Here we go with another installment of "Conventional Wisdom." As we have discussed previously, there are a lot of things that people widely believe about fantasy sports that may have a kernel of truth but are largely incorrect. Today we discuss: "Don't draft for wins."
This is a baseball concept with your pitching staff. The belief is that you cannot accurately project the number of wins that any given starter will accrue. They are just too random.
The kernel of truth is that you really can't, and shouldn't, peg a specific starter for a number of wins. I could tell you that I think CC Sabathia will get 21 wins this year, but there's something like a 95% chance I'd be wrong. However, if I told you that Sabathia would get between 18-22 wins this year I'd probably have about a 70% chance of being correct. That's gotta be worth something.
The larger point here is that if you throw out wins entirely you're going to be in trouble. In a typical 5x5 league wins count for 10% of your total score, of course... If you don't compete in any single category you're basically saying that you aren't competing for first place in the league. You may want to devalue wins in your projections, but you should still aim for the middle of the pack, which is completely doable. You don't have to win every category to win your league, but you have to put forth effort everywhere. You can afford to be middle of the pack in one or two categories and still win the league, but last place in a category is really, really hard to overcome.
Let's take another example - Felix Hernandez. He is in his prime and ought to be dominant once again in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. But wins? Unlikely. He'll probably get you between 12-16 wins. You can't specifically put him on, say, 13 wins but you can guess a likely range. You have to take this into account when drafting.
So, in our examples above Sabathia will dominate Hernandez in wins. Is that enough to draft him over Hernandez? Not necessarily, but it's good to have it in your mind. Using a likely range you can draft for wins, so Sabathia may be your guy. It is likely that King Felix will have a significant edge in ERA and WHIP, so he probably does beat Sabathia by a nose this year.
Okay, last thoughts on this. When you are drafting hitters it is fairly easy to keep an eye on whether you still need speed or power as you get closer to the halfway point in the draft. I suggest you do the same with wins. If your earlier picks in a draft are guys like Hernandez you are going to want to grab decent wins candidates later on. Maybe you can get a guy like Clay Buchholz or CJ Wilson fairly cheap later on. They play on good teams with good offenses so they should get their share of wins.
You may even take a gamble very late (last round or two) on a middle reliever with excellent peripherals who can "vulture" a handful of wins for you without hurting you anywhere. It costs you a late pick or $1 in an auction, plus the roster spot. It's the roster spot that is most important since there is an opportunity cost there, but you can put a strong middle reliever in your lineup every day while some of your starters are on rest days. (For example: In 2008 J.P. Howell pitched 89 innings and got you 6 wins, 92 strikeouts, 3 saves, and a 2.22 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP. He helped everywhere and cost nothing. Picking the right guy is the real trick with this one. Howell was awful in 2007, so there was no reason to predict his numbers in 2008... so don't chase a wild goose.)
It's a good tactic that can pay dividends for you with a very small investment. These kind of small incremental improvements are what separate the great fantasy players from those that are just pretty good.