Justin Mason, of Fantasy Friends With Benefits, did a good big thing. He got Fantrax to host a bunch of 15 team leagues full of fantasy experts, plus put up a grand in prize money.
The rules are pretty normal, except there is that looming consolidated standings.
I landed in League 9, which included some folks I knew, like Adam Ronis and Tim Heaney, some I’d heard of, especially Doug Thorburn and Rob Silver, and a bunch of other foes who proved to be formidable, too.
This was a tough draft. There was no finessing picks. You had to take who you wanted, because they were not going to be there next turn.
Picking from the 13th spot afforded opportunity, I landed Blackmon and Bryant as my first two picks, but meant it was a long time to get back to my third pick, when all the stud pitchers were gone. Six of them in a row preceding my pick of Edwin Encarnacion. Okay, mostly gone. I could have made it seven by taking Yu Darvish.
This is also a league with one catcher. I like two catchers. Most catchers share time, two catcher rosters recognize this, and force decisions about how to allocate budget to backstops. One catcher diminishes the importance of almost all catchers. The 15th catcher isn’t a stud, but he’s not a waste. And if he turns out to be a waste, for whatever reason, the short roster means there will be options. Two catchers means you have to commit, and you have to work hard to recover if something goes wrong. I think that’s a tougher play.
In this league I have a pretty strong offense. That’s because I didn’t take a pitcher until the sixth round. And I then proceeded to make a mostly risk pitching staff. Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb had yet to sign. Eduardo Rodriguez is hurt. Brad Peacock is a swing man in a deep staff. Kyle Hendricks wasn’t all he was supposed to be last year.
We can argue pitching all day. What I surely didn’t do was buy saves. This was a function of trying to buy high-skills pitchers who were still available. Guys like Hendricks, Jameson Taillon, and even Zack Wheeler. Did I want Fernando Rodney or Shane Green instead? No.
But not having two closers is a problem in a broad contest with many many scores of teams. As I said to Justin in an email the other day, I might easily win this league and not do well at all in the overall. To fix that I’m going to have to find some saves.
Fortunately, that’s possible. My Team (Five reserve picks are pitchers):
About 80 percent of all players have played tonight. The Angels and Mariners just got started, the As and Royals have a few more innings. And I’m in first place in a league that I’ve written about a lot, but have never won. This isn’t the place to examine that, but I did want to look at the miracle of what has happened in the home stretch.
On August 27, my birthday, my team was languishing. I’m the Bad Kreuznachs.
This wasn’t quite the low point in the season, but it was the start of feeling that there was not enough time for things to get better.
I started thinking about at least making it into the money, fourth place, and it was clear that that was a stretch.
This was a team with a pretty good freeze list, a team that was in first place until the end of May, a team that didn’t have huge injuries. (Well, Dallas Keuchel missed too much time, and Zach Britton’s injury killed my saves strategy, but my pitching was surprisingly good, thanks to Brad Peacock and a bunch of middle relievers. When James Paxton got hurt, it didn’t even hurt, was how good my staff was.) It was a team for which I had high hopes, and desultory play across the board crushed them. Or at least so it seemed on August 27th.
Today, there are only a few games going on, so we’re down to just two days left in the season, and I am in a much different place.
The first week of September I had a monster week, with 27 homers and 58 RBI, and in each week since I’ve had the best offense in the league. This was the eventual payoff for adding Lucas Duda (FAAB) and Aaron Judge (trade Dallas Keuchel for him), and also the waiver pickup of Teoscar Hernandez after Ben Revere lost his job (if that hadn’t been clear I wouldn’t have been in on Hernandez and it would have cost me a few points), and the draft buy of the injured Wilson Ramos, who was weak upon his return from injury in July, but has been fantastic in September.
I built up such a lead in wins in late August, thanks mostly to middle relievers, that I was able to cut any starter who faltered down the stretch, and while some of the middle relievers that replaced them haven’t been very good, they haven’t pitched many innings and haven’t hurt my qualitatives.
And Trevor Bauer, who I had as a keep, and Brad Peacock, who I FAABed early on, have been lights out since the All Star break.
And even, after a year of Saves misery, Mike Minor earned a few saves in the last few weeks and earned me a point.
The end result is that what looked like a historically tight race a week or two ago, is now dependent on my team catastrophically failing in the last two days to be a race at all. I’m not discounting that possibility. I’m the new fresh face, the recent riser, and all season long those fresh faces rose and then fell in succession. The good thing for me is that time is running out.
So I’m not counting on anything, but I am amazed to be in this fortunate position, in a league I’ve long struggled to be the bridesmaid, from time to time, and never the bride, to be running my fingers through the wedding cake. Tonight, my aim feels true. A little more than two days will tell the tale. Even if I end up falling behind the Tooners or Kids in the last days I’ll feel fantastically lucky. On my birthday I would have been happy with fifth, and first reserve round pick in March.
