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The Legitimacy of Tanking and the Misconception of Closers

Disregarding a fantasy baseball scoring category may actually help you win your league. Here is a guide on how to properly "tank" a category along with my thoughts on the value of closers and stolen base specialists.

Michael Bourn trots around the bases in his new Tribe uniform
Michael Bourn trots around the bases in his new Tribe uniform
Rob Tringali

Tanking - the act of intentionally disregarding a fantasy scoring category.

Tanking (sometimes referred to as punting) is a very hotly debated fantasy sports topic. Many people believe that tanking tests the integrity of the game and view it as an unjust strategy. Others say, "it's my team and I can do whatever the hell I want with it." I am guilty of being the latter type of person when it comes to fantasy baseball. I will be the owner of three fantasy baseball teams this upcoming season and I will most likely abuse the tanking strategy for two of them. There are definitely some downsides to tanking, but I have successfully used this strategy in the past and will continue to use it in the future.

I believe that there are two tankable scoring categories in fantasy baseball: saves and stolen bases. Let's look at stolen bases first because I am going to need some space to rant about closers.

Typically, speedy players are very one-dimensional. They usually do not possess power, but they will obviously contribute stolen bases and have the opportunity to record more runs. The problem I have with drafting stolen base specialists is that they are way overvalued. As an example, Michael Bourn was taken in the early 6th round in my 10 team 5x5 Rotisserie draft. He was taken ahead of Ian Desmond, Chase Headley, Paul Goldschmidt, and Jered Weaver. This is absurd because each of these hitters that Bourn was drafted before provide at least four out of the five rotisserie scoring categories. They are each capable of hitting 25 homers, driving in 80 runs, stealing at least 15 bases, and batting in the upper two-hundreds. Not to mention the fact that Weaver provides solid numbers in four out of the five pitching scoring categories. He won 20 games last season, had a stellar ERA of 2.814, a great WHIP of 1.0177, and struck out 142 batters. Michael Bourn on the other hand will provide your team with mainly two categories. He stole only 42 bases last year. If he put up a Rickey Henderson like total of over 100, he would not be used as my poster boy for the overvalued speed demon. The truth is, there is not another Rickey Henderson out there. One player will not crown you as your league's stolen base king. Bourn did score 96 runs last year, which is a very formidable number, but guys like Alex Gordon (93) and Aaron Hill (93) put up very similar amounts and they are being drafted later than him. Bourn's negatives, 9 home runs, .274 BA, and 57 RBI outweigh his positive of 42 stolen bags. You can tank the category of stolen bases because it will allow you to excel in the other facets of hitting. If you are not comfortable with completely giving up on a category, then take several solid stolen base guys like Desmond or Goldschmidt. With these guys, you can get some steals, but also way more production in literally every other category. Another way to completely avoid tanking stolen bases is to grab a guy late in the draft who you can put at your utility spot and get 30 stolen bases from, like Emilio Bonifacio or Everth Cabrera.

Now to the topics of closers and tanking the category of saves. This is what I do each year. If I draft a closer at all, I will take one very late in the draft. Closers mainly give you production ONE fantasy baseball scoring category and that is saves. They do lower your ERA and WHIP slightly and provide you with some strikeouts, but not nearly enough to make a difference in the standings. So why waste a draft pick on a superstar closer, such as Craig Kimbrel in the 6th round, when you can have a guy like Jason Kipnis or maybe Max Scherzer? There is no sane reason to do this. Grab players who are multifaceted, ones that make a noticeable difference in many areas of the game. Tanking saves is more intriguing to fantasy baseball players than tanking a match is to Serie B Italian soccer players. There is no need to grab a closer in the first ten rounds if you feel that there is a need to take a closer at all. You can grab other closers, less sexy ones, in round 20 something. Perhaps Casey Janssen catches your eye or Jose Veras. People always have this idea that if the closer doesn't pitch for a great team, they are useless. This is simply not true. When Steve Cishek closes out a rare Marlins victory, his save counts for the same amount as when Mariano Rivera closes out a game in the Bronx. It's all about opportunity and not each game is decided by a three run or less difference. The Yankees will win more games than the Marlins in 2013, but not each will require the Sandman to enter. So if you are into taking closers, draft a bunch of guys late who can save around 25 games a piece, not one closer in round 6 who can save 40 games.

In conclusion, tanking is a very useful fantasy baseball strategy. If done correctly, it can help boost your team's production in other scoring categories. Remember though that your team needs to be built solidly in order for you to tank a category. If your pitching sucks, performing poorly in saves will not help your cause. Tanking is easier to get away with in head to head leagues because scoring is done weekly and there are many more categories to score points in. However, you can still tank in a rotisserie league and come out victorious. If tanking makes you nervous go ahead and draft a speed guy and some closers but, be patient with it and wait a decent amount of rounds. Try to find consistent, well rounded players early and then specialize later in your draft. If done correctly, tanking can help you win a fantasy baseball championship.