ADL: What Happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two lessons learned here.

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

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

Looking at 2016, I have 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):

Screenshot 2015-10-06 23.19.01



Nate Silver Really is a Data God.

The lede of this Daily Beast story gets it right: There were two big winners on election night. I don’t recall writing much about Barack Obama on this site in the past, but Nate Silver has made regular appearances over the years, first because of his PECOTA baseball projection system, and then because of his efforts to clarify political polling.

For all the discussion about Nate’s innovations in baseball projection and political polling, one rather significant point has been missed: Nate Silver is much more a marketing guy than a statistician.

In fact, you’ll find critics all over the web who point out that Silver isn’t a statistician at all. But they’re missing the point. What Silver did with PECOTA and (now was to present fairly mundane “projections” and “polls” in an invigorating and easily digested way.

With PECOTA, Silver created fairly traditional weighted-average player projections, similar to Tom Tango’s famous MARCEL projections (so simple to compute they’re named after the monkey on Friends). These are solid middle-of-the-road projections. But Silver went one step farther. He then compared each player to historically similar players and used those similar players’ historical outcomes to create a wide range of possible projections (plus percentage calls for a player to Breakout or Fail) for each current player. He then assigned confidence intervals for the various outcomes, which brilliantly turned the language of predicting on its ear.

Rather than say, “the predictive model failed to account for half the home runs Player X hit,” Nate could say, “Player X hit the 20th percentile of his home run projection, perhaps because pitchers discovered he was slow identifying sliders and saw a steady diet of those all season long.” Suddenly, the predictive model was a benchmark to help identify aberrant player performance, not a faulty prediction.

Sidenote: A great deal of baseball player performance is determined by luck, so all player projections are going to deviate widely from actual performance. Accounting for that deviation while propping up the projection itself was a brilliant stroke.

With 538, Silver did something that was so obvious that others were already doing it–averaging public opinion polls. He also managed to create not only a rather successful business, but also transformed the way people are looking at journalism these days.

No doubt part of his success with 538 was the hard work he put in finding good weights for each of the polls he sampled, but his real innovation was the creation of the Chance of Winning numbers. Chance of Winning is both an easily digested number that tells you something concrete over time, in the Chance of Winning graph, and in the moment, when it lets you know the current odds that a candidate will win on election day.

On election morning this year, Silver gave President Obama a 91 (actually 90.7) percent chance of winning. He says this number is derived by running simulations, which I think must be random resets of each state’s results inside the margin of error for all the state polls he collects (I haven’t seen this process explicitly described, though it may well have been). This is a clever way to create a horse-race number out of a lot of small-differences-in-the-states contests.

There is nothing statistically bold about either PECOTA or 538, but there is lots that is informationally clear and valuable about both. That’s right in line with Silver’s thinking about predicting future events, as he makes clear in his new book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t.

Silver’s interest is in identifying and isolating the knowable empirical information in a system, be it baseball, political voting, Oscar voting, or real estate preference, and then creating a model that objectively weights discrete values so that changing conditions lead to useful predictive outcomes.  The most interesting thing about this is that Silver is completely upfront about the limitations. In many cases, as he details in the book, there is not enough signal to escape the noise’s gravity. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make predictions, or figure out what useful information is known about a system, but that we should honestly detail the limits we’re dealing with. Transparency, up to a point, is king.

Which seems to me remarkably clearheaded and honest and kind of brave, because contingent thinking and analysis is often looked at as dull or unimportant. Shades of gray, except when there are 50 of them, can be soporific, but Silver (almost a shade of gray himself, namewise) is usually a clear and energetic enough writer and correspondent to make his book a pleasure, if you’re ready to hear that there are limits to predictive systems. If you’re not, you should think again, because Silver’s big point is about how much we don’t know.

Which means that most of the noise about his achievements is because he presents such a clean signal. That’s the marketer in him, an affable everyman who isn’t afraid to look like a nerd (maybe he can’t help it, maybe it’s part of his method), who has figured out ways to popularize his way of looking at the data. It doesn’t hurt that he’s careful to make sure that his numbers add up.