Tonight I don’t have to discuss what I’ll settle for.
The American Dream League held its auction on Opening Day. 12 teams took (or kept) 24 players each (14 hitters, 10 pitchers) by bidding, and then, after a 10 minute break, had seven rounds of drafting. I came upon the sheet on which I wrote the reserve claims on that fateful day. My own reserve draft was very weak, which got me thinking about how much value was in our auction, and who got it.
The number in parentheses is their 5×5 earnings so far this season.
Lucas Giolito: Future ace, right? Has a 4.47 ERA in Triple-A this season, with 59 walks in 129 innings.
Rowdy Telez: Young power hitter making the jump to Triple-A, didn’t click. Hitting .222 with only six homers in Triple-A.
Brandon Guyer ($2): Veteran role player never really found a role. 112 AB with two homers and two stolen bases with Cleveland.
Bradley Zimmer ($11): Guyer’s loss was Zimmer’s gain. Our first solid contributor. Only hitting .246 in 240 AB, but with eight homers and 14 stolen bases. He has struck out 77 times, but walked 25.
Guillermo Heredia ($8): Fourth outfielder has seen more playing time because of the Vogelbach failure and Gamel injuries. Hitting .287 in 286 at bats with six homers and one steal.
Eduardo Escobar ($9): Solid utilityman benefits from Jorge Polanco’s struggles. Hitting .250 in 280 at bats with 10 homers and four steals.
Sam Travis ($1): Only Hanley Ramirez ahead of him. Hit .278 in 43 at bats with no homers and one steal in a brief time in Boston, and is back in the minors in Triple-A, where he is having a mild season.
AJ Reed: Everybody’s hot choice for 2016 seemed like a good reserve pick, but even with Houston injuries he’s seen just six AB this year, but does have 25 Triple-A homers.
Byung Ho Park: Big swing for a big power hitter, who has spent a meek year in Triple-A, striking out 115 times in 355 at bats.
Yoan Moncada: Last year’s big failure won a big arm in trade for Boston. Now up with Chicago he’s hitting .186 and has struck out 36 times in 81 at bats. He’s still young and was solid in his time in Triple-A.
Jose De Leon: Future ace has been hurt all season, but did earn a W in his one appearance in relief for Tampa, despite allowing three earned runs in 2.2 innings.
Jose Berrios ($9): Future ace started the year in Triple-A, but has now made 17 starts for the Twins. The results have been a little up and a little down, with a 4.27 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, which with 10 wins for the surprising Twins is enough to have earned $9. My projection for him before the season was 4.25 and 1.31 with fewer wins.
$40 in earnings for this group. Four contributors.
How much in earnings in Round 2? F Martes ($3), Jacob May (-$2), Whit Merrifield ($22, on the first place team), Rey Lopez ($1), Franklin Berretto ($1), Nick Franklin ($0), Dan Vogelbach, Michael Kopech, Clint Frazier ($3), Joe Jimenez (-$3), Cody Asche (-$2), Tyler O’Neill.
The setup: 12 team 5×5 head to head auction. Cats: BA, R, HR, RBI, Net Steals, Quality Starts + Wins, ERA, K/9, WHIP, Net Saves.
There are 22 periods, so each team plays each other team twice. Most are one week, but four are two weeks, so that all 26 weeks are included. There are also three Roto scoring periods (first 13 weeks/last 13 weeks/all 26 weeks), after each of which the team that finishes first goes 12-0, next team is 11-1, and so on until the last place team is 0-12 (no team finishes 6-6, so there are 12 outcomes). Each half season has a minimum innings requirement of 475, while the full season is 950, just like the other Tout leagues. There is no weekly minimum IP.
The first thing I did to prepare was run straight prices using the 10 categories, as if it was a Roto league. What the numbers said was that three hitters towered above everyone else, both hitters and pitchers. You don’t need me to name them. And one pitcher, who also doesn’t need to be named, ranked far above all the others. What was surprising to me, at least a little, was how many hitters had higher prices than that pitcher.
I decided on a few strategic approaches:
This is a 12 team mixed league. I know that the top players, the players without peer, go for more than their projected value. I was going to price enforce on these sorts of players. I didn’t want to overspend to acquire them, but I wasn’t afraid of paying a good bit to buy them. And I would pay a premium for Clayton Kershaw, who I was sure would go some bit higher than the $33 the program had him at.
This is a head to head league, and it was important to load up on Steals and Saves.
I was not going to roster innings eater type starters who have average or worse K/9 ratios.
