was my main bench hitter strategy in the Draftday league as I invested $4 in both Mike Trout and Salvador Perez as well as a $0 claim for Ryan Kalish.  In the case of Salvador Perez, I didn’t want to invest heavy in Catcher and figured I can get a solid backup later in the draft – after my desired choice got picked (Tyler Flowers), I held off until free agency to pick up Brayan Pena.  Cheap selection of Robert Andino ($3) and Bobby Abreu ($1) gave us some decent filler until Trout gets called up.

A last element I consider is the player’s position.  Everything equal, I prefer OFs and multi-position IFs because there are more roster spots that they can fill in case of injury.  In addition, there are more roster spots on my opponents’ rosters they can fill which can increase their value.  An example from this latest draft that illustrates the issue is Scott’s drafting of two extra 3Bs (Danny Valencia and Wilson Betemit) while having a DH clogging up UTIL in David Ortiz.  While he got these players at solid value, their trade value is limited as these players can only fill three roster spots (3B, CI, UTIL) vs. 6 for an outfielder.

Starting Pitchers – What is their path towards starting and what percentage of their matchups will be favorable?

The great thing about having extra starting pitchers on the bench is that you can choose to start them only when they have a favorable matchup.  I ran AL data from 2009-2011 to see the difference in pitcher home vs. road ERA using 100+ IP as the cutoff.  Here is the comparison:

Home:  3.78 ERA / 1.27 WHIP / 6.8 K/9
Road: 4.35 ERA / 1.36 WHIP / 6.7 K/9

So if you were to just start a marginal pitcher when they pitch at home, you are shaving off about 0.25 ERA and 0.05 WHIP vs. their season average.  I assume switching a few ‘easy’ road starts for difficult home starts (NYY, TEX, etc) would improve those ratios a bit further.  I would also assume that this Home/Road disparity is greater for pitchers in pitcher parks like Seattle and Oakland – making these pitchers that much better than their season stats might indicate.  Conversely, pitchers in hitters parks or in difficult divisions (AL East) have less appeal for matchups.

Assuming all current starting pitchers are rostered or are at or below the Luis Mendoza line, I’m looking for SPs with some chance to get a spot in the rotation.  I’m drafting Danny Hultzen (SEA) before I’m going to draft Manny Banuelos (NYY) because Hultzen (whom I did draft this year) has lesser competition and a team with little to lose.  

Relievers – What is their strikeout rate?  How good/bad is their team?  How shaky is my closer?

I view relievers on the bench as solid options when my weaker SPs have bad matchups.   It is generally fool’s gold to find Saves (got lucky with our Francisco Cordero pick) so I would rather get a pitcher with solid peripherals (K/9, WHIP) and hope they can get lucky and contribute some vulture wins.  Given the unpredictability of year-to-year middle reliever success, this is usually an area where teams can find useful players.

An exception to the above would be if I drafted a shaky closer.  In those cases, I'm more likely to put one of their backups on the bench until I feel more comfortable in their job security.  For example, we drafted Jim Johnson in other leagues and felt it necessary to keep Kevin Gregg on the bench as insurance against injury or losing the closer gig. 


8 Responses to “Deep League Bench Strategy”

  1. Eric Kesselman says:

    This was a really insightful article, thanks. The point about OF vs CI is kind of obvious in retrospect, but something I had not really considered before. 

    I think one important point to add is that with our DL rule (you can draft injured players and stash them without using a roster spot as long as they are on the DL) players like Sal Perez and Brett Anderson go way up in value. They're likely to contribute a good third to one half of a season, and unlike the prospect in waiting they dont eat up a bench slot. 

    Here's a question for you guys- what do you think a bench slot is worth in dollar terms? Do you factor that into your calculations at all with picking your bench or making trades that open up a bench slot?

