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Question Authority

Ask Rotoman: July 26, 2006
 by Rotoman

Send your toughest fantasy questions to Rotoman.

ROTOMAN'S LIST:

Batting Average Since April 1, 2004
Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, Vladimir Guerrero, Todd Helton, Michael Young, Sean Casey, Carlos Guillen, Miguel Tejada, Miguel Cabrera.


EVALUATE

Dear Rotoman,

I'm in a Yahoo Head-To-Head League that for hitters scores R, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, SB, K, A, E, and AVG. At the beginning of the season, I sat firmly at the top of my league because of hot starts by several of my players. Lately, however, I've dropped all the way down to fourth (and soon to be fifth), mostly because of a batting average deficiency.

The largest culprit here has been Troy Glaus, batting only .247 as I write this letter. I picked up Garrett Atkins during his recent injury stretch, and I wondered if it is worth continuing to start Atkins to boost my average (but losing Glaus' huge power numbers). I've got a couple moderate power threats, like Magglio Ordonez and Mark Teixeira, but no one close to Glaus.

The other options to keep Glaus in the starting lineup includes starting him at short over Jimmy Rollins (I can give up the steals because I have Pierre and Abreu) or at the utility spot over an underachieving Todd Helton. There are just so many ways to go, and I don't know if any of them are viable solutions.

"Clear As Glaus"

Dear Clear:

The reason you're having a problem figuring this out is because you're giving yourself too many options. First, let's consider your scoring system. It's complicated. In two categories you'll probably do better if you play fewer players. Second, you say your problem is AVG, but that counts for only one of 10 offensive categories. With presumably another 10 categories in pitching, Troy Glaus's batting average wouldn't seem to be a big deal.

But you say it is, and it's your team and your league, so I believe you.

Which brings me to what interests me about your question. Batting Average. BA, some call it. I prefer AVG. When I was growing up, players were listed in the paper every Sunday by order of descending BA, or AVG. Whatever.

AVG tells you how many hits a player gets per at-bat. So someone hitting .333 gets one hit every three at-bats. I'm not dumbing this down because I don't think you know this, but because batting average is one of the great fantasy baseball challenges.

Why? Because it is really variable. From year to year, batting averages can range widely. To show how widely, it makes sense to think of the five best hitters for average we can off the top of our heads, and see how much their averages varied through the last five years.

   02 03 04 05 06Spread
Bonds.370.341.362.286.250.120
Helton.329.358.347.320.283.075
Ichiro.321.312.372.303.339.069
Pujols.314.359.331.330.328.045
Vlad.336.330.337.317.315.022

Take the consistent Albert Pujols' spread and apply it to a guy who is a .275 hitter. In any given year, for no particular reason having anything to with his performance, he might hit .253 or .297. The latter will help a fantasy team quite a bit, the former will hurt it just as much. But this variation has nothing to do with a player's skills. It's a matter of a few more balls dropping in, or seeing their way through the infield, or an outfielder slipping.

For a player with 500 AB, the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is just 25 hits. Spread out over the whole of a season, that's one random act per week.

Because of the high impact of random variation, it's not a good idea to pay for batting average, either in your draft and only in special situations during the year. Focus on the counting categories, buy plenty off productive at bats and try to avoid guys who are known for bad batting averages, especially those in scrubeenie roles (second catcher, MI). And most importantly, focus on your whole team.

Someone like Glaus will hit a lot of homers while he's healthy, but he should have gone somewhat cheaply because he's injury prone and because of his consistent low averages. His career high of .284 came in 2000, and since then the highest he's hit is .258, the lowest .248. This makes a difference.

In Tout Wars Mixed replacing the average player from each team in all the categories with Glaus would do the following:

AVG: .2839 drops to .2818, a loss of two points
RUN: 746 increases to 761, a gain of five points
HR: 183 increases to 196, a gain of three points
RBI: 714 increases to 235, a gain of three points
SB: 89 decreases to 85, which doesn't cost a point.

As you can see, in a mixed roto league, Glaus at present is worth about nine points this season better than an average player. We don't know HOW valuable that is, but we can assume he has real value in most leagues.

But his batting average does hurt. But since only 11 other hitters have more homers than he does, the obvious solution isn't to dump him (and his homers), but rather to add other players who hit for a high average to offset Glaus's liability. Which brings us back to that variability again.