The roto component represents 36 of the 168 total points (21 percent), and can’t be ignored. Assuming other teams are trying to find six good categories, and ignoring five, I resolved to be as strong overall as possible across the board, and try to build flexible management into the reserve roster. I wasn’t afraid of Stars and Scrubs in this context, because there are everyday players available in the endgame, and replacements on waivers if someone gets hurt.
How did it go?
Starting pitching went for much more than my pricing model showed. I think this has to be a result of adjustments owners made to reach the IP limit that my model didn’t have programmed in. Kershaw came out early, and I bid him into the high $30s, but he busted into the $40s and I dropped out. I hadn’t yet figured out the impact of the IP limit, and feared that alternative aces, while not as good, might go a good deal cheaper. They went for less than Kershaw, but at a decided premium over my expected prices for starters, who really contribute only in QS+W and IP.
The rush to starting pitching had to take it’s money from somewhere, and that turned out to be mostly relief pitching, and steals. A few owners charged in on top closers, like Kenley Jansen and Wade Davis, but soon after the market collapsed, and we all picked up cheap closers.
The top hitters all went for their straight line prices or better, except for the two stars I bought. That is, they cost as much or more as the value of their projected stats. Since I know the top guys are worth more than their projected stats, I picked off players who were costing less than their projected earnings (which made them good bargains), which is how I ended up with Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt.
C: Yasmani Grandal $12. He has some power and gets on base a lot, which makes him a fine choice in an OBP league. He has battled forearm issues all spring, but has had about 440 plate appearances each of the last two years, so there is hope he’ll get over it.
C: Yan Gomes $4. I waited and waited, out of money for a long time, and then went on a streak picking up $4 players. Gomes was one of those. He’s the opposite of Grandal, and will have a poor to ghastly OBP. But he has 20+ homer potential if healthy, and he is healthy right now.
1B: Paul Goldschmidt $47. He was on my sheet at $54, so this feels like a bargain. The fact that Anthony Rizzo also went for $47 makes Goldy feel even cheaper.
3B: Manny Machado $37. In my pregame planning, I’d focused on guys I saw priced in the high $30s, like Machado and Kris Bryant, George Springer and Starling Marte. When Machado didn’t reach his price, I plucked him. There are some solid third basemen down the list, but also quite a few problematic ones. Getting the best, a mere child coming off a massive season, is a treat. Also, OBP hounds, like Machado and Goldschmidt, help offset a guy like Gomes.
CI: Chris Carter $2. His bad contact skills makes him problematic, but he will take walks and hit homers if he can figure out a way to get on the field again. Milwaukee is a team that should be ripe for opportunities, and $2 didn’t cost me elsewhere. If he flounders or loses his job, there will be someone else out there, maybe someone on my reserve.
2B: Dee Gordon $22. No, I don’t believe he’ll hit .333 again. No one does. But given his speed and contact skills he could hit .300. That doesn’t make him a big OBP contributor, but he shouldn’t hurt too badly. Of more concern are all the caught stealings. He’s not that efficient, but if he nets out at 40 or so I think I can live with that at this price.
SS: Brad Miller $3. With a Stars and Scrubs approach, you inevitably have some scrubs. The idea is get ones who have some potential to be really helpful, to ideally bloom on your watch. Miller isn’t a star about to bust out, but he should be a regular presence on the field who hits some homers and takes some walks, plus he will steal a few bases.
MI: Daniel Murphy $2. Another scrub, and one to monitor closely. He usually doesn’t have a lot of homer power or speed, doubles are his game, and he doesn’t walk as much as you would like. Probably fine as a fill in in the odd week, I hope he doesn’t end up spending too much time on my active roster, unless he plans on hitting a homer every day.
OF: Mike Trout $49. He was on my sheet at $51, and, as with Goldschmidt, I would have gladly taken him there or a few bucks higher. That’s the way to play it in shallow mixed leagues. I’m of two minds about whether I would like him to run more again. First mind says, sure! Load up on steals! Other mind says stop sliding headfirst! Stop running, hit more homers!
OF: Jay Bruce $4. This is where one pays for buying superstars. Bruce’s bad average and refusal to go the other way against the shift makes his okay walk rate a little dicey. I’m hoping that he figures things out, a way to compromise between his powerful younger self and his stubbornness of late, since there used to be a power hitter in there. In any case, rooting for a rebound, without a ton of confidence, and will be looking for a replacement. Now.
OF: Wil Myers $4. I had him targeted. He’s post hype at this point, and coming off tough wrist injuries. He could, to be honest, once again disappoint, but what if he gets healthy and reaches some part of his potential? We’re waiting, hoping, praying.
OF: Ender Inciarte $2. Waiting, waiting, gone. I didn’t think he’d come to me at $2, but no one raised, so here he is. The price justifies the buy, really. He’s a contact hitter with good wheels. He may not play against lefties, and that will be a good reason to check matchups closely each week, but at this price he should be a good contributor most weeks. At the same time, I’m hoping I end up not needing him.
OF: Jorge Soler $7. I had a couple of options at this price. Billy Hamilton went for $7 (steals were devalued generally), as did Billy Burns and Delino Deshields. I was looking for power, however, and those prices didn’t fall quite so much. There are some issues with Soler. He was fine last year, but not the explosive breakout the Cubs had hoped for. He’s now in a crowded situation and could platoon with Kyle Schwarber, not because he’s shown weakness either way, but because Schawarber may, and both need to play some. My feeling is that last year’s learning turns into this year’s realization, if the chances come his way. They may not.
UT: Nick Castellanos $2. He’s another young guy who has shown he can hit in the majors, but not yet at the level and with the power that was expected of him. Unlike Soler, he has a line on playing time. He’ll take a walk and I hope he hits more homers, but even if the power doesn’t erupt this yeara he should contribute solid production at a bargain basement price.
P: Jake Arrieta $28. I kept waiting for the price of one of the top line pitchers to drop, but none did. Arrieta was the last one out and he cost just as much as all the rest of them. I’m as happy to have him as any of them, he outearned Kershaw last year, but I would have preferred a little cheaper.
P: Jonathan Papelbon $6. I called him out at $6 and Paul Sporer said in a low voice, “$5.” The room cracked up and nobody had the nerve (or perhaps desire) to bump him. Crickets. Fine by me. He’s not a big strikeout guy anymore, but he’s got the job, it seems, and will earn saves as he has every year since forever. And he does strike guys out.
P: Taijuan Walker $3. He was a target for me because his numbers last year didn’t look that good, but he pitched much better after a rugged start to the season, is young and I would expect him to grow up to be the pitcher he was always expected to be. Maybe this year. He has a pretty good chance to break out, if he can keep the ball in the yard better.
P: David Robertson $11. I had him as the fifth best reliever, The ones ahead of him went for $20, $25, $17, and $8. Oops. Melancon was the $8 buy, and was perhaps punished for having a below-average K/9 and chatter that his job is not secure. Robertson’s job is secure and his ERA last year appears to be inflated by a less than normal strand rate. Now, that could be his fault, but since his velocity and control seem to be undiminished, I look for him to bounce back.
P: Trevor Rosenthal $8. Here’s my counterpart to Melancon, with many more strikeouts. He reined in some of his wildness, and the strikeout punch is still there. Looks like I have three closers.
P: Shelby Miller $2. Last year’s most unlucky breakout returns this year in a worse situation for a pitcher because of Chase Field, his new home. Chase is a bit of a help to lefty hitters and Miller has struggled slightly against lefties, but he has also been strong against righties throughout his career, and last year Chase played tough for righties. He probably won’t have quite as good an ERA this year, but he’s going to win more games. I’m sure of that.
P: Kevin Gausman $3. He has electric stuff at times, and hasn’t always known what to do with it, which has led to too many homers and too many runs. But he’s still learning his trade. More worrisome is shoulder tightness, which emerged on Sunday, after I bought him. He’s the former phenom most dissed this year, for not showing obvious improvement last year after a promising 2014. I see the electric stuff and say, I hope he figures out how to use it this year. There’s a pretty fair chance he will.
P. Brandon Finnegan $1. He showed flashes of dominance and vulnerability in his less than 50 innings in the majors last year, so he represents another flyer with upside potential. The biggest problem for him is his team, which isn’t very good and isn’t likely to get better this year. And his home ballpark is not a friendly one for pitchers, 12 percent more runs are scored there than the average NL park. There’s a good chance this pickup is a year early, but for $1 there’s a big payoff if the timing turns out to be right.
P. Hunter Strickland $1. I’ve been talking about him all winter as a breakout closer in San Francisco, if Santiago Casilla reverts to form (becomes an effective short man in the seventh and eighth innings) and the team prefers Sergio Romo in the eighth, where he has been brilliant most of his career (and very much so in the second half last year, after struggling early). Even if that doesn’t happen he should strike out lots of guys and serve as a replacement during certain weeks when other pitchers have tough matchups.
Reserve: Eddie Rosario. He’s not a huge guy, but the ball jumps off his bat and he’s fast. He makes decent contact, but doesn’t walk enough to help in OBP, which is why he lasted to the reserve round. Since his drug of abuse suspension a while back he’s make solid and consistent strides forward as a player. Here’s hoping that continues.
Reserve: Wilmer Flores. Power-hitting middle infielder who may start the year as the starter because Asdrubal Cabrera is hurt. But Cabrera will likely get healthy, and Flores isn’t a great defensive shortstop anyway. But perhaps more importantly he’s also the backup third baseman, behind the deteriorating David Wright. Not enough walks to use every week, probably, but potentially a lot more valuable with a change in role.
