LIMA rises: quantification

Following up upon part one of this two-part series, let’s look at the potential effect of elite non-closing relievers.

First, let’s assume the standard 1,400 innings pitched cap that is the Yahoo default. Second, let’s assume you draft the league average pitching staff, plus three elite non-closing relievers from last year who currently have ownership rates under 15 percent this season. For the sake of example, let’s use Eric O’Flaherty (13 percent Yahoo ownership), Joaquin Benoit (13 percent), and Koji Uehara (8 percent), who combined for 199.2 innings last season. That leaves us with 1,200.1 innings of “league average” production.

So first, let’s recap the league average pitcher production from 2012.

Year ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9
2011 3.94 1.316 7.13 3.11

These data include reliever numbers, but also include the bad starting real-life pitchers who no way in heck would ever end up on anybody’s roster, so let’s assume those two factors cancel each other out. Applied to our 1,200.1 inning sample, we get the following aggregate numbers:

Earned runs Base runners Strikeouts
1200.1 IP Totals 525.5 1579.7 950.9

Next, let’s aggregate our elite non-closer numbers.

Player IP ER K H+BB
Eric O’Flaherty 73.2 8 67 80
Koji Uehara 65.0 17 85 47
Joaquin Benoit 61.0 20 63 64
TOTAL 199.2 45 215 191

Put it all together, and here is the potential effect on the “league average” line:

League Average 3.94 1.316 7.13
Elite Non-Closing 2.03 0.957 1.08
Combined Line 3.67 1.265 7.50
Change -0.27 -0.051 0.37
Percentage -6.9% -3.9% +5.1%

At this point, it is essential to address a couple of points. First, I am not advocating that these specific relievers are going to be this good again this year. Certainly O’Flaherty will not post an ERA under 1.00, and it’s unlikely that you can absolutely identify three players who will cumulatively put up an ERA of 2.03. Second, the “overall impact” does not seem extreme enough to win. Taking note of Tim Dierkes’ series on what it takes to win, you would still fall short of where you’d ideally like to be.

So what does this mean?

First and foremost, you are likely not going to draft a team with a league average ERA or an ERA just under 4.00. Between intelligently playing the match-ups, finding sleepers off the waiver wire, and good team management, you are likely to produce much better numbers from the smaller pool of fantasy relevant starters plus your closers. The better than league average that you can make your pitching staff, the closer these elite non-closing relievers will bring you to the top of the pitching categories.

Keep in mind as well that you do not have to win every fantasy category to place if you can offset losses in one category by placing higher in other categories. Dierkes’ estimations are based on what he thinks will net you a top four or five placing in every Roto category. Every point you shore up on the hitting side, however, is a point you can slice from the pitching side.

Finally, while you might not be able to target a group of pitchers able to put up a 2.00 ERA, you should be able to find a handful of relievers with sub-2.80 ERA. Their impact on your bottom line will be lesser, but again, if you draft/stream smartly, then all you need is these guys to shore you up and “upgrade” your staff versus form the basis of the staff.

Noting this, look at the total impact that three elite relievers from last year could have had on your team—noting that the highest current ownership rate of any of them is 13 percent. You could lower your ERA by a quarter of a run, and bolster your WHIP by a very substantial .05 points. That’s your best case scenario when you trade for both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee midseason to fix a middling staff. Sure, these three pitchers combined for only eight wins, but there are always plenty of relievers like Tyler Clippard in 2010 and Alfredo Aceves in 2011 who are in “vulture” middle relief roles (look for relievers with high leverage and/or “lock down the rest of the sixth or seventh inning” usage). They tend up put up equally useful numbers plus wins.

New elite non-closing relievers come out of the woodwork every year, and they go chronically unowned. It’s hard to predict just how good a reliever will be, and given their smaller sample of innings, they can be even more volatile than starters. However, some relievers (like Mike Adams) have a certain level of projectability that clearly outweighs their cost.

Given this potential impact on your bottom line, why not risk the $2 flier on such relievers in the draft? Especially if you use the waiver wire to rotate match-up-friendly pitchers, you should have plenty of roster space for the elite non-closing relievers. Even if you do not stream starters, the transferred budget from pitching to shoring up your hitting positions under LIMA means there is a lesser need to keep a deeper bench of hitters to micromanage your offense.

So who are some $1 pitchers you can pair with your elite non-closing relievers to produce a competitive pitching staff? Here are some of the $1 pitchers I have gotten with regularity this offseason, including in my experts leagues:

In a game where every advantage counts, elite non-closing relievers are a potential difference maker. If they bust, they cost you almost nothing, and can be safely dropped and readily replaced. Pitching volatility is a worry, but relievers as a whole tend to product better numbers than starting pitchers, so the risk seems no worse than taking a flier on pitcher matchup.

As always, leave the love/hate in the comments below.

Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.
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My roto league is changing to a 6×6 format with Losses the new category on the pitching side. I’ve been trying to figure out if I need to change my strategy or just ignore it, as I typically do with wins every year. With a luck based stat, you’re better off ignoring it. I typically finish in the upper-middle of the pack in wins with this strategy. Shouldn’t the same be true with losses? I’ve been aware of LIMA over the years but haven’t needed to use it. I can typically find undervalued quality SPs and closers in the draft… Read more »


last season in our 7×7 league I ate saves almost completely as planned ,and drafted all stud Middle relievers. I won that league going away, with Holds wrapped up, ERA and hip followed too…these guys get great k/9 ratio’s and scab some wins and saves, and manange to keep your innings down as well. With the Exception of Benttancourt this year, it’s Mike Adams and crew at it again:)