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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Winning Tout Wars

Earlier I had posited that I could win Tout Wars or LABR, two expert 5x5
Rotisserie Leagues.  I had explained that everyone essentially values the
players identically and everyone also has pretty close to identical information
about the players.  So, how exactly would I win?

The answer begins with putting a team in position to win.  Nobody can predict
perfectly what players will do.  So, there is a level of uncertainty.  The goal
is to use that uncertainty as a positive rather than a negative.  The goal is to
create a minimum baseline of success.  In a 5x5 AL league let’s look for 75
points as that minimum.  Seventy-five points is safely 4th or 5th place in the
AL Tout Wars league and even better in LABR.  How does one guarantee 75 points
but maintain upside without any real downside?

The first step is to manage risk.  It’s impossible to avoid or predict injuries, so I don’t mean that type of risk.  Instead, I mean point risk.  The biggest
risk is paying for saves.  While the top closers produce in ERA and Ratio and
even strikeouts, the second tier closers can actually hurt you in two categories
and not help you in two others.  Plus, even in Stage 3 leagues, closers can be
overpriced compared to their end of season valuations.  This is because saves
might not flow to the best closers.  Last year Joe Borowski saved 50% more games
than Mariano Rivera.  Finally, second tier closers lose their jobs more often
than other players.  The only reason to take a closer is if he’s exceptionally
cheap and multiple teams appear to be using a “no closer strategy.”  If that’s
the case, a few marginal dollars could be worth a few points.

The next step is to maximize pitching points without spending much more on
pitching than the other teams.  Assuming that the average team spends $75-82 on
pitching and scores 32.5 pitching points, the key is to gain more points without
spending more than the average marginal dollar per point.  The average point costs $4
($260/65), but the average pitching point costs a lot less ($78/32.5).  If a
team can spend $90 on pitching and achieve 41 points there’s already
considerable profit.  In his book Sam Walker also decided this is where the
profit can be achieved, but he had no experience.  He decided to buy the first
three pitchers figuring those were the top three pitchers.  One of them was
Mariano Rivera, a closer.  Later in the auction he took Sidney Ponson for a
middle level pitcher price of $12.  That proved to be a big mistake, one that
would have been avoided by a more seasoned player.

In the late 80’s, using the data provided to him by Jerry Heath, Alex Patton
proved that the top players in the league are actually the most likely to return
their value in the draft.  Later on, profits and losses have wider swings, but
the middle pitchers usually yield losses.  Ponson was one of those big losses.

In order to remove the risk of pitcher losses the Tout Wars league generally undervalues all starting pitchers.  LABR pays a
bit more for the very top starters, but bids pretty low for even the A- starters
and below.  I believe that that I could get three of the top pitchers for an
average price of $23.  Then I would save $2.50 per pitcher for four pitchers in
the crapshoot portion of the auction.  That’s $79 of my $90 spent on seven
pitches.  While $11 for my final two starters doesn’t seem like much, I think
there is considerable value to be had.  Pitchers with low Ks but average ERAs
are generally undervalued, especially to those who believe in K-rate in
predicting pitcher growth as well as those employing the LIMA Plan.  Rather than
looking for growth potential, I’d just be looking for a ballast for my staff’s
ERA and Ratio.  Basically, I’d be looking for the medical profession of the
pitching staff, pitchers who do no harm.  These two should do okay in wins and
Ks while puttin
g up league average numbers in the rate categories.  I’d also try to take any other potential rotation lock in the supplemental draft.  Both LABR and
its first offspring, Tout Wars, have a six round supplemental draft.  I believe
this three aces strategy should be worth no worse than third place in ERA,
Ratio, Wins, and Ks with a possible upside in each.  That’s 40 points plus one
point in saves for 41 total pitching points.

Now I’ve only got $170 for my offense, about $12 less than the average team.  An
average team scores 32.5 points, so I’ve got maximize my value to get to my
minimum target points of 75.  Stolen bases are the least correlated stat of the
five categories, so dumping steals is a possibility.  Another is going Sweeney
and dumping power, but I don’t think I can achieve 34 hitting points coming in
last in HR and RBI.  It would require a huge amount of Runs along with top 3
position in SB and Average.

I think the best place to look isn’t even one of the categories.  It’s At Bats. 
In a non-sabermetric world where walks don’t count except as to provide opportunities for steals and runs scored, I should focus on high average, high at bat
hitters.  These are the guys who make a lot of outs, but also get a lot of hits
and don’t take the base on balls when there are ducks on the pond.  These guys
should provide a solid base in average, runs, and rbi, but because they’re not
the premier accumulators in HR and SB, they won’t be too expensive.  Last year
an example of this type of target player is Placido Polanco.  He always hit for
a good average and batting second gets a lot of ABs.  He’s never going to steal
a lot or hit a lot of HR, so he’s perfect.  Coming off his career year, means
that this year he’s not a good fit for the plan, because his price may be too
high, but there are plenty of similar players available.