    • Sai says:

      Dear Anonymous,Thanks for the feedback! Once Verlander puts up cvenscutioe monster seasons, he’ll rank higher in my books. He had an amazing 2011 to be sure but Halladay, Lee and Lincecum have done it for years, so I have to give them the edge for now.In regard to steals, I guess the way I see it is this: steals are an entire category unto themselves and I like to build my fantasy team with a nice balance of some power guys and some steal guys, so I feel guys that consistently deliver steals (i.e. Michael Bourn) are worth their weight in gold and deserve to be taken earlier than most. I put Ichiro higher not just for the steals but also the previously proven ability to put up a high batting average. Rather than simply writing off 2011 as the end of Ichiro’s elite outfielder status, I think he is too good (and too proud) to not have a big bounce back in 2012. It’s my personal opinion is all. Much like the guy that delivers the speed, I like to value guys that historically deliver the average as well.Speaking of which, the majority of the lists are based upon personal opinion. True, 2011 statistics are a big part of determining a player’s fantasy value, however I also go with my gut (as well as intangibles). Call me crazy but this is the way I see things: baseball players are human beings, not robots. As such, they are subject to ups (Verlander) and downs (Dunn). Players talented enough to make it to the major leagues will be able to bounce back or regress due to the (equally talented) opposing players gunning for them. I like to think that in baseball, things tend to regress to the mean.While Kershaw and Hamels are both top 15 pitchers, I think there is a lot of talent at the top of the list and things will shake out accordingly. In regard to Miggy, he still is one of the best first basemen in the bigs until someone comes along and knocks him off (same goes for Pujols).All in all, it proves one thing…. baseball is an amazing game with some very passionate and knowledgeable people that follow the game. You clearly fit into that category and I look forward to discussing the game (and the fantasy aspects of the game) together throughout the off season and into 2012.Thanks again for the feedback and thanks for adding value to the site. Have a great off-season as we look forward to spring training 2012!!

    • Ijan says:

      Nice one. Think there are a lot of genuinely decnet people out there it’s just that everyone has a defensive shield around them most of the time and with the generally negativity that the media populate, we all think everyone is out to get us.Wonder what it would be like if everyone just treated people nicely until they proved to be an arse instead of the other way round.

  2. Rudy Gamble says:

    Agree on DL rule.  Wouldn't have drafted either Perez or Kalish without it (though, to be honest, I thought Perez was out for 30 days vs. 90-120 days – would not have drafted him for $4 had I'd known the severity of the injury)
    I had done a post in the offseason on Ryan Braun where I estimate the value of a bench slot for the first 50 games of the season in a 12 team MLB with daily changes ( – came out to $3-$4 of value.
    But about 1/2 of that was driven by the ability to swap in hitters/pitchers on off days.  Not an option in weekly leagues.  Maybe you can still make a $1 worth of value per bench spot used to swap in and out pitchers with favorable matchups.  Assuming I have only 1-2 pitching spots that I want to use for rotating players AND I'm employing this already with 1-2 bench spots, this value couldn't be attributed to a new opening on the bench.
    Post-draft, I think the chance of a 'lottery ticket' coming in (someone coming up and delivering starter value) is very low.  Maybe it's worth a $0.25-$0.50?
    My best guess (without doing the research) is the $0.25 to $.50 range.

  3. Eric Kesselman says:

    Also with no reasearch (obviously!) that feels a shade low to me. I definitely would not sell two of my present spots at $.50 each, and I suspect I'd pay a buck and buy two extra spots. My guess is they're worth closer to $1 each.

    • Rudy Gamble says:

      What you'd pay and what it's worth are two different things.  I'd pay more too since the upside is high and the downside is low. 
      I can quantify this – will get to it soon…

      • Jonas says:

        Not saying antinyhg against your son, but my son is 2 months away from his 4 Birthday and he is way ahead of your little guy and my son is already about the same size right now as yours .He Breaks the siding on the house with tennis balls and the house is only 3 years old .He also sleeps with his bucket of balls ..

        • Emilia says:

          When we lived in Edmonds, WA I used to drive down to the overlook near the beach and ferry and often eat my lunch there both when wtaeher was good or bad. I agree, there is something so neat about the water so soothing in nice wtaeher and so tumultuous in storms. Love it either way. It’s probably the one thing I miss most about where we live now it’s now a 15 20 minute drive to the water rather than a 5 minute drive. I’ve always lived within minutes of the water until now and grew up where the water was nearly always within view.

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