(*) FANALYTICS: Aces

In recent forum threads, I've been seeing the return of an old obsession. This is something we successfully discounted and dismissed over 10 years ago, but I suppose, with the re-emergence of the pitcher, it has reared its ugly head again.

When major league teams assemble their pitching staffs, the rotation is set up in a hierarchy. They are always looking for an ace, an anchor for their staff, a go-to guy. In fantasy, everyone seems to think their team can't compete without one too. We often talk about a variation to the LIMA Plan called the SANTANA Plan. This is similar to LIMA, but instead of spending $30 on saves, you spend it on an anchor starting pitcher. Can this work? Certainly, especially if you hit on the right anchor.

But putting your season on the shoulders of one pitcher is a risk. Having an ace is actually a BAD THING, particularly if you have to pay a lot for him, or use up an early round pick, as you most likely will.

In a standard 5x5 league, it is imperative that you stock up on players who help your counting categories. Given that hitters contribute to four categories and pitchers only three, you immediately have to focus your early picks and big bucks on hitters. The average categories don't need big investments to do well there. Counting categories must be accumulated; average categories can be managed.

With so many pitchers putting up elite numbers these days, there is a sense that you need to roster at least one ace just to keep up with everyone else.

It's not true. Value is relative. Todd Zola from Mastersball wrote, "even though the stat line of the 20th best pitcher may be more impressive than in previous seasons, pitching team totals are better across the board. The 20th best pitcher today helps your team the same amount as the 20th best pitcher did five years ago."

Also remember what you are really chasing with those deep picks. It's not ERA and WHIP because that can come from a 10th round Max Scherzer just as easily as from a 4th round Yovani Gallardo—the difference between those two pitchers will hardly budge your team's bottom line in ERA and WHIP. Again, those categories can be managed. So that leaves the counting stats - wins and strikeouts.

Wins are tough to predict—their error bar is incredibly wide—so it's really just strikeouts. Spending big auction dollars or high draft picks on an ace potentially buys you one category - strikeouts. Knowing that in advance will help you better target the arms that will fill out the bottom of your staff. Suddenly, dominant relievers like David Robertson and Sergio Romo start looking significantly better than finesse starters like Rick Porcello and Joe Saunders.

You can do perfectly well without an ace. A group of mid-level pitchers will provide adequate productivity so long as you focus on their skills—bb rate, K rate, GB rate—as opposed to their stats—ERA and W/L. You don't need Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay to anchor your staff. A roster populated with arms like Matt Garza, Matt Latos, even Gavin Floyd will keep you in contention at a fraction of the cost. Meanwhile, you'll be cleaning up on offense.

There are two more weeks of First Pitch Forum events, in Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC, New York and Boston. Among the topics on the schedule are "7 struggling pitchers with excellent peripherals" and "8 high risk pitchers with big profit potential." Those are 15 more names that will keep you from overpaying for 35-year-old Roy Halladay.

This message has been brought to you by the LIMA Plan—Fourteen years and still going strong.


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