Another important aspect is to ensure starters or high AB platoon players at
every position.  Position scarcity has to be taken into consideration. 
Twenty-four catchers are drafted and there are only 14 starting catchers in the
AL.  That means getting two good catchers who will finish with a good average and put up the runs and
RBI needed for the plan to succeed.  Next, and this is probably the first and
only time you’re going to hear this, outfield is scarce.  Most people believe
that SS and 2B, or maybe even 3B are scarce positions, but that’s not the case. 
Teams draft 36 middle infielders and 28 of them are starters in the AL.  Teams
draft 60 outfielders and 42 are starters.  Plus, teams are much more likely to
take an outfielder and put him at their DH slot than a MI.  Another factor is
that some of these AB accumulators at MI are very bad hitters.  They accumulate
runs and RBI but they hurt in average and produce near nothing in HR and SB. 
Yet, because their reputations are
so bad as hitters they go for very cheap.  There are no starting outfielders
who go very cheap.  So I need five full-time outfielders.

Two of my hitters need to be in the $25+ category and produce in four
categories, including batting average.  They are most likely to return the value on my investment, based upon Patton’s research on high priced
players.  Whoever the first one is necessitates who the second one is.  If the
first is a big-time homerun hitter, I’m punting steals.  If he’s a big base
stealer, I’m punting HR.  Now, I’ve got an offense that should accumulate runs
and RBI, have a relatively good average, and either HR or SB.  My goal would be
to place 4th or 5th in three categories and 3rd in batting average.  That’s 35
points.  Adding one point in the category I’m punting gets me 36 points.  I’ve
exceeded my target.  I believe I have 77 points, which should be a fourth place
team and I have considerable upside in every pitching category - a 49 point
staff is not totally out of the question, plus RBI and runs could come through
even better than expected, leading to a team a very substantial chance to wi
n either LABR or Tout Wars.

All I need is to be selected to play.

Throughout the pre-season, I will be publishing my strategic theories on how to
win at Rotisserie baseball.  While the theories will be somewhat universal, I will be
focusing on AL only 12 team 5x5 leagues, just like LABR and Tout Wars.

Eugene Freedman Posted: February 19, 2008 at 03:34 PM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. faketeams Posted: February 19, 2008 at 08:13 PM (#2694892)
How many $23+ dollar starters will be available in a non-keeper league? In either league, six or seven. With 12 teams, I think you're underestimating how much you'd have to pay to "corner" the market on elite SP who.

Here are the ones from my site. I relaxed the values to include $20+.

AL-Only Elite SP Draft Values:
<table width="100%%" align="center" border="1"><tr><td>$30+</td><td>Josh Beckett</td><td>Erik Bedard</td><td> </td><td> </td></tr><tr><td>$20-29</td><td>Roy Halladay</td><td>Scott Kazmir</td><td>Justin Verlander</td><td>CC Sabathia</td></tr><tr><td> </td><td>John Lackey</td><td>Daisuke Matzusaka</td><td>Felix Hernandez</td><td> </td></tr><tr><td></td><td>AJ Burnett</td><td> </td><td> </td><td> </td></tr><tr><td colspan="5"></td></tr></table>

NL-Only Elite SP Draft Values:
<table width="100%%" align="center" border="1"><tr><td>$30+</td><td>Johan Santana</td><td>Jake Peavy</td><td>Brandon Webb</td><td> </td></tr><tr><td>$20-29</td><td>Dan Haren</td><td>John Smoltz</td><td>Carlos Zambrano</td><td>Aaron Harang</td></tr><tr><td> </td><td>Roy Oswalt</td><td>Brad Penny</td><td>Cole Hamels</td><td>Chris Young</td></tr><tr><td colspan="5"></td></tr></table>
   2. faketeams Posted: February 19, 2008 at 08:15 PM (#2694899)
Crap! The preview box showed the borders.

AL: Becket, Bedard, Halladay, Kazmir, Verlander, Sabathia, Lackey, Dice-K, Felix, Burnett
NL: Santana, Peavy, Webb, Haren, Smoltz, Zambrano, Harang, Oswalt, Penny, Hamels, Young.
   3. Rally Posted: February 19, 2008 at 08:32 PM (#2694922)
I doubt this strategy will deliver as expected with pitching. ERA and WHIP are no guarantees because your bullpen is weak. The best ERA and WHIP pitchers are the cream of the crop in the bullpen.

