Ask Rotoman February 4, 1998

Know the difference between a lutz and a flip? How about a Diamondback and a Devilray? If not it’s time to dig in and Ask Rotoman.


Dear Rotoman:

Who are the best players who are in the final year of their contracts? These are usually the guys who have a great year.

“Counting Down”
Washington DC

Dear Down:

You are wrong. The best players in the final year of their contracts are not usually the guys who have great years. Although sometimes they do.

Somewhere around here I have a study done by someone that convinced me there was absolutely nothing to the idea. Absolutely nothing. But I can’t find it. So let me run with some anecdotal info, and if anyone wants to argue, bring it on! If I have to I’ll redo the study.

Last year, some of the best free agents-to-be included Pedro Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Daryl Kile and Jeff Blauser. And each turned in what could be considered a career year. Nice, but that isn’t proof. Because last year some of the other best free agents-to-be included Kenny Lofton and Fred McGriff, who bombed.

The notion of the “free agency incentive” implies that ballplayers don’t work hard except when cash is on the line. And while I have no doubt that in some circumstances that’s true, in most cases I just don’t buy it. By the time you’ve made it to free agent status, you’ve already likely made millions of dollars. It would be nice to make tens of millions more, but at that level the real motivation has to be competitive. Nobody’s life changes because they’re making $7 million rather than $6 million.

But perhaps it’s more important to remember that players don’t generally become free agents until after they’ve played a number of years. Which means they’ve grown up and are generally entering their prime years as they go for the ultra-contracts. They are at their physical and mental peaks, in general, so it shouldn’t be any wonder at all that these are their best years.

And, there is another factor: Have you ever noticed that sometimes you’ll hear a word used you don’t usually hear, some 25 cents word like, say, “indubitably,” and then you’ll hear it over and over? Or you’ll see a story in the paper about, say, someone choking on a fish they tried to swallow on a dare, a story you’ve never heard before, and then over the next week you’ll see a couple other similar stories. And naturally you wonder, What’s up? And you think there must be some kind of a trend.

Free agents successes work the same way. When you look at a list of the big free agent signings after 1997 the big names are the guys like Martinez and Kile who had monster years. It’s hard not to think, “If only I went after guys in their free agent years…” But that’s because free agent busts, like Lofton and McGriff don’t make the list of big signings. Their value has dropped.

So, because I’m a sport, the best free agents-to-be in 1999 are reportedly: Randy Johnson, Robbie Alomar, Mike Piazza, Mo Vaughn, Bernie Williams, Kevin Brown, Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Mesa, Dante Bichette and Charles Johnson.

Other interesting names are Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura, Pat Meares, Darren Dreifort, Armando Benitez, Sean Berry, Royce Clayton, Jimmy Key, Carlos Perez and Bobby Jones.

Most of these guys can be expected to have good years in 1998, because they are of that age and/or skill-level where good years are to be expected. Most of these guys will also sign with the teams they’re already with, many before the season starts. But the ones who don’t, who have great years and sign with new teams in 1999, will look next year like they’re really in it for the money.



Dear Rotoman,

I’m in a rather unique league where ten teams play each other head-to-head weekly (team #1 vs. #2, #3 vs.
#4, etc.) A weeks play runs from Friday to Thursday, Game one is Fri-Sun, game two is Mon.-Thurs.,
Game three is total of both halves. Our scoring  system is distinct. Batters get one point each for HR, R, RBI, SB, SF, SacB, and H. Therefore, a solo HR is worth 4 pts., due to the H, RBI, R, and HR!

Are there any spreadsheet systems out there that I can use to evaluate players in both leagues based on this format? I’d appreciate any help. Current fantasy rankings available in mags don’t rate players as we score them.

“Especially Unique”
Niagara Falls NY

Dear Uniquely,

I run your letter simply to point out that there are a million variations on the game we love called roto (or fantasy). And, obviously, we can’t cover all of them. In fact, when it comes to prices, it is hard for us to cover any of them.

Every week I get mail from players of Scoresheet Baseball (they love it!), AL Roto Leagues with 12 teams (they love it!), NL Roto Leagues with 10 teams (they love it!), Combined fantasy leagues with 12 teams (they love it!). Oh, you get the picture. Which is great and all, but makes me shudder when I read the preseason fantasy baseball magazines with their shiny pricing systems, because I know that for most people those prices are wrong.

