Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on February 28, 2011 @ 09:50:11 PDT


Welcome to the final February installment of Lord Zola's fantasy baseball mailbag. The Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues have started and all 30 Major League teams are in first place. And so are you in your league, unless of course you had Adam Wainwright as keeper. Please accept my condolences. If you want to know who to keep instead, or if you have any other fantasy baseball inquiry, you can reach me via email at lordzola@kffl.com, or post them on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by following @KFFL_Baseball.

Thank you for answering my question. How would a 15 team rotisserie 5x5 league change your draft strategy as opposed to regular 10 or 12 team league? The scoring categories are BA, HR, RBI, SB, runs, W, K, ERA, SV, Holds). The positions are C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OF, 2 UT and 9P. - Frank

Okay, we have a lot to touch on here so I will start with a quick explanation of the terms deep and shallow league. Though the terms are a bit vague and have no textbook definition, fantasy analysts will often refer to leagues as shallow or deep. And while this may or may not also apply to the character of your league mates, the intended meaning is the penetration of the player pool that is drafted. A shallow league does not penetrate very far into the player pool. So a 10 or 12 team mixed league would be considered shallow. Leagues that draft using either American League or National League players penetrate much deeper into the player pool and are thus considered deep. A 15 team mixed is somewhere in between.

Seattle Mariners SP Felix Hernandez
Stud P's: more value than you think

The primary difference in the draft strategy for shallow and deep leagues is the manner to approach the so-called scarce positions. A scarce position is one with a weak talent pool. This may be reflected by a couple of decent players at the top, but then a big drop off in talent. Or it may be because there are not enough acceptable players for everyone to draft at the position. There are a few different ways to define scarcity, but the main theme is the position is weak for whatever reason. While this may seem counter-intuitive, the deeper the league, the less scarcity is real. So in a 15 team league, I would be less concerned with having to get a top shortstop or second baseman in the first round or two. If the best player on the board is an outfielder or first baseman, and the best shortstop or second baseman is ranked several spots below, you do not need to reach for the middle infielder. Take the value and trust me, you will find the other positions later. In a shallower league, it may be worth reaching a little to get a middle infielder or even third baseman earlier.

Someone else may suggest that the deeper the league, the longer you can wait for pitching. I do not subscribe to that theory when it comes to starters. I do not believe you need one of the top 5 or 6 starters to build a winning staff, but the days of being able to wait and wait are over. That said, the shallower the league, the more apt I am to wait on closers. The more competition there is for saves, the more I prefer to lock up my saves and let everyone else fight over the waiver wire fodder. But in 10 or 12 team mixed leagues, there are fewer teams fighting so you can usually get what you need.

While I believe Frank was asking specifically about a draft, there is a difference in how I approach strategy in auction leagues. The shallower the league, the more I will employ the strategy known as stars and scrubs. That is, the lower the number of teams, the more apt I am to buy a lot of the very best players and then fill in the back of my roster with cheap players. The reason is with shallower penetration of the player pool, if some of my cheap players are indeed scrubby, there is a rich supply of replacements I can pick up instead. The deeper the league, the worse the quality and quantity of possible substitutes, so I am more likely to let everyone else overpay for the stars, and I will look at the bargains in the middle of the auction. Frank's league is somewhere in the middle, so I would likely still buy some upper echelon talent, but maybe not as much as if it were 10 or 12 teams.

The final comment I will make pertains to Frank's league itself and how it uses the category of holds instead of WHIP, more common in 5x5 scoring. To me, this makes players like Brandon League, Luke Gregerson, Ryan Madson and Daniel Bard really nice targets. Holds are very hard to predict and there will always be guys who get holds available. This group can help you in holds and at some point, may pick up a save or two while also having a good chance to get a lot of saves. If they become closers, you can now trade them and pick up someone else to get you more holds. Or you can help your own team with more saves.

Hey Todd, what's the earliest you would take your first starting pitcher in a snake draft? - Wilbur

I have a little saying when it comes to drafting pitching: Draft the pitcher, not the round. Here is what I mean. There is a big difference between drafting cheap pitching and drafting pitching cheap. You do not want to draft cheap pitching; you do want to draft pitching cheaply.

At the end of the day, it takes a certain quality of pitching to compete in your league. For several years, it was possible to assemble a staff of high quality by properly indentifying quality cheap pitching. So waiting on pitching was not so much getting pitching cheap, but getting quality pitching cheap. There are means to identify pitchers of this nature by looking at their skills and not focusing on results that may have been unlucky. But now, this manner to better evaluate pitching is becoming more popular, so there are not nearly as many bargains available later in drafts. The supply is down as these pitchers are not being properly ranked to be taken in earlier rounds. Making matters worse is the demand is higher since more of your league mates know how to evaluate pitching better. So it is now very hard to find QUALITY pitching on the cheap. But you still need it to win. Therefore, you need to bite the bullet and draft better pitching.

Before I explain "draft the pitcher, not the round," I would like to address another fallacy about waiting on pitching. I can pretty much guarantee you have heard more than one fantasy analyst suggesting that since the quality of pitching is so deep this season, you can afford to wait on it. Sorry, but that advice is simply wrong-ditty-wrong-wrong-wrong. Here's the problem. The 40th best fantasy pitcher is still the 40th best fantasy pitcher. His raw stats may be better in 2011 than there were in 2008, but his value to your team is still the same. If the overall quality of pitching is better, this will be reflected in your league's standings. The best ERA and WHIP will be better than a few years ago. So do not be fooled into thinking you can wait because there are more pitchers projected to have an ERA below a certain mark than the past few seasons. Value is relative.

Okay, draft the pitcher, not the round, here is the deal. The best thing to do is decide in a general manner what you want your pitching staff to look like. It is best to base this on historical results of your league. See what sort of quality of pitching the more successful teams use to win. Think about it in terms of tiers. I want two from this tier, one from this tier, etc. Then during the draft, when pitchers from that tier are being taken, jump in and take a guy you like, regardless of the round. I have a much more detailed description of this strategy available on Mastersball, if you are interested, drop me a note and I will point you in the proper direction.

When Todd is not coming up with goofy name for his strategies, you can usually find him hanging out on the forum at Mastersball.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.

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