Platooning pitchers can be fun, but definitely isn’t easy

One of the things that makes Dynasty Grinders unique — and challenging — is our seven start per week limit on pitchers.

There are a couple key¬†reasons this rule is in place to begin with. First, it prevents teams in our head-to-head format from having clear volume advantages. If my team happens to have 15 starters going this week and yours only has seven, you’re at a distinct competitive disadvantage and in deep leagues, you can’t simply pick up good — or even adequate — talent* and hope to keep up.

* This isn’t a universal truth. You’ll probably be able to find serviceable guys in free agency. But if you find yourself in a week where your seventh start depends on it, good luck.

The second reason is to prevent that last thing from being an option in the first place. In a deep dynasty league, streaming just doesn’t make sense. It’s a perfectly valid strategy in 10- or 12-team leagues where the free agent pool is plentiful. But fundamentally, dynasty leagues work to put owners in a position to mimic real life general managers. And real life general managers don’t pluck guys off the street, start them, and dump them the next day only to rinse and repeat as necessary.

Anyway, because of the seven start limit, you’re going to want to carry at least that many starting pitchers*, though probably more (2-3, ¬†maybe). Pitchers are notoriously prone to injuries and you’ll encounter weeks where all your guys’ spots in the rotation happens to fall on a Wednesday or Thursday, meaning they only get one outing that week.

* A game theory note here: one thing the seven start limit also does is make it so that hoarding SPs loses profitability at a certain point. You may think, logically, the best way to tackle pitching is to just buy up a bunch of arms. But¬†how much do you really want to invest in that sixth, seventh, eighth starter who won’t often be in your starting lineup, especially because doing so likely means skimping on offense? At some point you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and Paul’s sitting on your bench because Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Carrasco¬†are taking the bump¬†twice each this week.

So due to the depth of the league and the start limit, you’ll find yourself over the course of a season deploying¬†players you wouldn’t even imagine — but you still want to do so while giving yourself the best odds of success.

Sometimes it will end horribly. Sometimes you’ll get lucky. Either way, there’s a certain amount of fun to be had from finding pitchers who can sufficiently fill in gaps. The challenge is earmarking roster spots for these seldom used arms. Roster spots and flexibility, you’ll find, are pretty valuable commodities, especially as the season wears on and attrition impacts your squad.

My favorite example of a guy like this is the Miami MarlinsTom Koehler. Due to spacious Marlins Park and the NL’s lack of a designated hitter, Koehler pitched to a 3.80 FIP and 0.70 HR/9 at home in 2015. On the road, he got pummeled. His road FIP was 5.21 and HR/9 rate was 1.39.* Particularly in a points league like Dynasty Grinders, where allowing a home run goes for -12.5 points,¬†combustible HR rates like that will sting. And because of the start limit, you can’t simply absorb a bad start by culling a couple extras from whatever scraps are on the free agent pile. You just have to hope your other six guys do work.

* To translate out of linear stats and into our scoring: Koehler averaged 28.23 points per start at home but just 16.56 on the road, including all four of his negative point duds.

Between 2014 and 2015, Koehler averaged 31.5 starts a year. But since you can only start him when he pitches at home, he’s only a usable option for you roughly half the time (he¬†pitched 90.1 innings at home and 97 on the road in 2015), meaning that only 15 or 16 times per year will he be at his most optimal.

Also, just because he’s lined up to start a home game doesn’t mean he’s a sure-fire start for you that week. You’ve surely got better pitchers. Several of them, hopefully. What if your top three guys have two start weeks?¬†Being a startable option 15-16 times a year does not necessarily mean you’ll crack the lineup at each of those opportunities.

Of course, the same kind of platoon splits are¬†true of hitters. The list of guys who can only hit righties or exclusively get in the lineup against lefties is long. The Los Angeles Dodgers‘ 1B/OF Scott Van Slyke, for instance, had a .345 wOBA in 2015 and .447 wOBA (!!) in 2014 against left-handed pitching. But he averaged 97 games and 249.5 plate appearances a season over those two years. You can get mileage out of that.

Granted, many of those games and PAs logged came as a late-game situational hitter (so he likely wouldn’t have been in your fantasy lineup that day), but the fact remains: you’ll have many, many more opportunities to utilize a platoon hitter than you will a pitcher.

The other thing that makes having a platoon bat easier than a platoon arm: if half your team has off days, that platoon bat can fill in whether he’s in the lineup or not. If he’s not, fine. You know that if he does enter the game though, he’ll do so in a favorable spot. It’s the little things.

And this says nothing of platooning pitchers based on opponent handedness (i.e. doing a quick search of your lefty’s opposing team that day to see how they stack up when facing LHPs). Depending on the pitcher, that can whittle down his usefulness even more.

So, how much do you want to budget and pay for this occasionally useful, mostly bench-warming pitcher?

The point here is that, when assembling a team, each owner will have different strategies but most will be doing one shared thing, be it subconsciously or intentionally, and that’s trying to maximize every roster spot. It’s really hard to maximize roster spots when the guys you’ve got in them need the stars to align perfectly to be useful and may be lucky to get double digit starts for you in a given season.

But then, that’s part of the fun.