September 6, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Last week, I discussed how little a fantasy squad’s ERA and WHIP is likely to move at this point in the season. Because of how many innings teams have already logged and how few will be logged between now and October 3 (both at the team and individual player level), it would take a lot to move the chains very far. I closed out the article noting how this can create some interesting strategic considerations, most prominently the decision to… gasp… chase wins.
“Don’t chase wins” has become a cliché in the fantasy community, something every good player knows is fantasy suicide. Except it’s not. This cliché was born, in part, from the sabermetric movement in general—you know, the one that says wins are a terrible gauge of a pitcher’s value. While this is generally true (at least in the sense that there are better gauges of pitcher value out there), it doesn’t have anything to do with fantasy baseball. Regardless of the utility of wins to judge a pitcher’s talent, we use it as a category in fantasy baseball. End of story. The link should end there. Yet, a lot of that stigma has carried over to the fantasy world.
Of course, the advent of this adage can also be attributed to the inherent variability of wins. Wins are harder to predict than ERA and harder still than strikeouts, so much so that many pundits will tell you to forget about wins all together, to just draft skills—implying that wins are wholly unpredictable. Except they’re not. ‘High variability’ just means that there is a larger spectrum of possible outcomes, but the mean expectation doesn’t change.
Hopefully you haven’t found yourself in a close race for wins, as your final position will be determined in large part by luck, but if you have, there are ways to improve your chances of collecting points while others are shrugging their shoulders, throwing up their hands, and calling it a day. Today, I’ll go over some of these considerations.
Wins are largely a numbers game
Just because you’re chasing wins doesn’t mean you’re playing roulette. There are ways to stack the odds in your favor. There are ways to chase wins intelligently, and this is the easiest one. The owner who is trotting out a full staff of nine starting pitchers is going to be a heavy favorite to accumulate more wins than the guy who is slogging along with six starters, a couple closers, and a middle reliever. And because of what we know about the relative immovability of ERA and WHIP at this point in the year, you can afford to risk a couple of clunker outings for the prospect of cheap wins. You want to know who I’m starting in Tout Wars right now? Anibal Sanchez, Mike Fiers… hey, they’re pretty good, Derek… wait for it, dear reader… Fernando Abad, Joe Kelly, Casey Kelly, and Wily Peralta, with Justin Germano on my bench, ready for duty at a moment’s notice.
Relievers collect wins too
If the prospect of relying on mediocre starters for wins hasn’t scared you away yet, let me give it another shot: use relievers… no, no, relax, take a breath, breathe, I’m not done… in certain situations. Most notably, use relievers in leagues that have innings caps when you know you’re going to reach the cap. My research has shown that an elite set-up man effectively becomes a 15-win pitcher on a per-inning basis. Take advantage of the fact that Jason Grilli and Mike Adams are freely available on waivers. You won’t even have to hurt your ERA like you would when you start Abad and he gives up five runs in four innings. Grrr…
Consider Skills and Context
While the “chase skills, not wins” platitude is a bit misguided (or at least simplistic), it’s not as if skills are unimportant. All else equal, a good pitcher will win more games than a bad pitcher. Also consider context. A pitcher with a good offense will win more games than a pitcher with a poor offense. A pitcher facing the Astros is more likely to win than a pitcher facing the Yankees. All of these things are important. I wrote an article that took a cursory look at how some of these things factor into pitcher wins last year that might be useful to go over.
Do your homework
It sounds simple, but by merely running a few numbers to project out the rest of the season under various circumstances, you’re going to give yourself a big advantage. It will help you plan how many starting pitchers you should use, how good they’ll have to be, and may even prevent you from going overboard with the use of Abad types (or let you know that it’s okay to use a few more).
Happy win-chasing, readers!