Woodrow Wilson: Father of Fantasy Baseball?

p1020962-copyJohn Thorn, basesball historian, has an amazing tale about Woodrow Wilson, the 28th US president, who as a boy appears to have spent 1871 creating a fictional version of the National Association season that year.

Found in the Woodrow Wilson collection at the Library of Congress was a handwritten end of season account, including box scores, that mimicked similar actual accounts published by Henry Chadwick.

The attention to detail is amazing, and maybe a little scary. Read Thorn’s story for all the details, including an account of the “newspaper’s” sale by the auction house that is today called Southby’s, which attributed the piece to Chadwick himself.

UPDATE: The linked story was originally published on February 24, 2014, but I just came upon it today. If you liked this story, you may like this one about the baseball game Jack Kerouac invented as a boy.

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ADL: What Happened?

Screenshot 2015-10-06 14.50.03I bought the team you see on the left on April 5, 2015, to play in the American Dream League.

It is a keeper league, and I kept Kyle Seager, Kole Calhoun, Luke Gregerson and Kyle Gibson. I also kept Josmil Pinto as my first reserve pick, but he got hurt early in the season in the minors and was never called up.

Still, the other four did pretty well. Well enough to be, arguably, the best kept group in the league. That wasn’t clearly the case on auction day.

Alas, I made three costly errors in hitting on auction day: Victor Martinez (old and hurt and paid like he might repeat his extraordinary 2014 season), Adam LaRoche (got off to a hot start, but also old, and looked it as the season dragged on), and Danny Santana (young and spry but with massive holes in his swing and glove, thus spent most of the year in the minors).

These were all foreseeable outcomes, though none of the prices were crazy considering the players’ 2015 earnings. In any case, I preach it always but in this case I didn’t follow my own advice: Old guys, guys with notable flaws in their games, guys with potential health issues, have to be discounted. Otherwise, you don’t want them.

If you read my comments about Tout Wars, all I have to say here about pitching is, Ugh. I did it again. Kind of. The ADL is a 4×4 keeper league and it is known going in that the top pitchers will be kept or bid up. I priced the top guys aggressively, I thought, but they all went for premium prices. Shut out, unwilling to escalate too much, I got clever and decided to put my money on Alex Cobb, a top starter who was supposed to be back in six weeks. He didn’t come back, and was expensive bust No. 4.

Even so, in mid May I was in second place overall, and my staff was second in ERA and second in WHIP. My hitting was in terrible shape, because of slow starts by everyone. I tried to fix things on the waiver wire, but on April 20, our first week, I didn’t bid on Marco Estrada (who went for $4) and Shawn Tolleson (who went for $0). In the following weeks there wasn’t much pitching available, until Lance McCullers was called up.

I bid, but three teams bid more than $15 out of our $50 budgets. The winning team paid $19. I thought it was too expensive, until I saw McCullers pitch.

As, one by one, my high flying starters combusted, my team sank in the standings. Still, the team that finished last in the draft day standings was in fifth place as late as the penultimate week of the season.

Part of it was the ascension of Eddie Rosario and the resurrection of Shin-Shoo Choo (an old suspect guy who actually went at a discount). Some of it was adding Ben Revere at the trade deadline. I also had Kris Medlen come back in the second half, and picked up Josh Tomlin on waivers. They helped.

Another part was managing to top the league in Wins despite finishing next to last in ERA and fourth from last in WHIP. I had 26 wins from pitchers who had an ERA of more than 5.00 while they labored for my Bad K.

There are two lessons learned here.

1) Take flawed old players at a big discount or not at all. They may not fail, but the cost when they do should be less.

2) If going cheap in pitching, you have to have an ace. If you don’t have an ace you need a broader range of pitching support, which is going to cost more.

Looking at 2016, I have eight keepers max. How about?

Caleb Joseph 1
Shin-Soo Choo 17

Danny Salazar 10
Kelvin Herrera 2
Kris Medlen 3
Shane Greene 1
Alfredo Simon 1

On the Bubble

Salvador Perez 19
Jason Kipnis 20
Avisail Garcia 21

It’s probably safer to keep the three bubble hitters and throw Greene and Simon back. We’ll look at that more closely come spring, unless someone makes an offer.

Last but not least, Walter Shapiro’s Nattering Nabobs kicked ass all season long. They moved into first place the third week of the season, and were never bested after, winning with a 35 year league record 87 points. Here’s the finals (yes, the Palukas passed me on the next to last day, dropping me into the second division):

Screenshot 2015-10-06 23.19.01



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LINK: Scars of the Game

Screenshot 2015-10-06 10.11.37The New York Times has a surprisingly engaging photo essay about elbows, Tommy John surgery, and the scars that are left behind.

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Today’s Daily Fantasy Sports Controversy

I first learned about it from industry friends, who pointed to a story in today’s New York Times.  The story originally broke in a discussion forum at Rotogrinders.com.

