Saturday, March 03, 2007

Why We Spend More for Hitting

I'm going to leave the topic of earnings, predictions and bids for now, though I'm sure I'll return to this as the season goes along. Today, I want to discuss how much to spend for hitters, how much to spend for pitchers, and why.

To the novice Rotisserie player, one of the most confusing issues is why don't owners spend $130 on hitting and $130 on pitching. After all, there are 96 points to be had, and 48 of those points are pitching points. Shouldn't we spend an equal amount of our money on pitching?

The reason we don't is because pitching is more unpredictable.

Way back in 1987, Alex Patton's theories on player valuation were published for the first time in How to Win at Rotisserie Baseball. If you're interested in pricing theory as much as I am, I strongly recommend
buying a copy. There are excellent discussions about how Alex came to his eventual pricing model, and a great walk through the trial and error of coming up with this model.

To give you the very quick summary of Alex's findings, hitters are worth 70%, or $182, of a team's budget. Pitchers are worth 30%, or $78, of a team's budget.

Alex hit upon what he called "player improvement units". To quote from the book:

There are 14 hitters and each can improve three things (HR, RBI, SB). That's 42 units. There are nine pitchers who can improve two things (W, S). That's 18 units. Total improvement units: 60.

42 divided by 60 is .7, or 70%.

Now to come down from Masochist Mountain and speak in plain(er) English.

A hitter is more reliable than a pitcher because every HR, RBI and SB he puts on the board is yours forever. His batting average may fluctuate, but an 0-5 day in August won't send your BA spiraling.

A pitcher's wins and saves are also yours forever, but that's only half (or less, if he's a starter) of what he's doing. Every outing puts your ERA/WHIP at risk. Yesterday's 7 IP, 4 H/BB, 1 ER gem can be erased, and then some, by next week's 3 ER, 11 H/BB 8 ER disaster.

The free agent pool also emphasizes the unpredictability of pitching. Every year, a Jered Weaver or Boof Bonser comes out of the minors and puts up earnings that make you feel stupid for paying $22 for Javier Vazquez or freezing Bartolo Colon at $24. The converse simply does not happen with hitters. True, Jason Bartlett, Bobby Abreu and Carlos Lee put up some solid earnings when they came into the A.L. But none of them touched the $26 Weaver earned last year. Weaver is an extreme case, but my point is consistent. No free agent hitter will ever finish as the 16th best hitter in the American League.

And whether or not the market has ever read Alex, or subscribes to Alex's theories, the market intuits this, and spends accordingly. In most leagues I've been in, the split is actually about $175/$85, or 67%/33% in favor of hitting. So I budget accordingly, since I'm responding to the market, and not to what hitters are actually earning. That 3% difference actually means I'll wind up with a much more top-heavy hitting team if I stick with the 70/30 split. I recommend that you, too, adjust to your league accordingly, and budget based on the way your league spends.

Does that mean that you should always spend $175 (or whatever your league spends) on hitting? Of course not. Tomorrow (or, hopefully, later tonight), I'll talk about instances when you should mix it up a little and spend more. Or less.

No comments: