Sunday, March 18, 2007

Trying to win at all costs

In carry-over leagues we've all been in the position where we "can't" win. Even the best players get stuck in one of two scenarios:

1) The team with the strongest freeze list has so many cheap freezes that even your best auction isn't going to get you within hailing distance.
2) You went for it last year and you have almost no freezes. The freezes you do have are at or near value, and you just know that even the best auction isn't going to win you the league.

I've been in both situations. The second scenario is particularly difficult to deal with, because Scenario #1 does leave you with some room for error. The "favorite" can blow it with a bad auction. You can have a pretty strong auction. You can also dump your way into a contending team if you have enough low priced players.

Scenario #2 often leaves you playing the losing game of searching for value with nearly every purchase of your auction. And, as I discussed in my post about Optimal Bidding, you might find value with some of your picks. Trying to load up a team with 18-20 auction buys that turn out to be undervalued is nearly impossible, though.

This leaves the seasoned owner with three choices:
  • Draft like you would normally draft if you had a stronger team. Hope that everything works out for you and that you wind up with a contender. If you don't, dump.
  • Plan to dump before the season even starts. Spend your money on a few superstars to trade in this year for next year deals and then spend the rest on young up and comers, in the hopes that you'll grab the next Justin Verlander or Delmon Young with at least two or three of these flyers.
  • Throw away a category or two in the hopes that you can finish with a team between 68-74 points that can sneak away with the title.

Most owners I've ever played with opt for either option #1 or option #2. For a strong owner, a straight draft will propel him into the first division, but seldom into the winner's circle. A number of factors contribute to this failure, but the primary culprits are a lack of high-impact freezes, which later on means a lack of high-quality next year players to trade to teams looking to pack it in. Often, this becomes a vicious cycle where the team finishes anywhere between 3rd and 7th year in and year out with little chance of winning. Yes, I've seen these teams get lucky and win. But this is more common in weaker leagues, especially if you have 3 or 4 dead fish who are lucky to finish 6th and typically finish anywhere between 9th and last. My primary league has all but weeded out these types of owners; typically, these players quit after two or three years when they come to the realization that they aren't good enough and don't want to dedicate the time and effort to Roto that the stronger owners do. Once the weak blood is extracted, winning without dumping becomes next to impossible.

This is why Option 2 becomes more and more appealing. Why go through the charade of playing for this year when you know that the odds are already stacked against you? Start building your team for next year now, and avoid overpaying for Delmon Young in June.

I reject preparing to dump in March not necessarily because it's a bad idea, but because I'm extremely competitive, and the idea of throwing a full year away before it has even started is repugnant to me. I'd rather compete or try to compete than just give up.

But this is where the conundrum lies. How do I compete every year and not fall into the trap of floating around in and out of the money without winning?

I believe there's a third way.

Category optimization or, as it's more commonly called, category dumping, is a way to try and compete this year by throwing away at least one or maybe two categories. It works because instead of spreading your dollars across all eight categories, you spend zero on one category, allowing you to spend more on the other seven, and thus be more competitive in those categories. If you're spending $200 on offense, for example, while all of your opponents are spending only $185, you theoretically have an advantage.

I'll begin my series later tonight about how this works. For now, before the season starts, and before you trade away your top stars for futures in March, I want you to know that there's hope for this year. You can build a contender by throwing away a category.

No comments: