What should you do with RP slots in points leagues?

I play in two points leagues, both of which use lwts-style scoring (although what follows applies to most other points systems).  They differ in format, however: one is a head to head points league with weekly lineups (my yahoo league), while the other is a more traditional points league with game and innings caps but daily transactions (my ottoneu league).

One of the biggest differences between the two systems is what the rule differences mean for reliever value.  In a head to head points league, it’s all about point accumulation.  And in my league’s scoring system, like in many points systems, a major key to generating the most points in a season is playing time, i.e. innings.  Because you can only set lineups once per week, this means that starters who have RP eligibility are tremendously valuable.  As an example, here are the top 11 pitchers who had RP eligibility in Yahoo last season, based on total FanGraphs Points:

1. Brett Myers, 1011 pts
2. Colby Lewis, 911 pts
3. Clayton Richard, 860 pts
4. Shaun Marcum, 848 pts
5. R.A. Dickey, 777 pts
6. Justin Masterson, 754 pts
7. Brandon Morrow, 720 pts
8. Brian Wilson, 679 pts
9. Phil Hughes, 675 pts
10. Carlos Marmol, 661 pts
11. Chris Narveson, 659 pts

As you can see, the effect of having a quality pitcher with RP eligibility is staggering.  I had Myers and Richard last year, and their production was a big part of the reason I made it to the playoffs.  In truth, for most of these guys, there was little difference between a true closer and a starter most weeks.  But in two-start weeks, a starter with RP eligibility can be worth double the value of a closer, and that alone probably resulted in a few wins for me last year.  We actually opted to increase the points allotted for saves and holds this year in my yahoo league to help mitigate this, but the value of SP/RP’s will always be “feature” of this kind of league.

Things change quite a bit when you move to a game like ottoneu, where there’s an innings cap.  By way of illustration, in ottoneu, there is a 1500 inning cap for all pitchers.  Let’s say you had 5-man rotation of Weaver–Cain–Hudson–Scherzer–Buchholz last season (these were the 6th, 18th, 30th, 42nd, and 54th-best starting pitchers according to fangraphs points).  These five pitchers threw a total of 1045.7 innings, and totalled 4659 points (4.46 pts/ip).  That would leave 455 innings to be filled by your five relief slots.

Let’s see what happens if we use our top three elite SP/RP’s from last year to fill those innings: Myers, Lewis, and Richard.  Those three pitchers combined to throw 626.3 innings, totaling 2783 points last year (4.44 pts/ip).  If we pro-rate that rate to 455 innings, we get a total of 2021 points from our RP slots.  And that’s certainly the best-case scenario, as one’s chances of picking up the top three SP/RP’s are probably pretty low.

What if we instead use true relief pitchers?  Here’s a fairly middle of the road bullpen (the 6th, 18th, 30th, 42nd, and 54th-best relievers, by fangraphs points in 2010): Joakim Soria–Leo Nunez–Rafael Betancourt–Brandon League–Jason Frasor.  Those five pitchers combined to throw 335.7 innings last season, so we’re still 120 shy of our cap.  And yet they totalled 2324 points last year–6.9 points per inning!  If we add in another 120 innings from a scrub starting pitcher we stream in as needed–I’ll use Joe Saunders and his 3.5 pts/ip rate from 2010–we add another 420 points, giving a total of 2744 points from our non-rotation pitchers.  That’s an improvement of 723 points over using the top three point-getting pitchers, which is equivalent to the difference between Roy Halladay and Jeremy Bonderman.  It’s huge!

The reason, of course, is that true relievers get holds and saves, which are worth a nice chunk of points in most points leagues.  That makes their average points per inning, which is already pretty high for top relievers, far higher than anything a starting pitcher can do.

So, if you’re in a league with weekly transactions but no innings caps, consider using starters with RP eligibility in your relief slots.  But if you have an innings cap, save those RP slots for true relievers–and ideally closers and setup men who stand to earn lots of saves or holds.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your precious innings on starters.

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Justin is a lifelong Reds fan, and first played fantasy baseball on Prodigy with a 2400 baud modem. His favorite Excel function is the vlookup(). You can find him on twitter @jinazreds, even though he no longer lives in AZ.

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Brad Johnson

Even if you’re in a linear weights based points league, you should find that relievers compile more points per inning than all but the best SP.