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Sunday 17th Dec 2017

Know your league’s rules. It is a very simplistic message, already obvious to all. Yet, even industry people lose sight of it sometimes. Even those who write columns about rules.

As I type this, the Colorado Rockies are playing the best baseball in the National League, as evidenced by their 14-6, .700 record. They are carrying a four-game winning streak and have earned identical home and road 7-3 marks.

The Rockies pitching staff, a group most wise fantasy owners are conditioned to avoid, has logged a cumulative 3.61 ERA, second in the NL only to the vaunted arms of the New York Mets.

In this young season to date, I have rostered three of Colorado’s starting pitchers in NL LABR, the League of Alternative Baseball Reality. Given the above success of the team, and their pitching in particular, it should be good news, right?

Not so. As we are so often reminded, fantasy is not the same as reality.

You see, I picked the wrong three Rockies arms in which to invest.

In no small part due to these bad decisions, I am dead last in the league in both ERA and WHIP, despite my team being ranked seventh overall. Where did I go so wrong so quickly?

I am hardly the only industry analyst who felt Jon Gray was on the verge of a breakout season - to the point I was willing to place the winning bid of $9 back on March 5 in Phoenix. Unfortunately, Gray made three no-decision starts before suffering a stress fracture in his foot, originally thought to be a toe injury, which has put him on the shelf for at least a month.

On draft day, chasing value, I pushed my luck a bit by going $3 on Tyler Anderson. At that point, I was going off the lefty’s solid 2016, during which he posted a 3.54 ERA in 19 starts. His spring training went on to be ok (4.08 ERA) – with nothing that prepared me for his ugly start to the regular season – a 7.32 ERA through four starts.

I cut Anderson for a setup reliever this week and undoubtedly waited too long. On the other hand, one might wonder if I am guilty of early-season panic, but I prefer to consider it self-preservation.

My third Rockies hurler, rookie Kyle Freeland, tempted fantasy owners with six innings of one-run ball at Dodger Stadium in his MLB debut on April 7. I rushed out and bid $2, at least as happy to throw failed Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez over the side. By then, Gomez’ ERA was 15.00, but hey, I got one save.

Freeland’s second outing, the first on my roster, delivered the cold, hard reality check. Still on the road, against the tanking (er, rebuilding) San Diego Padres, the lefty was hammered for six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings, a lusty 11.57 ERA. Immediately, off my roster he went in Week 3. Since then, Freeland has thrown 11 innings, allowing just one earned run. Yet, he remains on the NL LABR waiver wire. That says something.

Even if a pattern of sometimes pitching well could emerge that would have enabled me to consider streaming Anderson and/or Freeland, that avenue is blocked. The practice of streaming pitchers is not allowed in LABR. The only way to bench and keep a player is if he is injured or sent to the minor leagues.

Although I knew this rule coming in to the draft, I never thought Anderson’s performance would degrade so badly so quickly. So far, Freeland has three good outings to just one bad, but the fact that the ugly one stained my record has served as a painful reminder of the downside of chasing wins.

Well, those habits are hard to lose completely. This week, I tried to pick up Phillies rookie starter Josh Elfin, but my $2 bid fell just short, on a tiebreaker. It is just as well. Despite now going with four starters and five relievers, I will probably be better off with Cardinals reliever Matt Bowman, anyway.

My message is a simple one. Don’t chase lower-odds scenarios hoping to force fit the big score. Be satisfied with smaller incremental moves rather than trying to create a big bang – unless you are pretty confident that the guy you are after is going to come through.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

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