ASK ROTOMAN: Andrew is Easy.

Rotoman!

I get 2 keepers – Andrew McCutchen is my first, and I need to choose from the following for my second:  Brian McCann, Dee Gordon, Ian Kinsler, Hanley Ramirez, Freddie Freeman, Nelson Cruz, Manny Machado, Gerrit Cole, or Masahiro Tanaka.

“Seconds of Pleasure”

Dear Seconds:

First thing I do is compare my prices for a list of guys with BaseballHQ’s prices. For primarily veteran players, this makes it easy to see if there is a consensus:

Player PK HQ
McCann 13 13
Gordon 23 30
Kinsler 24 24
Ramirez 22 25
Freeman 26 27
Cruz 22 22
Machado 21 17
Cole 13 16
Tanaka 18 17

Ian KinslerWhat we learned here, I think, is that Brian McCann, Nelson Cruz, Manny Machado and Gerrit Cole are not keepers for you.

I don’t think Tanaka is a keeper either, since he’s coming back from an injury that often requires surgery, without having surgery. Lots of upside if he makes it work, but too much risk to use for a keeper. (If you disagree, stop here and freeze Tanaka, it’s a risky but reasonable choice.)

Which leaves us, in order of average value: Freddie Freeman, Dee Gordon, Ian Kinsler, Hanley Ramirez. But from top to bottom it’s close, so you have some decisions to make, because there are some things I don’t know about your league.

For instance, how deep is it? It is a mixed league, clearly. If it’s a 10 or 12 or 15 team mixed league, position scarcity matters, which elevates Dee Gordon over Freddie Freeman. If it’s 20 or 25 teams, Freeman is close, if not Gordon’s better.

20140919_Dee_Gordon_infield_single_in_front_of_Anthony_RizzoIf it’s an OBP league, however, Freeman is enough better that you would take him over Gordon, even in a 15-team league. Maybe. Read on.

But let’s assume you play the aging and inferior but more popular BA format. Gordon is more valuable than Freeman, and clearly more valuable than the guys HQ and I have ranked below him, which makes young Dee the obvious keep, EXCEPT…

Except Gordon contributes in one category. In your league is it more helpful to have a 2B who steals 50 bases but doesn’t do much else? Or is it better to have a guy like Hanley or Ian, who will hit double digit homers and steal double digit bases, with a better BA?

If you follow HQ’s guidance (and $30 bid) this is a no brainer, but depending on how your league values steals (and marginal hitting ability, which is what Gordon has), he may be hugely valuable, but he’s surely also risky. Guys who don’t hit lose at bats.

Not that the other guys aren’t risky. Ramirez moves to the American League for the first time, is changing positions and brings with him an injury history that has to be considered, at least, while Kinsler has seen his power and speed decline in recent years, as he has moved into his middle 30s.

Looked at through this frame, you really can’t make a bad choice here, but not one of them is a slam dunk winner. Freeman might be the safest bet, but he plays first base for a team that has stripped away every other offensive weapon. Gordon is the most explosive, if he plays he will run, but if he’s hitting .222 will he still play? Ramirez has the biggest upside. If he stays healthy he could be a 20/20 guy, but he’s not likely to stay healthy, which probably makes Kinsler the safer bet.

So, I’ve talked myself into Kinsler, for all the reasons listed above, hoping he’ll have a year not unlike last year’s, even if not quite so much.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

ASK ROTOMAN: Shining A Macho Light on Yasiel Puig

Dear Rotoman:

In a 5×5 12-team mixed-keeper league with five keepers where you can keep a player for up to three years, would you make the following deal:

I trade an extra 5th round pick and release either Manny Machado (2yrs left), Jorge Soler (3 yrs left) or Xander Bogaerts (3 yrs left).

And I get Puig with 2 years remaining.

Is giving up one of my fifth round picks and one of those players worth 2 years of Puig?

“Puigilist”

Dear P:
I have one hand tied behind my back because I have no idea what the value of a fifth round pick is. If all 12 teams keep five players, that’s 60 players gone. Another four rounds gone is 48 players, which would mean the fifth pick would be somewhere between the 108 and 120th best player.

Based on the consensus Average Draft Position at FantasyPros.com, that would be a player like JD Martinez or Mookie Betts, Lance Lynn or Steve Cishek.

Yasiel_Puig_2Puig is ranked 24th in the consensus ADP, while Machado is 138th, Soler is 111th, and Bogaerts is 182nd.

