March 15, 2013
4x4 Versus 5x5
Believe it or not, there are still a few old school, 4x4 Rotisserie-style leagues out there. For those of you who think that 5x5 is an ancient and outmoded format, this might be as shocking as finding out that there are still people in the industrialized world who don’t have indoor plumbing.
Nevertheless, some of these 4x4 leagues do still exist. I’m in one of those leagues, and my colleague Paul Sporer is in a 4x4 league, as well. If you do play 4x4, one of the biggest challenges now is trying to decipher what 5x5 valuations mean to you. If merely taking the auction prices from CBS and LABR and walking into your auction with them is a bad idea in 5x5, it’s a terrible idea in 4x4. By ignoring the differences between 4x4 and 5x5 valuations, you’re putting yourself at an extreme disadvantage.
How do player values change?
On the hitting side, the differences aren’t too significant.
Table 1: Top 10 Hitters 4x4 Greater Than vs. 5x5 2012
Some have called 5x5 formats the great equalizer. Some of the Monopoly money that we pay the hitters has to go to runs; how that money is distributed isn’t equal. In order to pay for the extra category, the best hitters get cheated, an effect that is more dramatic in the American League. Some non-elites sneak onto the National League list (yes, I’m looking at you Wilin Rosario), but generally speaking, the more categories there are, the more balanced you want your team to be. 5x5 is less conducive to Stars and Scrubs than 4x4.
Table 2: Top 10 Hitters 5x5 Greater Than 4x4 2012
The “winners” in this exchange are the not-very-good players who manage to pile up a significant amount of at-bats. Poor batting average players matter less in 5x5, especially if your player stays on the field all year long and contributes at least modestly everywhere else. These types of players still aren’t highly recommended in 5x5, but you can stomach them to a degree.
If there’s a takeaway from Table 2, it’s that one-trick ponies aren’t quite as rewarding. Filling a roster spot with someone like Barney or Carroll is more useful than wasting a spot on a 150-at-bat player that might steal a few bases and do nothing else.
If the hitting valuation differences are vanilla, the pitching differences are a devil’s food cake/tiramisu turducken.
Table 3: Top 10 Pitchers 4x4 Greater Than 5x5 2012
For hitters, some of the play money has to go to runs; with pitchers, the money gets redistributed to strikeouts. As a result, relievers with excellent ERAs and WHIPs are monsters in 4x4. In 5x5, great relievers are still valuable, but even strikeout kings like Kimbrel and Jansen take a big hit. This is why owners don’t pay big bucks for saves in the expert leagues; they need to save money for strikeouts across the board—as the next chart displays.
Table 4: Top 10 Pitchers 4x4 Less Than 5x5 2012
5x5 is more forgiving of terrible pitching performances than 4x4. Tim Lincecum buried his owners in 4x4 last year; in 5x5, he was a slightly positive earner. You still don’t want most of these pitchers, but if you buy one of them, you’re not necessarily condemned to five months in the cellar bitterly cursing Ricky Romero and waiting for football season to begin. On the more-positive side, pitchers like Masterson and Lester had some value in 5x5 last year. Volquez is the kind of pitcher you want to keep in mind in 5x5 in the endgame. The ERA and WHIP are ugly, but the 174 strikeouts make him a somewhat valuable commodity.
Regardless of what format you play, you have to be familiar with the value proposition. If you’re playing 5x5, remember to focus on at-bats and innings. A balanced team is even more important in 5x5 than it is in 4x4. An offense with seven studs and seven duds is going to have a much tougher time in 5x5, and a three-starting-pitcher strategy isn’t likely to succeed.