Playing for the Middle

A few years after I joined the American Dream League I had a decent season and finished in fourth place. I’d battled pitcher injuries and failures all year long, and had the sense that–in this 4×4 league–I was losing ground in wins. I had struggled valiantly to hang in there.

A few days after the season was over I received (in the mail! that’s how long ago this was) the final report from Heath Data, which confirmed the numbers those of us who were in the hunt got when we updated the stats each day manually during the final week. I wasn’t happy about the result, but I was glad to be in the money. But then I looked at the report that Heath called the hypothetical standings, based on our teams’ rosters coming out of the draft, as if we’d made no moves all season long. The hypotheticals are a good way to look at the team you were dealt, as it were. If you suffered a lot of injuries or PEDs suspensions that year your team would suffer in the hypotheticals.

But the draft day hypotheticals are also a good way to see how you played during the year. If you suffered a lot of injuries but turned your poor hypothetical showing into a strong real showing, you did good. Or vice versa, which is what happened to me in that long ago year. In fact, when I looked more closely, I discovered that if I ranked my draft day stats in the actual end of year standings against the actual non-hypothetical stats of the other ADL teams, I’d bought enough stats in the draft to have won the league. Another way to put it: if a safe fell on my head as I left the draft at O’Reilly’s that year, I would have finished first even with the other teams picking up injury replacements and making trades all season long.

Instead I had finished fourth. I found this to be profoundly depressing.

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 7.43.29 PMI bring this up now because something similar is happening in the American Dream League this year. onRoto.com, our current stats service, sensibly offers up hypothetical standings all season long. Push a button and you get the draft day standings up to that date. I was aware all season long that I was hypothetically doing much better than I was in the real game, but I chalked that up to a disastrous series of moves I made back in May. That was when I traded Elvis Andrus and Junichi Tazawa for Justin Verlander. I knew I had a big surplus in steals and I thought adding the best pitcher in baseball would help my team. I was able to leverage Tazawa’s presumed role of closer to swing the deal, and was glad to see my hunch pay off and Tazawa didn’t hold the job. Unfortunately, Verlander didn’t do the job–perhaps distracted by girls–but that wasn’t my mistake. I made the right move but it didn’t work out. My actual mistake came from the blind side.

At that point in the season, mid May, my pitcher Felix Doubront was looking dismal. His velocity was down, his control stunk, his ERA was something above 6.00 with a giant WHIP. I had liked him a lot coming into the season, but I despaired that he was damaged and killing my pitching stats. Also, a few weeks before, I’d picked up Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, who had looked like a strong strikeout pitcher with good skills for a few games, but then he got pounded in a game and his ERA ballooned up above six, too. Which pitcher would he be going forward? I figured with Verlander and Shields I didn’t need the risk.

Another factor was our rule that teams that don’t get seven saves during the season get zero points in the saves category. This isn’t a huge deal, but points are points and having just traded Tazawa, who I assumed would get a few, I was scouring the waiver wire and found two potential sources in Oliver Perez in Seattle, where Tom Wilhelmsen was struggling, and fireballer Josh Leuke in Tampa Bay, where Fernando Rodney had suddenly gone all, um, historical-Rodney-like with his control. I decided to go after these putative closers, deciding to release Doubront and Kluber–who each had two-starts against tough teams coming up that week–if I got them (another rule we have limits you to three Special Reserves a season of players who aren’t on the DL or in the minors). I got them.

Both Doubront and Kluber pitched surprisingly well in their four games that week, but to my satisfaction didn’t win any of them. The next week I made a substantial bid on Kluber but was beat out. I didn’t bid on Doubront because I was still convinced he was damaged, but he soon showed he wasn’t. He immediately, punishingly, became the pitcher I had frozen to start the year, thinking, hoping, I had a major breakout candidate. Kluber pitched very well until he got hurt, and certainly would have helped my staff a lot if I’d Special Reserved him, and until a rough patch in September, Doubront was excellent. Perez and Leuke turned out to be nothing, which is why I thought pitching was the problem with my team. But when I looked more closely at the hypotheticals today, they show something different:

My team has 14 fewer homers and 18 fewer steals now than I bought on draft day. I do have 18 more wins, but my ERA and WHIP are both higher than the team I bought back then, even after trading for Verlander. That’s in part because when Verlander was on my team he had a 3.91 ERA, just barely better than my team’s, and a hurtful 13.24 Ratio. (I subsequently traded him for Chris Sale, who will be a decent freeze next spring.) But the real damage to my team came to my offense, which was the result of a series of trades with which I intended to add homers and batting average.