When batting average can vary so much, especially in small sets of at-bats, how do you select hitters with high averages? The short answer is that there's no way to be sure. Ichiro hits something like .425 in June, but is hitting just .278 in July. The best you can do is look at their histories. Guys with higher batting averages over the past three years are more likely to hit for high averages. That's because the larger the sample, the better it will reflect a player's real talent.

Since April 1, 2004:

Garret Atkins has hit .299.
Magglio Ordonez has hit .299.
Mark Teixeira has hit .287.
Todd Helton has hit .322.
Jimmy Rollins has hit .284.

I'd say replacing Rollins with Glaus, since you don't need the steals, and Glaus with Helton would give you the best chance making up ground in batting average. Just be aware that Glaus is nursing a bad knee and is going to sit from time to time, and after a bit of a run up in batting average in June Helton's been terrible in July. But doing the right thing often means looking down the barrel and saying Yes. Or no, depending on the situation.

Averagely,
Rotoman


STRATEGY

Rotoman:

I play in an AL keeper league. I spent most of June in first place because I managed to put together a good offense, but my pitching was a problem. In a series of trades I dealt away Scott Podsednik, Corey Patterson and Dallas McPherson and picked up Mariano Rivera, Todd Jones, Bob Wickman and Barry Zito. With Jon Garland and Ted Lilly coming around, my pitching is really starting to cook.

But all the other teams seem to be getting better pitching, too. Plus, I lost Wickman this week, and worst of all, all of a sudden my hitters have all decided to slump, unless they've been benched for no good reason, the way Marcus Thames has been.

Is it possible to put together a good pitching staff at this point? One of the teams in my league had five great pitching keepers, so I understand his success, but the difference between bad and good in most cases seems arbitrary. What do you think?

"Pitching In"

Dear In:

From time to time I tell this story, so forgive me if you've heard it before. But it's an important one. A long time ago, practically before the Internet, there was a stat service called Heath Data Services, which was one of the first computer-based services doing Rotisserie Baseball stats.

Jerry Heath, who ran the show, had a great interest in Roto, and so in addition to helping leagues keep track of their stats, he also devised some measures derived from the stats he accumulated which helped his subscribers learn things about the game of Roto they never would have known if he hadn't.

One was the Heath Data Values, which calculated player values (prices really) based on how many points they helped a "team" that was average in all categories, much the way I calculated Troy Glaus's value in the previous question. The only difference is that Jerry would do it for all players every week, compare them and come up with actual dollar values.

Heath also kept track of how many first and last place teams a player was drafted onto, which gave some indication of whether a player was performing above expectations or below them and just how pervasive the effect was.

But the most eye-opening measure to me was his year-end evaluation of teams by the order they finished in the standings. One chart showed how they spent their money on draft day. Invariably, when averaged across hundreds of leagues, teams that finished first spent their money little differently than teams that finished last. Something like 35 percent of their budget went to pitching, 65 percent went to hitting.

That confirms everything we know about budgeting, but then Heath would show a chart showing how much teams earned (based on their Heath Values) at each position in the standings, broken down into hitting and pitching. Again, averaged across hundreds of leagues, the differences in hitting earnings were negligible. In fact, in most cases there would be little difference between what the hitters on the first place teams earned and the what the hitters on the next to last place teams earned (there was always a drop off in the earnings of last place hitting).

But -- and here's the eye opening part -- when you looked at the earnings of the pitchers, the average earnings were highest for the first place teams, next highest for the second place teams, next highest for the third place teams, and so on and so forth, all the way down the line. It was as if the best teams in the game weren't choosing the best teams overall, but were instead selecting the best pitching staffs.

But that wasn't right. What Jerry Heath's eye-opening chart was telling us was that the teams that won were somehow able to spend the same amount of money as everyone else and still get better pitchers. That was the difference between winners and losers. The question then, of course, was how did they do it?

I thought it might be instructive to take a look at the Top 3 pitching teams in Tout Wars AL and Tout Wars NL to see if we can find a clue about how they did it.

In TWAL the top three pitching teams are conveniently owned by the first place Steve Moyer (baseballinfosolutions.com), the second place Trace Wood (longgandhi.com), and the third place Rick Wilton/Brian Feldman (baseball_injury_report.com).

