Friday, May 22, 2009

The Relevance of the LIMA Plan

There has been a lot of discussion in the subscriber forums of about the value (or lack of value) in the LIMA Plan. The discussion was jump started thanks to an article that appeared on the Hardball Times site, written by John Burnson. Burnson does limit his analysis to starting pitchers which are only a part of the LIMA Plan. Relief pitchers (even non-closers) play a huge role on many fantasy teams, so to leave them out of the evaluation is to miss a large portion of the LIMA eligible pitchers.

Ron Shandler wrote an editorial response that I believe is unaccessible for non-members. In it he shows a number of points that Burnson missed, and explains some of the history and the true use of the plan which is often missed by adopters. The LIMA Plan was never expected to provide someone with a first rate pitching staff. Rather, it was intended to allow users to spend most of their available budget on hitting and still build a competent and competitive staff. Ron Shandler began by listing a few key facts that everyone should know about the LIMA Plan.
  • It has been around for a long, long time (11 years in fantasy time is forever)
  • The more popular it has become, the less effective it has become.
  • With each year that passes, memory fades and more people get it wrong
  • I have not used the LIMA Plan, as written, for at least four years.
Ed DeCaria wrote another response testing the viability of using the LIMA filters (>=6.0 K/9, >=2.0 K/BB, and <=1.1 HR/9) to find pitchers that will show an improved ERA. Though Ed's work was a little hard to follow, he does show that the plan does work if you can get the eligible pitchers at a discount rate. This seems much more likely to happen in mixed leagues than in NL or AL leagues. But my favorite part of the article is when Ed describes why LIMA is not a failed strategy despite its flaws.
LIMA (“Low Investment Mound Aces”) was first introduced over 10 years ago. BEFORE Voros McCracken’s research revealed the sharp regression to the mean of hits on balls in play for pitchers. BEFORE the daily tracking of groundballs and flyballs and their subsequent segmentation into line drives and pop-ups and now “fliners.” BEFORE the realization that home runs allowed were largely a function of a pitcher’s fly ball rate, park factors, and luck rather than any direct home run avoidance skill. BEFORE pitch outcome data enabled us to analyze ball vs. strike ratios, called and swinging strike rates, and first pitch strikes. And BEFORE technology systems were installed in every major league stadium to allow us to analyze pitch types, release points, velocity, movement, and location.
There are definitely more accurate tools than the LIMA filters to use in evaluating pitchers and projecting their performance. I use them all the time. But the filters are not obsolete and are still useful in a lot of leagues. I don't recommend following any plan too strictly. A vital need at the draft table is the ability to zig when they zag. This flexibility will prevent you from failing to acquire the needed stats during your draft when you discover that everyone in your league is also using the LIMA Plan.

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