Reserve: Trea Turner. Speedy shortstop was expected to start the season with the Nats until they signed Daniel Murphy to play a position Murphy isn’t very good at, second base, and then hired the youth-phobic Dusty Baker to manage the team. Thus, Turner lasted to the third reserve round. High upside pick, but could end up in the minors for most of the year, too.
Reserve: Jared Eickhoff. He looked very solid in about 50 innings last summer for the Phillies, far better than he had at Triple-A Round Rock before his trade from the Rangers (for Cole Hamels). He wasn’t expected to be an ace, but he starts the season in the rotation coming off that excellent major league stint. He’s got a chance to contribute to my team, because the strikeouts are there.
Reserve: Jesse Hahn. Was pretty solid until he was shut down in August with forearm and shoulder tightness. He says he’s scrapping the slider and will go with more change ups, which could make him a better pitcher or could turn him into a batting practice pitcher. I’m not worried, he’s on reserve.
Reserve: Matt Adams. For now, he’s my power-hitting alternative to Chris Carter and Nick Castellanos. He has to fight his way through a crowd, but don’t expect him to gather any moss.
How is this team? I really have no idea. I haven’t played a 12-team mixed in 13 years, and mocks don’t count for this.
I like my power, like my youth, think I have speed but that’s all relative (meaning it may not be enough), have lots of potential power pitching and good relievers. I look at my opponents and I’m glad that they don’t have Trout, Goldschmidt and Machado, nor Gordon, but they all have some talented players.
I 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 seven keepers max. How about?
Shin-Soo Choo 17
Chris Davis 23
Eddie Rosario 10
Jason Kipnis 20
Danny Salazar 10
Kelvin Herrera 2
Kris Medlen 3
On the Bubble
Salvador Perez 19
Caleb Joseph 1
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):
I’m new to DFS. So new I still have to think about what DFS means. Daily Fantasy Sports. I’ve just started playing DFS this year, beginning with a FanDuel Opening Day Challenge to beat Rotoman. Only four did, beat Rotoman I mean. I finished fifth, and took home $20. That was fun.
Since then I’ve played in the two Tout Wars Daily contests and finished in the middle of the pack, and a freeroll in which I picked fairly capriciously and didn’t do very well. But I hadn’t really tried, so whatever.
In the meantime, I also set up an account at Draft Kings, because I wanted to compare the two games and it bought me a Baseball Prospectus membership. In my first game there I finished fifth, won $15, and thought, gee, this is easy!
Actually, not. What I mostly thought was that I’d done well in small stakes games in which I spent some real time making real decisions after real effort to set a good lineup. To do that and make $10 or $15 each time is simply not worth it. Who has the time?
Yesterday, thinking about this, I got interested in two big contests, one each at FanDuel and Draft Kings.
At Draft Kings some 38,300 $3 entries would be competing for $100,000, paid out to 785 places.
At FanDuel, 6,850 $5 entries were chasing $30,000, paid out to 1,296 places.
I’m not going to go into details about my rosters, but the only common players on the two teams were Bret Anderson, pitcher, who was a late replacement for Taijuan Walker, who I chickened out on, and Alex Rodriguez, who seemed a likely beneficiary of a stiff breeze out to left field at Comerica Park against Kyle Lobstein.
Notice how his name starts with L-O-B? He’s not a flamethrower.
In Draft Kings I had the bright idea of taking Michael Fiers as my second starter, which didn’t help, but the fact is that both my teams, checkered with stars and power bats playing in ballparks with the wind blowing out and bad opposing starters, were disasters.
My Draft Kings team, which featured no Reds, who knocked the bejeeziz out of the Brewers whole staff, and finished 36,826, finishing ahead of only the 1,500 souls who built their teams around Bud Norris.
And FanDuel was worse. My pathetic squad finished 6,879 out of 6,896.
Who were the winners? In both leagues, teams that loaded up on Reds and Blue Jays, not the Yankees and Indians I focused on. The same guy finished first, second, third, and fourth in Draft Kings, starting Francisco Liriano in two, Colin McHugh in three, Chris Archer in one and Nick Martinez in the other.
All four of his teams had Joey Votto, three had Brandon Phillips, all had Jay Bruce. They all also had Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart and Billy Hamilton. Did I mention that the Reds scored 16 runs last night? Many of them against Michael Fiers?
Many players make multiple entries. The team that finished last yesterday in FanDuel, also finished next to last. Multiple entries don’t increase your odds of winning, unless you win all your bets, but they do increase your action. Looking deep in the standings I found teams that submitted four identical entries that finished in the mid 37 thousands in Draft Kings. Presumably on other days things go better than that.