Moyer spent $87 on draft day for two studs (Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay), one second-tier starter (John Lackey), and no closers.

Wood spent $78 on draft day for four midlevel starters (Contreras, Burnett, Escobar, Sabathia) and two Orioles (Bedard, Benson). He took $6 risks on Closers-in-Waiting Fernando Cabrera and Rafael Soriano.

Wilton spent $80 on draft day on three mid-level starters (Francisco Liriano, Danny Haren, Cliff Lee), two reasonable risky starters (Tim Wakefield and Ted Lilly) and two closers (Todd Jones, Keith Foulke).

How did things turned out?

Moyer traded Jason Giambi and Ty Wigginton the first week in May to add Mariano Rivera, and he picked Tyler Walker up on waivers, which gained him six points in saves. Great seasons from Halladay and Lackey have offset bad years from Hernandez, Millwood and Westbrook, a strong argument for two anchors on a staff.

Wood swapped Jose Contreras, Jason Bartlett and Kris Benson for Francisco Rodriguez, and he was able to pick up Akinori Otsuka in mid-April for a $19 FAAB bid (Otsuka had been released after the opening week). That's a total of nine points in saves. And he's been helped because Burnett has been good since coming off the DL, Escobar has been good when he can pitch, Sabathia has been good when not on the DL, and Bedard has come around after a rough start, the rough equivalent of two anchors, though potentially four in the second half.

Wilton/Feldman spent for closers and got messed up by Keith Foulke, but has five points in saves, so it wasn't a total waste. Their staff has held up however because Danny Haren has been pitching well (until recently) and Ted Lilly has done fine, but the most significant part has been Francisco Liriano, the best pitcher in baseball since moving into the rotation.

In Tout Wars NL, the Top 3 staffs are owned by your truly, Scott Pianowski (rotoguru.com) and Matt Fisher (rotoworld.com)

I spent $97 for two studs with questions (Dontrelle Willis, Jason Schmidt), one midlevel guy (Brad Penny), a bunch of flyers (Jeriome Williams, Jason Marquis, Cory Lidle, Steve Trachsel), and a closer (Chad Cordero).

Pianowski spent $70 on one second tier guy (Brandon Webb), two closers (Joe Borowski, Chris Reitsma) and a lot of flyers (most notably Roger Clemens).

Fisher spent $96 on two studs (Chris Carpenter, Pedro Martinez), one midlevel guy (Noah Lowry), two closers (David Weathers, Trevor Hoffman) and some flyers.

How did it turn out?

Despite two absolutely miserable performances by Jason Marquis, when LaRussa left him out there to spank his fantasy owners, this week's Steve Trachsel debacle, and the miserable ratio of Dontrelle Willis, my staff has 51 out of 65 possible points, thanks to reserve round picks Jorge Julio and Horacio Ramirez, the excellent work of Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny, and Chad Cordero's wins (when there were no games in Washington to save). Cordero's saves, augmented by those from Julio, have earned seven points thus far.

Pianowski has been helped by having the NL's best pitcher and the addition of Clemens, but the move that put him over the top was the waiver pickup of Jason Jennings the second week of the season. The three highly effective starters have offset the work of countless ineffectual fill-ins, like Ramon Ortiz and BY Kim, who has been a roto plus at home but not on the road. Borowski and Reitsma's saves have been worth eight points so far.

Fisher has been carried by Carpenter and Martinez, as well as the saves he got from Weathers and Worrell, which have (with Trevor Hoffman's) earned him 12 points so far in the category. All his other pitchers have hurt him, but he has gained a total of 47.5 points.

The lesson here, for sure, is that the best scoring teams have two (or three) stud starters. These didn't necessarily cost a lot, but they did perform.

The other lesson is that you don't have to buy saves to compete in saves. The teams that didn't buy closers spent less money on their pitchers overall, and were able to trade for what they needed. We'll have to wait until the end of the season to see if the trade off remains worth it, but as of now it certainly has been.

Six teams with good pitching staffs rank in their respective leagues first, second, third, first, third, and fifth. They certainly didn't pay the most for their staffs, but they got the best pitchers anyway.

Whether that happened because of deft evaluations or flat-out luck, at least it's a clear goal.

