MASTER NOTES: 2019 Midseason LIMA

Most fantasy owners and players are familiar with the “LIMA Plan,” Ron Shandler’s venerable strategy for exploiting a market inefficiency affecting the perception of value regarding middle relievers (MRs). The strategy, as you probably know, is to shore up the pitching decimals for a buck per pitcher so there’s more to spend on the Verlanders and Scherzers, or on beefing up the bats.

LIMA is most often employed as a draft strategy, but as I was going through some roster-management ideas this week, I started to wonder if LIMA has some applicability in-season as well.

So I did some game-planning, including the arithmetic, to see whether a team might do better by adding LIMA pitchers than starting pitchers when it comes time to make moves.

The short answer is: maybe.

This exercise is aimed at 15-team mixed leagues, since MRs are already widely used in only leagues. Picture an example team with this current line:

  • 36 wins, 2nd
  • 12 saves, 13th
  • 4.01 ERA, 12th
  • 1.25 WHIP, 10th
  • 486 K, 3rd

The team has just lost a pitcher to a season-ending injury, and will hit the FAAB market on the weekend to fill the empty slot. There are no closers available, of course, so the question is whether to go for a free-agent starter or a middle reliever.

The exercise starts by projecting pitching those categories at year-end by BHQ projections, with just the eight pitchers on its roster (asterisk [*] indicates an opponent also near this team in the standings overall):

             pWins               pSaves
=======================================
Opponent        96    Opponent*      59
Opponent*       94    Opponent       55
This team       88    This team      48
Opponent*       85    Opponent       44
Opponent        85    Opponent*      44

              pERA                pWHIP
=======================================
Opponent*    3.977    Opponent*   1.203
Opponent     3.983    Opponent*   1.215
This Team    4.008    This Team   1.221
Opponent*    4.014    Opponent    1.230
Opponent     4.020    Opponent    1.235

                pK
==================
Opponent      1292
Opponent*     1290
This team     1218
Opponent*     1244
Opponent      1213
* Opponent is also close in league standings 

This owner starts by downloading a list of league’s free agents for this week, and getting their HQ projections.

First, the starters. The top projected pitchers in pWins are Brad Keller, Antonio Senzetela, Jason Vargas, Jose Urena and Adam Wainwright, all with seven. Seven wins would squeak past one opponent, an overall competitor, which is worth an extra point indirectly. Net: +1, with a clear chance at another point plus the benefit of passing the near competitor.

In strikeouts, Keller, Urena and Wainwright are all in the low- to mid-70s, which would squeak past one opponent (also an overall competitor), but the margins are very thin. Net: +1, and eliminate Senzatela and Vargas.

The problem is that Keller, Urena, and Wainwright all have pERAs/pWHIPs higher than this team’s current projection, sending the team backwards in the categories. Keller’s 4.417 bumps the team’s pERA over 4.04, a loss of two points, including one to a competitor. Urena pushes the team’s pERA to 4.019, a loss of one to a competitor and close to losing another. Wainwright brings the team to 4.027, also a two-point loss including that competitor point.

The story is similar for pWHIPs, with Urena narrowly holding a spot, Wainwright costing a point to a competitor, and Keller costing two.

The best choice looks like FAABing Urena, for a one-point gain, with some narrow margins to gain or lose one or two more.

So what about the MRs? The top choices in the free-agent pool are Andrew Miller, Craig Stammen and Luis Cessa.

Going through the same calculations shows no help in wins, saves or Ks, though obviously adding anything is better than nothing, and even four or five wins does move this team closer to fluking out a point or two in that always-volatile category. Miller also has 5 pSaves, which would get within shouting distance of an added point.

But as noted earlier, the advertised benefit of these pitchers is in the decimals. And each of them delivers some raw benefit:

  • Adding Miller lowers this team’s pERA to 3.967, gaining two points, and pWHIP to 1.214, gaining one.
  • Adding Cessa or Stammen also creates a one-point pWHIP gain, but only one pERA point to go with it.

If I were managing this team, I’d put in a solid FAAB bid on Miller, with lower backup bids on Stammen and Cessa. Besides the slight ERA advantage, Miller plays for the best team of the three, offering some unexpected vulture wins, and is in a bullpen where he might even get into the saves mix. Stammen could end up closing if SD falls out of the race and trades Kirby Yates. Cessa has no shot at closing, but could vulture wins on a strong team.

Now, all of this does not apply equally or universally to every team and situation. Your mileage may vary, as they say, depending on how your counting categories stack up against your ratios.

LIMA can work. Some MRs definitely have the skills to ring up results low enough to usefully move in the decimals. But many/most of the best are spoken for, especially in leagues with liberal streaming rules, where they have added value as slot-fillers for streamers being benched. And the wider the gap between your team and the points in the decimals, the more the innings denominator affects your ability to move.

The key point for me is to try to make these roster decisions with some kind of information in hand—especially the potential effect of a player on the categories. As Todd Zola and others are always reminding us, it’s never too late to focus on moving the decimals, especially in the pitching ratio categories. Those MRs can play a role.

But don’t just believe that adding an Andrew Miller will jump you points, even if the decimals in your league are tight. Look at it from all the angles, do the math and consider the opportunity costs of any potential moves. Give yourself the best chance to make an informed decision.

* * *

Last week’s Master Notes contained an error I’d like to correct. That edition discussed the process by which I decided to early-FAAB CLE OF Oscar Mercado on April 28, and I cited as part of the process a BaseballHQ.com “Watchlist” article by Alec Dopp. In fact, that article appeared in May. My initial interest in Mercado was sparked by a “Frequent Flyer” commentary by Alex Beckey on April 12. My horrendous handwriting made “Alex” look like “Alec” in my notes, and as a result to mix up the two sources.

Since you’re wondering, Mercado has 7 GP on my roster, with a homer, 3 RBI, 2 SB, 5 runs and a .345 OBP. So thanks to both Alex and Alec!


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.