Is it too late to win?

by BaseballHQ.com on May 17, 2010 @ 01:01:03 PDT

 


It's the second half of May. You're 20 points out of first in a competitive 5x5 rotisserie league. The season still has 18 weeks left, and you want to get ahead of the curve by making some moves to improve your standing. You pour over your roster and try to determine the best strategy.

Do you:

  • a) Stay conservative, shoring up weak roster slots with stable FAAB pickups and getting healthy,
  • b) Acquire saves and steals - scarce commodities - in the hopes of making up ground quickly, or
  • c) Try and out-whiff your competition by filling up on starters and wins?

The answer is d) none of the above. All three choices above will keep you swimming in the same current as your fellow salmon. In fact, in the end of May, you aren't even ahead of the curve.

In the earliest weeks of the season, standings are very volatile. It's easy to shrug off an Opening Day pounding because the sample of innings is so small that the next two outings could place you atop the ERA and WHIP categories. As the weeks go by, however, the sample size gets larger and larger. A pounding might not have as severe an impact on your team, but nor is it easy to replace relative to your competition. 

At some point in the season, the week-to-week point fluctuations stabilize and the big opening offensives give way to hand-to-hand combat. It is much more difficult to chew up territory after that date. 

Using the 2002 AL Tout Wars standings as a case study, we can try to determine the date at which standing moves are no longer due to early season fluctuations. First, the week-to-week changes for each team in the standings in calculated. Next, these values are squared and averaged over the entire league. This takes away any cancellation teams may have within the league. We want an idea of the absolute point movements - a measure of volatility called variance. In charting the league-wide variance, the date of stability stands out as the week ending May 17:

Week number
Approximate Date
Week-to-week standing points variance
1
4/12
229
2
4/19
69
3
4/26
122
4
5/3
32
5
5/10
46
6
5/17
17
7
5/24
18
8
5/31
36
9
6/7
22
10
6/14
11
11
6/21
10
12
6/28
11
13
7/5
15
14
7/12
2

There is a slight uptick the week ending May 31, but the days of 69 and 222 variance weeks are long gone. After May 17, it all becomes about selective advantage.

Some categories are better than others to utilize in making up ground. In fact, the categories that retain volatility after May 17 are the best categories to pursue. After all, point fluctuations work two ways: your gain and your opponents' loss. 

First, let's tackle the batting categories. Here are the average volatility scores after May 17. Remember, the greater the volatility, the more readily standings point movements occur:

Category
Average week-to-week volatility, post-May 17
BA
1.0
HR
1.1
RBI
1.0
SB
0.4
R
0.6

It is at first glance surprising to see Stolen Bases as the least volatile category. Surely, the addition of a frontline speedster would shoot you past a number of teams. Yes, they will, but the leading teams in this category already have their speed studs. One-trick ponies will only keep you step-for-step in pace with your best competition, who already have their speedsters. You need a competitive advantage. You'll address a weakness, but you need these guys to drop too. That's what volatility is about. 

In fact, the scarcest category on the pitching side - saves - is equally ill-suited:

Category
Average week-to-week volatility, post-May 17
W
1.0
SV
0.2
ERA
1.3
WHIP
1.6
K
0.5

The same logic applies. The addition of a closer will help you scale a few teams, but there will always be a ceiling. 

It should be no surprise then, that the categories that have the greatest affect on volatility are the variable categories: Batting Average, ERA, and WHIP. These statistics fluctuate up and down, instead of merely accumulating. This is wonderful news too because they readily lend themselves to Base Performance Indicators (e.g. Batting Eye, Control Ratio, Command Ratio, EP). 

Home Runs and RBI show good volatility as well. This can probably be attributed to the fact that every team has power hitters, leading to tight week-to-week competition. Small increments of HR and RBI have relatively large effect on standings. On the other hand, some teams will blow off stolen bases or saves altogether, and this somewhat pares the league-wide competition for these categories.

To really embrace volatility as a tool to win your league, preparations really should be made going into the draft. It is better to buy steals and saves and then deal them, rather than the other way around. The early season volatility will rocket you to the top half of these categories, accumulating a large lead over your opponents. When the volatility stabilizes after May 17, you will be protected by a "hard floor" when you swap them for power hitters and solid pitching.

Balancing your team is not enough. To win, you must improve your standing and foment your opponents' fall. The best way to do this is by "trading up" in volatility and enhancing the categories that will keep you out of the current.

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