Alluringly,
Rotoman


THE BIG QUESTION

Rotoman:

I know these type of questions are difficult to answer being that no one knows the league better than I do, but please try your best!

Notes about my league:

14-team, 5x5 mixed keeper (14 keeps each).

People overvalue starters, i.e. top hitters are more likely to get traded than top pitchers (I guess because there is no IP limit) and with 14 keepers there is little reliable talent in the draft. Last year's top hitters taken in first round were Matt Holliday, Chad Tracy, Wily Mo Pena (pre-trade), Craig Biggio etc ... with some sleeper/prospect picks like Delmon Young, Chris Ray.

Luckily, there are some very strong teams at the top. They can't keep everyone, so if you have an early pick (like me) you could get lucky and pick up a decent player.

I am 100 percent playing for next year. Here is my tentative 14-player keeper list.

1b Fielder
2b Kendrick
3b Tracy
SS Hanley Ramirez
OF C. Lee
OF A. Jones
OF Ichiro
SP Felix Hernanez
SP Verlander
SP Prior
SP Cain
SP Hamels/Billingsley (one of those, leaning towards Billingsley)
RP Lidge
RP Zumaya

On the bubble: S. Drew, L. Milledge, J Barfield, E. Encarnacion

Now to the trade. I have been offered Chris Carpenter for Andruw Jones or Ichiro. I'm leaning more towards keeping Ichiro, because he's major in Runs, AVG and SB (also a premium).

So, Andruw for Carpenter. Should I do it?? Carpenter would be huge for my staff. I get a much-needed anchor, and he brings some stability to my young and risky staff. However, if everything goes right (Felix and Cain meet expectations, healthy Prior, Verlander keeps it up) I could have nice staff if I fill with some steady vets for next year. Also, the loss of Andruw would be pretty devastating to my lineup, BUT if I make the deal, I'd cut loose Hamels/Billingsley and be able to keep Milledge or Drew (probably Milledge to fill hole in OF). Is Andruw's bat too important to my lineup???

What should I do??? Get Carpenter, cut loose Hamels or Billingsley and keep Milledge?

OR

Trade Ichiro instead???

OR

Stand pat b/c my outfield is solid going into next year, and I only need some minor patchowrk for good staff next year?

I need advice!!!

"If I Were a Carpenter"

Dear If:

Given the lack of hitting talent available in your draft, I'd hold onto Andruw Jones. I wouldn't count on Milledge for next year, but I think you can imagine building a staff on King Felix, Verlander and Cain. Especially if you have an early pick, and especially if pitchers are more likely to be available then. But I didn't run your letter because I had particular insight into your situation.

I ran it because it's an amazing document, robust and full of life, with bad spelling that I mostly fixed, and a trembling need for some sort of affirmation. But it's so full of clauses and alternatives that it's almost impossible for little ol' me to answer.

I think I would keep Andruw Jones, but with all those options it may well be the right thing to go for a pitcher. They aren't going to be around for the draft either, and apart from Verlander your staff could quickly crash and burn. With Carpenter and Verlander to lean on, you should be able to survive all but the biggest disaster.

But then ... I could go on and on and on, just like you.

So instead of doing that I wanted to say here that this is the time of the year when many of us, if our teams are floundering, start focusing our attention on football, or our better baseball teams. The inflow to my mailbox slows and usually much of it is so specific to specific situations that it's hard to draw general interest material out of it.

But you can help.

If you have any questions, topics you'd like to see covered, players you'd like to see chattered about, send them to mlb@askrotoman.com. The last two months of the season are about driving home to victory, or setting yourself up for next year, and sometimes both. I've got plenty to say about these things, but I think it's more fun when smart succinct funny questions come in from readers like you.

Thanks.

Until next time,
Rotoman


P.S. -- The other thing that needs to be said this week, as we slowly work our way to the Monday trade deadline, is that the vast majority of trades that get talked about before they're completed don't get made at all. So try not to get too agitated. It's great fun to check the news every 10 minutes to see what disasters have befallen your opponents (or, less fun, you), but you can save yourself a lot of grief by taking most of the rumors with a grain of salt. After all, didn't the Dodgers say just last week that Odalis Perez would not be traded?

 

Ask Rotoman will appear weekly on MLB.com.
For more insight from Rotoman, go to http://www.askrotoman.com

This story was not subject to approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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