Ottoneu Trade Deadline Prep: Roto League Case Study

Last week I outlined how I plan for the trade deadline and earlier this week I walked through a points league example. Today, I walk through a roto league example.

For this case study, we’ll look at the Food and Travel League, league 1199, where I am the manager of the currently-tied-for-third Cairo Syrupmakers. Food and Travel is a 4×4 league, Ottoneu’s original format and my personal favorite scoring system.

As with the points league example, the “step zero” is to determine what qualifies as success. Unlike the other league I looked at, this league is a prize league, but it is a non-conventional prize league: the top three teams all receive some food or beverage item from the nine bottom teams. As a result, in this league, I really want to finish top three. I would love to win, but #18 Georgia Reuben has opened up a significant lead and, in the end, getting into that prize pool is what really matters to me.

As a result, we can kind of skip the “can I get where I want to be” step – the answer is yes, I can get to the top three. I am already there! Instead, my attention turns to how I can pull away from the team I am tied with and, ideally, surpass the team ahead of me to get into a safer position. Fending off the 5th and 6th place teams is a factor, as well.

Looking at the standings, there is really one glaring issue with my team: my OBP is just .325, good for 11th place in the league and only two points. With even league-average OBP, I would have four more points and be knocking on the door for second place. At first glance, I also have some ground I can make up in WHIP and ERA.

But it’s important to remember in a roto league that having a low score in a category doesn’t mean that is where you need to invest, nor does having a high score in a category mean there is little to gain. Where you should focus depends more on a) where you are close to gaining points from the teams ahead of you and b) where you are at risk of losing points to the team behind you. As an example, the Syrupmakers are second in HR with 184, and there are two teams right behind me at 183 and 181. A slow night and I could lose a couple of points there. So while I don’t stand to gain a ton by adding HR, there is some reason to grab some power, if I can.

For roto, I feel the need to go category by category to look at what could happen and use that to determine where I should focus. We’ll start with the offense.

Runs is pretty simple. I am putting up 10 points there with 596 runs. I need to gain 24 runs on the team ahead of me to make up a point and the team behind me needs to make up 21 runs on me. On the one hand, that is just two or three big days. On the other, unless a team ahead of me really falls off the pace or my team collapses, it would be hard to move the needle here. Plus, the teams behind me have used up more games played than I have so far, which increases the difficulty for them to catch up. So for now, I am tabling runs – that won’t be a primary target for me.

HR we already talked about, and it looks like adding some pop wouldn’t hurt. If I can gain six HR on the leader, that both adds a point for me and takes one away from the team in first, which is a nice bonus. Plus, the team right behind me is currently just one point behind me overall. Protecting those points matters. In this category, the games played have a bigger impact: I have about 20 fewer games used up than the team ahead of me, and given we are hitting just under one HR per five games played, that is 3-4 HR I can make up simply by catching up. The problem is, the teams behind me also have fewer games played than I do. So there is some risk here, and some opportunity.

I mentioned that OBP is a disaster for me, but let’s look at what I can gain. First of all, the team behind me is pretty far back and is selling, so I have little risk here. I have kind of bottomed out. If I found a way to put up a .333 OBP the rest of the way (middle of the pack for the league) that would take my total to about .329, which would gain me…one point. If I managed to have the best OBP in the league in the second half (.345), that would boost to me about .334, getting me up to eight points for OBP. So there is ground to be made up here, but I need to have some massive improvements.

Lastly for slugging, my current .449 is fourth and good for nine points. If I match the league leader the rest of the way, I can get one or maybe two points. If the team behind me matches the league leader the rest of the way, he would catch me, and one other team could, as well.

So, in total, on offense, I could maybe gain a point in HR, but I am more likely to lose; I have plenty to gain in OBP, but I need real improvements; and SLG is still pretty competitive. Basically, I need to improve my rates. The nice thing is, improving OBP and SLG will help to solidify me in R and HR, as well.

Before looking at pitching, let’s look at where my roster needs to improve. If you look at the grid on the bottom of the lineups page, you’ll see this data:

Positional Production for Cairo Syrupmakers
C 125 58 21 0.32094 0.42377
1B 82 43 16 0.29969 0.43945
2B 89 62 13 0.33417 0.44134
SS 89 69 15 0.3401 0.46556
MI 88 55 18 0.31675 0.4887
3B 83 48 15 0.34286 0.44932
OF 421 211 72 0.32258 0.44801
Util 82 50 14 0.32665 0.4434

Focusing on the rates, the first glaring weakness is at 1B, where a sub-.300 OBP is simply not acceptable. For those who read my points league article, there’s a little deja vu here, as my weak 1B numbers are again with Luke Voit and Josh Bell as my two 1B. You’ll see I now have Carlos Santana, as well – that was a recent pickup to try to boost my OBP. If one of Bell or Voit picks it up and Santana continues to be Santana, I should have much better numbers here the rest of the way, and possibly at util, as well.

