The RIMA Plan

by on March 27, 2009 @ 00:00:00 PDT


After six years of LIMA, most anyone can tell what you're doing within the first hour of the draft. Not so much with RIMA. In a past Tout Wars draft when I grabbed an $18 Esteban Loaiza early on - not a typical low-cost LIMA pitcher - and then added a $15 Joel Pineiro, it was clear that something was different.

While its base is still entrenched in the LIMA philosophy, RIMA takes it one step further. It fleshes out one of the elements of the LIMA Plan and opens up some new opportunities for us.

LIMA is based on optimal resource allocation. These days, however, that's not enough. No matter how good of a team you draft, player inconsistency, injuries and unexpected risk factors can wreak havoc with your season.

And there's the important word - risk. This other draft strategy is the LIMA Plan with a focus on RIsk MAnagement - the RIMA Plan.

It's true that LIMA already addresses risk somewhat. One of the rules is to draft "no player over $30." But some recent cogent arguments state that there is upside to a Stars and Scrubs strategy. High-priced players offer at least some stability, and valuation experts have often written how there may be more profit built into a $40 Alex Rodriguez than a $5 Khalil Greene.

The truth is, players are not risks by virtue of their price tags alone.

A $40 Carlos Beltran, for example, might be a very good buy since he is a typically healthy, stable commodity who has even shown some skills growth. The LIMA follower would never consider spending $28 on a Mike Mussina because of our litany of well-worn admonitions, however, if we were to assess that pitcher's risk profile in more depth, a $28 buy might even include some hidden profit.

The seeds for the RIMA Plan were planted in this year's Baseball Forecaster. For the first time, we included a Risk Table for every player. This described a series of variables that would affect our ability to accurately project how each player would do in 2004. These variables were:

  • Experience: The more of a track record we have for a player, especially at the major league level, the more accurately we can project his potential.
  • Performance consistency: Players who post similar numbers year-in and year-out are easier to project. The more erratic a performance trend, the higher the risk.
  • Playing time: Healthy full-timers are the most stable of commodities. Players who are in and out of the lineup, due to health, slump, or managerial decision, climb in the risk ratings.
  • Stability: We don't find many single-team lifers any more, but those players who stick with a team for longer periods of time, holding down the same role each year, are lower risks.
  • Age: Rising young players or older players on the decline are higher risk as we don't know how quickly they will be ascending or descending the growth curve.
  • External risk factors: These include managerial tendencies (e.g. Does he like the running game? Does he opt for a single closer?) and other variables that impact a player's role.

All this information was then assimilated into an overall risk rating, which ranged from Very Low risk to X HIGH risk.

The goal of RIMA is to minimize risk, so the first step in the process is to consider only those players with a risk rating of Very Low, Low or Moderate. We'll call this the Low Risk Player Pool.

Frankly, in going through this exercise, the book's risk ratings are not perfect. For starters, much has happened since last fall and certain stable commodities have gotten hurt or have switched roles or teams. I had to make some adjustments, but I probably didn't catch everything. We'll be working towards more dynamic risk ratings for this web site in the future (stay tuned...), still, the book was a good start.

Once we've identified the low risk player pool, we then create a second pool of players - those who meet the LIMA criteria. Most of you should already be familiar with this process.

For pitchers, we first capture all those with a command ratio of 2.0 or higher. Based on our recent analysis, we can now cast a slightly wider net on strikeout rate, dropping the cut-off from 6.0 to 5.6. I set HR rate to 1.1, which helped open up the pool a bit more as well.

For batters, we use the LIMA2 criteria, which I just found out is mysteriously absent from both this site as well as I'll have to fix that. The batting criteria are:

  • Contact rate of at least 80%
  • Walk rate of at least 10%
  • PX or SX level of at least 110

As it turns out, the number of players who meet these criteria is very small. In the American League, for example, there are only 28 batters who meet all three filters. As such, I opened up the tolerances a bit, dropping the contact rate to 78% and the walk rate to 8%. That increased the target batter list to 55.

