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Base Advances
Fantasy Strategy Ideas from the Guru

Pitching for Dollars
March 31, 1999

In this preseason essay, I will focus on some of the changes in the rules for this year's Smallworld Baseball game(s), with an emphasis on the strategic implications of those changes.


The Smallworld point formula for pitchers is different this year. On average, it will produce about 50% more points than last year's formula - but the changes aren't proportionate across the board. Strikeouts have been de-emphasized and losses have been eliminated, while the impacts of innings pitched and ERA have been heightened. Last year, the top three pitchers (in order) were Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Kevin Brown. Under the new formula, the top three would have been Kevin Brown, Greg Maddux, and Curt Schilling. The overall rankings of all pitchers under the two different formulas are still quite similar, however (over 99% correlation coefficient, in fact), so you're not likely to notice the different relative weights. You will certainly notice the overall boost, though. While the best players at most positions last year averaged around 20 SWP per eligible game, the best pitchers will now produce 30 SWP/G.

With the increased pitching factors, a roster of comparable quality hitters and pitchers will now expect roughly half of its points to come from hitting and half to come from pitching. I'm sure that's not just a coincidence.


Draft prices reflect the point formula differentiation. That's why super-sluggers like McGwire and Sosa are priced at the same general level as pitchers like Rick Helling and Andy Benes. Based on last year's stats, these guys would all have comparable daily point averages. The top pitchers will run you an extra $4-5 million. That's important to understand, because as long as that relationship holds, there's no mathematical advantage in spending proportionately more on hitters or pitchers. However, there may be a psychological tendency for managers to go after the higher priced hitters, while skimping on pitching. If nothing else, hitters will "feel" like better value.


The allocation of trades is another significant change from last year's baseball game, although managers in Smallworld's fall and winter sports have already gotten used to this change. In the last baseball season, we had 75 trades to use at any pace over the course of the entire season. This year, we get 5 trades per repricing period, which works out to something like a total of 120 over the full season. But while the long term effect will be an increase in the number of trades, the early season impact will be just the opposite. Since the first repricing isn't scheduled until 10 days into the season (I'm assuming that Wednesday, April 16th is really Wednesday, April 14th), we'll have only 5 trades to get us through most of the first two weeks. And thereafter, we'll get only 5 more per week. So if you have a lousy draft, it will take 3 weeks to get your roster totally turned over. Thus, your draft may turn out to be much more important than in prior years. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if a number of managers who have unfortunate drafts just abandon their teams and "reload" with a new team and a fresh roster in the first week or so. Depending on just how bad that draft roster looks, it might be the optimal way to salvage the season. But since taking a "do over" isn't going to be anyone's first choice, it's important that you take some care in choosing that initial roster with an eye toward the changes that might be needed in the early weeks. With that in mind, here are my preseason suggestions:

  1. Make sure you have at least five "safe" players that you can comfortably hold for at least three weeks. These would most likely be veterans who are guaranteed to be everyday players (barring injury, of course). And given the heightened volatility in the pitching point formula (which results in large negative values for a crappy outing), hitters are likely to be more stable in the early going, both on the field and in the price charts.

  2. In addition to steady everyday players, there's also some safety inherent in players priced very low - say under $1 million. In general, you won't be expecting as much from these guys, so if they don't produce you won't be missing too much. Also, if you're stuck holding them, you won't by tying up a lot of dollars unproductively. And if you're astute enough to pick the right "cheapies", they'll probably offer some of the greatest gains early in the year.

  3. Be particularly wary of pitchers. The month of April is always a bit of a wild card for many pitchers, given the complex interaction of weather, conditioning, and simple bad luck in the timing of a bad outing. Even Greg Maddux has had one of his worst annual outings in April of each of the past two seasons. And when the season is young, the point impacts of on-field performances are exaggerated, both good and bad. This not only makes your staff vulnerable to a bad outing, but it also means that some of the early price heroes are likely to come from the pitching side. Last year, the best gain in the first repricing belonged to Bartolo Colon, largely on the basis of an opening shutout. So you should try to preserve some trading flexibility in your pitching staff as well.

  4. Whatever your draft strategy, DON'T user your early trades to "rotate" starting pitchers just to get extra starts. While this can boost your early season point production, it will leave you vulnerable to price difficulties. The #1 key to success in the Smallworld game format is to target your early trading towards the objective of generating value gains. (I've written about this several times in the past, and I won't expound on this again right now, but if you're new to RotoGuru, check the archives for past strategy essays, most of which are still quite relevant.) Pitcher rotation will probably become a very important strategy for using your trade surplus during the second half of the season, but you just can't afford to employ that tactic in April or May.