Following Andrus and Tazawa for Verlander and Marwin Gonzalez I did the following:

jacoby_ellsburyI traded Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Zunino for Alex Rios, Ryan Lavarnway and John Jaso. Rios had 10 homers and 10 steals at that point, Ellsbury 1 homer and 24 steals, and didn’t hit for much power last year. I needed homers badly, I thought, even though I expected the weakling speed-corner Hosmer to hit a few and the feckless DH Butler to get going at some pointuy-=. Nothing happened for a week, and then Rios started running like crazy and hit no homers for the 89 at bats I had him for. Ellsbury went crazy and hit .350 over the next month, with a few homers, and has now hit seven homers for the Peppers. I needed catcher at bats, too, and while Lavarnway was a long shot Jaso was getting them. Zunino was not hitting in Triple-A, so who knew when he’d get the call, and even if he did, he might not hit .200.

Five weeks later I traded Rios, Tommy Milone and Jimmy Paredes for Ian Kinsler, Erasmo Ramirez and Leury Garcia. Kinsler would surely hit some homers, I thought, and with him and Zobrist and Asdrubal Cabrera my infield was pretty strong. There was a lot of griping in the league about the Milone for Ramirez component, the team that got Milone badly needed pitching and had for some reason had been talking up Ramirez up like a huckster, but I thought there was a pretty good chance Ramirez would be the better of the two the rest of the way. I wanted him in the deal and I was right, though Milone set a low bar landing in the minors for most of the second half.

A few weeks later I traded the newly FAAB-acquired speedster Jonathan Villar for Derek Jeter, who was just back off the DL. That didn’t work out, since the Captain proved unable to play, but I’m still second in steals at this point, so it wasn’t too costly.

The problem is that if I’d stuck with my draft day team I would have seven points in HR, instead I have two, and I would have 12 points in BA, instead I have eight. My draft day team inserted into the current real world standings against the actual stats of the other ADL teams would have 60 points, a solid fourth place, instead of 52 and a mad six-team scramble for places four through nine.

That team includes Al Albuquerque, Jake Arrieta and Brett Anderson, active all year, as well as Tommy Milone and Fernando Martinez a big hole on offense. Just adding Cory Kluber to the mix for Arrieta (AL stats only) and sticking with it would move the team up a few points and into solid contention with the BBs, Veecks and Jerrys for the championship. Yeesh.

The real mystery is how did I add 225 AB on the year and lose 14 homers (and seven RBI) and .007 of BA when what I was trying to do was add homers and BA? The answer is timing.

In 470 or so AB for my team, Jacoby Ellsbury, Elvis Andrus and Ryan Flaherty hit one homer. In 900 at bats not for my team, that trio has hit 19 homers. Plus Alex Rios, who hit zero homers in the 90 AB while I had him, hit 11 in the 246 AB before I acquired him, and six in the 250 at bats since I traded him. There was a power outage at Bad K Park this year, to be sure, and to catch up I churned the waiver and FAAB wires, trying to add homers, and didn’t succeed while damaging my BA.

The result is that rather than fighting with three other teams for the money spots, I’m in a wrangle with six teams for fourth place. I’m not sure what the lesson of this is. I played aggressively and got burned by bad timing. Verlander’s ERA when I traded for him was 3.17. For me he was 3.91. Since I traded him he’s been 3.74, but his WHIP during since I traded him was by far his best of the year (1.15). Whether or not it was my fault, clearly my activity was damaging.

Maybe next year I’ll practice stillness, and see how that works out.

One thought on “Playing for the Middle

  1. I’m really starting to agree that the positive effects of trading (other than dump trades) are overrated. Even if your team is unbalanced coming out of the draft, it doesn’t hurt to do nothing for three or four months on the trading block. That was my experience this year in a Yahoo! 16-mixed 6×6 (OPS, QS) league I’m in. I’d made the finals the past two years, only to barely lose each time. This year, for whatever reason, I thought people overpaid big time for pitching, so I spent almost all no money (except for my Cliff Lee freeze) on pitching. I simply streamed starters all season. I made two trades of hitting for pitching, but it didn’t do much other than trading away Cuddyer, Beltran, and Tillman, with Kipnis, Soriano, and Gallardo (bleh) coming back. I lost in pitching anyway!

    The streaming resulted in my winning the regular season, and again I barely lost (via tiebreaker) in the championship round. So unless someone wants to dump, I’m not excited about trading anymore. Small Sample Sizes seem to take a lot of the effect out of them.

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