|Fantasy Baseball: Achieving Balance|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on February 06, 2008
Making your plan involves knowing how many players are in your league and figuring how many points you need in each category to win that category. Example - in a seven player league which used all of major league baseball roughly 1180-1220 RBIs would have been needed to win the RBI category last year. In a ten player league that number may have been around 850.
However most of us don’t want to spend a lot of time figuring this out, so we take an alternative tack. What we do is make up a plan based upon compiling enough of a balance, or enough of a domination in some categories that we can trade for what it looks like we need down the road. To do this we need to understand which categories are easier to change than others.
There are two type of category, hard and soft. Hard categories are exactly quantifiable and reflect directly in a one to one ratio on your totals for that category. An example is Home Runs - if you own Hunter Pence and he hits a home run - your home run total goes up one with each home run he hits. Hard categories are easy to change even late in the season. Hard categories include Home Runs, RBIs, Runs, Steals, Strikeouts, Wins, and saves.
Soft categories are harder to change, especially late in the season. They include Average, ERA, and WHIP. These categories are weighted by dividing by other factors from earlier in the season (see example below). Because of this, there is not a one to one relationship, but a fractional one.
WHIP for example is total Hits + Walks for a staff divided by innings pitched by that staff. So a brilliant game in September might have little effect on a staff WHIP
Going into a game a staff has given up 1600 hits+ walks in 1200 innings
so 1600/1200 = 1.33 WHIP
Now pitcher X comes in and pitches 7 perfect innings. The equation changes to 1600/1207 = 1.325 which is rounded to 1.33 WHIP so no change in WHIP based on just those 7 innings, if the pitcher had pitched 8 innings of perfect ball he would have just had enough fractionally to change the number to 1.32
With that in mind, lets take a look at the categories.
Home Runs: (hard category) Pretty self explanatory - the guys you want here have names like A-Rod, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Carlos Pena and Adam Dunn - basically the sluggers. There are good ones on every team. Home runs are not a scarce commodity.
Average: (soft category) Again pretty self explanatory. One of the hardest categories to change significantly late in the season, so falling to the rear after two months can be a problem. Guys like Ichiro, Matt Holliday, Chipper Jones, Edgar Renteria, Hanley Rameriez who hit for good average are always important from day one.
Runs: (Hard category): Guys who cross the plate a lot. Who are they? Leadoff hitters, sluggers, and guys who have great hitters hitting behind them. Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes and Curtis Granderson leap to mind. Lots of runs are scored every season.
RBI: (Hard category) The studs here usually bat in the three to six position in a lineup and come to bat a lot with runners on. Most sluggers like A-Rod (again), Magglio Ordonez, Vlad Gurrero and Mike Lowell fall into this category. Every player gets some RBIs but drafting too many guys who don’t produce 70+ can burn you.
Steals: (Hard category) The scarcest offensive category. In most leagues 200 or so steals will take the steal title. For this reason steals are often overvalued by some players. Guys like Jose Reyes, Juan Pierre, Brian Roberts and Chone Figgins come to mind. There are a lot of guys out there who can hit for good average and get steals for a team - but many will only help you in those two categories.
Now we move to the pitching categories.
Wins: (Hard category) straight forward. Not just good pitchers, but pitchers who play for overwhelmingly offensive teams can win a lot of games. Players like Beckett, Santana, Sabathia and even Jeff Francis are good examples.
Strikeouts: (Hard category) easy to figure. Lots of pitchers who are not winning pitchers can strike out a lot of men (Scott Kazmir anyone?), but many winning pitchers, especially Josh Beckett or Johan Santana dominate here.
Saves: (Hard category) again easy to figure, but a very limited resource. Most teams will only have one closer, although some will close by committee. That means that there are only perhaps 35 players who are likely to get more than a handful of saves. Obviously closers for winning teams will get more chances to close games than those who don’t lead much.
ERA: (Soft category) Earned runs/innings pitched multiplied by 9 (number of innings in a game). Another category which is not that easy to change. Picking solid pitching up early is easier than trying to catch up.
WHIP: (Soft category) as explained above. Walks + Hits/innings pitched. Another category which can be very difficult to change. Pitchers with great control who don’t walk a lot of batters are best here.
The best players are players who can help you in 4 or 5 categories, which is not to say that a two category player can not be a huge factor. Someone who steals 45 bases probably and doesn’t hurt you in average can easily be pared with some major sluggers on a team to produce better numbers than one might get by using three more balanced players.
A balanced outfield of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Lee all of who hit 32 or more home runs and stole 10 or more bases, put up combined stats of .293, 277 Runs, 307 RBI’s, 108 home runs and 52 stolen bases in 2007.
An outfield of Carlos Pena, Prince Fielder and Carl Crawford - (Sosa and Berkman are 4 category guys and Crawford is a 2-3 category guy) put together a season of .295, 301 runs, 320 RBI’s, 107 Home runs and 53 stolen bases. This team with no player who contributed heavily in all 5 categories actually put up similar numbers in average, RBI’s and home runs, and beat the balanced squad in 4 of the 5 categories.
Now admittedly I only used premium players in making this example but the same would mostly true if you were much deeper in the draft and were looking at players like Adrian Beltre, Torii Hunter and Carlos Lee (all of whom hit more than 26 home runs and stole more than 10) against a matchup of Lance Berkman, Ryan Howard (two guys who hit and don’t steal) and Juan Pierre (who steals and hits).
With this in mind its important to realize that just because you draft balanced players, doesn’t mean that balance can’t be achieved in other ways. I used base stealers in the example because they are often just one or two category guys - but there are plenty of three category guys who suck in average and steals, but can bring power, runs, and RBI’s to the table.
Your draft plan can make or break your season on opening day, but even the worst drafted teams can be greatly improved by keeping in mind the same details we’ve just covered and watching the waiver and free agent wire.