It seems a Draft Kings employee who writes about ownership percentages (how many Draft Kings players rostered particular NFL players in any given week) at Draft Kings finished second in a Week 3 contest at FanDuel and took home $350,000.

This same DK employee had accidentally published the ownership percentages before the DK games had locked that same week, demonstrating that some individuals have access. This wasn’t known before.

Big fantasy tournaments have thousands of entries, and there is a competitive advantage in avoiding commonly-rostered players. So the first question is whether the employee was using his Draft Kings information at FanDuel?

The second question is who actually has access to his information and, while they’re not allowed to play on the sites they work for, do they use it to play on other sites?

The answers are, perhaps not unsurprisingly, murky. Daily fantasy sports is an unregulated (so far) business. And while that seems likely to change, for now players are reliant on their trust of the game makers themselves.

The website legalsportsreport.com has an excellent What we know now about the situation, which attempts to answer all the questions raised here.

It’s hard for me to believe that these games are intentionally crooked. There seems to be too much money to be made for them to cut corners, but it is also true that if there is a way to get an advantage somehow someone is going to figure it out and take it. Which is why the legal gambling industry works hard to maintain a squeaky clean reputation. Trust is important.

Trust is unraveling in DFS, today, and the operators are going to have to work to earn it back.

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Gushy story about CC Sabathia

It’s in the NY Times and makes Brian Cashman sympathetic, too.

I think the timing here has to be selfless. CC needed help, and he said he did.



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Tout Wars: What Happened?

The Dark Other Side of My Worst Year Yet.

RotomanWhat HappenedIt’s recap time, which is a bummer. Unlike Mike Gianella, whose graceful recap of his Tout Wars championship season is delightful and wise, finishing at the back end of the standings can feel existential. As in “why am I all alone here?”

This year was particularly so, because after the auctions in both Tout Wars and the American Dream League, when I checked the projected standings, I was told I would come in last. This didn’t bother me, at the time, because I had a high-variance strategy. High variance means if things go badly, my team will be terrible, but also that the ingredients are there for a few things to go well and the team to be very competitive.

In both Tout Wars and the American Dream League the high variance came from trying to put together the Perfect Pitching Staff, as I described in a series of pieces last year. The idea is to spend the least in pitching, the most in hitting, and still have a good shot at putting together a competitive staff.

In short, create a strong foundation with an anchor and a closer, then grab the strongest pitchers you can in the $1 to $5 range to fill in. Then add more pitchers in the reserve rounds. It is out of the ranks of the $1 to $5 and undrafted pitchers that some of the biggest bargains come. It is also out of the attractive pitchers priced in the teens that some of the biggest busts come. Avoid busts, hit on a bargain or two and with a solid ace and a solid closer you have the makings of a very competitive and bargain-priced (overall) pitching staff.

In 2014 this worked reasonably well. In the ADL I finished second, just out of first, while in Tout Wars I finished badly, but that was not because of my pitching, but rather because my high-priced hitters all got hurt. Here’s what happened in 2015.

While working through my price lists in March, in preparation for my auctions, I convinced myself that in the past I had too casually blown past my carefully-honed prices. Out of an overpay of a dollar here or a dollar there, I basically ended up overpaying for the guys I liked who someone else liked, too. This could work, of course, but it decreased my chances of finding the real bargains, which are the guys I liked that no one else liked. Based on this observation, and with a desire to do things a little differently, I committed to sticking to my prices. I wouldn’t go over them until I really had to.

Note, that my price lists added up to exactly $3120, the amount available to spend. Note also that I gave 70 percent to the hitting side, 30 percent to the pitching in Tout Wars, which has been the split in recent years.

In Tout Wars, which auctioned on March 22nd, Tristan Cockcroft threw out Max Scherzer for $30. I had $31 on my sheet. I wasn’t surprised by Tristan’s gambit (though I expected it would be Kershaw), but I didn’t go the extra dollar because I didn’t want to define my team so decisively so immediately. Big mistake.

Next out was Kershaw, nominated by Mike Gianella (who sat next to Tristan so he could throw out the big starter that Tristan didn’t). With the bidding at $37, again right below my bid limit, I stopped, with the mistaken belief that I would find a better bargain in the next group,  which included Wainwright, Bumgarner, Strasburg, Greinke and Arrieta.

I look back now and, apart from Wainwright’s injury and Strasburg’s bad first half, these guys were bargains, and therein lay my mistake. Prices be damned, if I was going to execute my plan I needed one of these guys.

And when I didn’t I needed to pivot and do a better job of accumulating other pitchers. The reason to stay away from pitchers priced in the teens is because they can be such big busts, but the odds that some of them will be big earners is better than it is for the cheapies. Here, my inflexibility hurt me.