It isn’t clear to me what you get back for that fifth pick, but even if it was the 23rd round pick, I think you would prefer Puig and the 23rd round pick to Bogaerts and JD Martinez or Mark Trumbo.

Remember, the rule of thumb is, you almost always want to be on the side of the trade that gets the best player, especially in a relatively shallow league, as a 12 team mixed is.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

 

 

ASK ROTOMAN: The Ken Giles File

Dear Rotoman:

15 team head to head, 6 keeper league. Here’s my roster.

Ken_Giles_comes_setcatcher yadier molina
1b justin morneau
2b dee gordon
3b pablo sandoval
ss xander bogaerts
of starling marte, wil myers, arismendy alcantara
sp cliff lee, cory kluber, jose fernandez, matt cain and 6 other pieces of trash
rp steve cishek, ken giles, and 3 other pieces of trash

pitcher heavy league for points and holds count
keeping (marte, kluber, cishek, ken giles, dee gordon, jose fernandez)

am I making a mistake? Any response welcomed

“Ken Giles Phile”

Dear KGP:

When do you have to turn in your keepers? Ken Giles doesn’t have the closing job yet.

I know it looks smart for the Phillies to deal Jonathan Papelbon, opening up their closing job for Giles, who had an average fastball of 97.2 mph last year and consistently topped 100 mph. Giles improved his control after arriving in the majors last year, so maybe he’s ready. And there was chatter that the Phillies were talking to the Brewers about Papelbon this week, which makes sense since the Milwaukee team has Jonathan Broxton as their putative closer at this point.

Still, right now Papelbon is only crazily expensive ($12.5M, with a $13M vesting option for 2016) for this year. The Phillies would no doubt like to get out from under that contract, but they’re certainly not crippled by it. And if the Brewers (who are on Papelbon’s no trade list) don’t offer much for Papelbon now, it would be an easy call for the Phils to hold onto him and see who needs a top closer as the season progresses. Saving money is good, getting a good prospect is better.

So, it isn’t a slam dunk Giles is going to have the job all year. That makes him a weak freeze at this point. On the other hand, you don’t have a slam dunk alternative, so maybe he’ll end up your best choice. But at this point I would consider keeping a hitter, a choice that depends on the pool of kept players. Molina, Sandoval, Bogaerts and Myers are all less risky than Giles right now, but don’t have the closer’s upside if he wins that job.

What I can’t guess is how badly other owners in your league might vary any of these guys. So while Giles isn’t an obvious mistake, you should look closely and take as much time as you can. There may be a better choice on your roster.

Patiently,
Rotoman

Crafting Rules: A few thoughts

xfllogoI play in a mixed fantasy baseball league with 14 friends. We meet in Arizona at the First Pitch conference in November and auction off 23-man teams for $260. It’s a keeper league, you can keep up to 15 players each year, and in the auction you’re limited to players who finished the previous season on a major league team’s active roster. When you roster someone without major league experience their price escalated by $3 each season after they make the majors. Other players’ prices go up by $5 each year they’re kept.

We started playing in 2003, and made up a set of fantasy rules that are unlike any other league in the world, with the goal of having a simple-to-administer keeper league. It has worked out pretty spectacularly. I love going to Arizona to see AFL baseball and my friends, but making sure I’m at the auction is very important. You can’t play if you don’t auction.

The second part of roster provisioning is a 17-round reserve draft in late March, during which you can draft anyone in the world who hasn’t already been rostered. We’ve had high school players drafted, and players years away from Japanese free agency. The teams draft in order of last year’s standings. At the end of the day,  in time for Opening Day, each team has 40 players for the season.

Since this is a keeper league, dump trades are a part of the process, but each year it seems that teams with bad teams dump earlier than they did previously. Last year there were seven dump trades on May 19th, just seven weeks into the season.

We’ve recently been discussing whether these early dumps are a good thing or not for our game. I thought not, because it felt as if marginal teams were in a race to the bottom. The first ones to bail were able to pick off the best prospects from the teams competing for the top, so there was constant pressure to bail earlier, in order to make the best deal.

This meant that other teams were pressured to make deals as early as possible, too, in order to compete. Once teams dumped, they were no longer competitive, and once teams added real talent they were no longer catchable.

My suggested solutions, a variety of them, all involved increasing the pain for teams dumping. For instance, teams that fell below a certain number of points would lose some of their freezes, depending on how far short they fell. Or the price of players traded before the All Star break might be automatically increased to $10 or more, in order to decrease their value as keeps. Or they would pay a financial penalty, depending on how many points they fell below a threshold. This isn’t a money league and there is no reason to reward winners, but the money could go to charity, simply to induce a little pain if standards weren’t achieved.

Other suggestions, like a reduced inseason salary cap and having losers pay winners some amount, were suggested by others. These are all standard ways for leagues to control dump trades, but in this league at this time these suggestions were met mostly with derision, primarily with the not-really-an argument notion that in a keeper league you can’t/shouldn’t punish dumping. Though that isn’t what any of us were suggesting.

I started this post spoiling for a fight about this and thought that maybe a look at the trades made last May 19th would help me win my argument (something I know never happens on the Internet, or anywhere, really). On May 19th…

The team that eventually finished first traded Garin Cecchini, Dom Smith, and Wily Peralta in two trades for Joe Nathan, Adam Jones and Prince Fielder (when he was still expected to come back). (14 and 13)

The team that eventually finished second traded Matt Harvey and Alexander Reyes for Ben Revere and Adam Wainwright. (15)

One of the teams that tied for third traded Maikel Franco, Marcus Stroman and Daisuke Matsuzaka for Pedro Sandoval, Alcides Escobar and Francisco Rodriguez. (11)

My team was the other team tied for third and didn’t make a trade.

The team that finished fifth didn’t trade.

The team that finished sixth traded Miguel Sano and Matt Moore for Mark Teixeira and Kenley Jansen. (15)

The teams that finished seventh and eighth didn’t trade.

The team that finished ninth traded Alex Meyer and Addison Russell for Ian Kinsler and Asdrubal Cabrera. (14)

The team that finished 10th traded Gregory Polanco and Miguel Gonzalez for Troy Tulowitzki and Brett Gardner. (13 and 12)

All the teams that traded away quality players finished in the bottom five in the league. The teams that finished first and second traded away quality prospects for immediate help and were never caught.

This division, last year, clearly meant that there were teams that were winning, teams that were losing, and then a bunch of teams in the middle who could not win and would not lose.

That in itself isn’t a problem. It’s part of the game dynamic. There is no penalty in our rules for coming in last. In fact, Brian Walton came in last this year with a pathetic number of points (28.5), and that’s a good thing! As he explains, if you’re going to dump you should go all in, trade in this year’s assets to improve next year’s squad.

But that brings us back to dumping in May. There is a problem if somewhat competitive teams are willing to sacrifice their season so early, basically locking in the tiers of competition. The problem is that this is less fun for many teams, and devalues the auction that we enjoy so much. My suggestions of adding friction to dumping wouldn’t end dumping, but they might slow the process, and make the stakes higher for the dumping teams. They would have to not only reload their squads, but try to claw for points this year (and would be rewarded for their success).

This would be good, because it was make it easier for the teams that didn’t trade away prospects early to remain competitive longer. For instance, my team didn’t trade prospects in mid May because it got off to a horrible start (bad pitching mostly) and was in 11th place on May 19th. The team looked too good to dump, but was not competitive enough to buy by trading away prospects. Of course, once we didn’t buy we had no chance to catch the teams that did when we started rising in the standings.

If the trading didn’t get going until June we might have been tempted to trade Oscar Taveras and Archie Bradley. Instead, we decided to play for third, which is a different way of playing for next year.

While trying to make my argument, I looked at the May 19th standings and wasn’t exactly surprised to see that the bottom four teams finished in the bottom five at the end of the year. After all, they had traded excellent players for futures, most of whom didn’t contribute much this year at all.

What surprised me more was that a look at the Draft Day Rosters, the team that was bought in November (something of a less than perfect estimate of the amount of talent a team had last year on Opening Day), three of the five lowest finishers were in the bottom four (the other two were sixth and ninth). If anything, with the die cast before the season started, it seems as if these teams actually waited too long to dump. Or maybe, it was the teams that were contending who waited to be sure they were in the fight before swapping their top prospects and futures for reinforcements.

In either case, the problem I thought I was actually seeing was subtly different than the one I had diagnosed.

Instead of marginally talented teams racing to dump, mostly truly bad teams recognized they were better off dumping than not. Increasing friction for them might make the game marginally more interesting inseason, and might protect the value of the auction a bit, but any rational player with a bad team would still dump.

