Commentary

There's always a chance …

Updated: June 15, 2011, 12:02 PM ET
By Matthew Berry | ESPN.com

I'm not in it to name-drop.

By this, I mean that the point of me bringing up the fact that I interviewed Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the movie directors, is not to brag. Even though I totally talked to them in the same room for, like, 10 whole minutes. Rather, it's because of a surprising thing I learned when I talked with them. Again, in case you missed it, it was in person. In, like, a small room. But no biggie. I mean, whatever. I don't really want to go on and on about it.

The Talented Mr. Roto

We talked about quotes from their movies. I asked them, like to their face and everything (enough already! I said I didn't want to discuss it!) about what gets quoted back to them the most.

They said they get a lot from "Something About Mary" and "Kingpin," but "Dumb and Dumber" is usually the most popular, and by far, the most frequent quote they get is this one.

Lloyd: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me … ending up together?
Mary: Well, Lloyd, that's difficult to say. I mean, we don't really …
Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary: I'd say more like one out of a million.
[pause]
Lloyd: So you're telling me there's a chance … *YEAH!*

Analyzing why something is funny or not is about the most pointless thing in the world, but I will say that I believe there is a reason that line resonates so much, more than 15 years later. People, especially guys, cling to hope. We are a never-say-die group, especially with women, our sports teams and fantasy.

Hold that thought for a second. The other day on our podcast, Eric Karabell was filling in for Nate and we read an email about a guy who was in a league with a real-life couple. The girlfriend, thanks to some early-season losses and Buster Posey's injury, had dropped out of the league and now the guy was, in effect, running two teams. He was, in the opinion of our listener, running the girlfriend's team to the benefit of himself. Anyway, we ruled on the subject with "Hard Justice," as we do every Wednesday, but it started me thinking about giving up. I believe when you join a league, you play that league out, no matter what, till the finish. But even if you don't have the strong fantasy moral fiber to do that, this struck me as a little too early to bail on the season. As I write this, we are halfway into the 10th week of the season.

So with all that in mind, I asked the great Mike Polikoff, who oversees our League Manager products, to pull a bunch of data from last season. Mike used a sample from our prize-eligible leagues and an active 10 percent of our standard leagues; these are all active leagues that play out the year, you see, so as to not to skew the data. It's also how we calculate ownership percentages so as to exclude as many dead leagues as possible.

One of the first things he did was pull the stats through nine weeks into the season and see what percentage of teams that were in the bottom half of the standings in 5x5 standard roto categories, 10-team mix leagues finished the year in first.

The results were interesting. Those currently in first, second or third through the first nine weeks of the season have an almost 77 percent chance of winning it all. Which is a lot. But it's not 100 percent. Of the teams that were sixth or worse at this point last season, 8.7 percent ended up winning the title.

Yup, 8.7 percent. So you're saying there's a chance …

Indeed I am. So are the stats. It's not a great chance, but it's a chance. It's also fair warning not to get cocky. Some 2 percent of the teams that were in first, second or third place at the end of Week 9 last season ended up finishing dead last.

OK, so if you're saying there's a chance … how do I take that chance? I'm in the lower division and I want to make a move. What can I do?

Well, we start by looking at categories. Here's some more data that Mike pulled, this time by category. Here's how teams that finished in first place -- and remember, more than half of them were in second or worse at this point -- were in each category after nine weeks, and how they finished the year in those categories. Let's see if we can figure out how those teams pulled away from the competition.

So the greatest category gains from the end of Week 9 last year until the end of the season were in strikeouts, wins, runs scored, RBIs and HRs. In that order. The same holds true for second and third place. The bottom three, not surprisingly, were the average stats; ERA, WHIP and AVG.

This is just a one-year sample and stats are different this year. There's much more quality pitching, etc. And, of course, every team and league is constructed differently, so you may be way out ahead in wins and middle of the pack in ERA, but you have two picthers go on a Max Scherzer-type second half and you gain five points there as you pull away from the pack. It's all possible.

But for our purposes, in general, wherever you are in the standings right now, you need to concentrate on two categories and two categories only.

At-bats and innings pitched. Period. You're collecting as many of those as you can.

The categories in which you can make a move are the "accrued stats" categories, the ones in which you need to keep piling on the stats. You can sit on a .297 batting average all season, but you've not even hit half of the home runs you'll need by the end of the season, let alone your runs scored and RBIs. From the mound, it's all about the strikeout. Wins are hard to chase but you've got a better shot at them with a lot of starters going rather than trying to coddle your ERA and WHIP with middle relievers.

So you want as many at-bats as possible, and to do that, you need to use your three bench slots on hitters to make sure you have as many guys batting (and starting) every single day. It's not always going to be possible. Sometimes you'll set your lineup for a day game only to find out that your guy playing at Oakland is taking a day off. But as much as possible, you want guys getting at-bats, and in shallow leagues like ESPN standard roto leagues, there are always plenty of those guys available. Think Shin-Soo Choo; even if he goes 1-for-4 with a run scored, it's better than taking a zero from that slot that day. And there's always a chance he'll hit a homer, steal a base or drive in multiple runs that day. And if the Indians aren't playing? You bench Choo for someone who is playing that day. It's a long season; the stats will add up if you work at it.

Brett Lawrie
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesBrett Lawrie may be worth having once he gets to the bigs, but a hand injury will delay him two-to-three weeks for which you cannot afford to keep him on your bench if you hope to maximize your at-bats.

It also means you're dropping Brett Lawrie, rather than hoarding him for when he comes up. It means if you have too many DL guys you're gonna start having to make some hard choices. But all of your offensive slots plus your three bench slots need to be dedicated to players to try to maximize production and statistics in runs scored, home runs and RBIs. That's where the opportunity is. Look at the chart again. The teams that ended up in first, on average, went from a 3.42 ERA after nine weeks to a 3.40 in ERA. From 1.26 to 1.23 in WHIP. And .276 to .277 in batting average. They gained less than one roto point in each case. In general, the margin just isn't there, and it holds true again for teams that finished in second or third. It's all about maximizing runs, RBIs, home runs, strikeouts and wins.

So with all the bench slots taken up by offensive players, what does this mean for your pitching staff? It means the "Wandy line" concept is in effect. Look, we just showed that, basically speaking, as long as you don't load up your pitching staff with dregs, you're not going to be making any significant moves in ERA or WHIP. So we're just looking for guys that have a decent chance at wins and strikeouts. Innings-eaters, come on down.

Obviously, you need to be aware of start limits in your league, but I would be pounding the waiver wire and streaming as much as possible. If a pitcher wasn't starting that day and wasn't one of the elite guys that you can't drop (i.e., above the Wandy Line), I'd dump that pitcher and grab someone who is starting, or if there isn't anyone appealing, I'd pick up a middle reliever with strikeout and vulture win potential for the day. I'm not chasing saves at this point; again, that's a category in which all the top three teams gained less than a point from this part of the season until the end. If a closer emerges and you can get him, great. But don't bother owning a guy just because he "might" get saves down the line. A strikeout in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Remember, you can't get hung up on names on your pitching staff. You need innings and lots of them. The more innings, the more strikeouts and the more chances you have at wins, generally speaking.

The odds says there's a better than average chance you're finishing close to where you are right now in the standings. But it's not set in stone. If you are vigilant, read our daily notes, make moves every day and accumulate as many at-bats and innings pitched as possible, the potential is there for you to take home the title, even if you're in last place. So yes, I'm saying there's a chance.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is in fifth place in one auction league, but has HanRam, Wright, Longoria and Pujols and likes his chances.He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend

• Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
• Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
• Best-selling author of "Fantasy Life"