Troubleshooting the LIMA Plan

by Ron Shandler on March 20, 2009 @ 00:00:00 PDT

 


There is no crying in fantasy baseball.

Yes, maybe you have found success with the LIMA Plan. Maybe it has even won you a few titles. But there are never any guarantees. Stuff goes wrong. You can curse the Plan's founder, or cancel your subscription, but it won't turn your team around any faster.

The fact is, no matter how you've built your team, titles are rarely won on draft day. You have to work your roster constantly, all season long. There are always holes to fill, injuries to weather, and unexpected performances to do reality checks on.

Thankfully, when things go awry, one of the nice things about LIMA is that there are built-in safety nets. When you spend $200 on offense, you can easily withstand an injury or two to a front-liner. Minimizing innings allows you to deal for a stud pitcher in June and still be able to make up significant ground in the ratio categories.

But sometimes, even the safety nets are not enough. The best constructed LIMA pitching staffs can still end up wallowing in the depths of the ERA category. The many components of a $200 offense can pull up lame, all at once. Assuming that you had at least a moderately successful LIMA draft, it probably looks a lot worse now than it really is, but it doesn't hurt to do a little trouble-shooting...

PROBLEM 1: My offense stinks.

It takes a fair bit of bad luck to not find any redeeming qualities in a $200 offense. This was supposed to be the part of your draft that was a no-brainer. This was supposed to be your wealth of riches from which you could deal to fill holes. Ah, fate can be cruel.

When it comes to veteran players who have a history of demonstrated success, you have to exercise excruciating patience. Any other course of action is a poor percentage play. It doesn't matter what type of numbers have been compiled up until now; seasons are evaluated based on the numbers in the books at the end of the year. Those stats don't have to be spread evenly over six months; they are worth just as much if the bulk of them are compiled in four months, or even two.

With a LIMA offense, there are far too many batters to give up hope on any one, barring a definite role downgrade. The odds are so highly stacked against a complete meltdown that you have to assume that at least a few will eventually return to normal levels of productivity.

While the patience tactic goes for the power and tightly-linked RBI categories, it also can apply to batting average.

The perception right now is that the BA standings have stabilized, but it is still very doable to add 5-10 points to your team BA by season's end. For veteran bats -- once again -- patience is in order. Of course, you can nudge things along. Maintain focus on base skills when you move players on to and off of your roster. High contact rates, walk rates and eye ratios are always good targets, and are often cheap acquisitions from owners focused more on traditional categories.

Of course, you always need to focus on team context. Everything is driven by projected playing time, so if you're saddled with a player who's riding the bench, you have to consider where the ABs will come from for him to turn things around.

And finally, remember that small moves can add up. You don't always have to replace your worst hitter with a superstar; replacing him with a moderate upgrade can provide incremental gains. These gains have a cumulative effect over time... as long as you can exercise patience.

Bottom line is that, unless you are hit with an overwhelming rash of injuries or drafted poorly, $200 worth of offense is going to eventually provide a reasonable return. Patience, combined with periodic tweaks should be all you need.

PROBLEM 2: I'm last in Wins.

This is an inherent hazard with employing the LIMA Plan. The goal is to fare well enough in the other categories that a good showing in Wins is not necessary, however, sometimes it would really help to pick up a few points in that category.

I've often said that chasing wins is a fools quest, but a methodical approach can at least lower your risk a bit. The greatest danger, of course, is to your ERA/WHIP, which is why Wins are often considered the antithesis to LIMA.

Obviously, the best way to add wins is to shop for starting pitchers.

In a 4x4 league, you would add arms to the three or four who you've drafted, likely replacing some middle relievers who are expendable. In a 5x5 league, you would add arms to the five or six who you've drafted, likely replacing some bottom-feeding starters or closer-wannabes.

The best starters are already rostered somewhere, so most of your opportunity will likely come from the free agent pool, and most often from recently promoted minor leaguers. Many analysts will tell you to stay away from this mine field, but there are things you can look for to minimize your risk with young arms.

As usual, check minor league BPIs, especially converted to their major league equivalents. Rule of thumb... No matter how much the hype or how low the ERA, if a young pitcher has a command ratio under 2.0, stay away. Any arm with superb BPIs, even if he is very young, or not a media darling, or not expected to remain in a rotation for long, is worth taking a flyer on.

Why? Because skills win roles, no matter what a manager says or what is written in the media.

Of course, you can also trade for starting pitchers, and for those teams that have managed to build an excess in offense, this is a fine path. In 2001, I dealt Luis Gonzalez (and Ruben Quevedo) for Curt Schilling (and Marvin Benard), which is something a $180 offense would be harder-pressed to pull off.

PROBLEM 3: I've blown the saves category.

It has always been true that drafting the correct closers is key to a successful LIMA Plan. If you were unlucky enough to invest in some front-liners who've gone down -- which happens every year -- you're immediately in a hole that's tough to get out of.

When it comes to unearthing saves, you have to be vigilant and follow the news on possible opportunities, and keep a list of high-skills candidates in your back pocket. You won't always be able to foresee a pitcher coming out of nowhere, but at least you give yourself a fighting chance.

And always remember to exercise self-control when MLB teams go through their typical gyrations. No matter what any manager says, every decision in baseball can change with the single occurrence of a 4-hit shutout, a 3-for-3 day, or a timely save.

PROBLEM 4: My team ERA... ARRRRGH!

When it comes down to it, the whole point of the LIMA Plan is to provide your team with a competitive ERA, at a low cost. So, it's naturally disheartening to find yourself floundering in the ERA and WHIP categories. The good news is, if you've successfully minimized your innings damage, it's still early enough to make up at least half run in ERA. Here are a few quick tips for dealing with the struggling hurlers already on your roster...

  • You must exercise patience with: Veterans who have a proven track record.
  • Pitchers who have otherwise solid BPIs.
  • Pitchers whose struggles are tied to their underachieving teams.

You can employ a quicker hook with:

  • Pitchers who have demonstrated fewer than two years of solid BPIs
  • Pitchers with a spotty injury history, even if they are claiming perfect health
  • Pitchers with poor BPIs, especially if they are taking a regular turn in a rotation
  • Low cost, easily replaceable arms, especially middle relievers

You can cautiously ride pitchers with solid ERAs but soft support skills, but be prepared to jump ship at the slightest provocation.

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