So too, perhaps, did the fact that Tout teams spent a little more on pitching than usual, spending 31.2 percent.

All the pitchers I was high on in the middling group went for more than my bid prices.  I bid my price and someone went one more and I decided to wait for the next. Until there were none left.

Shoulders not strong enough to carry entire staff.

Shoulders not strong enough to carry entire staff.

At which point I had the Braves saves (Craig Kimbrel) and the Mets saves (Jenry Mejia and Bobby Parnell) and had to do something. Still, I maintained my pricing discipline to the bitter end, letting all sorts of good cheap pitchers go because I had them for $1 and they went to $2. I ended up with Matt Cain for $9 (my max price for a guy who I thought could bounce back, but who couldn’t) and Jose Fernandez for $9 (a fair price for half a season of an ace, only he got hurt again), plus Tsuyoshi Wada and Mike Minor (both also on the DL), and Tom Kohler, my ace.

The good thing, of course, was that I had a killer offense, except, Anthony Rendon went down and Tulowitzki and McCutchen got off to bad starts, and even with a great season from Gerardo Parra and productivity from Wil Venable, I had no excess from which to deal.

And yet, all was not a disaster. At some point over the summer I crawled up to sixth place. I was no threat to fifth place, but I was close to 60 points, and ahead of more teams than I was behind. I had Jose Fernandez, pitching lights out, but because I had been so far behind in ERA and WHIP earlier in the year, I had continued to throw as many terrible two-start pitchers (the only available ones) as I could find, to try and hang in in Wins and Strikeouts.

That made Fernandez  trade bait. In fact, I made a deal to trade him, a deal for two closers, the night in early August he got hurt again. I emailed my trading partner, offering him an out, and he took it. We called off the trade.

After that the slide was inexorable. I tried to stream two-start pitchers and ended up owning almost all of the young Cincinnati starters except the good one. That didn’t matter, because I was dead in ERA and WHIP, but soon I was also dead in Wins and Strikeouts. Bad pitching doesn’t get many of those.

And Tulo in Toronto was not an offensive force, Ryan Braun (who the radio guys after the auction criticized, but who had a great season) got hurt, yadda yadda yadda. Whatever.

I screwed up the auction royally. I had a high variance strategy that instead of excellent or awful had at it’s end points (due to miserable execution) mediocre and miserable. That’s the end of the story.




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My Horrible Season, Visualized.

Alfredo Simon has had two starts in the last 10 that were good. The other eight were awful. I sat him, finally, and then had the pleasure today seeing my “ace,” Danny Salazar, face off against Simon and the Tigers.

Screenshot 2015-09-05 23.00.15

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Tim Heaney’s Real Mock Draft Simulation

FFG15-coverIn the Fantasy Football Guide 2015 Professional Edition mock draft, we had a glitch (as discussed earlier on the corrections page). Tim Heaney, sportswriter at USA Today, friend, and all around good guy, was unable to connect with the draft room, and his team was autopicked.

The problem was that we did not have time to gather another 14 fantasy experts and have another mock draft, and while Tim’s team was not one he would have picked in a million years, it wasn’t a total joke. Tim agreed to comment on his autopicks, and we decided to run with what we had.

Kind of like having an online draft with 13 regs and that one guy who always screws up.

While writing this up for the correction page it occurred to me that I should have had Tim write up who he would have taken with each of his picks, if he’d actually been drafting. Shoulda, but I didn’t, then. But I did this week, and here are the guys Tim says he would have picked if he’d been able (he had the 12th pick) :

1 Calvin Johnson WR1

2 C.J. Anderson RB1

3 Keenan Allen WR2

4 C.J. Spiller RB2

5 Matthew Stafford QB1

6 Charles Sims RB3

7 Charles Johnson WR3

8 David Johnson RB4

9 Pierre Garcon WR4

10 Tyler Eifert TE1

11 Danny Woodhead RB5

12 Rueben Randle WR5

13 Jameis Winston QB2

14 Dan Herron RB6

15 Indianapolis Colts DT1

16 Matt Prater PK


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Corrections for the Fantasy Football Guide 2015

FFG15-coverWe sometimes make misteaks. Sometimes big misteaks. This is the place we list them and try to make it right.

We very much appreciate your helping with this. Send any errors to askrotoman (at) gmail.com. Thanks.

The first email I received about the magazine was this one:

Dear Editor,

 I am disappointed with your magazine. You have several players as this years breakouts and as overhyped players. Can you explain why they are in both categories?

Your mock draft is a joke. I enjoy reading different writers strategies on why they picked who they did and what adjustments they had to make during the draft. All you did was a auto draft.

 I would not recommend your 2015 Fantasy Football Guide to anyone.


