The Waiting Game: Balancing the Use of SP in ottoneu

Forty man rosters make for a very different (fantasy) ballgame than many other (fantasy) ballgames. The other day, in a Roto Riteup, Zach Sanders passed along Jeff Zimmerman’s reminder that cold weather favors pitchers, and that April is cold (compared to July, anyway), and that therefore you can be a bit more liberal with your pitchers now than you can be in a few months.

Around the same time, I was giving ottoneu player Joe Pytleski seemingly contradictory advice on twitter. But I assure you, I agree with Jeff, and the discrepancy can be explained.

In ottoneu points leagues, meeting your 1500 IP maximum is basically a must. Innings have positive points values and even replacement level fantasy pitchers are adding points to your total every time they take the mound (at least almost every time). Even 100 innings at 1 point per inning from a terrible SP is better than leaving 100 innings on the table.

Assuming you get 300 RP innings, that leaves you needed 1200 IP from your starters.

I try to divide my SP into three groups – Front Line Guys, Rotation Guys, and Spot Starters. The Front Lines you will almost always put out there, throwing them every five days, no or close to it. You are going to want at least 80% of their IP. The Rotation Guys you want to use anywhere from 50-80% of the time. These are guys you probably want to use more often then not, but will want to protect them in bad situations. The Spot Starters you will want to use less than 50% of the time – they will fill innings for you, but only when necessary.

For example, my rotation in the original league is C.J. Wilson, Jordan Zimmermann, Max Scherzer, Matt Moore, Matt Garza, Alex Cobb, Julio Teheran, Ryan Dempster, Josh Beckett and Edinson Volquez. Of that group, I put Wilson, Zimmermann, and Scherzer into the Front Line group, with the hope that Moore plays his way into it (and so far, so good). Moore, Garza and Cobb are really my only Rotation Guys, although Teheran could move up to that list, for sure. The others are Spot Starters, as of now.

In terms of filling up my innings, let’s assume each of these players will throw 200 IP this year (we’ll assume 150 for Garza, due to health). This means I will get about 180 each from Wilson, Zimmermann and Scherzer, 150 from Moore, 100 from Garza, and 120 from Cobb. That totals 910 IP so far. Maybe I assume 100 more from Teheran if he really breaks out as the season goes on, so now we are at 1010. Meaning I need 190 IP from the rest of that group – about 63 IP each.

Now we get back to the use/don’t use your marginal pitchers argument that this article opened with. When Joe tweeted his rotation to me, he laid out his rotation for me and asked if I thought he had enough to win. I responded, “like the upside but could lack a second front line guy. Be patient with innings and consider mid season trade if needed.”

My comment there related primarily to the Spot Starters. Again looking at my rotation, one of the ways I could fill the missing 190 IP is by making a mid-season move for an ace. Let’s say I can add Justin Verlander in June or July, and get 125 IP out of him the rest of the way. Suddenly I only need to fill 65 innings, which means I really only need three or so starts each from my spot starters. If Moore steps up, Teheran steps up, or maybe a prospect of mine gets a call, I may not need those guys at all.

Hence the advice to be patient – don’t rush to use those spot starters early when you might be able to replace their innings with something much better later in the year. The depth of rosters in ottoneu gives you the option to carry a large rotation, so even if you fall behind in innings pitched early, because you don’t use your Spot Starters, you can use them more in the second half, and catch up, no problem. If you fall way too far behind, you can add an extra Spot Starter late in the season (or maybe pick up a free agent who emerges as a Rotation Guy) and use them to make up the ground, no problem.

In Joe’s case, my point was that he might not want to overuse his bottom end SP because a mid-season trade to bring in an ace may allow him to make up those innings later – and with a much more valuable player. And if it turns out he needs innings late in the year to reach the max, he can carry enough pitchers to get there. If, on the other hand, he keeps up now, using guys who aren’t that exciting, he can’t give those innings back later.

Now, how does this jive with the advice to use your borderline guys early, as suggested by Jeff? It’s those rotation guys, I think. If you expect to use 60% of a pitchers innings, you want that 60% to skew towards cold weather starts.

The important thing to note early in the year is that you don’t want to overuse guys who you may not need to use ever. I may literally never need to put Volquez on the mound – so why take any risks? He pitches well at home, and I will likely take my chances with him in good matchups, at home, even early in the season, but I am not going beyond that. I’ll be patient for now and if I have to use the deep roster to make up that ground later, so be it. But Moore and Cobb (too bad about Garza, eh?) I’ll use more aggressively in cold weather starts for now.

As a side note, other than at catcher, this strategy does not work for the offense. If I carry 15 SP, and things time out right, I could theoretically start them all and get a ton of starts each week. But carrying four 1B will still only allow me to make up about one game a week, because I can only start one 1B at a time. Be patient with pitchers, but try to stay on pace for 162 games with your position players.

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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.

5 Responses to “The Waiting Game: Balancing the Use of SP in ottoneu”

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  1. kujoep says:

    Woohoo, I made a Fangraphs article! Thanks Chad for the clarification. BTW, I took your advice and got Matt Moore as a #2. However, I neglected to start my $1 Buchholz and my $8 Jaime Garcia yesterday and left 70 pts on the bench. Ouch! Hard to know when to start those guys with borderline matchups (Garcia vs. CIN and Buchholz vs. BAL).

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  2. Zach says:

    There are two other reasons to be aggressive in starting Rotation Guys and Spot Starters early on:

    1. Risk of injuries to the top half of your staff. If Wilson and Zimmerman go down for extended periods, you’re going to wish you had given Beckett and Dempster a couple more early starts.

    2. If all goes well, you will have a surplus of pitching as you near the trade deadline. If 2/3 of the season is gone and you’ve used 80% of your innings, you can deal from pitching depth. This also applies to catchers.

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    • Chickensoup says:

      This is what I do. I’ll take the innings now and trade depth at the end of the year when it is relatively worthless to me rather than play the catchup game and have to give a hitter up to make my 1500 innings.

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  3. Nottellingbecausemyleaguemateswillknowmystrategy says:

    I do the complete opposite. I make sure I have 5 RP each day and only use elite SP until August – then when everyone else approaching their levels I dump some big hitters for premo SP. Additionally SP in September are facing more minor leaguers on the expanded rosters so I’ve found a strikeout bump to be somewhat normal. Just be careful not to fall to far behind, wait too long, or chase pitchers who will start resting for the playoffs.

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    • RaysFan says:

      If this happened in my league, nobody would trade you SP toward the end of the year. But it would work once.

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