How to beat the LIMA Plan

by Ron Shandler on March 19, 2009 @ 00:00:00 PDT


A post-LABR interview with Steve Moyer, formerly of Rotowire:

BASEBALL WEEKLY: "When I talked to Ron Shandler, he said that you kinda knew his strategy. You might have thrown out a few guys that he would go for. Was there any kind of chance to play off of his strategy, to counter-program against him?"

MOYER: "Totally, on purpose. I wrote down all his A and B+ LIMA Players and that's all I brought out all night long."

BW: "So do you feel your strategy worked?"

MOYER: "There's plenty of players for Ron to find. He's good enough that he always finds somebody else. At least maybe I ruined it a little bit."

Just a little.

Beating the LIMA Plan has become a popular pursuit. Beyond Steve's proclamation, even John Hunt wrote, "LIMA Must Die." But so far, anti-LIMA efforts have been largely ineffective. In the ten times I've used the Plan in expert league play, I've pulled down four titles and two second place finishes, good results for leagues that draft from scratch every year. Others have fared similarly, and even better in keeper leagues.

Steve's efforts did not go unnoticed, however. I found it interesting to see him bring out names like Felix Rodriguez and Mike Remlinger in the first few rounds. I suppose he was hoping that I'd bite on some of the early openers, but I let them pass; I knew there was still a large pool to draw from. The only time I blinked was when he came out with Aaron Fultz, about 10 rounds into the draft. I decided to test his interest and bid $2. Of course, I owned him. Steve rostered virtually none of his openers.

In the end, his ploy flushed out many low cost, high skills pitchers far earlier in the draft than would have otherwise occurred. While the execution was perfect from his end, the result was unsuccessful. Why? Two key reasons…

  1. Working alone, his efforts only served to draw out about 20 names. Of those, maybe half came out earlier than they should have. Depleting 10 LIMA-worthy arms was not enough to make a dent in the available pool of hurlers.
  2. By focusing exclusively on Grade A and B+ pitchers, the names he drew out were almost all relievers. The available pool of relievers is very deep, so this effort also made little dent.

Even though Steve Moyer's anti-LIMA strategy failed, it did reveal that LIMA could be beaten given the right set of circumstances.

First, if several owners collude to open bidding only on LIMA-worthy names, that would deplete the availability of arms quicker. If Steve could bring out 10-20 names working alone, two or three owners working in tandem could easily derail the Plan. Of course, if your league has several owners willing to engage in collusion, there are worse problems afoot then just combating the anti-LIMA militia.

However, there is another, potentially more damaging approach to shooting down LIMA, and it only requires the efforts of a single owner. If even one owner limited his opening bids to LIMA-caliber starting pitchers... that is where the most vulnerability exists. In this year's drafts, there were only 10 AL and 17 NL starting pitchers with a LIMA grade of B or better who were projected to cost $15 or less. That is a very small pool that could be quickly depleted by the anti-LIMA faction.

For those owners married to LIMA, especially those who tend to be inflexible during the draft, this can be fatal. For those able to adjust quickly on the fly, there are ways to combat these tactics and still draft a LIMA-worthy pitching staff. Tuck these tips away for next year; odds are, you may have to use them.

1. Maintain your patience, but don't be afraid to pay a little extra for your pitching staff. With LIMA hurlers being offered up in earlier than normal rounds, there may be a slight economic shift. With more money available in the early-going, the LIMA-quality pitchers might garner higher bids. For instance, I purchased Brian Lawrence for $7 in Round 16 of LABR; had an anti-LIMA-ite thrown him out in Round 5, it's unlikely he would have gone for less than double-digits.

In these cases, continue to focus on offense early, but you'll probably have to budget a bit more for your targeted pitchers. Allotting $6 for your last 5 slots might not cut it; you might have to spend $10 or $12. You might even have to take another arm in the $15-$20 range.

Those extra dollars will likely have to come from your offense. If you're only spending $185-$190 on bats, there is less wiggle-room. Be very risk-averse, avoiding any players with an injury history, erratic trends or soft skills.

2. Be prepared to jump in and grab your pitchers early. Rather than waiting for the second half of the draft to roster your pitchers, recognize the early trends and grab your needed arms when they come out.

Be careful, though. The anti-LIMAs may try to draw you into bidding wars. Resist. If they see that you're not chasing their offerings, they might pull back.

There's one exception, however... pitchers whose market value is significantly lower than your projected value. As long as you have faith in your projections, it is okay to chase a player a few dollars over market value. But be cautious, and selective in who you decide to chase.

3. Draft a staff of relievers and acquire starters later. If all else fails and you are unable to draft a balanced LIMA staff without grossly overpaying, let the anti-LIMAs have their day. Or, let them think so.

This circumstance is actually not a bad one to be in, especially in a league where there is active trading. Draft your pitching staff exclusively from available relievers (do buy saves, however). A roster containing a closer, a second tier closer and seven middle relief types (all LIMA caliber) should only cost you about $40-$45, leaving a whopping $220 for offense. Through active trading, you should be able to deal off some of that excess offense for starting pitching during the season. And there are always FAAB pickups to be had.

Of course, this approach leaves a narrower margin for error. You'd be coming out of the draft extremely weak in the Wins category, and any efforts to correct that situation could put other categories at risk. You could opt to punt Wins, but then again, everything else has to go right. In 5x5, you'd be coming out of the draft having essentially punted both Wins and Strikeouts, which is not insurmountable, but forces you to pretty much ace everything else.

I suppose what this all means is that a strong draft is important, but it does not have to be perfect. The LIMA Plan does not stop after that last player is rostered in March. LIMA concepts continue during the season with your roster management, and might be considered a second stage to the Plan.

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