Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 24, 2005
BASEBALL: Roto Rules
As the spring training camps creak slowly to life - most of the news these days is sportswriter-generated "controversy" with no shelf life - many of us prepare for another rite of spring: the Rotisserie Baseball draft. Mine is March 12, which is unpleasantly early (I've had way too many experiences of players getting injured between Draft Day and Opening Day), but it's harder as you get older to schedule these things.
Anyway, it's a traditional roto rules AL league (8 categories, $240 for 23 spots, 12 owners, auction-style draft). Seeing as this is the 12th year I've done this, and I've had my share of successes and failures, I thought I'd offer a little advice on drafting:
1. Preparation + Access: Preparation, of course, is key; if you try to improvise going into the draft, you're in trouble. In particular, you need to know the depth charts - who's got an everyday job, projected closers, etc. But as any good trial lawyer will tell you, it's not just what information you have, it's what information you can reach. Thus, it's equally important to have as much key information as you can get (and as little you don't need as possible) in a format you can scan quickly during the draft. In theory (depending how much time I have), I like to have both a set of depth charts for each AL team and a top-to-bottom list of players by projected prices, so I can cross them off and see who's left at particular positions as well as who's left to draw out the big money.
2. A Crappy Pitcher With A Closer Job Is Still A Crappy Pitcher: Yes, it's true that you pay for playing time as much as for quality. And with relief pitchers, you pay a "closer premium" for anyone who has a closer job, or a smaller one for a guy with part of a closer job or a shot at winning one.
The closer premium, however, should be discounted heavily if the pitcher is a bad pitcher. I've learned this one the hard way (*cough* Brian Williams in 1996 *cough*). You can't remind yourself of this often enough: bad pitchers lose their closer jobs. Then you're stuck with a guy with a double-figure salary who pitches 4 innings a week with an ERA that would look better as a winning percentage, and who probably didn't convert a ton of saves before that.
3. Never Mind the Gimmicks: It's like spotting the sucker: every year, someone decides to "go naked" with nine $1 pitchers. Once in a blue moon, someone makes that strategy work, but as a percentage move it's just awful, as I've seen team after team go down in flames by deliberately short-changing the pitching staff. A variation on this is the one-ace-pitcher theory, which is also risky because you spent $30 bucks on Pedro and then had to absorb hundreds of innings of guys with 5-plus ERAs to meet the innings minimum. We used to have a guy in our league who used the opposite strategy: tank HR and RBI, draft a few high-average base thieves to corner the steals market, and spend the rest on pitching. This strategy similarly failed more often than it worked, plus these days there are too few dependable base thieves left to make it work, especially in the AL.
4. Playing Time, Playing Time: At the opposite end of the pole, one strategy that seems to work quite a lot, although it's easier said than done, is largely eschewing top players to load the lineup with guys who play every day. This is a sure-fire way to run the table in RBIs. The downside: bring in a few injuries, and you have holes you can't plug and no desirable trade bait.
5. Flexibility: One thing I've learned is that each draft is different, as the league personnel changes, the AL's personnel changes, and strategies change. Top closers went for $40 plus in the mid-90s, and don't touch those prices today. Some years, starting pitching is at a premium. Don't be paralyzed by your projected prices; watch how the draft is going.
6. Follow the Money: This one's pretty basic, but if you're a beginner, make sure you closely track how much money everyone has left, particularly once a lot of rosters are nearing half-full. If there's someone you really want, you don't want him coming up while there are one or two guys left who can bid everyone under the table.
7. $14 for Paul Assenmacher: Not sure why I remember that one - I believe he was released by his owner before the end of April that year - but every year somebody winds up paying a silly-high price for their last player because they saved too much money to the end. Don't be that guy.
8. Three and Three: Although I've gravitated more to strategy #4 above in recent years - when I first started I used to blow my money on a few huge sluggers and bank on finding bargains to fill the lineup, which has gotten harder to do - I usually wind up with a basic alignment of three good starting pitchers and three guys who can crank out 30 HR apiece. The closer I get to that, the happier I am. Ideally, you want the pitchers at less than $20 apiece - last year, I put $51 on Barry Zito and Roy Halladay, with catastrophic results.
9. Big Prizes Early: Whether you're looking for bargains or trying to fob off duds, it just never seems to work to bring up anyone in the first few rounds who isn't a stud. People have enough money to prevent huge bargains, but they won't bid very far on lesser mortals while they're hunting for franchise players.
Strangely, there are often bargain opportunities in the first two or three players to be bid on, as people are still gunshy about blowing their wad right away. This depends to some extent on where enthusiasm for A-Rod is in your league this year.
10. $10-20 for Catchers: Catcher is the easiest position to get stuck with guys who don't play at all or don't hit at all. But there's also a tendency to go to $15 or $20 for a guy who'd be a $10 player as a first baseman, and that's a waste. The ideal team spends between $10 and $20 total on catchers.
Anyway, those are initial thoughts (more to come if I think of them). Of course, you can probably deduce a lot of my specific player-evaluation ideas from reading this site.