A Kind of Magic  (05/25/01)

The first thing I'd like to do is thank Chris Maher and the gang over at Fantasy Baseball Review for the kind words they wrote about this site in their latest newsletter.  Chris is a very entertaining writer and the FBR newsletter has a number of very helpful features, including a regular update of who's on the shelf and when they're due back, and another showing which pitchers are scheduled for two starts each week.  Peter Kreutzer, aka "Rotoman" and Creative Sports' Lawr Michaels and Patrice Evans are also regular contributors.  Perhaps the nicest part is that they come to you, twice weekly via e-mail to your e-doorstep.  Subscriptions are easy to do and free.  Click here to sign up.

Now on to this week in Sandbox.

Play the Game

I made a couple of changes that I probably wouldn't make if I were playing in a regular 4x4 or 5x5 roto league: I dropped Hideo Nomo and Ismael Valdes in order to pick up Tony Armas Jr and outfielder Bubba Trammell.

In 4x4, the most successful pitching strategy is to get the best possible innings, as long as you can make the minimum requirement.  Even if you end up with 2 or 3 middle relievers on your staff and punting wins, you're better off with fewer total innings in exchange for better quality innings.

There are two very simple reasons.  The first is that wins is just one category; ERA and ratio are two.  Winning one category at the expense of two is less productive than winning two categories at the expense of one.  The second is that it's harder to lower your ERA and ratio as the season progresses.  The more innings you have, the harder it is to lower those two categories significantly.

So rather than take a starter with 175-200 innings of 4.50 ERA and 1.400 ratio for the chance at 12-15 wins, you're much better off with a middle reliever who'll give you 5-6 wins, but with 70-100 innings of much lower ERA and ratio.  That way, if you do end up trading for a top tier starter down the stretch, the impact he has on your ERA and ratio will be much greater.  For example:

Pitching Staff A has 6 starters and 3 relievers, and has accumulated 600 innings of 4.50 ERA and 1.400 ratio when it trades for Randy Johnson at the mid-point of the season.  Assuming that Johnson produces 130 innings of 2.50 ERA and 1.100 ratio and replaces a starter who would give 100 innings of 4.50/1.40 ERA/ratio, Staff A will end up with an ERA of 4.29 and a ratio of 1.368 (1230 innings).

Pitching Staff B has 5 starters and 4 relievers, and has accumulated 535 innings of 4.50 ERA and 1.400 ratio when it trades for Greg Maddux at the mid-point of the season.  Assuming Maddux produces similar numbers to Johnson and replaces a similar starter as the one replaced on team A, staff B will end up with an ERA of 4.26 and a ratio of 1.364 (1100 innings).

And those results are with Team B fielding a middle reliever who is only pitching as well as a mediocre starter.  Using just an average middle reliever would make the advantage Team B ultimately has even more pronounced.

If you happen to be in a 5x5 league where strikeouts are a category, this philosophy still applies; you just have to be more selective with your choice of middle relievers.  You're better off with a reliever who strikes out a high percentage of batters like Kyle Farnsworth or Jay Witasick than you are with a starter like Jimmie Haynes.  They'll give you close to as many strikeouts, but much better ERA and ratio.

Armas' ERA and ratio from last year aren't too different from the career numbers of Nomo and Valdes.  He's on pace to pitch many more innings than either of those two this year with a roughly similar ERA and ratio (probably slightly better).  Given that he's not an elite starter who can lower a team average by himself, those extra innings would decrease my chances of affecting those categories with a trade.

Hammer to Fall

However, none of this applies in a league where fantasy points are used.  The quality of innings isn't as important as the quantity of innings in an FP league.  The reason is because innings are worth 3 points and strikeouts, earned runs and baserunners are only worth one point apiece.  So a pitcher who gives you one more inning and strikeout per game can give up to 4 more baserunners or earned runs and still be worth the same as one who doesn't.  Those extra four points a game is a huge cushion.

Currently, Tony Armas is on pace to pitch 30 more innings than Hideo Nomo and judging from their game logs, that's a conservative estimate.  So that would mean that Nomo would have to make up 90 points in wins, baserunners allowed and earned runs to be worth what Armas will be worth.  Despite playing on a much better team, even if Nomo managed to match Armas in ERA and baserunners the rest of the way, he's highly unlikely to end up with 9 more wins (90 fantasy points worth) than Armas.  Further working against Nomo's chances is the fact that he doesn't go as deep into games as Armas, which means more opportunities for others to blow his chances for wins.  The Red Sox have a very good pen, but that doesn't mean that they don't blow leads.  That just means they don't lose games.  For our purposes, that's just not good enough.

So I dropped Nomo and Ismael Valdes, both similar pitchers in that they give you about 6 decent innings of work each time out in favor of Armas, who also happens to strike out a lot of batters.  Armas has been giving 7 innings a start lately and pitching efficiently enough to occasionally go 8.  His high strikeout rate and relatively low baserunners allowed rate made him an even more compelling choice.  If Glendon Rusch doesn't start pitching deeper into games more consistently, I'll probably replace him with Randy Wolf or Adam Eaton for the same reasons.

You're My Best Friend

Originally, I did pick up Bob Wickman to replace Valdes, but thought better of it for two reasons: 1) I really don't need a reliever yet as I'm just a few games behind the games pace - each major league team has played roughly 46 games and I have used up just 39 of my 140 relief games, and 2) I wanted Bubba Trammell on my team.

I seriously considered taking him in the draft, but because I needed some roster flexibility I chose a middle infielder instead.  That issue has since been taken care of with Ben Davis playing almost every day at catcher (thus eliminating the need for 2 catchers) and Julio Lugo available at either second or short.  I've gained somewhat of a reputation now in fantasy baseball circles as the guy who called Trammell "a poor man's Brian Giles".  Well, if I'm right, I'd much rather have "Giles" on my team than floating around in the free agent pool not doing anyone any good.  And with the Padres line-up getting on base at an incredible rate - they are close to a record pace in walks - I expect him to do plenty of good.

The Standings

                                        Starting P        Relief P        Hitters FP
Rank  Team                            FP    G   FP/G    FP   G  FP/G    FP    G   FP/G   Total
1     ...Jumanji!                    697   44   15.8   343  39   8.8   1553  455   3.4    2593
2     BaseballHQ Bombers*            802   43   18.7   361  45   8.0   1383  446   3.1    2546
3     Dr. Stats Juggernauts         1030   49   21.0   258  39   6.6   1031  431   2.4    2319
4     Fantasy Baseball Headquarters  723   49   14.8   385  43   9.0   1204  439   2.7    2312
5     SF Mock Woodmen                517   47   11.0   243  35   6.9   1500  434   3.5    2260
6     Press Room Pundits             790   52   15.2   249  36   6.9   1181  442   2.7    2220
7     The Write Stuff                764   42   18.2   269  39   6.9   1153  437   2.6    2186
8     Sandbox Sports                 642   48   13.4   302  40   7.6   1239  437   2.8    2183
9     WSS Hurlers                    753   51   14.8   218  36   6.1   1128  410   2.8    2099
10    Desert Dwelling Scalawags      728   61   11.9   101  41   2.5   1239  442   2.8    2068

* Formerly Jersey Juggernauts

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