Know Your Fellow Owners

On Monday, we discussed the importance of knowing your league parameters, and on Tuesday, the most important parameter: Replacement Value. Today, I want to talk about taking advantage of your league's tendencies, i.e., how to capitalize on the biases and character flaws of your fellow owners.

Most leagues have some kind of bias. In some advanced leagues, sabermetric-friendly players, e.g., hitters who draw a lot of walks like Nick Markakis and pitchers with good K:BB ratios like Ricky Nolasco often tend to fetch a premium, while players with poor plate discipline like Delmon Young or Alfonso Soriano come at a discount. Plate discipline or pitcher command can be seen as leading indicators for improved performance, but often owners get ahead of themselves and mistake the indicators for the performance itself. Moreover, while there's no doubt plate discipline (and the concomitant on-base skills) are good for real-life run production, often the opposite is true for fantasy. Players like Young, Vlad Guerrero and Carlos Gonzalez actually have more opportunities to hit homers and drive in runs because so few of their plate appearances result in walks. Unless, your player is a low-power, high-speed type, you're rarely happy when he gives up his at-bat for a free base. The simple course of action in such leagues is to buy Young, Soriano and their ilk on the cheap.

Experienced players in standard 5 x 5 roto leagues also tend to wait on pitching. There's a sound basis for that ? as pitching stats are more fickle year-to-year than hitting ones, as pitchers are more susceptible to serious injuries and more dependent on their teams for fantasy stats (run support being a huge variable in pitcher wins). If you know that, you might be able to get Roy Halladay in the second round - a bargain when you consider his hitter-like consistency and efficiency and the fact that he almost never turns the ball over to soft underbelly of the team's pitching staff, the middle relief corps. Halladay either goes the distance, or hands the ball directly to the closer. Moreover, his excellent command and pitch-count efficiency ensures he almost never labors to get through eight or nine innings and therefore is at lower risk for injury.

But the flip side of everyone waiting on pitching is the market for top starting pitchers is depressed, and so even if you believe Tim Lincecum will put up the best stats of his career - easily worth a top overall pick - you'd be wise to wait. That's because with other owners waiting on pitching, Felix Hernandez might last until the third round, Jon Lester and Zack Greinke until the fifth, C.C. Sabathia till the sixth and Josh Johnson in the eighth. Even though a career-best Lincecum makes perfect sense with a top-five pick based simply on his stats, if the market for pitchers were sufficiently depressed, he would not be a great value relative to the other pitchers. And if you use a top pick on a pitcher, you'll have to go heavy on hitting in most of the next eight rounds, making it difficult to take advantage of subsequent pitching bargains.

The bottom line, a player's projected stat line is not the only variable when deciding what to pay for him. You must also consider the market dynamics in your league.

Finally, in too many leagues, owners are lazy and lose interest when their teams aren't doing well. In a typical 12-team league, you might see the bottom two teams stop making moves sometime in June. Injured players and ones who have lost their full-time at-bats linger in their lineups, while other teams claim newly productive free agents. By July, another team mails it in, and in August two more rarely check in and do the bare minimum. In September only five of the 12 teams are going all out to advance in the standings.

This has major implications in a rotisserie league. The dead teams will drop precipitously in all of the counting categories (wins, strikeouts, saves, steals, RBI, HR and runs), but they'll be largely unaffected in the averaging ones (ERA, WHIP and AVG). As a result, teams that are strong in the former but weak in the latter will see no improvement when the quitters drop in the standings. But teams that are strong in the averaging categories, but weak in the counting ones will pass most if not all of the dead teams in the counting ones simply by hustling and making moves. Consequently, they'll move up significantly and very likely pass a team that's stuck behind the dead teams in batting average and ERA. If you know your fellow owners are selfish, lazy and defeatist, it therefore makes sense to value averaging categories (AVG, ERA and WHIP) slightly more than counting ones.


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