I suppose this seems like a fairly esoteric tale. A league unlike any other trying to fine tune rules that aren’t working all that badly isn’t much of a tale. But what I found in the telling was evidence that the problem I was seeing wasn’t totally the problem I was experiencing.

I still think adding some friction for teams that finish poorly is a good idea, simply to make sure they take it seriously. Just because they usually do doesn’t mean an incentive doesn’t help order things properly. After all, two of those bottom five teams  had Top 10 teams based on the Draft Day Standings. Why were they dumping a quarter of the way into the season? Because that’s when you can get the best prospects.

This friction, call it an incentive, isn’t a punishment. That definition is what got me riled in the first place. Every league’s rules define limitations that shape the way the game is played. Deadlines, keeper rules, categories, position eligibility all shape the way the game is played. In the context of the current rules, adding more restrictions might seem like punishing certain behavior when it’s really incentivizing others.

But to go back to Brian Walton, he hits the nail on the head in his story when he says, “It is always best to agree on the original problem statement before throwing around ways to address it.”

Our division is between those who think we can make the game better (but have to recognize that the problem at this point isn’t acute) and those who think dumping and rebuilding should be an unfettered process (apart from the inseason salary cap, of course), who don’t see a problem.

So, for now, we take no action, but we each snap our lips trying to make the other side see reason. It’s almost Hot Stove season.

 

 

ASK ROTOMAN: A One Or A Two?

Rotoman!

I’m in a 12 team roto league keeper. my keeper options are either keeping Paul Goldschmidt and Carlos Gonzalez or Goldschmidt, Yasiel Puig and Jason Kipnis?. So really the question is Cargo or Puig/Kipnis? We can keep players forever so I want to make sure I make the right decision. 

“Eternally Yours”

Dear Eternally:

What I don’t know, because you didn’t tell me, is why you can only keep one extra guy if you keep Cargo, or  the two other guys if you go that way. That feels unusual to me, but let’s run with it because we can make something of a closer look, whatever your rules are.

Of the three, Gonzalez is probably the best hitter, but because of injuries he didn’t earn as much as Kipnis last year. Still, I have him at $34 for this year, with Kipnis at $27 and Puig at $24. Puig is a bit of a wild card here. It would not be a surprise if he was a bust, but it would not be a surprise if he earned well into the 30s. We don’t know how he’s going to adapt to pitchers adaptations, and we don’t know whether the 26 pounds he added in the offseason was because of hard work or sloth.

But we do know that Kipnis earned $29 as a 26 year old. We also know that Gonzalez is 29 this year, while Puig turns 24. Which means the two guys have seven years on Gonzalez. If we assume each of these guys will play well until they’re 35, you’ll get six years out of Gonzalez, while you’ll get 19 years out of the other two. By that measure take the two.

But, I’m sure that isn’t the measure. Here’s what is:

Let’s assume that Cargo is $7 more valuable than Kipnis in a deep league for each of the next six years. That’s $42 more value, which is whittled down some amount in a shallow league because Kipnis plays a more valuable defensive position.

The question for you is whether Puig is going to outearn the player you would end up with instead by that same $42 or more over the next six years. Obviously, given the information I have I can’t answer that.

But what is important here for everyone to remember is, in multiplayer deals the measure isn’t just the players in the deal, but also the player who would have to be added or dropped who isn’t in the deal in order to make the rosters whole.

Completely incomplete,
Rotoman

ASK ROTOMAN: Should I take a pitcher or hitter?

Dear Rotoman:

Having trouble deciding who to take first round. Its a 6×6 H2H league and a 4 keeper league, so technically the first round is the 5th. I have the first pick and here are the best available in the order I like them.

  • Jose Fernandez
  • Alex Rios
  • Adam Wainwright 
  • Jose Bautista 
  • Steven Strasburg
  • Ian Desmond
  • Hunter Pence
  • Matt Carpenter
  • Chris Sale
  • Sin Soo Choo

My keepers are already : Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, David Price, and Adrian Gonzalez.

“Sitting Pretty”

Dear Sitting,

I’m flying a little blind here, since I don’t know what six pitching categories you’re playing with. Some leagues add Holds. If that’s the case in your league I would definitely take a hitter with your first pick, but even if your sixth category is Quality Starts (another popular choice) I would probably take a hitter.

That’s because you already have a quality starter as a keeper, and in Head to Head you want to pile up quality at bats. Obviously pitching matters, you want quality starts, but as we’ve seen, there will be plenty of starting pitching available late in the draft, in the reserve rounds and off the waiver wire for you to stream against weak offenses in pitchers parks week after week.