A more interesting question is whether it is better to load up with players from a single team, or to take them from a variety of games. Is it easier to pick the game with the most outsized scoring results, or the players facing the best matchups in the best parks? And how much do player prices shift to adjust from day to day? I don’t know, and clearly I have more to learn before I’ll be taking these games seriously.
Have I learned any other lessons? Well, the key one is the one that got me interested in the first place. Any single day’s results are pretty arbitrary. Before yesterday’s brawl, the Reds were the fourth lowest scoring team in the NL, while Milwaukee was the lowest. So the race is a long one, maybe best measured by the year and its winnings, just like regular year-long fantasy. The big difference, I don’t ever have to roster Fiers again.
The LABR Mixed Draft was held this week, and Josh A. Barnes makes an excellent point over at FakeTeams about how to make use of it. In a nutshell, ignore the guys who went higher than expected, since those picks may be the ravings of a single lunatic, but look closely at the guys who dropped below expectations. These are the guys the experts are collectively cool on.
While fine tuning my projections, I’m going to take a closer look at some of these guys, like Adam Wainwright, Josh Harrison, Felix Hernandez, Justin Upton and Mark Trumbo, today over at PattonandCo.com. Read Barnes’ story, for sure, and stop by at Pattonandco.com to get another take.
In my prep for Tout Wars this year, the biggest question was what sort of impact the switch to On Base Percentage from Batting Average was going to have.
After all, we have years of creating player values based on BA and some players change value quite a lot–up and down–with the change. Mike Gianella said he didn’t think prices would change much, while my research showed that players who walked a lot saw a big increase in value. Why wouldn’t prices go up? Especially since a player’s walk rate is relatively predictable compared to batting average.
I decided to price the top OBP guys a step lower than my calculated price for them using OBP, deciding to buy whoever I was able to buy under my listed price. The idea being that I would buy bargains, and if guys like Joey Votto and Andrew McCutchen didn’t get the full bump up in price they logically should have, then they represented real bargains.
That is what happened.
Early in the draft, I just kept buying. Votto came out first. I had him on my sheet at $39, but he was the player with the biggest OBP value because of his incredible eye. I bid $38 and won him. We were off. ($paid/$budget)
Joey Votto, $38/$39. The premier OBP player. I couldn’t let him go to someone else for $37. I couldn’t. And maybe he’ll have a few more runners in scoring position, if the $22 Billy Hamilton proves a bargain.
Andrew McCutchen, $38/$40. The premier OBP outfielder. Remember, I considered these bid prices to be fairly conservative.
Hanley Ramirez, $30/$36. Big OBP boost, yet he went for his 5x5BA price. The big thing is he’s one of 10 good shortstops.
Troy Tulowitzki, $30/$36. I was ecstatic about adding the top two shortstops, both with no bump up of price for their good OBP skills. Each brings a certain amount of injury risk and a certain amount of ability to produce big numbers in limited playing time.
Madison Bumgarner, $25/$26. The pitching prices were pretty fair. My plan was to buy one ace or maybe two near aces. I did not want to get caught up buying midlevel guys. Buy a closer, and then round out the rotation and the reserve list with <$5 guys. I chose Bumgarner, though when Jordan Zimmermann went for $18 I regretted not taking him and Matt Cain, who went for $20. Those were the two best bargains by my lights. But that would have driven up my pitching budget a little. My goal was to spend as little on pitching as I could get away with, and use the extra dough for hitting.
Ryan Zimmerman, $24/$30. I was kicking myself for letting David Wright go at $29 (I had him at $33), but I decided I couldn’t buy them all. Still, that was an excellent price. But I also knew that after Wright and Zimmerman the NL third basemen are a motley group. Who is Chase Headley? How long can Aramis Ramirez last? Is Pablo Sandoval going to show up? Can Pedro Alvarez make enough contact? There are a few guys eligible at both second and third, like Martin Prado and Matt Carpenter, who are less dicey if not much more talented. And that’s it. The bidding on Zimmerman made it easy. He went for his BA price, but he’s a OBP contributor.
Martin Prado, $22/$23. At this point I didn’t need Martin Prado necessarily, but I did need a second baseman, and I liked that Prado qualified at both second and third. But I didn’t really think I was getting him. Usually the bidding moves quickly until it slows, and then it inches forward a few more dollars. In this case, there was a flurry and didn’t expect my bid to stand, but suddenly the room went quiet.
Yasmani Grandal, $10/$11. We really don’t know what Grandal can be, because of the injuries and drug suspensions, but we do know he’ll take a base on balls. Catcher is a position that drops off so suddenly that I prefer to not scrape the bottom of the barrel (though that works sometimes). I had identified Grandal as a guy with a strong OBP, which should be a plus even if he doesn’t play as much as I hope he does.
