I can't believe that there are still a sizeable number of owners that aren't convinced that category optimization isn't an option for winning or competing in their leagues. To me, it seems obvious that punting one or two categories helps your chances in six or seven others. Since not everyone is on the same page that I am on this subject, I thought I'd run through the advantages of category optimization.
1) Category optimization allows you to adjust to your weak freeze list
When I entered my American League over 10 years ago, I inherited a team from an owner who had gutted his squad to try and win. I had some excellent players, but they were all very expensive and overpriced. I had only six or seven freezes, and didn't have enough value in those freezes to adequately compete.
I noticed, though, that I had one excellent pitching freeze, two solid pitching freezes, and one of the best base stealing/batting average players in the league at the time.
Without category optimization, this information would have meant little to me. I would have went into my auction trying to buy a lot of offense, some starting pitching, and at least one closer. I would have had some success, but not enough to win.
With category optimization in mind, I decided to throw away power. I knew if I bought the other big basestealer/BA guy and then spent the rest of my money on arms, I'd have a really good chance to compete.
2) Category optimization allows you to target your strongest opponent
That same year, I noticed that the best team in the league was stacked with cheap freezes on offense. This aided my decision to dump power. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get near him on offense by fighting fairly. By spending heavily on pitching, I knew that I'd give this owner a hard time in the auction and make it more difficult for him to win going away.
3) Category optimization makes off-season trading easier
Value-for-value trades, as I've previously discussed, are very difficult to pull off in a climate where we all have access to the same web sites, read the same publications, and watch the same hour of Baseball Tonight that all of the other owners in your league watch. But when you decide to punt a category, you can give up value and still come out ahead.
In my no power strategy, I had a 20/20 player with a low BA at $15. The steals were great, but I knew his lousy BA would kill me. So I offered him up to another owner for a 30-35 SB guy who did nothing else.
This owner couldn't believe his luck. Here I was, the new fish, giving up a 20/20 player for a one-dimensional player.
Before I decided to dump power, I never would have made this trade. After I decided to dump power, I had to.
4) Category optimization puts you in your own room on Auction Day
Imagine an auction that's more like a draft and you've got a good idea of how category optimization changes the dynamic of your Auction Day.
If you decided to throw power away this year in your A.L. league, your prices would suddenly change dramatically. A $60 bid limit for Johan Santana? You'd be taking a loss in an 8-category universe, but you'd be right in line in a 6-category plan. $43 for Ichiro might sound wacky, but not if you're dumping power.
One of the best things about jacking up your prices like this is that you're forcing other owners to really pay through the nose if they want to compete in the categories you're optimizing. Someone might do it, but that's OK, there's always more stats to be had to make your strategy work. And, better yet, you've forced an owner who isn't category dumping to allocate way too much money to one category...in his eight-category world, at least.
5) Category optimization rattles your opponents
OK, if you're throwing saves or steals away, you won't make a splash. A more novel roster composition, though, will throw some of your opponents into a tizzy.
As part of my no power strategy, I bought two top starting pitchers, two closers, a basestealer, and then I waited. And waited. And waited. I paid $53 for my rabbit...one owner laughed and said, "he already has the second best guy...now he drafted the best one!" I assumed people would catch on (the no-power strategy had been hyped up for years by Alex Patton and Peter Kreutzer). No one did. It was nice sitting in the room with a smile on my face, even though everyone thought I had sabotaged my own team.
As a nice P.S., the guy who laughed at my auction called me in April to see if I was dumping. It was especially sweet when I finished 10 points ahead of him.
6) Category optimization makes managing your roster in-season easier
What's nice in-season is that if you can stake yourself to a huge lead in a category, you can then trade for what you need with the excess. You can also take points away from rivals using this method. Once again, you can also overpay for what you need, since you aren't tied to striving for eight categories. I flipped my $53 steals guy to Toz for a third-rate closer. Why? Because I needed the saves and had a 60 SB lead in late June. I didn't need to strive for 96 points, I only wanted 74.
FAAB is also a breeze, since you can bid more on the guys you want. A $20 bid for a speedy kid who might be on the minor league shuttle all year doesn't make sense...unless you're dumping categories. Then it makes perfect sense.
So there are plenty of reasons why category optimization can work for you. If you need to do it. Tomorrow, I'll talk about the disadvantages of throwing away categories.