Know When to Fold’em

Last week, I sent out a tweet (Follow me! @chadyoung) asking readers & ottoneu enthusiasts what they wanted to see in this space this week. Amidst a handful of “should I trade this guy for that guy” responses, came this:

‏@ChikeErokwu: How/when do you know you’re a contender for the year? Is there a point/date benchmark? I’d like to see a story about that.

Anyone who has played in an ottoneu league before knows the standings can flip on their head due to some well-timed trades. A team suffering near the bottom in April can turn a handful of prospects into a smaller handful of stars, and that can make all the difference. So knowing when to buy or sell can be crucial. I’m sitting on both sides of this right now. My team in the original league finally climbed out of the cellar and up to 6th, but is vastly under-performing expectations, while my Experts League team has shot up to 3rd despite getting 0 PA from my biggest auction buy (Hanley Ramirez) and 11 decidedly poor IP from my supposed ace (Jered Weaver).

I am not yet ready to buy in the Experts League (although I am trying to make some deals to swap my world-beating steals and saves to bolster my awfully poor HR and RBI); nor am I ready to sell in the original league. The way I went about making that determination helps to answer Chike’s question.

For points leagues, let me introduce you to a stat I use to determine how I am faring in the league. The stat is equal to (1944/1500)*(Pts/G)+(Pts/IP). The 1944/1500 term is because over the course of the season you will have the chance to use up 1944 games played but only 1500 innings pitched, so an added points per game is worth more (1.296x more) than an added point per inning pitched. Note that this does not mean that adding an ace is lees valuable than adding a big bat – that ace can impact 13.3% or more of your pitching points (200 IP/1500 total) while the batter can only impact 8.3% of your hitting stats (162 GP/1944 total).

Looking at the FanGraphs Staff League standings, my score is 11.81, which is good for…8th. Yuck.

For rotisserie leagues, I start by taking the standings and converting all the counting stats into rate stats. Throughout the season, there can be significant variation in how many games played and innings pitched teams have used up, and that can make quite a difference. On each team’s page you can find their total games played by position. I add up total games played and total IP, then find HR/G, R/G, SB/G, RBI/G, W/9IP, S/9IP and K/9, and recalculate the standings.

This early in the season, there is still plenty of time for teams to make up for missed games or IP, so I still assume everyone will use up their full allotment of playing time. As the season moves on, I make adjustments. I basically assume you can make up 1 GP per week at every position except C (at which you can make up 1 extra GP per day if you want) and OF (where you can make up 2-3 GP per week). I don’t start adjusting IP until very late in the year. If you make adjustments to assume that teams won’t fill up games played or innings pitched, you need to add another step – taking HR/G, R/G and K/9 and multiplying them by GP or by IP/9 to find a new counting stat total for each team. But today, we get to skip that.

Looking at the original league standings, there are four teams that are noticeable movers – West Coast Wellness and Last Year’s Leftovers gained 6.5 and 3.5 points respectively. The former moved from a distant fourth to tied for third while the latter moved from eighth to sixth. The reason is that Last Year’s Leftovers has used up the second fewest games played while West Coast Wellness is well behind in IP.

Meanwhile, Dave Stewart’s Balls and Overpaid Scrubs each dropped six points, falling from second and sixth to tied for third and ninth. The former is leading the league in games played, the latter in IP.

In the Experts League, ESPN Quintong was by far the big gainer – grabbing 10.5 extra points, a result of his having used the second fewest games adn the second fewest IP. The tumbler in this league was For Whom the Honkbal Tolls – this team was second in GP and third in IP and lost 13 points.

My teams did not move much. I gained 1.5 points in the original league (I am about middle of the pack in GP and IP, but a bit below average in both), but arguably LOST ground – I am still in fifth but the gap between my team and fourth grew by five points. The opposite happened in the Experts League, where I dropped 1.5 points, but moved from third to second, thanks to KFFL losing 8.5 points and falling to fourth (that team is third in GP and first in IP).

The last thing I do, regardless of format is look at changes I expect in my team moving forward. For the original league, I know Matt Moore will fall off a bit, but I expect big bounce backs from Jay Bruce, Jason Heyward, Jason Kipnis, and others. In the Experts League, the return of Hanley Ramirez and eventual value from 2B (where I am currently using Dustin Ackley and Jedd Gyorko, but have Jurickson Profar ready to go) will help, while Brandon Crawford and Starling Marte will likely cool off soon. In the Staff League, Felix Hernandez has been human and Matt Cain has been something less than that – that should change.

Most importantly, there is still 85% of the season left to play. In the Staff League, if I can put up 5.5 Pts/G the rest of the way (4th best as of today) and 5.4 Pts/IP the rest of the way (tied for 4th best as of today), there is no reason I can’t be right in the thick of things late this Summer.

But I’ll re-do this exercise in a month or two, and if the results aren’t looking good, that will be when I know it is time to cut bait and start the firesale.

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

15 Responses to “Know When to Fold’em”

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  1. Clifford says:

    Felix has been human? Hmm, didn’t know that going 3-2, 1.90 ERA, 2.34 FIP, 0.96 WHIP, 9.28 K/9, and 1.48 BB/9 constituted being human. If the season ended today, Felix would finish with the best ERA, FIP, WHIP, K/9, and BB/9 of his career.