Ryan Doumit, $7/$9. He should play regularly, has some power, and was relatively inexpensive. Only a star in comparison to my scrubs.
Rafael Soriano, $13/$13. I never used to buy closers because I thought they were overpriced, which works out great if you’re able to pick off one of the closers that emerge early in the year. But if you miss out on that, not buying a closer means that if any other category becomes an issue, you’re suddenly tanking two, which is not a very comfortable position to be in. So last year I bought a closer, but Kyuji Fujikawa fell apart shortly after gaining the role. I’m hoping Soriano fares better. He’s certainly better established, though he struggled at times last year.
Nate McLouth, $5/$11. His batting average hurts you in the BA game, but in OBP his value increases. He set a career high in steals last year, but is devalued because he’s getting older. I’m hoping for 450 at bats, with some homers. I’ve seen projections for 250 AB, but why sign him for two years if that’s the expectation? At this price, he fit my team.
Gregor Blanco, $2/$8. He doesn’t have much power, but he runs and he takes walks, so whatever his batting average he contributes. Like McLouth, he’s not a regular but should fill in regularly and put up 400 at bats or so.
Brian Bogusevic, $1/$1. He bats lefty, and could get a fair amount of play until Marcel Ozuna is called up. He has a little power and speed, and I certainly hope I can improve on him soon.
Derek Dietrich, $1/$4. Earlier last week I mocked him. He doesn’t have the contact skills to hit for a high average, but he does have some power and, more importantly, he seems to be ahead of Donovan Solano on the Marlins’ depth chart backing up Rafael Furcal. What I wasn’t aware of was that he took a ball in the face last week and suffered a fracture, which will have him wearing a plastic face guard for some time.
Kris Bryant, $1/R1. I’m not convinced he’s going to hit, at least not at first, but he was the blue chip third base prospect available in dollar days. There will be some guys available on waivers to replace him. The biggest issue is that I also took a minor league pitcher as Swingman, and with four reserve slots it will be a challenge to manage this productively.
Wily Peralta, $4/$5. Hard-throwing sinkerballer hasn’t put it together yet, which is why he was available for $4. At this part of the auction I was looking for arms that might get a fair number of innings with some potential to break out or surprise a little. If Peralta realizes a bit of his potential he’ll be a big plus for my team.
Tanner Roark, $3/$7. This was a tough situation. I really wanted Jenry Mejia, but I had no way to gauge the temperature of the room. I had Roark ranked similarly, which was high enough to expect half a year of solid pitching with questions about his role to start the season. He’s had a good spring, and I’m hoping to hit with all my lottery tickets.
Vic Black, $2/$2. A good young arm is the likely Closer in Waiting to Bobby Parnell. This was off plan, but seemed like a good bet despite his bad spring.
Jake Arrieta, $1/$4. My AL-only friends will tell you how long I’ve been waiting on Arrieta. He pitched pretty well once he landed in Chicago and the National League last year, but was cheap because there isn’t a clear rotation slot for him.
Edwin Jackson, $1/$2. His FIP has been below 4.00 forever, while the ERA bounced around. Not an elite strikeout guy, but good enough to earn some profits.
Freddy Garcia, $1/$1. There really isn’t much justification for this pick here, except that he pitched well in short spurts last year, especially in the NL, and has a shot at the rotation in Atlanta to start the season. But realistically he’s a placeholder, especially since he was released while I was writing this.
Paul Maholm, $1/$1. Another back of the rotation veteran starter, though he has the first third of an inning pitched for my team in relief, down under, and has delivered a 0.00 ERA. Obviously, I hope one of these three veterans comes through.
Andrew Heaney, $1/Res. High upside arm, will start the year in the minors. It’s going to be hard to hang onto him and Kris Bryant on reserve, as I try to improve me team, but after a good spring, he’s a fair shot at a callup in June. He’s got great stuff and could succeed immediately.
Arodys Vizcaino. Another great arm, he’s coming back from TJ two years ago and is almost ready.
Will Smith. I love his arm and he showed last year that he can pitch, at least out of the pen. Not sure about the role going forward, but he’ll throw lots of strikeouts and has the potential to push himself forward.
A.J. Cole. He was brilliant in Double-A last year, and it’s hard to see a clear line to the majors right now, but he’s a big mature-for-his-age talent.
Tyler Colvin. I circled Pedro Strop on my sheet, but when it was my turn I called Colvin. He’s really a bad player, but both times I’ve had him he’s been a big money maker. A bad player having a bad spring is not an inspiration, but rarely is a fourth round reserve an inspiration.
DO I LIKE MY TEAM?
It’s hard not to like all those stars, and while it wasn’t my plan to buy them all, I did go in aware that this might happen.
And I’m not unhappy with the outfielders. They are a serviceable lot considering the strength of my middle infield.
