Strategy Session: Roto Pinch Hitters
Fantasy owners are always searching for every possible advantage, and one of the most effective mid-season tactics is the use of "pinch hitters." In fantasy hockey, a "pinch hitter" is a player who doesn't normally contribute enough to be a regular in your starting lineup, but who can put up big numbers in one or two key categories in a temporary relief role at a critical moment.
The strategy doesn't apply to points-only leagues, but it's a tool that every rotisserie owner should have in his or her belt. In roto-leagues owners are given points based on their league ranking in each stat category, with each rank worth a set amount - for example, 10 points for 1st, 9 for 2nd, 8 for 3rd, and so on down to 1 point for last in each category. Whether you win a category by one or 100, there's no difference in the number of fantasy points you earn.
This fact leads to a simple strategy: if you're comfortably ahead in a particular category or so far behind that all hope is lost, it makes sense to sacrifice that category in order to improve your standing in others. For example, maybe at this point in the season your lineup is stacked with scorers and players that take a ton of shots. If you're leading those categories by a sizeable amount, but you're also within striking distance to overtake several owners in PIMs and hits, it would make sense to take a scorer (or two) out of your lineup and deploy a pinch-hitter who could bump you up in the categories where improvement is possible.
Something else to consider is the later into the season we go, the more extreme the strategy can become. If your fate is sealed in the final weeks in certain categories, you should ignore them completely and turn your attention to areas where it's still possible to gain points. On the last day of the season, that might mean something as crazy as dropping your entire roster and deploying an arsenal of goons.
This early in the season you'll have to sprinkle pinch hitters into your lineup with some finesse, and you'll have to be ready to bench them if your bread and butter categories start to suffer. With that in mind, let's take a look at a handful of the NHL's best single-stat assassins. We'll stick to the defensive and physical stats, as the key contributors in the "skill" categories - goals, assists, PP points, etc. - are no doubt already in starting lineups.
1. Brandon Prust MTL - Prust currently leads the NHL with 71 penalty minutes, and he's also dropped the gloves five times. Throw in a solid plus-7 rating and five points through 16 games, and it's enough to keep you afloat while you climb the PIM rankings.
2. Jared Boll CLB - You won't find much offense here, but Boll leads the league with seven fights and sits second overall in PIMs (65). In terms of goons, he's the best there is.
1. Matt Martin NYI - Martin lapped the field in hits last year - 374 hits to second place 293 - and he currently sits third overall (62) in the category in 2013. He has just one point thus far, so you can't keep him around too long without hurting yourself overall, but he'll definitely have you climbing the ladder in the hit department.
2. Chris Neil OTT - Neil ranks in the top five in both hits and PIMs, so he can be pretty valuable depending on the mix of stats. He'll even light the lamp on occasion - 38 shots, three goals.
1. Josh Gorges MTL - Georges might be the best shot blocker in the business right now. Last season he was the only player to top 200 in the category (he had 250!), and he currently sits 4th overall in 2013 with 42. The rest of his numbers are pedestrian, but he fits the bill as a pinch hitter.
2. Andrew MacDonald NYI - Ranked 5th overall in blocks last season, and he sits in the same spot thus far in 2013. Unfortunately, he gives you little else - his stat line shows just one lonely assist through 16 games.
1. Tyler Bozak TOR - With 11 points, including five on the power-play, Bozak is probably not available in leagues with deep rosters, but it's worth noting his dominance in the face-off circle. He trails only Claude Giroux in total wins, and he sits 7th in percentage (amongst players with 100 or more wins).
2. Antoine Vermette PHX - Fifth overall in face-off percentage amongst players with at least 100 wins, 7th overall in total wins. He won't have you excited about much else, but he's always near the top of the face-off stats.
These pinch hitters represent some of the best options for owners looking to target a particular stat. In spite of their overall weaknesses, they can each be valuable if used with precise timing. Just remember that it's your overall score that counts in the end, so be careful to bench them if the balance of your team gets out of whack. Good luck!