The 3 Stages of Rotisserie Grief
I have submitted my video application to join a documentary project based upon
the book Fantasyland by Sam Walker, about his participation in Tout Wars the
expert Rotisserie Baseball League. The prize is an entry into Tout Wars
American League, one of the competitions for Rotisserie League experts.
While my trials and tribulations about making the video itself would probably be
an entertaining read, I’d like to devote my first Rotisserie column on becoming
a tout myself and explaining how to win a league like Tout Wars or LABR and
other Stage 3 leagues. Maybe I’ll be selected to participate in Tout Wars or
LABR as an at-large entrant, not part of the documentary.
For those not familiar with Stage 3, it is concept developed by Alex Patton, one
of the first, and in my opinion, the greatest strategy tout for Rotisserie baseball.
Alex developed the theory in the late 80’s and early 90’s that leagues and
individual owners move through developmental stages, much like the Kubler-Ross
Stages of loss and grieving.
Summarizing, Stage 1 is when owners spend all of their money early in the
auction. This is usually in newer leagues where the owners have little
experience and are just excited by the big names who are first introduced. They
don’t really know pricing and bidding very well yet.
Stage 2 is when one owner begins to understand Stage 1 and decides to wait for
bargains. Many strategy websites recommend waiting until every other owner is
out of money then grabbing up bargains as a way to win an auction league. John
Benson’s old strategy of optimal bidding relies on Stage 2. Unfortunately, this
doesn’t work in advanced leagues, so Stage 2 becomes a wishcasting stage. Owners try to out-predict their competitors on who will have career and breakout years. Of course sound projections are much better than wishcasting, so owners stuck in Stage 2 generally fail.
Eventually, everyone in the league becomes good at waiting for bargains, not
overpaying early in the draft, and pricing in general, and you enter “Stage 3
Hell.” Every owner has priced every player within a few dollars. This means
that nobody really gets a bargain in the draft and nobody really overpays. The
pricing of almost every player can be predicted prior to the draft and it
shouldn’t matter when a player comes up in the auction – round one or round 23.
Only the distribution of those players is in questions when the auction begins.
Since Alex came up with this theory many owners have been “Searching for Stage
For the purposes of this theory I’m not considering keepers or draft inflation,
I’m looking at leagues that start over every year like Tout Wars or LABR. And,
without keepers, there is no draft inflation because there are no savings going into the
draft and no statistical scarcity; all prices are fair and reasonable.
Once leagues move into Stage 3 everyone is looking for an edge. But, where is
the edge? Ron Shandler, the founder of Tout Wars, was one of the first to find
such an edge. He began using advanced statistical modeling to predict player
performance. For years Shandler’s projections helped people win their leagues.
But, now there are now a lot of models out there, including Baseball Think
Factory’s own Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections. ZiPS, Baseball Prospectus’
PECOTA, Diamond Mind Baseball, and other projections are all relatively similar
in their ability to predict player performance. So, if everyone in the league
is using the best in projections where is the edge to be had?
The next edge is in predicting playing time. The closer a draft is to opening
day, the less this edge exists. The earlier a draft is, the harder it is to
project playing time and roles. But, we’re assuming that the league is a true Stage 3 Hell and every
owner in the league has researched the teams to the point of knowing who is
starting, platooning, riding the bench.
Oddly, the best place to look next is back where you were when you started
playing the game. What is the goal? It’s not to predict statistics best or
gamble on who will be the MVP or Cy Young Award. It is to accumulate more
points than the other owners in the league.
In looking at LABR Tout Wars American League prices for the past few years I
think that many of the owners have taken their own advice too far. Perhaps
Rotisserie strategy has stagnated due to the lack of a diversity of ideas.
Everyone in LABR and Tout Wars understands that pitching is less predictable
than hitting. Everyone essentially spends the same ratio of money on hitting
versus pitching. Sure, every once in a while someone executes a true Sweeney
Plan and spends half or more of his budget on pitching or goes with the Labadini
$9 pitching staff strategy, but generally the 70/30 split is adhered to. In a normal
league, once the league adjusts its at bat and innings pitched minimums to
reasonable levels, these strategies are very unlikely to succeed.
Tout Wars adopted the LABR standards when it broke away. Both use a 4200 AB
minimum and 950 IP. The AB minimum is still pretty low, but even winning
offense, it’s hard to do anything in ERA, Ratio, Saves, and even Wins for $9.
Even with aggressive FAAB bidding, a $9 staff will likely score no more than 15
points in a 5x5 league. Provided $251 wins every offensive category, that
leaves a team with 75 maximum points, enough for third or fourth, but it’s
unlikely to win.
The same goes for Sweeney. Because pitching is harder to predict, it’s nearly
impossible to guarantee a win in ERA and Ratio. Plus, wins are somewhat
unpredictable. So, what happens when a team spends $130 on hitting and $130 on
pitching? It’s probably worth 55 pitching points. Add in a few high average
hitters and some big basestealers, two skills that are not necessarily mutually
exclusive, and you could win batting average and SB. But, Tout Wars is 5x5, so
HR and RBI are a lost cause and Runs won’t even be that good because you’ll be
shooting for low Abs to maximize the value of your high average hitters. It’s
probably a 55 point pitching staff and 27 point offense. Now, this team has a
shot to win, but again, it requires very aggressive FAAB bidding to improve
points in RBI and Runs, which may actually in turn reduce points in AVG. Plus,
because offense is easier to predict than pitching much more of the total
offensive stats are taken in the auction than is true of th
e pitching stats. All things being equal, neither of these strategies works to
win an expert league. They are good strategies to get teams into the money,
even in the toughest of Stage 3 leagues, but in expert leagues there is no
money, only glory. First place takes it all.
Again, we are at a crossroads. But, I think I have an answer.
The Answer in Part II…
Posted: February 05, 2008 at 04:28 PM | 42 comment(s)
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