Which means that there is a great advantage, unless you play in a league that uses the standard roto rules, to devising your own pricing system. The specifics of how to do this are too numerous to go into here (if there is enough outcry for it maybe we’ll devote a Big Question to the process in a couple of weeks), but the basic elements are always the same:

1-List all the players with your projections of how they’ll do in the year ahead. This can come from Bill James (good) or Alex Patton (better) or someplace else (workable) so long as the system is logically consistent.

2-Devise a ranking system to determine which players will be drafted or purchased in your league. That is, if you have a 10 team league with 14 hitters each, list which 140 position players are the best. Make sure to have enough for each position. You’ll likely end up with catchers who don’t hit as well as some outfielders you can’t draft. Do the same for pitchers.

3-Add up the stats of all the players you expect will be drafted in each category that counts.

4-Compare each player to the total in each category. Add up the comparisons (usually a percentage) for each player and make a ranking.

5-If you distribute players by draft, rank them in order. If you distribute them by auction, you’ll have to convert their relative values to dollar values.

6-Don’t forget inflation.

It isn’t a small job, which is why there are any number of bean-counters getting paid to provide prices. But if the prices aren’t tailored to your league, while they may still be useful as an analytical tool, they’ll be pretty much worthless during the draft.

Which is why coming up with your own prices is a good way to get an edge at your draft/auction.



Pedro Martinez: A breakout year, a record contract, a new league. I can’t think of a reason he can’t do it again, albeit with an AL twist. But it was a great year and figures in the end to be one of his best.

David Justice: It doesn’t sound like Dave is going to be ready until May, at least in the outfield. I’m not saying ignore him, but don’t expect a repeat of 1997.

Jeff Frye: I’m not sure why you’d sign a guy like Jeff to a three-year deal. But I know why you’d like to have him on your team. He can play everywhere and most likely will.

Russ Davis: He keeps getting older, which is what happens when you get stacked behind some stars and then get hurt. He strikes out too much, or maybe you’d prefer I say he doesn’t walk enough. Whatever. If you have him for, say, $6, you’ve got a winner.

Charles Johnson: Was awarded a raise from $290,000 to $3.3 million. He has a lifetime average of .241, OBP of .331. He will be a free agent next year, I hear, and is poised to actually earn those millions. He’ll do it because he’s ready, not because he’s in it for the money.

Shawn Green: For all the years of disappointment, he’s only 25 this year. Like Willie Greene he may not have been as good as some would have liked, but he’ll have a fine career. Don’t let him go cheap.


Hey Roto,

I’ve heard some conflicting news about Arizona. Will it be a hitter’s park like Colorado because of the thin air of the desert or will it be more like the other National League ballparks. Will the retractable dome have any effect? What have you heard?

“By the time I get to Phoenix”
Boston MA

Hey Rotoman,

Part of my strategy as a Fantasy Baseball player is to play the ballparks. I was just wondering if you knew what the ballpark for Tampa was going to be like. Is it a hitter’s park or a pitcher’s park or just your average stadium? Just wondering.

“Devilish Ray”
Eugene OR

Boys, Boys, Boys,

Both the BOB and the T-Field (I’m getting pretty sick of brand name ballparks) are domed. The Diamondbacks’s roof is retractable, while the Devil Rays’s field is simply closed in.

What does that mean?

Some things to think about:

The ball generally carries well in Arizona, and the BOB is expected to be a hitters park. In spite of the dome the BOB will have natural grass. The idea is to leave the roof open most of the time, but cool the place down each afternoon so that it’s comfortable for game time. That makes me think of rising cool currents rushing up into the hot Arizona night sky. So I’ve got Matt Williams pencilled in for 50 HR.

T-Field is sized like Yankee Stadium. It has artificial turf, but will have a full clay cut out in the infield, rather than the carpet between the bases. Which should make for some bad hops on those fast-rolling grounders. From experience we know that domed parks are especially susceptible to quirks in the ventilation system. Advance word from St. Pete is that pitchers are going to like it there. I’ve got a good feeling about Wilson Alvarez, if he can get the ball over the plate.

Ultimately, the mysteries of ballpark characteristics can only be explained after the games have been played. I don’t think anyone knew in advance, before the Oakland Coliseum was closed in, that it would go from an extreme pitcher’s park to a hitters park. My recollection is that the new Braves park was expected to favor hitters, if not quite so much as Fulton County Stadium. But last year that wasn’t the case.

The practical advice is favor pitchers in Florida, hitters in Arizona, but consider any sort of big edge a risky play. If you get right and Jay Bell whacks 32 homers, then you did good, but chances are the effects won’t be as extreme as they might be.

And in the end there is simply too much we don’t know.