There won’t be power speed guys like Alex Rios, or power/on base guys like Jose Bautista after the next round or two. So load up while you can.

That said, I’m not sure Rios and Bautista are your best hitters in this spot. Rios had a fine year again last year, perhaps escaping the yoke of an every-other-year reputation, finally. But given his age, shouldn’t he be more in danger of one of his inexplicable extended slumps? While Bautista has the injury time bomb ticking beneath him.

Don’t get me wrong, both are reasonable picks at this point, but I think the durable Hunter Pence is a better, more reliable pick, and not as good as Ian Desmond, who may be the youngest and best offensive player of the bunch and a shortstop to boot. That’s who I would take.

Ohbladi!
Rotoman

ASK ROTOMAN: Take 2? Ellsbury, Kipnis, Choo or Justin Upton

Rotoman!

I need help choosing my keepers. 5 keepers are allowed and my choices are:

The no brainers: Miggy, Goldschmidt and Adam Jones.

Take two: Ellsbury, Kipnis, Choo, Justin Upton.

My best pitchers are Lee and Chapman who I don’t think are worth a keeper spot.

“Hitting the Spot”

Dear Hitting:

In 5×5 I’ll agree that Chapman isn’t a keeper, but I’m not sure about Cliff Lee. Still, you know your league so if you think he’s not a good keep we’ll leave it at that.

I agree with the three obvious picks, though I’m not sure I’d count Jones as that much more a sure thing in the outfield as Ellsbury or Upton. There is a lot of love out there for Jones this year, given his solid seasons the last two years, and the fact that he is coming into his prime. Of course, he is also a swinging machine who has shown remarkable consistency the last few years, but his lack of walks and less than elite contact skills are going to catch up with him at some point. He’s perceived as money in the bank, but as his price goes up the weaknesses in his game become exposed. In any case, it’s hard to see him getting better at this point, which limits his value unless he’s a keeper.

Which means good for you.

Still, in my book he’s a $30 player this year. For the others I have Ellsbury at $29, Kipnis at $27, Upton at $26 and Choo at $24. The fact is that any of these guys is capable of putting up a $30+ season, so you’re looking at other factors when making your choice.

I like Ellsbury’s speed and he isn’t without power. He’s only 31 and though there is a history of injuries, there is also a history of recovery from injuries. I think he’s the clear choice this year.

Jason Kipnis is the other. You can argue whether he’s better than Upton and Choo, you might convince me that they have more upside, but given his speed, power and age—plus the fact that he’s a second baseman—he earns the edge in my book.

Does he earn the edge over Cliff Lee? Last year Kipnis earned $29, while Lee earned $34. The infielder turns 27 this year, while Lee is hitting 35. That is a reason to take the offense. Another is because you have better alternatives for No. 1 starting pitcher, and you don’t want to get locked into Lee. That’s a good reason, too.

But if you’re looking at straight ahead player value for the coming season, I think I would give the edge to Lee.

Pitching in,
Rotoman

ASK ROTOMAN: Your Prices Seem Low!

Dear Rotoman:

Your values for top players seem low. I am in an AL 4×4 12-team $260 keeper league. Its the keepers that inflate the value of the top players on draft day. Do you have a formula I can apply to your prices that takes into account how many players we are drafting and how many dollars are left (after keepers).

“Inflate Me”

Dear IM:

Yes! You are absolutely right. In a keeper league (4×4 or 5×5 doesn’t matter), where inexpensive players are carried over from one year to the next, you need to adjust the startup prices in the Guide or prices create yourself or you obtain elsewhere to account for these lower priced players.

For example, I allocate $3120 for 168 hitters and 108 pitchers in each 12-team AL and NL league, because that is what is going to be spent.

In your keeper league, however, you may have 50 hitter freezes and 20 pitcher freezes. What you need to figure out is how much money is going to be “saved” by your having these freezes.

To do this, list the players in your league who are going to be frozen. Then compare their keeper prices to the startup league prices from the Guide (or the updates). Total each column.

Let’s say the 70 keepers in your league are going to cost their teams $700 in keeper fees, but my price list says that they’re actually worth $1000. How is that going to affect your league’s prices in the auction?

1. To start we have $3120 in value.

2. In your league (after keepers) you’ll have $3120 minus $700 which equals $2420 in cash for buying the available players.