  5. Consider the opening schedule when picking your draft roster. Northern teams that play in outdoor stadiums have a likelihood of weather-related postponements, and this will "dampen" the early week production for these players. While the schedule makers try to aim April games toward safer stadiums, there can still be a notable difference in scheduling risk across teams. Later in the season, comparative schedules will probably be less relevant in trading patterns, but the schedule will matter in April. Better safe than sorry.

Price Changes

Another repricing change this season is that the maximum weekly price change for each player is $1 million - at least, that's what the rules state. Thus, it's more likely to take several weeks for a hot player's price to mature. And it's also riskier to chase an overachiever whose performance is probably not sustainable. Instead, try to go after players who appear to be fundamentally cheap relative to long term expectations, since the quick buck you'd make on a flash-in-the-pan is going to be more limited.

I'd be remiss if I didn't offer one caution with regard to the first repricing. Smallworld has exhibited a pattern of early season server stress that often results in canceling the first planned repricing. So, be aware that you may have to wait an extra week to that first value pop. If you have a choice of reasonable trading alternatives, it's probably worth something to buy players who are likely to remain attractive for more than the next week.

Roster Values

This year, you have a choice in the amount you can spend to draft your roster. If you play at the "regular" Smallworld site you'll have the typical $50 million to work with. But if you can't deal with the sticker shock of higher player prices, you can scoot on over to the CNN/SI site, where everything's the same except that you get $75 million to start with.

Thus far, I've received a lot of strong feedback on the pros and cons of each starting value. In general, I'd summarize reactions this way (and please recognize that I'm biased, so my assessment may not be totally balanced):

  • Serious fantasy gamers generally prefer the $50 million version. It will take much longer for managers at this site to attainenough value to afford a full roster of star players. Thus, there is likely to be greater differentiation in roster composition, and greater competitive reward for finding relative value in players who are not "household names".

  • Casual fantasy gamers generally prefer the $75 million version. Some of these managers don't have (or don't want to spend) a lot of time looking for hidden value. Some just prefer to manage a team of more recognizable players. Although it may be an unfair generalization, I think that the average age and experience level of these managers is much less than those who prefer the more constrained version.

  • Some managers are largely ambivalent, and will try their hand at both versions. Frankly, although I have a strong preference for the $50 million version, I'm going to try both, just to see whether experience conforms with expectations.

Hopefully, I didn't offend you by associating your 'druthers with the wrong category. But my expectation is that competition will be much stronger in the $50 million version - which also means that serious gamers may have a better chance to stand out in the $75 million universe. I also expect the rate of manager attrition to be greater in the $75 million game. Many serious managers in the recent football and hockey games have lost interest in these games by midseason when all players are affordable and the motivation for booking more price gains is minimal. If the serious players lose interest in mid season, what's going to keep the more casual players involved?

Make your own choices, and don't accept my expectations as gospel. I am wrong every now and then - surprising as that may seem! My recommendation is only that if you've decided to just play the $75 million version, at least consider trying a $50 million team as well. By July, you may find that game to be much more interesting.

Roster Configuration

Last year's game offered a little more flexibility, with a general DH slot instead of a 4th outfielder. This year, five different positions (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, & SS) will be constrained to a single player. That will probably result in less trading activity for those positions (although the strength of the first base position may lead to more active trading). It may also produce some noticeable "pendulum" opportunities, as managers cycle back and forth en masse between two good players at a particular position. Last year this occurred several times in the early going, both at catcher (Piazza vs. Ivan Rodriguez) and at third base (Chipper Jones vs. Vinny Castilla). This effect may be less likely to occur this year, though, given the early trade limitations and the maximum weekly price change of $1 million. But it's something to be on the look out for. Also, be especially aware of the price impact of "contra-buys". For example, if Chipper Jones goes on a hitting tear, Vinny Castilla may suffer material trading losses even if he's performing up to snuff, since the only way anyone can buy Chipper is to sell whatever third baseman is currently on the roster. Depending on the player and your interest in holding him for the long term, it can be just as important to duck a loss as it is to capitalize on a gain.

Pitchers and outfielders will offer much greater trading flexibility, and these positions may dominate trading flows. If you want to buy a hot pitcher or outfielder, you'll have 4 or 5 choices of players who could be sold. This may increase the demand for hot pitchers and outfielders, and also decrease the price vulnerability of reasonable producers at those positions.

Get Ready

I'm sure there are some important issues that I've overlooked, but these are the primary differences that I've thought about so far. Pick your opening rosters with care, since you'll have to live with many of these guys for awhile. But don't procrastinate too much longer. Last minute drafting activity is likely to slow the game servers at best, and crash them at worst. So if you haven't started yet, time's a wastin'!

RotoGuru is produced by Dave Hall (a.k.a. the Guru), an avid fantasy sports player. He is not employed by any of the fantasy sports games discussed within this site, and all opinions expressed are solely his own. Questions or comments are welcome, and should be emailed to Guru<>.

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