The following is the first in a series of probably two articles about my FanGraphs Staff League team on ottoneu. This was written during the season, prior to the start of the playoffs. Thus it contains no further reference to Nick Pollack’s heartrending defeat of me. That’s the topic of the next one.
Last winter, just before the ottoneu keeper deadline, our dark overlord (shh, don’t say his name) informed us that we would be switching to the new Head-to-Head format. I would say we didn’t have much time to adjust to the new settings, but, well, those settings were still very much in the design phase. At this point, my roster was set up as a back-end contender. With a little luck, I had a shot at first place. Maybe 15 percent? I wasn’t drawing dead, but I also wasn’t the odds on favorite.
The new format was a gift – manna from heaven – an unexpected opportunity to play a little Moneyball to get out ahead of the competition. And, after going 20-1 in the regular season, I’m comfortable saying I Moneyballed the crap out of my opponents.
Let’s back up a step, the league is FanGraphs Staff One which is among the longest running ottoneu leagues. We use FGpts scoring which is similar to the linear weights model used in WAR. I only joined at the last minute before the 2017 winter trade deadline. The roster I inherited was neither terrible nor particularly good. It needed work. It still needed work when we switched to the H2H format.
And another step back… I said I Moneyballed my opponents. The book is basically an ode to OBP. It’s about the art of leveraging mistakes in player valuation. In the case of Billy Beane’s Athletics, they noticed that other teams had somehow forgotten that the point of the game was to not make outs. Duh, right. I mean, kudos to Beane for focusing on OBP at a time when it wasn’t a leaguewide priority, but I think we can all agree that this is the baseball version of realizing that the circle block goes into the circular hole.
My innovation, and the reason why I crushed the regular season, was also obvious. I rostered a lot of starting pitchers. At times, the only bench players on my entire team were $2 Fernando Tatis and starting pitchers. And I used them to steamroll the competition.
Ottoneu H2H FGpts is just like a normal FGpts league except for two differences. You may start only one catcher per day. You may start only two starting pitchers per day. Experienced ottoneu players know that points per innings pitched is the lifeblood of the format. You generally can’t start Mike Leake because he doesn’t offer enough value per start. He’s basically unplayable unless you think you can predict when he’s hot (you can’t, you’re just guessing). We’re schooled to pay a lot for premium pitchers like Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. They put up over two more points per inning than Leake. Over a 200 inning season, that’s a 400 point upgrade. And those aces also take on more of your innings.
Several of my opponents focused on getting a few premium pitchers. Paul Swydan had been running an elite rotation for years. The format switch completely destroyed his roster. Because, you see, playing a few good pitchers per week doesn’t hold a candle to playing a lot of mediocre pitchers. Some math.
Remember, you can use two starts per day for a max of 14 per week. Let’s say Team A gets seven high quality starts (5.20 pts/IP). Team B runs 13 medium-low quality starts (3.9 pts/IP). Team A averages six innings per start. Team B averages 5.2 innings per start.
Team A: 7 * 6* 5.2 = 218.4 points
Team B: 13 * 5.2 * 3.9 = 263.64 points
I noticed this about 10 minutes before the draft began. Just in time! In order to ensure a near-maximums of starts per week, it’s necessary to roster 15 or more starting pitchers. Otherwise you get left with good weeks and bad weeks (indeed, my regular season loss happened during a rogue week with very few starts).
Already, the volume approach bears instant fruit. However, there’s another way in which I benefited from using low quality starting pitchers. I spent $1 to $3 on most of my pitchers. That allowed me invest a hefty portion of my budget into the offense, headlined by a $67 Mike Trout and $49 Paul Goldschmidt. Those premium batters (including some luck with cheap Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto) provided the extra ballast I needed for my 20-1 record. With just the pitchers and an average offense, my team would be slightly more competitive than the average roster. With volume pitching AND premium bats, it was a force with which to be reckoned.
Yea, there’s a lesson here, a buried lede if you will (or won’t). I’m not just preening for the audience. Any time you join a new league, pay close attention to the rules. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve beaten my fellow experts in weird formats just because they stayed anchored to more traditional valuations. Being able to anticipate the effects of unique settings can supply a couple years of easy wins – at least until your leaguemates start to emulate you. Then it’s time to find a new approach.