The LIMA Plan in straight drafts

by Ron Shandler on March 24, 2009 @ 01:00:00 PDT


The LIMA Plan is a proven, successful strategy that has brought home wins in many expert leagues and countless personal leagues. At least it has in auction leagues. But what about straight draft leagues? In such leagues, you have frustratingly little control over the flow of the draft. LIMA-caliber players can get snatched out from under you by someone else's superior draft pick. Unlike in an auction where you can bid more aggressively on those players you need for your strategy, in a straight draft, you are at the mercy of the other owners.

Or so it appears. In reality, the LIMA Plan is still a viable strategy in draft leagues. It does need a few modifications, but the core tenets of LIMA - superior player filters and better allocation of resources - remain intact.

The major difference between an auction and a straight draft is the resources you can allocate. In an auction, each team has a fixed budget and the more a team spends on certain players, the more of a bidding disadvantage it has on future players. In a straight draft, every owner has an equal number of picks, one per round, which puts all owners on equal footing throughout the draft, regardless of their previous picks.

For the LIMA Plan, the implication of this difference is that the LIMA owner can afford to acquire more "expensive" players at a draft than he can at an auction. Because there is no direct opportunity cost for using your early round draft picks on expensive players, the LIMA Plan's recommendation that you steer clear of such players carries less weight. In fact, the straight draft actually frees you to become more aggressive with your selections, especially in the early rounds.

At the same time, in a draft you are constrained to a single pick per round for a finite number of rounds, and the vast majority of the players will be taken by other owners. For that reason, the LIMA Plan in straight drafts requires you to have a deep, well organized list of rosterable players. Fortunately, the perfect tool for such a list already exists on Baseball HQ in the form of the Rotisserie Grids, which can be adapted from auction to draft with only minor modifications.

Here are the six steps of the LIMA Plan, approached from the perspective of a straight draft (assuming a single-league 4x4 draft):

  1. Budget a maximum of $60 (out of $260) for your pitching staff. There is no budget in a draft, so how can you acquire $60 worth of pitching? You can and should still use the R$ values provided by BHQ to rank your pitchers by overall value. You should expect that the top pitchers will be taken in the first round of the draft, with other high-value pitchers being taken in the early rounds. That's okay; the LIMA Plan in draft leagues can accommodate this. By the middle portion of the draft (rounds 9 - 16), most of the other owners will feel secure that they have drafted enough pitching for the time being, and they will switch their attention to hitters. It is at this point that you shouldn't face much competition for LIMA pitchers and so this is when you should start rostering the members of your rotation.
  2. Allot no more than $30 of that budget for acquiring saves. In a draft league, you still want to acquire a decent amount of saves at the draft, but you don't have any particular amount of money you need to spend to do so. Rather, you should make a list of the top projected closers in your league, and expect to draft at least one of them in the early rounds. You don't want to be the first person to take a closer, but you don't want to miss out on them either. Usually by round 4 or 5, a couple of other owners will have taken their first closers. That's when you jump in and grab the best closer remaining.
  3. Completely ignore the remaining pitching categories. Focusing on base performance indicators rather than traditional stat categories is one of the key insights of the LIMA plan, and it holds true as much in a draft league as it does in an auction league. By the middle (rounds 9 - 16) to late (rounds 17 - 23) part of the draft, many quality LIMA pitchers will still be available. Because the other owners won't have had the relentless focus you had on batting at the start of the draft, they will need to start filling in their positional needs. This makes it even easier for you to cherry-pick LIMA starters and relievers.
  4. Draft as few innings as your league rules will allow. This LIMA Plan advice is less for strategic reasons than tactical ones. In a draft league, this is just as relevant.
  5. Maximize your batting acquisitions. This is the heart of the LIMA plan in draft leagues. With the exception of a closer, you should draft only batters for at least the first third of the draft (through round 8) and often well into the middle third (rounds 9-16).
  6. Spread your risk. In an auction league, the LIMA Plan advises us to "spend no more than $29 for any player and try to keep the $1 picks to a minimum." Risk-spreading is sound advice in general, but it's less relevant in a straight draft, where the opportunity cost of using a draft pick is simply that you've used that pick.

So, for those of you who have always wanted to acquire a $30+ player, a straight draft is your chance to do so. When you do need to take a batter at a specific position, take the best one available. In a draft league, there's no reason to let risk-spreading deprive you of top players.

Understanding the drafting tendencies of the other owners in your league may be easier to discern and more important to the LIMA drafter than in auction leagues. This is because each owner's decisions are less impacted by the ebb and flow of dollars in the marketplace.

In an auction league, if an owner covets starting pitchers (important information for LIMA drafters), he might bid those players up. However, his interests are still bound by whatever player is being auctioned off at any given time. If the first 24 players nominated are all batters, you'd never know of his tendencies.

In straight draft leagues, that tendency can be telegraphed far easier, as he'd likely be choosing pitchers whenever it is his turn. If you know that history in advance, this is information you may be able to leverage. For LIMA purposes, that could mean the possibility of delaying your pitching picks even later into the draft.

In short, LIMA is as doable in a straight draft league as in an auction league, but within the same constraints. For 5x5 leagues, you might need to jump in with starters earlier. The risk to the wins category remains. But the upside gained -- especially in leagues where the other owners are not LIMA-savvy -- provides tremendous potential.

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