Sunday, March 11, 2007

Is All Inflation Created Equal (Part I)?

So far, I've discussed how inflation can impact your team as well as your league. I've also discussed positional scarcity and categorical scarcity. But I haven't combined the two elements and reviewed if or how inflation can be used to determine scarcity.

My first question is: can inflation be used to calculate hitting and pitching inflation separately?

The answer is yes.

Here is an example of how this would work.

League A and League B both have $2000 to spend on $1600 worth of talent. The overall inflation rate for both leagues is 25% (2000/1600).

League A has $700 frozen on hitters worth $1000 and $420 frozen on pitchers worth $520. If the league conforms to the $175/$85 split, it will spend $1400 on hitting worth $1100. The inflation rate for hitting equals 27.3%. League A will therefore spend $600 on pitchers worth $500. The pitching inflation equals 20%.
League B has the same $700 frozen for hitters, but their pool of frozen hitters are only worth $925. Therefore, their $420 of frozen pitchers are worth $595. So League B will spend $1400 on hitting in the auction worth $1175, for a 19.1% inflation rate on hitters. It will also spend $600 on pitchers worth $425, for a whopping 41.2% inflation rate on pitchers.

You read correctly. A $75 difference in pitching from one league to another will skew inflation for pitchers by over 20%.

That is, if you believe in this concept. Or, more importantly, if your league does.

I've found that my leagues typically spend almost the same amount of money every year on hitting and the same amount of money every year on pitching. Certainly, there are individual teams that don't fall into this paradigm. In fact, not too many teams split $175/$85 down the middle. Nor do they strive to.

Yet almost every league I've been in conforms to $2100/$1020 (or $175/$85 on average per team), within a dollar or two one way or the other. This is regardless of the strength of the hitting freezes, the strength of the pitching freezes, or any crazy strategies one team might enact where that team spends $251 on offense (as happened once) or $157 on pitching (that also happened once). The league still conforms to $175/$85 per team.

Why does this happen?

Primarily, this happens because every league adjusts within the auction to the reality of $175/$85 per team. Or, more importantly, $2100/$1020 per league.

Mike Fenger's
theory about why teams don't spend full inflation price on the top players makes eminent sense if your league conforms to separate inflation for hitters and pitchers. Let's go back to League B, which had 41.2% inflation for pitchers. If your bid price on Johan Santana is $40, that inflation rate will kick him up to $56. A Joe Nathan at $35 suddenly will cost $49. Teams typically will not chase pitchers to this incredibly high pitching strata.

So what happens? The top guys get screwed and the guys in the middle get rewarded. If Santana goes for, say, $50 in this hypothetical draft and Nathan goes for $40, you've suddenly got $15 extra dollars kicking around for pitching. Forgetting about "dollars" for a second, you've got ten other teams that need to build pitching staffs and don't have the quality in the auction pool to do it. This is a case of non-buyers remorse. It usually doesn't completely kick in until the second-tier pitchers are gone or almost gone and the third-tier pitchers start coming out. Boof Bonser at $17? Jake Westbrook at $18? Miguel Batista at $12? It sounds preposterous, but I've seen it happen way too many times. The $85 plateau for each pitching staff is a construct, but it's a construct each league accidentally follows, until it overspends on the guys in the middle or, worse, right below the middle.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all of this? I wish I had something wise and all-knowing to impart here, but honestly I don't. I'd rather have Santana for $56 than Bonser for $17, but I also don't want to follow pitcher inflation to its fatalistic conclusion and buy Santana for $52, Nathan for $42 and then have no money for my offense. Realistically, I know I'll have to stop spending on pitching at some point and start spending on offense.

I started this post asking if you can track hitting inflation versus pitching inflation. My second question is: Should you track hitting inflation versus pitching inflation?

My conclusion is that it is useful to track hitting inflation versus pitching inflation, if only because an extreme split on one side or the other will impact your auction later. However, an extreme enough split means that you cannot be completely true to inflation, unless you are absolutely committed to price enforcing a Johan Santana to $55 or, if it's a hitter, price enforcing a Carl Crawford to $60. A more technical way of putting this is that you can't always treat inflation as a truly linear event. I'll talk next about if there is a method to split inflation dollars across a pool of available players rather than simply apply one factor to the entire player pool. Or, across two pools, if you buy my hitter/pitcher inflation phenomenon.


Timothy said...

"Yet almost every league I've been in conforms to $2100/$1020 (or $175/$85 on average per team), within a dollar or two one way or the other."

My league isn't QUITE this stable from year to year, but the range in my league from 2001-2006 has been from $2090/$1030 to $2040/$1080.

Mike Gianella said...

I should have been a little clearer.

When I say within a dollar or two, I meant for the $175/$85 split.

So I've seen leagues go $177/$83, or $173/$87 per team, but not too far from that one way or the other.

Your league is pretty typically stable.

Joe said...

I've just calculated the inflation for my (extremely late) NL-only draft this weekend - 27 percent - and decided to split it for hitting and pitching. Partly because the keeper lists reflect my league's traditional overvaluation of closers (as you discussed in a previous post), that 27 percent breaks down into a 35 percent inflation rate for hitters and just a 13 percent rate for pitchers!

I'm trying to decide what to do with this information. I constructed my bid limits to conform to these split rates, leaving me with some pretty high bid limits for hitters and reasonable limits for pitchers. But I expect my league owners will exceed these calculated bid limits for the top pitchers (After Santana at 50 and Peavy at 37, the inflated bid limits in my books get down to Hamels, Zambrano, Haren, Oswalt and Young in the high 20s.) Although I plan to remain flexible at the draft regardless, I'm trying to decide whether to adjust my bid limits pre-draft to reflect an across the board 27 percent rather than splitting it as I have.