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April 10, 1999

Rotisserie Turns

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sweeney Plan

by Keith Law

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 than $260.

    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 roto@baseballprospectus.com.

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MORE BY KEITH LAW
1999-05-27 - Transaction Analysis: May 22-24
1999-05-10 - The Analyst's Market Report
1999-04-30 - NL East Notebook
1999-04-10 - Rotisserie Turns
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