In fantasy baseball, I’m often one to try out unorthodox strategies in the name of gaining an edge on my competition. Some work out better than others, but when it’s possible to test them out beforehand, it’s always a good idea to do so.
When FanDuel announced their scoring system changes at the All-Star break, a potential strategy occurred to me. Today, I wanted to test that strategy out. You see, part of FanDuel’s scoring change was to reduce the impact of pitcher wins. Instead of being worth seven points, wins are now worth just five. With this in mind, I wondered whether one could get away with playing a relief pitcher instead of a starter. It would allow the FanDuel player to go completely bargain basement on pitching and spend essentially their whole stack on hitting, being especially useful for the MLB 32k [Expert] format.
If this was going to work, I knew that I’d need to really make sure the reliever being picked was good and had a decent shot at vulturing a win. Therefore, I only looked at relievers who were projected by the Marcels projection system to post an ERA below 3.00 coming into the season and who posted a FIP below 3.00 during the season. Additionally, because reliever usage has a huge impact on whether or not they have a chance at getting a win, I only included relievers who entered games with an average leverage index of at least 1.40.
From here, I looked at how many FanDuel points these relievers scored, on average, and compared them to a set of starters that would be equally as cheap: the worst of the worst. To qualify for this group, a starter must have been projected by Marcel to post a 5.00 ERA or higher coming into the season and must have posted a 5.00 FIP or higher during the season. And, for the sake of comparison, I looked at league average starters and very good starters (3.50 ERA/3.50 FIP). For my study, I looked at all seasons from 1993 through 2010.
As you can tell, it does not appear that relievers stand any chance of competing with even the worst starters in baseball. In fact, just 3% of the relievers in our study managed to match the average for terrible starters. 29% of the bad starters, however, performed worse than the average reliever, which isn’t a trivial figure. Still, we must keep in mind that the relievers who were included in our study pitched on the days they accumulated those points. Considering that even the most overworked relievers only pitch in half of their team’s games, the true FanDuel point expectation for relievers would be cut in half or worse. Now if we look, bad starters perform worse than the average reliever roughly 20% of the time. That’s still nothing to sneeze at, but it still doesn’t justify selecting a reliever over a starter.
Sometimes ideas like this work out, and sometimes they don’t. This article was more about a failed idea than anything else, but it’s this kind of thinking that can create champions. Not every idea is a goldmine, but every reasonable idea is worth looking into. Edges are important, and thinking critically and strategically can create such edges. Maybe it’s not the best idea to play a reliever in FanDuel, but at least now we know that for sure.
Derek Carty’s work can also be found at Baseball Prospectus, CardRunners Fantasy Baseball, and DerekCarty.com. He has previously had his work published by The Hardball Times, NBC’s Rotoworld, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, and USA Today. He is the youngest champion in the history of LABR, the longest-running experts league in existence, and is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau’s Scout Development Program (aka Scout School). He welcomes questions via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.