This article may disappoint some. Why is that? Well, many will look for an article like this to be the answer, the gospel, the grail. It is not. Many roto players are looking for THE strategy, the perfect plan. Yet that strategy doesn't exist. In football some teams win with the wishbone. Some teams win with the I, and some win in the run-n-shoot. In baseball some teams win with speed and some win with the three-run homer. The bottom line is that there are many ways to be successful. This is true of rotisserie leagues as well. If there was one best way, we all would use that strategy. You have to take into account the hand you have been dealt and use the strategy that maximizes your hand.
The following article will introduce and discuss some of the strategies you can use on draft day. You can then take this information to help decide which strategy would be best for you this season. An excellent book dealing with strategy is an old one that is worth rereading every year: How to Win at Rotisserie Baseball by Peter Golenbock. If you want to read it, go to your library armed with the following info, and have them order it for you on loan. How to Win at Rotisserie Baseball by Peter Golenbock, copyright 1987 by Dynasty Inc., ISBN#0-394-75216-3.
The GM Way: This style was popularized by fantasy expert Greg Scalf. This will be the Reader's Digest version. For Greg's full approach to rotisserie leagues follow the hyperlink provided: The GM Way. Basically, the goal is to play to position scarcity (which some argue does not exist). Try to get the players in positions where there are not many good options at any cost. Then get low-dollar players at the end in positions that have the most talent. Catcher and middle infield usually stand out as having few impact players while the outfield often teems with talent. With the increase in hitting, truly elite pitching can be added to the list of hard-to-find positions. You will have to have some one-dollar players; all teams do. BUt you'll probably be better off with a one-dollar outfielder that has some upside than reaching for a one-dollar, bottom-of-the-pile catcher. The outfielder will outperform the catcher more often than not. Also, do not worry about the wins category as it is unpredictable. This strategy also concentrates on steals and saves as these are the hardest commodities to find after draft day. Greg won in his first year of rotisserie ball with Ryne Sandberg at $49 and Will Clark at $41, and this style has had him in the money annually. The main reason for this is that getting above-average talent in positions with limited talent and one-dollar players that emerge allows you to overpay for those same top-notch players, a cycle so to speak. However, a warning: the above example of going into the $40s for players was back in the '80s! It is much tougher to pull off in today's game with the glut of info a click away from any player. It can still work very well, however, and it can work for you too. Again, this is a shortened version. You can get the full article by following the link to: The GM Way
Punt One Category: In this strategy, you choose to give up - or using the football term, "punt" - one category. The idea is to finish last in that statistic, for example saves, and thus save money by not spending it on closers. This money can then be used to enhance your position in the other categories. I have seen teams do this and win. After all, with all the information available to players today, it is very difficult to have a balanced team (more on those later). Wins, saves, and stolen bases are the most frequently chosen categories to punt. This strategy can work, however any miscalculations on draft day that leave you weak in other categories could lead to doom. This plan is not recommended if you are playing in a league that starts from scratch each year, at least not on draft day. At some point in the season you may have to punt a category to strengthen your position. However, somebody in your league is likely to be solid in all 8 or 10 categories, and you will, too, in order to win. If you are in a keeper league, on the other hand, then you may have to punt a category on draft day just because of the players that remain available. But still, you may have to contend with a team that will be solid in all categories.
Balanced Team Theory: In this theory, you budget your money in a manner to finish in third or fourth place in every category. Many owners play by this rule, and never punt categories to start the season. You try to work your draft so you are competitive in all categories, which can be very, very tough to do in this day and age. This is a strategy that was much easier to pull off in the past, as all you veterans know. This theory is still viable today, but takes a lot of planning and a draft that goes as planned. The problem is that to compete in wins, you often times have to spend more than you budget for pitching, and then are left short on hitting. You also have to pass on "stars" or favorites as they become too expensive. It leaves your team with a bunch of no-namers and uninteresting players. Because of this, some call it "The Bernhard Plan," as aptly named by 1995 LABR winner Mike Vogel, who said, "this plan is so ugly it is beautiful like Sandra Bernhard."
