Alright guys. It's still January, which means we need to hurry up and talk about the nerdiest aspects of fantasy baseball before all the "normal" people come back to baseball world after the Superbowl. Today is part two of the 2017 Big Board Player Valuation Series: "The Hit/Pitch Split"! Readers of "Tip #1" will know that an integral part of player valuation is deciding how to split the values between hitters and pitchers. If you've already downloaded the Big Board, and you've opened up the 'Settings' box for the first time, you’ve come across this seemingly innocuous box entitled Hitter%:
Believe it or not, this box is front and center for a reason! Every preseason countless pages on these ol' interwebs are dedicated to player rankings, but very few have arisen to describe why, exactly, we commit to drafting the best hitters in MLB ahead of the best pitchers. As noted in the how-to of the Big Board, you can typically pick a number around 67% and do well enough. But if you want to tailor your draft strategy in an optimal way or want to value players with the ultimate accuracy on draft day, read on and wrap your head around the concept that is the hit/pitch split.
The initial concept is simple enough – in many leagues, more lineup spots are dedicated to hitters than pitchers, so proportionately more of a team’s budget or picks is devoted to hitters. A standard ESPN league lineup has 13 hitters vs. 9 pitchers. 13 out of 22 lineup spots: 59%. On top of that, pitchers are deeper, tend to be scored on more 'rate stats', and as a whole have less return on investment due to high variance and injury risk, so they’re further discounted. That leaves us with our fairly arbitrary 67%. This article from 2014 points out that undrafted hitters rarely end up being any good, while there are always undrafted pitchers which provide huge value every year. Most importantly, it’s fairly well known that the #1 predictor of draft position/price is your home site’s rankings (obvious enough, I guess… they put them right in front of us while we’re trying to draft), so if we run a quick analysis on ESPN’s top 300 we see a breakdown of 67% for hitters, 33% for pitchers. That basically becomes our baseline. If we allocate our resources too differently from what is dictated by our ESPN overlords, our league-mates might snatch up all of the Sean Manaea’s and Lance McCullers’ of the world while we’re busy drafting hitters. Or vice-versa.
So, knowing that, there are two approaches I can recommend for picking the “best” hit/pitch split for your board. I’m going to call them ‘Blend in’ or ‘Be right’.
1) Blend In
League-mates can be dumb. Fantasy zombies, following the whims of Tristan Cockcroft, maybe eating the occasional brain or picking the occasional sleeper but mostly coloring inside the lines. That said, they’re going to draft 90+% of the players on draft day, and so part of your strategy has to include worrying about what they’re going to do so that you know when to draft your favorite players. You can zig when others zag, but you don't want to go too far off the path. If you’re playing with a crowd you’ve never played with before, this might involve conforming to the host site (ie, ESPN, Yahoo, CBS), but if you’re in the 8th year of playing with your old college buddies, you should know by now what they tend to do on draft day. At the very least, you could look it up in the league history. For instance, for several years now in a league of mine, SP’s have gone as high as 20 picks above their ADP in the middle rounds, so I’ll look at the default split for our site (ESPN, 66%) and bump it down a few notches to make sure I don’t miss out on pitchers. I personally like this approach because it keeps you from overpaying for players by having significantly more of your budget dedicated to one side over the other.
2) Be Right
“They're all so dumb!", you'll say to yourself. You could know the "right" values for every player according to the projections. That really is the allure of calculating your own ranks anyway - knowing the “true value” of every player, as projected. Dave Cameron tells us to trust the projections, after all. Maybe you’ve decided you have so many late-round sleeper pitchers this year that you don’t need to allocate much budget to pitchers at all… then hey, turn this thing up to 11. This is pretty much the strategy that a large number of experts play with. I wouldn’t go too crazy, but you could go 80/20 or 75/25 and win your league. Razzball’s Rudy found that hit/pitch split on draft day doesn’t correlate all that strongly to team performance in the fairly competitive Razzball Commenter’s Leagues. In my opinion, this is a lot more viable a strategy in H2H than it is in Roto, where an early season swoon in ERA/WHIP can come back to bite you later in the season, even if you've found all the best waiver wire pitchers by then. And really, you can get burned by overpaying for one side of the ball while completely missing out on all the studs on the other side. Just don't bury yourself so deep in the spreadsheet that you look up and realize it's the 18th round and you still don't have a pitcher.
And so there you go. Put that magic number into the Big Board and away you go. It may be the deciding factor between a perfectly optimized roster in 2017 and crying yourself to sleep in June while your fantasy team goes down in flames. No pressure.