In 2004-05 I had a lot of success with one uber-ace pitcher, strong bullpens, and a lot of gambling, experimentation, and matchup milking on the rest of my starters.

In 2004 the uber-ace was Randy Johnson, in 2005 it was Pedro Martinez. They were dominant enough that I was able to place well in strikeouts. I ran away with saves. I got 1st place in WHIP and ERA for a couple of reasons: I had the ace, my bullpen was great, and because my innings were concentrated among the ace and the bullpen, I didn't get a huge amount of innings from subpar pitchers. I think at times I went with 5 relievers in a week (if I only had 4 starters with acceptable matchups- my NL pitchers NEVER made a start in Coors back then, except Randy).

The roster maneuvering just meant that Randy was as great a % of my pitching as possible. The one category I punted was wins, I didn't wind up last but was below average.
   4. billyshears Posted: February 19, 2008 at 08:47 PM (#2694938)
High AB hitters may be slightly undervalued because I don't think teams generally consider that these hitters have a disproportionate effect on a team's BA, but I don't think this effect is especially significant. I can't see any reason why the runs and RBI high AB hitters produce would be undervalued.
   5. Eugene Freedman Posted: February 20, 2008 at 02:34 AM (#2695248)
billy, it's the raw accumulation of ABs on the roster as a whole that matters, more than anyone's individual ABs, but I think that individual AB's do help RBI and Runs. Michael Young for example had a good BAvg, very few HR, low teens in steals, but high Runs and RBI. David DeJesus had terrific Runs and okay RBI despite few HR and few steals. These are the types of players I'm focusing on.
   6. Eugene Freedman Posted: February 20, 2008 at 02:51 AM (#2695257)

You should look at the auctions the past two years on the Tout Wars website in the AL. These experts are starting pitcher averse to the extreme. Last year Johan $36, Halladay $22, Dice-K $21, Bonderman $22, King Felix $23, Lackey $24, Sabathia $22, Schilling $20, and Haren $23 were the only pitchers over $20. Except for Dice-K, Schilling, and Bonderman I had higher prices 5x5 on each of these pitchers, along with Bedard and Kazmir, who both went $19. Not saying I would have struck gold and gotten both of them along with Beckett who went for $16, but in both of my established leagues we respect the top starters a lot more and thus I value them a lot higher. I'm positive I would have gotten three of these pitchers depending on when they came up. Verlander and Shields went for $13 and $11 respectively. That's embarrassment in an experts league. Verlander was a top prospect and had a huge rookie year. I had him valued at $19 prior to last year. I had Shields at $14. They are too risk averse on starters.

You should also note how many pitchers go for $1 in these expert leagues. It's a tremendous amount. Twenty-seven for $1. And the neutral, high win, low strikeout pitchers went for a song. Wakefield who is always underpriced $3, Washburn $2, Blanton $5, Garland $6, Wang $8, Buehrle $6. These guys are very predictable profits. I had all of them considerably higher, especially Wang, Blanton, and Garland. Pair two or three of these predictable but cheap starters with three aces, and all of a sudden you have a very good pitching staff in Wins, ERA, Ratio, and Ks, but it hasn't cost you much more than the average staff.
   7. Red Menace Posted: February 20, 2008 at 07:44 AM (#2695367)
Next, and this is probably the first and only time you're going to hear this, outfield is scarce.

Not to harp, but just about every fantasy magazine/podcast/website I've looked at over the past year or two has made this point. It's conventional wisdom masquerading as contrariness.
   8. this space for rent Posted: February 20, 2008 at 10:29 AM (#2695387)
It seems like most of your specific ideas here - e.g., draft five starting outfielders, look for guys with lots of AB, acquire solid starters with low strikeout totals - contradict your basic premise, which is that each team "essentially values the players identically." If teams value players identically, then the premium you will have to pay to acquire five starting OFs is by definition the same as the premium you would have to pay to generate the same amount of value from three stars and two part-time guys. Likewise, the only way you can claim that "neutral, high win, low strikeout pitchers" are "predictable profits" is if your projected value for such pitchers is higher than other teams' projected values. But if teams start with identical values (and bid them properly), then there are no expected profits coming out of the auction.

Given that, there seem to be only a couple of ways to approach the situation. The first is to identify a tactic that maximizes the number of points you get from a given dollar investment. In a real expert league, it's unlikely that any tactic is inherently advantageous, as valuations would adjust accordingly to even things out; however, adopting a tactic on the fly is worth considering.

