Friday, October 15, 2010

Punting a cat

For the uninitiated, this has little to do with animal abuse, in fact nothing to do with it. Punting cats (categories) is a controversial fantasy sports technique rarely used to perfection. The idea is to dismiss or ignore one entire category in favor of bulking up on the others. In baseball, the category most widely punted, and easiest to ignore, is saves. Just don't draft any top closers, or any closers at all. The theory behind this is that a lot of closers are bad. The only category they help in is the aforementioned saves. Rather than collect saves, owners might rather employ middle relievers with great ERAs, WHIPS, and K/9 numbers and forgo saves.

The theory makes sense, depending on your league scoring. In head to head scoring leagues, punting a category is a good way to go. There is no season tally that matters. All that matters is your score for each week, so aiding three cats while dumping one is mathematically feasible, assuming it works. In rotisserie scoring leagues, however, punting a cat is very, very risky. Finishing last in one category puts you at a huge disadvantage when considering season ending tallies.

Well, I have my fantasy basketball auction draft this weekend. In basketball, the most obvious 'puntable cat' occurs by drafting Dwight Howard. He is a beast on the boards and collects more blocks than you'll know what to do with. He scores a ton and puts up a fantastic field goal percentage. Howard is everything you want out of your center spot. Well, not everything. You see, Dwight Howard is the most cancerous free throw shooter in the league. This is not because he always ends with the worst percentage, because he doesn't. But his combination of poor percentage and tremendously large amount of attempts is a sure sign you will finish last in that category if he assumes a starting role on your roster. Even helping the cause by drafting a free throw shooting savant like Steve Nash will not necessarily lift you from the gutter.

Now you see the dilemma.

Do you draft Dwight Howard in a rotisserie league, almost assuring yourself of finishing near the top in everything he's good at, yet guaranteeing a last place finish in one category? My obvious answer is no. Don't draft him. Don't bother. Draft a couple cheaper big men who will hopefully cover the counting stats yet won't kill you in free throw percentage.

But perhaps a more interesting situation of punting a cat is in regards to turnovers. Not every league uses turnovers as a category, yet lots do. The problem here stems from the widely used technique in fantasy basketball of drafting tons of point guard types. These are not necessarily point guards, but players who accumulate point guard stats: three pointers, assists, steals, free throw percentage. Drafting all point guard types and power forward types usually covers every stat you would need to target and sets a team up nicely. However, when drafting all point guard types, an unavoidable consequence is inheriting lots of turnovers. Even the very best Chris Pauls and Rajon Rondos commit a lot of turnovers. This is just the way it is. Point guards have the ball in their hands all the time. Just by percentages alone, they are most likely to commit a turnover, whereas centers often commit very few. They don't have the opportunities.

Of course you can try to draft the forwards who rarely turn the ball over, a Channing Frye or Anderson Varejao. But to draft point guards who have low turnover numbers is a daunting task. The other key element to this is the unpredictability of the stat itself. There is really no way to know, looking at on overall roster, which team will finish first or last in turnovers. It is somewhat random. So do you bank on that, or do you avoid point guard types and try to make up ground elsewhere?

In this instance, and frankly this is the only time in fantasy sports I would advise it, I would punt the cat, technically speaking. (I am never one to punt saves in fantasy baseball. It is too easy of a category to excel in. Why throw away the points?) In my auction draft, I plan on bidding on point guard types until the cows come home. And, no, I don't know what that saying means or where it comes from. Perhaps I will glance at the turnover numbers when considering my power forward types, but overall, I will draft like it is not a category at all. Why screw myself up by thinking Mike Bibby is somehow better than Russell Westbrook?

If you start considering turnovers, you start avoiding players who accumulate lots of points, just on the chance you win the turnover battle. We know Dwight Howard will be near the league lead in blocks and rebounds. We also know he will be terrible at free throw shooting. However, with turnovers, we don't really KNOW how good or bad a season someone will have. I am going to punt the cat and draft my point guard types. Feel free to do the opposite though, and draft a bunch of small forwards who are careful with the ball. In fact, do this and join my league because while you may finish first in turnovers, I'll be way ahead of you in everything else.

(Image taken from


  1. I punt saves in fantasy baseball because there tend to be relievers available much later/cheaper in drafts (or on waivers) who perform better than the top closers across multiple categories.

  2. Yes, that was addressed: hoping to win three categories rather than one. The problem is, saves are real cheap anyways, if you had picked up some closers, you might have won the league this year.