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    • Chad Young says:

      Uh…yeah…that is definitely true.

      I guess what I was reacting to was that three of his six starts have been un-Felix-like from the perspective of an ottoneu points league. Two of them have been downright bad (34 combined points over 13 innings) and one was just okay (44 points over 8 innings, which is solid but not what you hope for when Felix takes the mound). The other three, of course, have been stellar, and I clearly glossed over that.

      Anyway, that explains why I thought he was human – but does not excuse me for being pretty much completely wrong.

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  2. Mike D says:

    I don’t do ottoneu leagues, but in my experience mid-to-late May is when you know where you sit. I’m dominating in two of my leagues but need to temper expectations until then.

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    • Chad Young says:

      Timing depends on how good or bad your team is. If you are miles ahead of the pack now, such that even some regression won’t push you too far down, you might know you are in the running. If you are miles behind now, such that even some improvement won’t move you higher than 5th or 6th, you might be done.

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  3. The other Kyle says:

    This topic is interesting to me, as I was very lucky in my NL-only, 4X4 (no runs, Ks) keeper league auction. Part of my strategy (virtually every year) is to target at least one injured player with a reduced contract to 1) have for a good, cheap keeper the next year, or 2) have for a good trade chip during the stretch run.

    Our league has a $26 salary cap for our auction, and I was able to get Beachy (.10), D. Hudson (.10), and Luebke (.20).

    I’m currently in 3rd, and I suspect I will finish in the 2nd-4th range (one team is absolutely stacked). Our league pays out 50% for 1st, 25% for 2nd, 15% for 3rd, and 10% for 4th.

    Right now, my thinking is that because 1st (which represents the only major jump in pay) is highly unlikely, I’m going to save my cheap keepers for next season.

    But later in the year, if an opportunity presents itself, I have the ammo to make a big-time run. Once the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders, there are typically some major firesales. In past years, guys like those I mentioned above (and with those contracts) would each return a Top 15-20 player.

    Do I stand pat or go all-in?

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      How stacked is the absolutely stacked team?

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    • Chad Young says:

      Luebke, Hudson and Beachy are your trade chips? Aren’t they also potential mid-season additions themselves? Why trade those three (or two of those three) to get an ace when there could be 2-3 aces among that group?

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  4. Shane says:

    For a points league, why do you use your formula (1944/1500)*(Pts/G)+(Pts/IP), rather than total points scored?

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    • Chad Young says:

      The basic standings (total points) gives teams extra credit for overly aggressively using their players. A team that is using every SP could have thrown an extra 30 or 40 innings and even if those are not particularly valuable innings, they will have 100-200 points that are not reflective of their team talent.

      Starting with a per game or per IP basis allows you to account for this while the 1900/1544 equation recognizes that Pts/GP are more valuable than Pts/IP since you play more games than you pitch innings.

      As the season moves on, you also want to try to get a sense of what teams are so far behind in GP or IP that we can safely assume they won’t fill up their allotment.

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  5. LuckyStrikes says:

    Chad, I used your formula today for our league. Here’s how it shakes out ( I really wish the export of Ottoneu standings could break out the points scored by G and IP separately (hint, hint), but pretty interesting…

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  6. Corey says:

    Call me dense, but I don’t understand what you’re doing with this piece. What exactly does adjusting for games played in a rotisserie league accomplish? Seems to me like you’ve just arbitrarily recalculated the standings on a per game basis for leagues that don’t care about per game stats. What am I missing?

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    • Chad Young says:

      At the end of the year, per game stats don’t count in any league. But in the original league, some teams have only played 17 games at certain positions while others have played 30 or more (particularly at catcher). If I have 12 positions at 18 games played each, that is 216 total games used. If another team has 28 games at each position, that is 336 games used. If we are both putting up a HR every 6 games and a R every two games, that is a difference of 60 runs and 20 HR.

      That means that in the standings, the other team is CRUSHING me in those categories, but if we both maintain this pace of hitting and both use up all 1,944 games allotted to us, we will end up exactly tied in both R and HR.

      The point of what I am doing is trying to get a sense of how well teams are doing, rather than how many stats they have accrued. As I mentioned, as the season goes on, you have to start to assume that teams using less games will have a hard time filling those games out. But for now, you shouldn’t assume that a 10 HR lead is really a 10 HR lead – it could just represent 40 extra games played and a true HR lead of only a couple.

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      • Corey says:

        Maybe we just play in different types of leagues, what do you mean “games allotted”? Do your leagues have a limit on number of games played by your players? I would think playing fewer games would just indicate more injuries or fewer starters on your roster. You can’t get those games back.

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      • Chad Young says:

        That could be the difference. I’ve never played in a roto league without limits on games played (usually 162 per position) and innings pitched (anywhere from 1250-2000 in leagues I have played in). For ottoneu leagues, the limits are 162 per position (include 162×5 for OF) and a 1250-1500 IP range.

        If you are playing in a league without GP limits, then you should be filling out your roster daily, if possible and ignoring the advice to re-set stats to a per-game basis.

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      • Corey says:

        Well, we actually can’t change our roster very frequently, but that’s a different issue. Thanks for the clarification, I was really confused by your piece. The only limit we have is a lower bound limit on IP to prevent someone from putting together a team of only relief pitchers and tanking wins in order to dominate the ratio categories.

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