The second approach is where you started, namely "managing risk." In the hypothetical identical-projected-value league, every team should come out of the auction with $260 in expected value - but those teams may have very different risk/reward profiles, and that may lead to very different odds of winning the league. An extremely risk-averse team that can expect to come close to its projected production is very likely to wind up in the middle of the pack; it's better to have some high-upside gambles and increase your chance of finishing in the money even if doing so also increases your chances of finishing in the basement. Building an entire roster of high-risk, high-reward players is likely to backfire, however; you might blow everyone out of the water if things go perfectly, but more likely you'll have enough failed gambles to cancel out your few successes and you'll lose to a team that hit on 2 of 3 longshots instead of 4 of 10. Figuring out the right balance doesn't guarantee victory, but it improves your odds, which is all you can realistically expect.

Again, you may be right that expert leagues systemically undervalue solid starting pitchers and high-PT guys with modest HR and SB totals - but that's very different from suggesting a way to win such a league if it did properly value such players, and the latter seems like the more challenging question.
   9. faketeams Posted: February 20, 2008 at 02:37 PM (#2695472)

Who are the $23 pitchers? Of those listed by last year's values, a few were busts. If you're looking to get the plurality of those, then you're likely to end up with a bust. Without the bust, how do you survive the innings-heavy league-average ratios?

As for Verlander, his Ks shot way up. Do you think there will be another 2007 180 IP/120K SP who has a 50% K increase ready to appear?
   10. Mike Gianella Posted: February 20, 2008 at 02:42 PM (#2695477)
I did an expert draft for Alex Patton at the CBS Sportsline web site for a 5x5 (strikeouts) A.L. only. The $23+ starters were: Verlander $28, Bedard $27, Lackey $27, Beckett $26, Kazmir $26, Sabathia $26, F. Hernandez $25, Matsuzaka $25 and Halladay $24. My fellow blogger John Toczydlowski drafted for Patton in the N.L. for a 12-team 5x5 as well and the $23+ starters were Santana $44, Peavy $39, Webb $31, Haren $29, Hamels $27, Oswalt $26 and Zambrano $25.

I've been writing about this at my own blog for the last couple of weeks: Roto Think Tank
   11. Eugene Freedman Posted: February 20, 2008 at 03:11 PM (#2695503)

I cross posted on MikeG's site. What you need to understand is that I said, I would have three top-tier pitchers for an average of $23. Not three $23+ pitchers. Based upon the auction he participated in, which he admits was likely a Stage 1 auction, not Stage 3, I would have spent one extra marginal dollar and spent this amount on the following pitchers:

P1 Sabathia 27
P2 Burnett 15
P3 Shields 18
P4 Harden 10
P5 Buehrle 11
P6 Garza 10
P7 Garland 6
P8 Wakefield 5
P9 Listch 2

It actually wouldn't have been the exact strategy above as I would have spent a little more on pitching than I had planned. My three top starters would be Sabathia, Burnett, and Shields and I don't think I would have resisted bidding up Harden, Buehrle, and Garza to the point of getting stuck (not really) with them, since I have them all valued significantly higher than the CBS Sportsline league di. Garland and Wakefield are solid plays and the fact that they went for $5 and $4 respectively is confusing to me as they seem bound to guarantee profit. Litsch is a crapshoot pitcher that I like a lot.
   12. Eugene Freedman Posted: February 20, 2008 at 03:12 PM (#2695504)
Red Menace,

Then why are the experts still talking about positional scarcity for shortstops and second basemen? If they truly believed it existed in the outfield they would never mention it in the middle infield.
   13. faketeams Posted: February 20, 2008 at 03:20 PM (#2695512)

Thanks. It was your personal assessment of player values i.e Shields is a much more valuable pitcher than what he will go for in a draft. As long as you're right, I have no qualms.

How do you see a staff like that scoring in the five categories?
   14. Eugene Freedman Posted: February 20, 2008 at 04:26 PM (#2695569)

It's definitely last in saves, barring a deal or two, so that's only 1 point. As an aside, I posted a comment on MikeG's site about the cheaper closers going too cheaply in many of these "expert" auctions as well and that a 3 cheap closer strategy being an interesting play. He developed that a bit in a very thoughtful blog entry. I would recommend checking it out.

I think this staff would run away and achieve 12 points each in Wins and Ks. That's 25 so far. The wild cards, as they always are are ERA and Ratio/WHIP. But, each of these pitchers was at a 100 ERA+ or better last year and only Garza had a bad Ratio. While the league ERA in 12 team leagues is better than the actual 14 team American League, only Wakefield was worse than 10% better than average among this group and most of the pitchers had ERAs below 4.00. With a healthy Harden, a big IF, of course, I think this team could easily post a 4.00 ERA, which should be good, in a balanced league, for 3rd or 4th place. I think the same could be said for Ratio.