These batting and pitching LIMA filters create a second pool of players which we'll call the LIMA Player Pool.

Then we start mixing and matching, integrating different levels of skill and risk. From this process, we can create several tiers of players to draft from. Let's grade them out:

GRADE A: Players who appear in both the LIMA and Low Risk pools. These are our optimal targets, an elite group that provides the best potential to return, or exceed your investment. Buy these players, pay the price and feel good afterwards.

GRADE B+: Players who are Low Risk, but fall just short in the LIMA criteria. Perhaps they have a slightly elevated HR rate or a command ratio just on the south side of 2.0. The fact that they are low risk helps mitigate any weakness they might have on the BPI side.

GRADE B: Higher risk LIMA caliber players. These are players who have all the skill requirements but are more prone to fluctuation in their performance. Since skill remains the foundation of any good plan, these still rank high, but just below the lower risk types.

GRADE C+: Higher risk, near-LIMA caliber players. Similar to the B+ group, these players just fall short of the LIMA criteria. Unlike the B+ list, the risk factor is elevated here.

GRADE C: Low risk, non-LIMA players. Here is where RIMA opens up a bit more opportunity for us. While we'd typically stay away from low-skilled players, carefully-chosen Grade C bodies can provide often-needed support if you are careful.

In this group you might find inning-eater hurlers who could help boost your strikeout totals, though might have elevated ERAs. If the rest of your staff has a solid skills foundation, you can often weather the bad numbers that come along with these arms. The fact that they are low risk means that you know exactly what you will be getting and so you can better plan for it.

The Grade C batters are those that don't have the skills-based BPIs we covet, but provide numbers we can count on, good or bad, which also helps us better plan for our target statistical levels.

GRADE D: This is the top end of the high risk, low skilled group. Grade D players have some small potential based on perhaps one or two LIMA criteria. If you have to go this far, you're playing with fire, but you have a small probability of coming out uncharred. Unlike...

GRADE F: The bottom of the barrel. High risk, low skill, these players possess virtually no positive value for your fantasy team.

And that's how we'd organize our draft sheets.

One of the beauties of the RIMA Plan is that, for those who don't play in auction leagues, or Rotisserie at all, you can stop reading right now and be able to apply the RIMA concept into your draft prep. The process of integrating skill and risk management is universal for all types of league formats.

But for the rest of us... the final element is budgeting. I'll present one scenario here, but there is some flexibility when it comes to spending your draft dollars.

Let's start with a $60 pitching staff and assume a 5x5 league, which is the format in which LIMA faced the most challenges. Of this, we'd draft 6-7 starters for $50-55. Optimally, these should be a balance of low cost LIMA types and low cost, low risk types. But there's more than one way to approach this.

There are many of you who don't feel comfortable coming out of your draft unless you have a staff "anchor." If this is a direction you want to go, there will be many higher-priced Grade A pitchers that could be worth pursuing. If a Grade A pitcher comes to you at a good value, you can feel more confident going after him, knowing that his low risk profile increases the odds that you'll get a fair return on your investment.

For those who've fully embraced the LIMA Plan, RIMA opens up the player pool for you. Grade A players are obviously your prime targets, but if they get snapped up, you can drop down to the lower grades - even all the way down to C, carefully - without significantly hurting your chances of assembling a workable staff.

As for relievers, I'm officially advising you to punt saves at the draft table in 2004. You should roster 2-3 Grade A, B+ or B relievers for $5-10 total, preferably those that might have some saves upside. Then actively pursue new saves sources as they come up during the season. And they will.

The overall goal for your pitching staff is to assemble a balanced, diversified portfolio of solid performers and steady inning-eaters who have strong odds of providing good return on your investment. For the five pitching categories, you should look to finish high in all except saves. The goal for your batters is, as always, to spend liberally and intelligently, and ace those five categories.

I make no claims or promises with this method. LIMA does provide it with a strong foundation but we're all venturing into somewhat unfamiliar waters here. We'll be watching closely, and swimming furiously, for the next six months.

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Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.

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