April 10, 1999
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sweeney Plan
I have to admit, this year's ToutWars-AL edition marks my first foray into
the world of the Sweeney plan, a popular strategy where you punt the two
power categories (HR/RBI) and try to win the remaining six. You buy a few
speedsters who'll hit for good averages and pretty much blow the rest on
buying yourself a pitching staff. Last year, Alex Patton & Peter Kreutzer
pointed out TW's low minimum AB requirement (just 4200), saying that it
made for an ideal Sweeney situation; with A & P not participating this
year, the Sweeney plan seemed like the logical strategy.
Since the results were posted, I've received a few questions - and thought
of a few more myself in moments of Sweeney-induced doubt - about the
execution of such a strategy and when it might be more or less applicable.
- How do you decide where to spend your money?
This is probably the toughest question of all, simply because the best
allocation of your budget depends wholly on how good your starting pitchers
are - and that won't be clear until at least June 1st. So you have to make
some educated guesses and figure out how to minimize your overall risk.
In my case, I preferred to overspend a little on hitting and on closers,
because those players exhibit less performance variance than starting
pitchers (particularly in roto categories), and because speed and saves are
the easiest categories to deal in one-year leagues. Figuring that three top
SB candidates would suffice to win the category, I went for four; I also
grabbed two closers plus semi-closer Bill Simas. As a result, I wound up
with three top starters (Clemens, Finley, Carpenter) and a host of cheap
starters with upside, notably Eric Milton, Mike Sirotka, and Jim Parque,
although the latter two are now safely tucked away on reserve.
- How did you fill out your hitting spots?
Again, I deviated slightly from the norm by acquiring several more everyday
hitters who weren't too expensive (Segui, Jeff Abbott, and Wade Boggs) but
who might buttress my batting average. After that, the formula was simple:
get pinch runners, or get guys who are likely to be optioned before the
regular season. In other words, a crew of seven hitters who won't hurt my
batting average but might collectively provide 20 steals.
- Will Sweeney work in my league?
These questions usually precede one of two conditions: the league is
smaller than the standard 12 teams, or it's a keeper league.
The keeper league question is simple: it's easy to determine whether a
Sweeney will work if you look at the opposing rosters, the player pool, and
the opposing budgets for the auction (which means you have to calculate
inflation as well). If the talent pool is available and you've got the
money to spend, there's no reason it won't work. If the talent pool isn't
there, you can try to trade yourself into a strong keeper list for a
Sweeney, and then apply the finishing touches at the auction. If neither is
feasible, then your best bet is to try a different strategy.
In smaller leagues, however, the Sweeney plan often runs into difficulties.
To wit: in an 8-team AL-only league, the eight owners will fight for 14
closers, meaning several teams will end up with two closers. To give
yourself a high probability of winning the saves category, you would have
to acquire three solid closers. A similar situation occurs in the stolen
base category. Therefore, a winning Sweeney roster will likely cost more
One other variant of this question is whether Sweeney will work in a draft
league. Theoretically, yes, it would work, but in practice, it's very
difficult to execute. It's easier for competitors to stop you, and the
psychology of drafts seems anecdotally to encourage "runs" on
certain types of players - a series of closers chosen in succession, for
example, as owners get panicked that they might miss out on the category
entirely. So I wouldn't recommend a Sweeney in a draft league.
One final Sweeney point worth mentioning is the ease with which one can run
a Sweeney team during the season. Because you want to fill your lineup with
chaff, you don't face the regular difficulty of trying to grab the latest
call-up to replace your shortstop, who has had five at bats in the last two
weeks. When you're playing in too many leagues (as I always am), there's
something to be said for having one team that's low maintenance.
Keith Law is the Baseball Prospectus fantasy editor. Feel free to drop
him a line at email@example.com.