April 01, 2009
To quote the preeminent sports philosopher of our time, "You play to win the game."
After he dropped that particular bit of wisdom, the philosopher paused. Then he repeated himself: "You play … to win … the game. You don't play to just play it."
Herm Edwards might not be the preeminent NFL coach of the current era, but you can't knock his grasp of the big picture.
In sports – and in fantasy sports – you play to win. Many of us are involved in leagues in which winning is, um … highly incentivized. But even if you're just competing for a virtual trophy and a small uptick in your Yahoo! overall performance percentage, you're still trying to finish at the top. We all are. And as we often say, fantasy is a numbers game. You don't own specific players, exactly. Instead you own the sets of numbers attached to players. For that reason, there's really no room for loyalty in this game.
If you're going to win your league, you'll need to go into the season with a clear idea of the numbers necessary to do it. Our purpose today is to describe the numbers that generally win in a standard 12-team Yahoo! public format. Longtime fantasy sports consumers will recognize that we're using the Modified Buser System here, with only slight tweaks. If you'd like some historical perspective, check out the excellent work Matt produced in 2007 and '08.
In the public rotisserie game last year, the most important number of all was 95. That's the average year-end point total for league winners, based on a sample of several thousand free public 5X5 roto leagues.
Will 95 rotisserie points win every league? No, obviously not. But that's the average winner's total. The number doesn't change much year-to-year, either.
Of course if you're going to win a league, you really only need to be a half-point better than the second place team. (Isn't that right, GTOs? Boom. Thanks for playing). In 2008, the typical runner-up finished with 85 points. It's not necessary to humiliate the field and post a triple-digit score, and you certainly won't need to sweep the categories – in fact, if that's even a possibility, you should find a more competitive league. If you're posting 9s and 10s across the board, you're probably going to win. Some of you might prefer to shoot for 12s and 6s. That works too.
Here's a look at the 2008 category averages for teams that finished in trophy position in public leagues:
If you were to establish those third place numbers as objectives for your '09 team, you'd be eyeing a 100-point season. And that, clearly, is more than enough. On a per-player basis, those third place numbers translate to 89.2 R, 22.6 HR, 86.8 RBIs and 14.5 SB for each of your nine active hitters. If we assume (as Matt did) that you'll use a combination of nine pitchers to reach your innings-pitched max, then an average third place hurler delivers 8.8 W, 11.9 SV and 115.6 Ks, along with the ratios above.
You're not going to get those precise numbers from every player on your roster, clearly. Lance Berkman, Alex Rodriguez and Matt Holliday were the only hitters in baseball to meet or exceed those third place averages in each of the five standard categories last year. You're going to collect stats from different places, and you'll typically find that not all roster positions contribute equally.
Over on the right you'll find the average stats per position, according to 2008 Yahoo! rank. When evaluating players, you need to consider production relative to the average owned player in your league. However, leagues aren't perfectly efficient at rostering all of the game's top-ranked players, so it's overwhelmingly likely that the top 60 starting pitchers aren't necessarily going to be owned throughout the year. The same goes for the top 60 outfielders, the top 15 catchers, and the top 20 shortstops.
Should you want your catcher to be a 56-14-64-2-.265 player? Do you need your third outfielder to deliver a 72-17-68-13-.273 line? No, that's not the point. Those are simply league-average numbers per position. Ideally, you'll beat those totals. What's more important is that you not overpay for league-average stats. One of the characteristics of losing fantasy (and real-life) teams is that they overspend for mediocrity. Don't be the owner who does that, ever.
Remember: You play to win the game.
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