3. Based on the values in the Guide, this money is chasing $3120 minus $1000  in value, which equals $2120 total value in your auction.

4. Figure out an inflation rate by dividing the amount of cash you have by the amount of value ($2420/$2120) which equals 14 percent.

5. This extra money is available to be spent in your auction, which means that a player I gave a price of $35 might actually cost 14 percent more, or $40. (Multiply $35 * 1.14 = $40)

The important thing to recognize here is that teams that don’t take the inflation into account will stop bidding at $35 or $36, thinking they’re going over budget. The savvy player will know that a player’s par price is higher than that (in some leagues, depending on the keeper rules, it can be much much higher).

So, knowing your inflation rate is a big help while tracking your auction, but there are some confounding issues.

The 14 percent inflation is usually not distributed evenly. 

For one thing, the 14 percent increase in price of a $3 player doesn’t round up to $4, so what rounds down is distributed to more expensive players. This effect is echoed up the line, so that more money is distributed to more expensive players.

But it also makes strategic sense to manually allocate more bid money to more expensive players.

Would you rather pay $4 for a $3 player, or get the edge when budgeting of going to $41 on the player who rounds up to $40. The fact is that you might still get the same cheaper player and the more expensive one if your budget allocates the inflation money to the top group.

In which case the important number is not the 14 percent, but rather the $300 extra you have to pay the available player pool. Go through your list and bump the prices of top players you like the 14 percent, and then distribute the remaining money (which you didn’t give to those players who cost less than $12) to the players you fancy.

This is subjective, of course, so you’re going to want to be careful, but the effect of inflation is somewhat subjective, too. As an aggressive player you should make sure you err going after the players you value more than those you don’t. Your budgeting can help make those choices clearer in advance.

Another reason to allocate the money to more expensive players is because if you don’t spend on them early on, you may end up holding the bag in the end game by either not having spent all your money, or by being compelled to pour too much extra cash into the last available (and now wildly overpriced) talent.

It’s much more effective to spend an extra dollar on three or four expensive guys than to spend $5 on a $1 player at the end. Or leave $4 (or more) on the table, unspent.

The bottom line is that the proper tracking of inflation can give you a huge advantage over owners who either don’t think about it or try to wing it. Knowing whether owners are spending more or less than they should in the early rounds of the auction will help you decide whether to spend now or wait for bargains later.

Coldly,
Rotoman

Ask Rotoman: Which Star Should I Drop?

Dear Rotoman:

Who should I keep among Robinson Cano, Giancarlo Stanton, Cliff Lee, Albert Pujols, or Adrian Gonzalez. I can only keep four of five.

“Stocked”

Cliff_Lee,_philly_cropDear Stocked:

I’m assuming you play in maybe an eight-team mixed league. Usually I would go to my prices from the Guide, but in such a shallow league the pricing curve changes quite a bit. The best players are bid up aggressively, because the last players taken are not only excellent, but there are also many undrafted players who are just as good.

So, let’s look at where your guys were taken in the magazine Mock Draft, which at 15 rounds has some of the same characteristics as your draft:

Robinson Cano went fifth overall. He’s dropped a few slots in some drafts because he landed in Seattle, but he’s your top-rated hitter.

Giancarlo Stanton went 12th, which is aggressive given his troubles last year and how bad the Marlins will be this year, but he’s a must keep for you because of his youth and power potential.

Albert Pujols went 38th, coming off the worst year of his career. He’s an interesting one because, in addition to the foot injury that wrecked him last year,  he’s shown signs of other age-related wear and tear. The Angels say his foot is healed, and he’s not that far removed from being the game’s best hitter. Let’s come back to him later.

Adrian Gonzalez went 44th, based on his record as a solid hitter with some power. He hasn’t been a superstar the last few years, as he was before, but he makes good contact and will park one now and then. A very solid bet I would probably rank just ahead of Pujols, because we can’t be sure of the latter’s health.

Cliff Lee went 80th, which is no knock on him but an affirmation of the belief that it is necesssary to load up on the best hitters in a draft before getting into the pitching (and obviously favoring the young strikeout arms before the older ones, like Lee).

I’m not sure that you have to go that way, but there are many advantages to it. I think on the potential risk of failure, Lee might have a slim edge over Pujols, but unless your league does something weird, like draft pitchers aggressively, I’d take the hitters over the pitcher, who is likely to still be there when you pick later.

Sincerely,
Rotoman

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.