Punt Two Categories: In this strategy an owner punts two categories, usually home runs and runs batted in. They expect to finish last in those two categories, but use the money to dominate the other categories giving a possible total of 74 points in a standard 4x4 league. This strategy is often referred to as "The Sweeney Plan," named after an owner from the American Dream League who used it successfully. Alex Patton also used this plan to finish second in one of the 1998 Tout Wars leagues. This strategy is good if you have low requirements, but bad if you have high requirements. For example, 900 innings and 3,500 at bats would encourage one to Sweeney. 1,200 innings pitched and 4,250 at bats would cause one to pass Sweeney up. You load up on high-average guys with speed as well as securing a couple of closers, then add a solid pitching staff followed by several low-dollar, but high-average guys. The problem is you have to be near perfect: as mentioned before, a solid team in all categories could amass more than 74 points. On the up side, it is low maintenance and does not require you watching the transactions quite as close, and could be a good "curve ball" strategy in a very competitive league. For more on Sweeney here is a link to Alex Patton's column from Tout Wars in 1998.
The Nine Dollar Pitcher Strategy: Tried by Larry Labadini in the 1996 LABR sponsored by Baseball Weekly, the thinking here is that you load up on hitting and win those categories and then do well in ratio and ERA. Trade for any weaknesses with your excess hitting. You could win with this, especially in a league that is short of the recommended number of teams, but it's tougher to do in a full twelve-team league. It requires some roster management to be successful. The downside? You better know - as in: really know - pitching. Larry didn't win, but did well enough to make others ponder the strategy. He was leading at the halfway point and faded to a fourth place finish. You also must be able to negotiate and have good relationships in the league so people will be willing to trade. Look for someone to try and utilize the Labadini plan again soon in one of the expert leagues as each year less and less is spent on pitching, especially a league that has FAAB rules.
The Don't Draft Anyone Over $30 Strategy: This tactic was used by Irwin Zwilling and Lenny Melnick to win the Baseball Weekly LABR two years in a row in 1995 & 1996. If these two won one of the toughest leagues in the country with it, then you know it can work. The idea is to not spend over 30 dollars on any single player, and to amass a solid lineup of everyday players at modest prices. This is very similar to the Bernhard Plan, but you can still get some stars for under $30. This is an excellent strategy for an owner drafting in a league that is in its first year. You will get a fair share of good players at good prices, and then get to keep them for future years. The drawback in this strategy is you can get closed out of of talent and end up overpaying for mediocre players. When owners go crazy and pay $40-50 for elite stars, 30-dollar theory guys have been seen finishing the draft with 50 dollars left over! This is also probably not a good strategy if your league has inflation like mentioned above. This was also used by John Coleman to win the 1999 & 2000 NL Tout Wars leagues. The big problem with it today is that because of the success of this plan in the expert leagues, many may copy it in your league and it is tough to be successful with any strategy if several teams are employing it.
The LIMA Plan: Utilized by Ron Shandler to win both Tout Wars in 1998, add a second-place finish in 1999, and another championship in 2000, LIMA stands for Low Investment Mound Aces (and is also a salute to Jose Lima, who fit the pitching profile and anchored Ron to victory back in 1998). By using selected pitching stats, Ron projected pitchers who would do well the upcoming season, many of which were unknown to casual fans. It also requires only using two or three starters. Thus, money is saved for hitting. The breakdown is 60 for pitching 200 for hitting. Again, due to its popularity, many are employing this strategy and Ron has a legion of followers using it. The problem with this plan now is that everyone finds out the pitchers that fit the LIMA profile and then bid them up on draft day, making it difficult to execute the plan. With this strategy, an owner usually does not spend over $30 on any player. A highly popular and successful strategy currently.
The No Starter Strategy: This plan was developed by Alex Patton in the American Dream League. Because of it, most leagues have minimum requirements for innings pitched today. The higher the requirements, the tougher to employ this strategy. The idea is to do well in ratio, ERA, and saves, and then use the money saved avoiding starters to get hitters. It is still possible to win this way, but watch the IP requirements. The downside is that once players realize your strategy, they will drive up the price of relievers in an effort to leave you short on money for hitting. This method was used by Rick Wolf and Glenn Colton to win back to back LABR championships.
These are some of the more popular strategies. Again, all can be made to work in the right place and the right time. Also, all can lose when used in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you are in a keeper league, your hands may be tied as to what style to use. But, as the old saying goes, "there is more than one way to skin a cat!" Also, it is possible to combine strategies and make them work for you as well, and there is plenty of room to be creative and devise your own game plan.
Good luck, and may fortune smile on your team this season.