Consensuses make me nervous. When everybody agrees, there’s usually a way to profit with a contrarian approach. This season features perhaps the most monolithic consensus I’ve seen in the last decade. Ace starting pitchers are the key to life, liberty, the cosmos, and a rockin’ bikini bod. You can’t possibly contend without at least one ace. Multiple aces are preferred. This leads me to ask a question…
Is 2019 a LIMA year?
LIMA stands for Low Investment Mound Ace and was invented in the late-90s by Ron Shandler of Baseball HQ. It’s meant to invoke Jose Lima, the scrub who won 21 games in 246 innings for the 1999 Houston Astros. The point of the strategy was to free up resources to dominate the more reliable hitting categories.
Back during the peak years of the LIMA strategy, using cutting edge statistics was still outre. Most fantasy managers, even the experts, played purely by gut. Those articles on Yahoo telling you to pick up so-and-so because he’s been hot over the last three weeks were the height of analysis. Thus, there was a lot of scope for observant, statistically-oriented managers to discover piles of free value every year.
Lima’s innings total to highlights another reason the LIMA strategy has fallen out of favor. Even iffy starters used to eclipse 200 innings. Middle relievers were straight up terrible. The number of good, non-closing relievers could be counted on two hands. I fondly recall touting my own version of LIMA which included heavy investments in relievers like Mike Adams, Sergio Romo, David Robertson, and Joey Devine. Back then, you didn’t bother with relievers who didn’t save games. To make a long story short, the landscape has changed dramatically.
What follows is my attempt to modernize LIMA for the 2019 season. This is intended for an auction redraft setting. It’s much easier to bow to consensus in a snake draft where the ebbs and flows in talent can dictate taking pitchers at certain stages of the draft.
The suggested batter/pitcher split for most auctions is around 70/30, which is to say you’ll spend 30 percent of your budget on pitchers. The commonest auction format has a $260 budget so that implies $78 for pitchers. Let’s say we’re spending about $35 for our nuLIMA. Let’s also assume we can use the waiver wire profligately.
The first thing we have to recognize is we’re not going to get innings volume out of freely available pitchers. We almost have to make up those shortcomings by streaming. And streaming is DEATH to ERA and WHIP. We might have some tricks available to salvage those categories.
I see three ways to spend the bulk of our $35. We could grab two good closers, we can invest in around four mid-tier starters in the Ross Stripling/Joe Musgrove class, or we can go with one closer and two mid-tier guys. I think I like the third plan the most.
So we’re starting with Stripling, Musgrove, and Felipe Vazquez. That’s what? About 350 innings, 10.00 K/9, 2.00 BB/9, 3.20 ERA, and 1.12 WHIP with maybe 20 wins and 35 saves? Assuming the league has a 1,450 IP cap, we need 1,100 more innings, comparable ratios, 80 more wins, and 65 more saves.
The good news is that we’re going to get those saves without too much heroic effort. That’s because we’ll be running seven or more relievers most days in order to preserve strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. Between 400 and 450 innings should come from non-Vazquez relievers. We can try to buff our reliever IP total by using Openers like Ryne Stanek. You’ll have to be on top of your waiver game to pull this off since your rivals may quickly start to mimic you. Your goals are 11.00 K/9, 3.50 BB/9, 2.50 ERA, 1.10 WHIP.
By virtue of being very good non-closing relievers, enough of these guys should matriculate to a closer role to leave you competitive in saves. Ideally, you’ll win the category. Part of the selection criteria should be future opportunity for saves. Diego Castillo, Seranthony Dominguez, Joe Jimenez, and Ryan Brasier are some early targets. As a bonus, elite, non-closing relievers generally record wins at the same per inning pace as good starting pitchers.
So that leaves something like 700 innings for non-relievers. This year, a few veteran pitchers are tragically underappreciated. Anibal Sanchez and Trevor Cahill can be yours for a dollar apiece. They’ll keep pace on ratios while falling a tad short on wins. One trick to boost your wins total is to use Followers like Ryan Yarborough or Daniel Mengden. We should receive a new batch of Openers and Followers to use this season. Keep an eye out for other veterans who have made crucial adjustments to their repertoire, gained velocity, or learned to play the spin game.
A few other $1 starting pitchers I’d target are Caleb Smith, Brad Keller, Pablo Lopez, Merrill Kelly, Martin Perez, Matt Boyd, Collin McHugh, and Zach Eflin. All of these pitchers are perilous plays who could ruin your ratios with a couple sideways outings. Most of them are on bad teams and will therefore underperform in the wins category.
As such, I recommend judicious usage in the early going, specifically targeting very favorable matchups until we have more information about them. The downside to using them selectively is that you’re burning scarce resources – i.e. a roster spot – on a guy you don’t plan to always start. This could strain your efforts to reach the inning cap.
Theoretically, the inning cap is less important than protecting your ratios. You can always make up ground later by transitioning out of a seven or eight reliever roster. Early on, your focus is on finding breakouts you believe enough to use every start. There’s going to be a lot of back end churn.
If perfectly executed, I do think nuLIMA could work. There are many obvious drawbacks. It’s going to take a lot of work. The roughly $40 you saved for extra hitters better be used very efficiently. If you’re very lucky, you may even find yourself holding a “spare” Mookie Betts in late-July – just in time to acquire a couple aces to fortify your stretch run.
The biggest challenge will be protecting your ratios will maintaining a high K/9 and W/IP. Something is liable to give – probably either your win total, WHIP, or both. In a highly competitive league, if you clean sweep the offensive stats, that can be enough to salvage a punted pitching category. In a less competitive setting, you typically need to sweep offense AND finish at least top four in all pitching categories.
You’ll need 13 to 14 roster spots dedicated to pitchers to pull off this sample nuLIMA plan. About 150 innings will come from pure starting pitcher streamers, the equivalent of about 15 starts. These are ideal matchups against teams like the Orioles. Settings where a win and good ratios are especially likely. You must be judicious in choosing these starts.
Another 550 innings will come from about four semi-permanent late-tier starters like Sanchez, Cahill, Keller, et al. You’ll need to churn these guys a bit on the waiver wire to find the best combination, avoid rough patches in the schedule, etc. The other 750 innings are from relievers (which will also churn frequently) and your trio of modest in-draft investments.
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