Eight myths of the LIMA Plan

by Ron Shandler on March 18, 2009 @ 00:00:00 PDT


It's like a game of telephone.

Somebody starts and tries to explain a new concept to somebody else. Person #2 then passes on his interpretation to person #3, who then adds his own take to person #4. By the time the original concept reaches person #20, "grand slam home run" has become "ground ham on a bun."

And so it has become with the LIMA Plan. This was the first year that I have seen so many references to the concept in so many diverse places. And half of the time, they get it wrong.

I suppose, this is good news for you. Since you know the truth, you can leverage that knowledge over all those people who think they know the truth. For me, the news isn't quite as good. For those sources that see fit to attribute the concept to its rightful purveyor, I'd much prefer that they get it right. I swear I'm gonna throw something if I read one more time that "Ron Shandler's Lima Plan tells you to draft a $60 staff of middle relievers." Of course, all those people who follow, and fail, with that advice will undoubtedly look back at Ron Shandler as some type of crackpot.

I also suppose that there are a bunch of you reading this right now who may have come to RotoHQ for the first time this year under those false LIMA pretenses. So I'd like to set the record straight, and provide some insight even to those who are LIMA vets.

The LIMA (Low Investment Mound Aces) Plan, in a nutshell...

 "Budget a maximum of $60 for pitching, of which about half should be targeted to acquiring saves. The remaining $30 should be spent on pitchers who have a minimum statistical profile of 2.0 K/BB ratio, 6.0 K/9 IP, 1.0 HR/9, without regard to role or ERA. Draft the minimum number of innings your league will allow, and then maximize your offense with the remaining $200."

There are three basic elements of the plan. First is the resource allocation of your dollars. Second is the targeting of skills rather than stats. And finally, there is risk management. All three are important, but to varying degrees, and dependent upon the particular league in which LIMA is being implemented. It is often the interpretation of these elements, and their interaction, where perception goes awry.

MYTH #1: LIMA means... Low Innings Mound Aces

I saw this a few times over the winter. It is one of several misinterpretations that focus on a single element of the plan. In this case, it leads people to believe that LIMA requires you to ignore starting pitching. But minimizing innings was intended purely to remind us that you do not necessarily need a lot of innings to contend. For me, it has morphed into a risk management tool, nothing more; certainly not the core concept of the Plan.

To be honest, this element of LIMA was an afterthought. It was the final element included, and only because it provided more in-season management flexibility.

MYTH #2: LIMA means... a pitching staff filled with middle relievers.

Another myth associated with the low innings element. Stocking your pitching staff with middle relievers may be an end result if you cannot acquire other more valuable arms, but it is certainly not the intent of LIMA. There are many starters and conditional saves sources that are inexpensive and far more valuable than middle relievers. However, if the price tags of these arms are too high, there are tons of middle relievers who can fill out a staff nicely without doing too much damage. A LIMA staff will typically end up with at least a few of these pitchers, only because they are the cheapest end-game fillers. But to target middle relievers specifically is not only unnecessary, it's foolish.

MYTH #3: LIMA means... you have to punt wins.

This is probably the greatest myth of the plan. The assumption is that, since you are not drafting many innings, there is no way to compete in Wins. Perception of a pure innings-to-wins correlation is pervasive, but reality is different. Sure, the more innings you accumulate, the more likely it is that there will be wins, but better correlations can be found elsewhere. In fact, the two highest correlating elements to Wins are team offense and pitching skill.

The entire foundation of the LIMA Plan is that the focus on skill will yield its just rewards. Most times, this alone will lead to an acceptable ranking in the Wins category. In 2001, valuable pitchers like Felix Rodriquez and Arthur Rhodes provided more boost in Wins than dozens of starting pitchers. That's a pure LIMA benefit.

However, it's true that the lack of innings does put a strain on the Wins category. There's less margin for error. Still, there is no reason to go into a season expecting the worst. LIMA's upside is that, even if you do fare poorly in Wins, you should have enough points from everywhere else to still contend. But punting Wins outright? Never at the draft table. During the season, it's an alternative you might have to consider at some point, but only if you absolutely have to.

