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February 24, 1999

Rotisserie Turns

Put the Laptop Away

by Keith Law

The start of spring training sets off many rituals for the serious roto player, one of which is the rush to create player valuations. While some fervently favor creating elaborate spreadsheets to assign values based on predicted stats, many rely instead on hand calculations or even intuition and experience. Today, I'll look at the arguments against using a quantitative valuation system; next week, I'll cover the arguments in favor of it.

Reason 1: They're time-consuming.

Any spreadsheet takes time to build, but fantasy valuation spreadsheets are particularly complex due to the recursive nature of valuation. To build a reasonably accurate valuation scheme, you have to determine the top N players (where N is the number of players per roto team times the number of roto teams) in the player pool, because only that group of players can have a positive dollar value. Finding that list is a recursive process, where who that Nth player is may vary, depending on who else is in the pool, and what else your team may need. Why? Because the relative value of one stolen base is determined by the number of available stolen bases elsewhere in the pool.

Of course, you can simply estimate who the top N players are going to be, but that will cost you some accuracy.

Reason 2: They rely on projected stats.

Why are projected stats a negative? Because they're not all that accurate themselves, but their very nature implies accuracy. How often have you seen a news report that says something like "e-commerce sales will total $142.5 billion in 1999, according to Mega Research?" That $142.5 number sure sounds accurate, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's not - it's just a guess, and maybe it's an educated one.

Using projected statistics to create rotisserie values can give you a false sense of security when the spreadsheet tells you a player is worth $24.30. Remember that he could just as easily earn $19 or $29 with only slight changes in his underlying stats.

Reason 3: They're inflexible.

With all due respect to folks like John Benson, I am a strong proponent of real-time adjustments to valuations during the auction. Many knowledgeable analysts will tell you to stick to your original values, because the pressure of the auction can cause you to make irrational decisions. That would be extremely valuable advice if every auction went down just as your values predict it.

What if you have Ray Durham at $31 and he goes for $24? All of a sudden, there's an extra $7 on the table that your remaining values don't take into account. These valuation "errors" don't always net out to zero, and you need to be conscious of that during the draft so you don't get caught short using the wrong valuation baseline.

Perhaps now I've talked you out of using or developing a big valuation system. Tune in next week, and I'll discuss why you should use one after all.

Keith Law is the Baseball Prospectus fantasy editor. Feel free to drop him a line at roto@baseballprospectus.com.

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