I Spent 83% of My Auction Budget On Hitting

For many reasons, the majority of fantasy leagues in aggregate spend between 65% and 70% of their total auction budget on hitting. Though I haven’t kept all of my auction results since I founded my home league back in 2003, I’m fairly confident that I have exceeded that typical hitting budget nearly every year, if not in all of them. But I don’t believe I have ever spent as much as I did during my auction on Sunday. For some context, my local league is a shallow 12-team 5×5 (we switched to W+QS instead of Wins last year and it was fantastic, though it devalues closers a bit) mixer, with standard 23-man rosters and a six player bench acquired via snake draft after the auction.

My strategy in this league has been the same every single year — load up on hitting and spend the least of any leaguemate on pitching, filling my reserve list with several young starters with breakout potential. Though I always seem to battle busts on the offensive side that keeps me out of the money in some years, the pitching side of the strategy almost always works. I typically end up with a top five pitching staff, at worst, and when my hitting performs the way it’s paid to, it results in a wonderful season.

I have always wanted to try the $9 pitching staff, but inevitably, there’s always a myriad of mid-tier pitcher bargain that I can’t avoid bidding on, making it impossible to execute the plan. However, this year, I took my strategy to new heights, as I spent about 83.5% of my budget on hitting, leaving just 16.5% for my pitchers. That’s a minuscule $43 of my $260 on pitching, for an average of $4.78 a pitcher.

This is all about shallow league pitching strategy, so I’m going to ignore my hitting. Resist the temptation to ask what my $217 offense bought! Let’s take a look at the pitching staff I assembled through the auction, along with what I did with my bench.

Justin Verlander, $4
R.A. Dickey, $2
Collin McHugh, $7
Brandon McCarthy, $5
Francisco Liriano, $6
Scott Kazmir, $8
Matt Cain, $2
CC Sabathia, $1
Kenley Jansen, $8
B – LaTroy Hawkins
B – Carlos Rodon
B – Carlos Martinez
B – John Lackey
B – Jake Peavy
B – Brett Anderson

Is this a championship level staff in a 12-team mixed league? Absolutely not. I have no delusions of this being a winning group and I won’t argue that it is. Heck, I only spent $43 on this crew, so my league would have to be composed of a slew of newbies to allow me to amass enough value with such a small investment! But this is one hell of a base with which to work.

This is a perfectly Pod type pitching staff — no obvious ace, but a plethora of mid-tier names with a couple of young, breakout potential guys sprinkled in. The calculus here is that it’s significantly easier to buy low on pitching and find positive contributors on free agency during the season than it is for hitting. The majority of fantasy owners are usually patient with their slow starting hitters, but when a pitcher departs April with an ERA approaching 5.00, my experience dictates that panic sets it much more quickly. Perhaps we immediately assume a disappointing pitcher is hiding an injury, whereas a hitter is just going through a standard slump.

Pitching ratios are extremely fickle. From 1955 to 2012, the year-to-year correlation of ERA was just 0.409, while WHIP was only marginally higher at 0.442. What this means is that the range of possible outcomes in the ratio categories is quite large for every single pitcher. The lower tier pitchers have a much better chance of posting ratios rivaling the elite than many might assume. It’s certainly higher than James Loney‘s potential to match Jose Abreu’s home run total! There’s simply much more luck involved and factors outside a pitcher’s control that shape his results that cause me to shy away from paying for the top names or investing a lot in my staff as a whole.

What I did with this league’s staff was bank on rebounds from a trio of veterans for a tiny price, anchor it with a bunch of solid mid-tier guys who have as good a chance as any to outperform their respective projections, and then fill my entire bench with even more pitching. Rodon and Martinez are the breakout shots, while a healthy (haha?) Anderson could be placed in that bucket as well, giving me several opportunities to hit. I even added two forgotten veterans to my bench who could easily perform on par with many of the hyped youngsters bought at auction for high single to low double digits.

You might notice that I won just one closer at auction. On average, a team in this size league will have 2.5 closers, so I would be at a severe disadvantage with just one. Of course, the extra starters would boost my W+QS and strikeout totals, but also likely hurt my ratios. Nearly every single closer went at or above value and I just didn’t feel like chasing any of them. So I ended up with just one, and an injured one at that. That explains my first reserve pick of Hawkins, even if he won’t contribute anywhere else except saves. Trading for a closer is fairly easy though and FAABing one isn’t that difficult. Although I usually like leaving the auction with three closers, saves shouldn’t end up being a problem.

So what’s the point here? Obviously, it’s not to brag about my pitching staff. Rather, it just goes to show you what a $43 pitching staff really looks like. Is it better than you expected or just as crappy as you would figure? Even without making any moves during the season, could you foresee it finishing as a top five staff? If so, then it validates the strategy. In shallow leagues, you could easily put together a very respectable staff with minimal dollars.

Many people feel that the continually declining ERA (last season’s 3.74 ERA was the lowest since 1989) makes it that much more important to secure an ace. Wrong. What has happened is the gap between the top pitchers and the lower tiers has narrowed and a replacement level pitcher is now much better than he was just six years ago. The top tier hasn’t gotten any better, but the number of pitchers posting a sub-3.00 ERA has increased. In 2009, just 11 pitchers posted an ERA below 3.00. Last year, 22 did. So it’s no longer necessary to lock down that ace when 21 other pitchers are capable of posting ERAs not that much higher! We don’t know which pitchers are going to benefit from a bit of extra luck and push their ERAs below 3.00, so it’s worth using a basket approach, saving money for offense and forgoing that ace.

*****************************************************************

Youuuuuuu guys! Okay, I’ve caved, you’ve convinced me. Below is the filet mignon that accompanies the above side of mixed vegetables.

C – Evan Gattis
C – Matt Wieters
1B – Paul Goldschmidt
3B – Evan Longoria
CI – Ryan Zimmerman
2B – Ian Kinsler
SS – Jimmy Rollins
MI – Rougned Odor
OF – Ryan Braun
OF – Billy Hamilton
OF – Jay Bruce
OF – Kole Calhoun
OF – Matt Holliday
Util – Brandon Belt

Massive power, too much in fact, with marginal batting average concerns. A potentially dominating offense, with some slight age-related risk.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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PWR
Guest
PWR

i did this for the first time after not liking the value of SP at auction but am skeptical. Can you win a league with below average pitching? In my experience, below average pitching and above average hitting isnt enough. you have to be good in both. and i don’t see that happening here, no?

jdbolick
Member

No, you can’t win a league with below average pitching. The goal is to be better than that despite spending so little. That means picking the right values in the auction, potentially trading for some unlucky starters during the season, and working hard to pick up pitching value from free agents.

jiveballer
Member
jiveballer

Yes, the draft is just a starting point for a pitching staff. In a fantasy league of this standard size, literally half of the “real” baseball GS are available on the FA wire.

Bill
Guest
Bill

As others have said, you cannot win with bad pitching, however the draft is not only place you can get good pitching. The cost of drafting pitchers is often inflated. I find in a H2H league that drafting pitching is even more meaningless, provided my league has more than 2 playoff spots. In H2H leagues, it is far more important to have a strong team in October than a strong team in April, so building off the waiver wire can be cheap and effective.