MYTH #4: LIMA means... don't spend for saves.

This appeared in one place over the winter and it astounded me. The fact is, you have to spend for saves, if for no other reason than the riskiness of the Wins category. However, you should try to cap that spending at about $30, which could be one stud or several second tier sources. This is designed so that you have at least $30 to fill your other 7-8 roster spots.

Every time I failed using the LIMA Plan, it was because I did not draft the right saves guys. Saves are fickle. Acquiring those precious saves is probably the single biggest challenge to pulling off LIMA. So, if you have to spend $35, do it. In the right scenario, if you have to spend $40, do it.

Ah..... but....

MYTH #5: If you don't spend that $200 on offense, you've blown it.

Or alternatively, "blow the rules, punt the plan." LIMA provides a series of targets, but just because you miss a few doesn't mean that your efforts have gone to waste.

Clearly, buying a staff of pitchers with 1.0 command ratios runs in direct opposition to the plan, but snaring a few slightly under 2.0 won't kill you. Drafting Randy Johnson, Robb Nen and seven $1 pitchers won't cut it either, but it's okay to go after a $15-$20 arm if you need the comfort of a "staff anchor." And spending only $170 on offense won't do the job, but anywhere between $190 and $200 is fine. In keeper leagues, 5x5 leagues, and other hybrids, the rules may have to be fudged much more.

LIMA is a framework. You need to mold it to fit your own individual league. There is a strong undercurrent, however, convinced of facts such as...

MYTH #6: LIMA will not work in a 5x5 league.

Here again, it's a matter of molding the framework to fit the needs of your particular league. Yes, the innings restriction and budget allocations may be a problem, so you move them. Don't use the foundation to weigh you down, use it as a springboard. Frank Noto and I have written about 5x5 variations that are very doable.

MYTH #7: LIMA only works in Rotisserie leagues.

AskRotoman's Peter Kreutzer provided the best perspective on the LIMA Plan in our Think Tank last month. He noted that there was really only one element of the plan that was truly innovative. Most of the elements are nothing new -- spending on offense, spreading risk -- but the focus on player evaluation skills is what provides the greatest benefit to fantasy leaguers and is what sets LIMA apart from any other strategy.

Given that, the core LIMA concepts become applicable to just about any fantasy game. Even sim games like Scoresheet can benefit by forcing owners to focus on pitching skills when selecting their staff. In fact, this is even more valuable in Scoresheet-type games as it properly devalues situational stats like saves. In 2001, the Rhodes and F-Rods would have made far better closers than half of the arms that were designated with the role. Similarly, cherry-picking the Lidles and Lawrences would provide solid rotation anchors and free up early draft picks for more productive bats. All based on LIMA concepts.

MYTH #8: The LIMA Plan won't work if more than one person is doing it.

If LIMA is vulnerable, the risk is not in other people trying to employ it concurrently. There are plenty of LIMA-caliber pitchers to go around, and certainly more than enough offense. Two owners going at it will make little difference in the results; even three, and possibly four, can successfully go LIMA at the same time.

However, as more and more owners build large offenses and wait for pitching bargains, there will be an economic shift you need to be cognizant of. In this scenario, certain players must end up going under value, and those players will most likely be second tier starting pitchers. The Randy Johnsons and Mike Mussinas will continue to draw high salaries, if for no other reason than a need to price-enforce. But the hurlers who should go in the low $20s might slide into the high teens. Alert bidders might consider these opportunities to grab bargains, even if it means exceeding your pitching budget.

But that would not mean the LIMA Plan has failed, not so long as the pitchers you roster are still skills-worthy. And those extra dollars spent won't likely make that much of a difference anyway; at the draft table, we play the game with projections, after all.

There is a reality amidst all this, however. It's no myth... the LIMA Plan can be beaten. Next essay, we'll find out how.

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