I hate letters like this, because I feel misunderstood, and worry I didn’t communicate what was happening clearly enough. Here’s what we have in the magazine that think is worth recommending:

The front section of the magazine are one line comments by the magazine’s writers about NFL awards and the top Rookies, Breakout and Overhyped players for 2015. It is a jumble of different opinions by different writers, who are identified by name. Some writers think some players are potential Breakouts, while other writers think those same players are being Overhyped.

This is a feature, not a bug. It is the conversation about these competing points of view that should help us sort out who to take earlier this year, and who to take later.

As for the Mock Draft, we had a mix up and 13 owners drafted their teams live, and Tim Heaney did not. Because of the timing it was not possible to redo the Mock, and Heaney kindly enough wrote about the draft software’s picks.

I wish it were different, I would like to know Heaney’s actual choices for those spots (hmm, I think I should have asked him), but those of us involved with the draft thought the information was still valid and useful, even if not pure.

I’ll post other issues here as they come in.


The following are my fault. I seem to have joined the 2015 team name to these guys, rather than their new teams. I’m sorry for the error. Thanks to Corey Stanley.

Page 53, Larry Fitzgerald Profile: Should have a Cardinals helmet.

Page 49. Mike Evans: Should have a Buccaneers helmet

Page 40, LeSean McCoy is on the Bills, not the Eagles.

Page 40, DeMarco Murray is on the Eagles, not the Cowboys.

Page 51, Andre Johnson should be on the Colts.

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ASK ROTOMAN: Quantity Quality for Quality Quality?


Would you trade Shelby Miller and Sonny Gray for Clayton Kershaw?

“Arms Race”

Dear AR:

There is no answer to this question. No thoughtful answer, anyway. You’ve left out an important component: Who replaces Gray when Kershaw replaces Miller?

Without that piece of information it’s impossible to judge the wisdom of this deal. The answer is different if the missing sub is Mark Buehrle or Noah Syndergaard or Bartolo Colon or Jose Fernandez. See what I mean.

Or, since you asked what I would do, I would trade Miller and Gray for Kershaw because I’ve got Jordan Zimmermann on reserve right now. But I don’t know what you’ve got.

But let’s say you don’t have JZ on reserve. Let’s say you would acquire Kershaw and replace Gray with a replacement value starter. That’s a $1 player, expected to earn $1. If that’s the case than you would want Kershaw to be better than the Miller and Gray combined.

So far this year that’s not the case. So far this year Gray is on pace to earn $40 and Miller is on pace to earn $44, while Kershaw is on pace to earn $16.

But you’re not buying pace in your trade, you’re buying future performance. Preseason expectations for the three were starkly different. Tout Wars Mixed Auction paid $36 for Kershaw, and $17 combined for Gray and Miller.

So, you have three questions to answer:

Clayton-Kershaw1Can Kershaw return to form? Of course he can. He’s throwing about as well as he has in the past, but he’s allowed homers on fly balls at twice the rate as last year, and well above his career mark. Still, he’s allowed six homers in 60 or so innings. Last year he allowed nine in 190. That costs runs. He still excels in every category except BABIP. There is some speculation he’s tipping his pitches. There is other talk that he’s throwing too many first pitch strikes, and hitters are swinging earlier in the count to avoid the slider. Hard to say for sure, but both of those things are both small potatoes and fixable. He’ll be fine.

How good is Sonny Gray? Good, but not quite this good. He’s a ground ball pitcher, so it isn’t surprising he hasn’t allowed many homers. But he’s allowed homers on only three percent of fly balls. That number is lower than Kershaw’s rate last year, and should rise to closer to 10 percent. With homers, again, come runs allowed, and the ERA and Ratio will go up.  Gray looks to me like a $25-30 pitcher, which is plenty good.

And what the heck is up with Miller? I’ve often wondered why people give Miller such a bum rap, and have been pleased that so far he’s been showing that I’m right and everyone else is wrong. But it isn’t really true, I’m afraid to say. Nick Lampe at Beyond the Boxscore does a good job of killing the straw man of Shelby Miller’s Cy Young Award candidacy this year, one I wasn’t arguing for, but what matters to you is whether Miller can sustain his $40 season, or whether he’s going to regress to the $2 expectations. Like Kershaw and Gray, Miller hasn’t allowed many fly balls. He’s also allowing few line drives and is getting lots more soft contact than ever before. We don’t know if that’s because he’s taking a new approach or getting better results with his old approach. He changed teams in the offseason and is working with new coaches, which can sometimes make a difference. He’s throwing more cutters and fewer curve balls, which can make a difference, too. Still, he’s not an elite strikeout guy and his control is fine, not great. Even if he gets lots of ground balls, as he has been, he’s going to give up more runs. But that might make him a $15 to $20 pitcher the rest of the way.

Hmm. $25 for Gray plus $15 for Miller equals $40 for Kershaw. If you have a strong replacement for Miller, make the trade. If not, you’re likely treading water unless you land a waiver wire find.



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