Baseball Crank
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.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:04 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

My fantasy league is somewhat different with both AL/NL and 9 or 10 teams total, so an outfielder who has .280/25/85 numbers would be considered a dud and this will be my 11th year doing all the stats....without exception, the winners each season derive from the "luck" picks that go for less than $10...usually for a buck. Last year, it was Carl Pavano, Mark Loretta and Kenny (18 win) Rogers outperforming guys like Chipper Jones, Kevin Brown, Zito and Mussina, all of whom went for much higher prices.

Ah, last year. It would be a bad time to spend the majority of your cash on Magglio, G. Anderson, Glaus, Giambi, Juan Gonzalez, Borowski and Preston Wilson, wouldn't it? That's what happened to me during the season of the DL for my team.

Posted by: RW at February 24, 2005 1:20 PM

forget that the best leagues are face to face, we play Dynasty baseball (although we started with the Late Avalon Hill Statis Pro and Played a single season of Strat-O-Matic) and have been playing face to face tabletop games for almost twenty years now. It makes trading interesting near the deadlines since we know how the people we are dealing will look like the next season, the ultimate Alexander vs Smoltz deals.

We work with a declining roster so the World Series winnner keeps say 6 players off his 40 man roster the runner up 7 etc so the best teams can't totally have a monopoly on talent.

Our league has been as small as 8 and as large as 18. For baseball excitement and the thrill of managing a game you can't beat face to face tabletop

(We actually have an opening for this season as a player just moved to Minnesota and will have an opening or two next season as well, so if you are in the North Central Massachusetts area and interested drop me an e-mail with the subject line 2004 season Dynasty and we'll see if we can fit you in)

Posted by: P. Ingemi at February 24, 2005 1:39 PM

I've been playing a private Yahoo league for the last few years (12 teams, both leagues). Sounds like yours is off-line, but the lists of players by position that Yahoo provides could probably be helpful to anybody. They also have a ranking algorithm that I find useful as a benchmark for my draft preparation.

Last season I hit the jackpot with Craig Wilson as my catcher -- since Wilson is actually an outfielder, I got 150+ games out of him. This opportunity comes up on occasion. This season, the Tigers' starting third baseman, Bradon Inge, is qualified as a catcher, at least in my league.

Posted by: Henry Woodbury at February 24, 2005 1:50 PM

What a steal, Henry. In my league, we all vote on draft day as to the position that each player will have and if they play 5 games at any other position they qualify there as well, so no way Inge (Or Wilson) goes as C. Heck, we even check the games played by position during spring training.

I waited 4 months for C. Wilson to get that 5th game behind the plate......I'm still waiting.

Posted by: RW at February 24, 2005 3:26 PM

The voting idea is probably the only way to do it, since a player's previous season's starts can't tell you anything about the new season. Last season the online leagues listed A-Rod as a shortstop and you couldn't even play him at third base for a week.

I play an online league because it greatly lessens the record-keeping and because the folks I play with are spread all over the country.

RW and Crank, just wondering, do you limit free agent signings in your leagues? With no limits in my league, most of the best managers turn over about 50% of their teams by September. (We also play one season at a time, so there's no need to keep a hobbled star for next year).

Posted by: Henry Woodbury at February 25, 2005 12:26 PM

We use 10 games last year, or 10 games in the current season, but usually we've voted on questionable cases when they come up at the draft.

Free agents, we have a $50 (real money) budget. I annually blow the whole thing. Of course, the worth of free agents depends on your eligibility rules for interleague trades and how many teams are chasing how many players.

I'm also in a Yahoo league, NL/AL, but at best you should use Yahoo's rankings with a grain of salt. They miss a lot.

Posted by: The Crank at February 25, 2005 12:42 PM

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Posted by: Junior at January 14, 2006 12:15 AM


I've been playing statis por baseball for decades and was recently presented with a rule discrepancy. In the stolen base chart on the board, it says things like "1) any runner rated A, B, C, steals, or 2)any runner rated A, B steals, or 3) any runner rated A steals.

I have always interpreted this to mean if you were not an A, B, or C in #1, or A, B in #2 or A in #3 you were out.

It has been brought to my attention that I may have been misreading this in that in #1 only A, B or C runs..D or E stays at base, #2 A,B safe, C, D, E do not attempt steal and #3 A steals all others remain on base.

Was just wondering how you interpretted this rule


Posted by: chip at August 5, 2006 6:27 PM
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