There are a couple other places I expect I will gain in OBP, as well. Jeff McNeil is another recent addition with a strong track record of delivering OBP; Cavan Biggio has well-known on-base skills that have not shown up yet this year; Brandon Nimmo has been missing much of the year. Santana and those three should be a nice jump to my OBP right off the bat.

As for slugging, I am a little less sure where that comes from. Maybe Luke Voit gets his power stroke back? Maybe Wil Myers starts performing like he did last year? Maybe the recent hot streak from AJ Pollock turns into a booming second half? Maybe Cody Bellinger turns back into Cody Bellinger? There are plenty of paths to improvement, but none are particularly bankable. So, for offense, this is where I would focus – can I add a high SLG bat, ideally one that won’t hurt me in OBP. Given how strong my MI has been, I could probably use this improvement from 1B (pushing Santana to util and Voit/Bell into backup roles), 3B (moving Josh Donaldson to util, plus protecting me against another Donaldson injury) or OF.

Turning to pitching, I am currently fourth in strikeouts, but I am also third in innings pitched. On a K/9 basis, I am fourth overall, but one and perhaps two of the teams ahead of me look like they will pitch far fewer innings than me. I think I can likely hold my spot in strikeouts, but there is one big opportunity here that makes K’s a valid target. The team I am currently tied with overall has 67 more strikeouts than me in 90.2 additional IP. Given my stronger K/9, there is a real chance for me to pass him before the end of the season, which would be a two-point swing in our current race. I don’t necessarily need to go buy strikeouts, but I do need make sure I have enough innings to pass him.

HR/9 is not a major concern for me. I am currently third and it would take some real work to catch the two teams ahead of me. One of those teams is 11th overall and so my hope is that he sells and uses less productive players, and I back into an extra point there. The team just behind me here has already started selling, so he’s unlikely to catch me. The team I am tied with overall is two points behind me here, but would need to go from fifth best HR/9 to league-best HR/9 the rest of the way to catch me. I should try not to lose ground here, but it’s not a priority.

In ERA, I am middle of the pack and posting a 3.48 in the second half (vs. my 3.62 in the first half) would net me two additional points, including passing the team currently one point behind me overall. Gaining two more points would require a 3.27 second-half ERA – doable, but much harder. The bigger issue here is that there are two teams within .004 of me in ERA. There is a lot of ground to be lost here. And given my need to gain that point in strikeouts, I am not sure how picky I want to be about my SP. So finding some improvement here would help a lot.

Lastly, I am ninth in WHIP and would need drastic improvement to gain more than one point. To go from my 1.21 WHIP to the 1.18 I would need to gain two points, I would need to post a 1.166 WHIP the rest of the way. That is a big change. Luckily the teams behind me are either way behind me or likely to sell, so I am unlikely to lose points here.

Basically, my big focus for pitching should be ERA, along with adding enough pitching with good rates to come close to maxing out my IP so I can gather up those strikeout points.

Where do I get those innings? First, I need to improve my pen. Some of that will come from Drew Pomeranz, who should be back in the San Diego pen next week and should give me more than the 17 innings he threw in an injury-riddled first half. A full half from Nick Sandlin should help, too. But I need to play the wire and add one or maybe two more relievers, allowing me to rotate them in and gather more innings. How many more? Well, in this league with my limited pen, I have 174.1 relief innings so far. In league 1, also 4×4, with a deeper pen, I have 223.2 relief innings, so far. Moving this team to that pace would go a long way.

As for starting pitching, I just need to go add arms. I only have seven healthy SP right now. Hopefully Kershaw is back soon. It is possible Yu Darvish is back soon, as well. But it’s time to play the wire and look at trade blocks to see what I can find.

What are my next steps? Looking for slugging and maybe OBP on the wire, as well as intriguing starting pitching and reliable bullpen arms. Shopping some of my prospects (Austin Martin, George Valera, and Jordan Groshans in particular) for bigger upgrades. Perhaps trade a catcher, especially with Cal Raleigh now up, for help elsewhere. Consider seeing what I can get for Jarred Kelenic. And maybe shop my injured SP for guys who can help immediately.

A long-time fantasy baseball veteran and one of the creators of ottoneu, Chad Young's writes for RotoGraphs and PitcherList, and can be heard on the ottobot podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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Kyle Hmember
1 year ago

Great Read! I know i did not come up with this but I do not remember who to credit: generally in roto leagues I make moves with the intent of finishing ~3rd in each category, with the idea that there are diminishing returns and/or luck needed to finish with elite stats in a category, and ~80 pts, or 100 pts in 5×5 will get you at or near first.