It's a lot to spend at $104 dollars, but I think the pitching staff is worth 43 points.

The offense I got using the same marginal dollar method, not an automatic guarantee of actually getting each of these players was:

C Varitek 10
C Pierzynski 11
1B Barton 11
3B Figgins 30
CM Stairs 4
2B German 3
SS M Young 24
MI Uribe 3
O1 Ichiro 31
O2 Drew 15
O3 DeJesus 12
O4 Quentin 7
O5 Lind 2
DH Giambi 2

Obviously I valued the high average, high at bat hitters more than most in this league, as I seem to do in other leagues as well- Ichiro, Young, Figgins, but I would have gotten stuck with Varitek and Giambi relatively early, upsetting the batting average a bit. It would all come down to the RBI and Runs gambit. I think the batting average would be worth 10 points, the SB worth 7-9, and the HR in at the bottom. I actually think the Runs would be quite high, maybe a 3rd or 4th place, and the RBI somewhat lower, probably worth only 2-3 points, maybe only 1. I think it's a 29-32 point offense. At the high end it hits my target goal of 75 points at the low end it falls slightly short, but perhaps those big margins in Wins and Ks can be dealt without losing any points.

Granted this is an exercise only since I wasn't in the draft and I don't know if I would have gotten these players at these prices, but it's an interesting exercise none the less.
   15. booond Posted: February 21, 2008 at 04:53 AM (#2696336)
My biggest problem with the all-starter system is there is no fall back. If your pitchers go bad by 10% you're done.
   16. Eugene Freedman Posted: February 21, 2008 at 12:07 PM (#2696413)
boond, all of the expert leagues have reserve drafts and liberal transactions. You don't have to wait for a player to go on the DL or be sent down to reserve or waive them. Under the traditional rule book, I agree, it's a considerable risk.
   17. booond Posted: February 21, 2008 at 03:17 PM (#2696473)
Even in a liberal transaction system there aren't many starting pitchers registering 4.00 ERAs available. The pool is near empty in a 12 team AL or NL only league.
   18. faketeams Posted: February 21, 2008 at 09:24 PM (#2696870)
As a strategy, I am not unsold. Can those nine, or nine of comparable value, be had at the draft though? I ask becuase you've assumed just another $1 would have landed them which presumes that whomever had won the bid were done bidding.

I know I often get players at a few dollars less than I was willing to spend.
   19. booond Posted: February 22, 2008 at 06:09 AM (#2697187)
As a strategy it's an all-in. There's no fallback if it fails. Come June 1st it could be four months of watching others spend your money. Can it work? Sure. But a lot of strategies can work... put this on the hook with the $1 pitching strategy.
   20. jammerjoe Posted: February 26, 2008 at 06:40 PM (#2700352)
The problem with this is assuming you would have been able to obtain these pitchers for an extra dollar. The reality is you might not have got them at all, since whoever won the bid might not have stopped bidding. Shields would have cost you at least $21, since I was prepared to go to $20 for him. I can't speak for the other auction participants, but that scenario was just as likely for the other pitchers as well.

I cross posted on MikeG's site. What you need to understand is that I said, I would have three top-tier pitchers for an average of $23. Not three $23+ pitchers. Based upon the auction he participated in, which he admits was likely a Stage 1 auction, not Stage 3, I would have spent one extra marginal dollar and spent this amount on the following pitchers:

P1 Sabathia 27
P2 Burnett 15
P3 Shields 18
P4 Harden 10
P5 Buehrle 11
P6 Garza 10
P7 Garland 6
P8 Wakefield 5
P9 Listch 2
   21. Trace Wood Posted: March 10, 2008 at 08:29 AM (#2709601)
It's funny how many people think it's easy to win Tout Wars. They analyze the drafts and have these great insights as to how these experts spend their budgets so inefficiently. But here's the thing: every person who earns a spot in Tout Wars has a track record and every other person in Tout Wars knows that track record. They will have read everything you've ever written on strategies and players you like (including your treatise here) and will make you pay a premium for those guys you want. As Mike Tyson so eloquently put it, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." What will you do if no one is paying for saves? What will you do if they spend those savings on top starters? There are a couple of guys who are notorious for chasing at bats in AL Tout - what will become of those player prices with yet another person chasing at bats, especially now that you've announced your intentions?

The ones who actually win are the ones who can adapt on the fly by Round 10 when their strategy gets blind-sided by 5 other guys jumping their "sleepers" and find where the value is being created as it's happening and where it's likely to come from as the season progresses.

I know: I won AL Tout Wars twice.

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