The importance of category management

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The angle we will employ is investigating the big picture in terms of the expected distribution within each category. The principle in play here is there is more movement possible in categories where the stats are more tightly bunched. So what we will do is normalize each category so the expected top score is 100 then we will calculate the bottom score proportionately. The higher the expected last place score, the tighter the category should be bunched leading to a greater points potential. Below is a table that presents the scaled expected total of the last place team in 12-team American League only, National League only and Mixed Leagues. Remember the top team in each category has their points adjusted to 100.

The first observation is that although the top to bottom differences are not the same between mixed and only leagues, the general pattern between the categories is identical. But since the last place total in mixed leagues is greater than the corresponding only league, in theory it should be a little easier to make up ground in mixed leagues.

Next, we may as well jump right to what can be considered good evidence to debunk one of the more widespread myths in fantasy baseball, the incorrect assumption that once at bats and innings mount, you cannot gain or lose significant points in the rate categories such as batting average, ERA and WHIP. Inspection of the above data reveals that the rate categories are extremely tightly bunched when compared to the counting categories. The narrow distribution of the rate categories in effect counters the impact of the accrued at bats or innings. The operative point is you do not need to improve your placement in the category that much to gain ground, as the person just ahead of you is not that far ahead. Also keep in mind that the numbers ahead of you can get worse, you can actually gain ground by holding your rate steady.

Now let us focus on the hitting counting stats, but before we do, there is a common mistake made by fantasy enthusiasts that gives a false sense of security to those a bit unclear on the proper way to do the math. Let us say that right now, halfway through, an additional 15 homers would net you 3 more points than you have currently. Many assume if they replace a guy expected to hit 5 HR the second half with someone projected to hit 20, those extra 15 homers will earn them those 3 points. But the problem is by year's end, with all else being equal, the present 15 homer gap will be 30. So your extra 15 homers only cuts the deficit in half.

It makes intuitive sense that the distribution in steals is greater than the others, as a popular strategy is to punt steals. But although the data is not shown here, if you do a linear regression between all the standing's places in each category, the average difference between consecutive places is greatest in steals. Practically speaking, what this means is if you want to make up ground in steals, a little here and a little there will likely not get it done. Fortunately, there are stolen base specialists that can supply you ample steals, assuming his deployment does not impact the other categories.

It is interesting to note that it is a little easier to gain ground in runs and RBI as compared to home runs. And while it is true that a player that hits more homers or for a higher average will total more runs and RBI, there is something else that leads to more runs and RBI -- at bats. One of the best ways to make up ground in runs and RBI is to maximize at bats. In daily leagues, have as many hitters as you can active on Mondays and Thursdays, and in weekly leagues, take some time to look at the schedules of your back-end players and play the hitter expected to start more games either because his team is scheduled for more or in the case of a platoon player, he will be on the field more based on the opposing probable pitchers.

As demonstrated above, the good news is batting average is the category most tightly bunched. The bad news is there is very limited waiver wire help available for batting average improvement. In mixed leagues, you may be able to pick up a Cristian Guzman or Placido Polanco, assuming you can take the hit in the counting categories. In deeper leagues, your only likely avenue is to replace a low average catcher that pops a few homers with someone who barely plays. Of course, if you play in a league that allows trading, you can deal for some batting average help.

Looking at the pitching, the saves category is analogous to steals in that the last place team often punts the category, but even with that considered, the average distance between standings places is greater than the other categories. And there are obviously closers to supply saves in bunches.

Anybody who has played the hobby for even a short time no doubt realizes how chasing wins can be quite futile. But sometimes, you are left with no choice. Unfortunately, not only are wins hard to predict, the relative spread between standings places is fairly large. The only reminder that can be offered that might not be suggested elsewhere is there are multiple reasons why an MLB team might be poor. Overall, a team may not be very good because it has weak pitching, but in general, score average runs or above. Good pitchers on teams such as this have reasonable wins potential. The point is, sometimes owners shun all pitchers from the staffs of weak teams. If you are chasing wins, look for decent pitchers on bad teams with average offenses, especially for home games.

Perhaps the most popular category management strategy utilized at this point of the season is to study your pitching and decide if you can maximize your points by focusing on ERA, WHIP and saves at the expense of wins and strikeouts or the reverse, ignore the rates and pump up the strikeouts and hopefully wins. Because they falsely believe they have endured too much rate damage, too many elect to ignore the categories too early. As opposed to hitting, where there is minimal batting average help, pitching offers the useful high-strikeout middle reliever to help control your ERA and WHIP.

So there you have it, a global look at how it may be to gain points in the rotisserie categories. The two most important things to keep in mind are the tight distributions of the rate categories and the fact you need at account for the second half production of the teams you are trying to catch.