The challenge will be to convert the “undervalued” OBP into counting stats and at bats, plus improving the pitching staff. If one or two of these guys doesn’t end up pitching well, I’m going to have to find some value out there by trade or FAAB.
In other words, I have a valuable and solid foundation, but there is a lot of work to do to get the structure built.
I looked at the AL LABR results and had a sense of deja vu all over again. Hitters were expensive, top pitchers were cheap, and some midlevel aspirational pitchers got bid up beyond their risk level because they throw strikeouts or have yet to prove vulnerable or both. I’m looking at Danny Salazar, Sonny Gray, Alex Cobb and Dan Straily, who Steve Gardner cites in his roundup at usatoday.com.
What’s interesting about this Groundhog’s Day expert league auction experience is that there is not a surefire counter to it. Try to beat it on values and you end up with too many pitchers. Adjust your values properly (this year the AL split 69/31, the modern classic split, after going 71/29 last year), and you squeak out a nice-looking but uninspiring team, as Larry Schechter did.
Larry’s potential downfall is a pitching staff that lacks a clear standout starter. I like all his pitchers and their prices, but when David Price is $23 you need to keep pushing. It sounds like I’m blaming Larry here, and I’m not. Just saying that if David Price is $23 then Masuhiro Tanaka should be $13, not $19. But the real thing is that Price should be more, and it’s a mistake he isn’t.
But that AL mistake is a common one, and reflects everyone’s wariness about pitching (except when they’re excited about a shiny new toy, like Salazar, or able to push up his price because there is unspent money). In the NL LABR auction, Gardner chronicles the air coming out of the top tier hitters as well as pitchers. Cargo was the top price at $36.
At the end of his story, Steve points out that there are three new owners in the league, as a way of perhaps explaining this bizarre turn, which made me think about the decline of auction fantasy. With more people playing mixed leagues and daily games, the hands-on familiarity of the auction is diminished. But the LABR NL field, it turns out, is full of grizzled veterans of rotisserie play. These guys didn’t just hop over from a Yahoo league. So what happened?
I made two charts to show where the money went. The first shows, from left to right in descending order, what was spent for each pitcher in each league and each hitter in each league. If you want to see it larger you can click on the image.
The chart shows that the highest priced pitcher in the NL cost much more than the highest priced pitcher in the AL, but the NL was outspent on pitchers who cost from $27 down to about $10. The NL spent more in the high single numbers, the AL a bit more in the low singles.
In hitting the AL clearly outspends the NL on hitters above $27 and is clearly outspent on hitters from $22 down to $15 (the prices are the y axis). The NL then crushes the AL between $8 and $3.
Another way of looking at it is to line the grafs up so they show cumulative money spent starting with the highest priced player and adding on down to the lowest priced player. The chart moves from left to right. You can click it to see a larger version.
To give you an idea of the difference in the two streams, at the $500 mark, where the AL it seems to be most outspending the NL on high priced players, the AL has spent $515 to the NL’s $483. That’s $32, or six percent. Not a huge amount, but obviously a distinctive difference if the talent pools are equal.
Also notable that by the end, the NL outspent the AL in hitting by $28. So that’s a $60 difference on players who cost less than $27.
I made an ugly little chart that tracks how much ahead or behind the NL is in spending at various points.
The red line, series 2, shows the pitching cumulatively, while series 1, the blue line, shows the hitting. The x-axis is the rank of players from most expensive to cheapest. If the quality of the two leagues were the same it seems like these lines would be flatter, but we’ll have to look at other leagues to know what to make of that.
If the pools are congruent and the NL pays more money for the $3 to $8 players than they’re worth because it has money to burn, that has to be a mistake. Then a team like Ambrosius/Childs, last year’s champs, which spent widely on expensive players and picked off useful pieces in the later stages of the less heralded, has a big advantage.
But what if the pools aren’t equivalent. Certainly the A/C team is risking a lot building around the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki, Bryce Harper and Hanley Ramirez, with the leaden Ryan Howard to boot. So, if these guys are too risky at these prices ($28, $32, $31 respectively), what would have happened if less money was spent on them?
And if the expensive guys are mostly risky (I’m not sure Paul Goldschmidt is that risky, for instance), then doesn’t it make sense to spread money across the board, buy at bats and cross your fingers (as the NLers seem to have done, a little)?
I don’t have an answer. I dove into this to find out just how different the results were of these two apparently dissimilar expert auctions. It turns out that even though they look different, the dynamics are pretty close. The split for both leagues was similar. Either 68/32 and 69/31 (AL/NL) if you count the money left on the table, or 69/31 and 70/30 based on all the money available. These crusty auction vets are trying to get a foothold, a bit of advantage, but apart from Billy Hamilton’s fast feet the surface is pretty crumbly.