Three Citizen Critics Review Noteworthy Recent Albums — New York Magazine

Lily Allen’s ‘Alright, Still’ – The Shins’ ‘Wincing the Night Away’ – Lucinda Williams’ ‘West’ – Of Montreal’s ‘Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?’ – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s ‘Some Loud Thunder’

Just a little non-baseball selfpromotion. Notice, by the way, the love for the new Lucinda Williams disk, which the NY Times and New Yorker have ripped in recent days. They’re wrong. I’m right.

Fantasyland. Roto’s second best book.

Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball’s Lunatic Fringe by Sam Walker

It is an axiom that there is nothing more boring than hearing about someone else’s fantasy baseball team. Unless it’s their fantasy football team. Most of us figure this out pretty quickly, and those of us who don’t most likely live alone. Sam Walker doesn’t live alone, but when this Wall Street Journal sports columnist committed himself to winning Tout Wars his first season playing fantasy baseball he clearly knew that he wasn’t the story. Not all of it, anyway.

Which is why his book is such a hoot. Rather than adopt the solitary lifestyle of the typical fanatic Walker uses his baseball credentials and ample payroll (he spent close to $50K during his year of play trying to win Tout Wars AL 2004) to rub the fantasy game against the real game. And while he says that he hoped to use the sparks that flew to beat the so-called experts at their own game, his real subject here is the fire of baseball’s essence.

Is the game the domain of the grizzled scouts, the usually less-than-introspective ballplayers, the front office guys, the most diehard of fans, the usually less-than-introspective sabermetricians, or who? Walker has ingeniously woven the stories of all these unusually focussed people into one season in Tout Wars, during which he hired Sig Mehdal as his stat guy (Sig went on to contribute his injury database work to the Bill James Handbook, but that was later), and Nando, another fine fellow as his player biography expert, an astrologer (who perhaps he didn’t listen to closely enough), an exotic dancer (to mess with geeky minds during the Tout Wars auction) and a host of fantasy services, all with the aim of gaining a decisive edge.

But if that sounds like or Fantasyland coverthe story of a guy’s fantasy team, don’t be misled. Walker crisscrosses the country, meeting fantasy experts, his opponents (often the same guys) and many of the players he rosters and gets their reactions to his team, his proposed and executed trades (I’ve long enjoyed David Ortiz stories, but Ortiz’s response to Walker asking if he would mind being traded for Alfonzo Soriano is indelible), their feelings about what sabermetricians say about the way they play, and his attempts—as his season careers out of control—to get managers and general managers to take advantage of the special information he has gleaned from watching the game so closely (and listening to his advisors), but all of this is informed by his larger themes and not the question of whether his team will win or not.

Walker is a fine observer, a funny writer, and a good sport. His attempts to get Jose Guillen reinstated by the Angels late in 2004 because it would be more fair to his roto team is a clever bit of street theater that I suspect is much more successful in the telling than it was on the street. It also makes Mike Scioscia look good at exactly the moment he might have looked his worst. Walker’s book shines in his conversations with Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, Bill Mueller, and other players, general managers and fantasy experts. Above all this is a baseball book.
It is while he with the first group that Walker shows us something new about the game, but he comes to feel quite comfortable with the so-called experts, and it is his profiles of these guys that are most impressive (because I know many of them I can vouch for his good eye) and risky. I enjoyed them immensely, but it is always interesting to read about people you know. Will the general reader? I suspect those who take BaseballHQ or Rotowire or Baseball Info Solutions or Wise Guy Baseball or Stats Inc or Matt Berry or even Baseball Prospectus (at least Joe Sheehan) seriously will get a kick out of this book above and beyond all the fun baseball info (on a theoretical level, Walker doesn’t break new ground, nor does he try to).

But the baseball stuff, the players and those who select them, and Walker’s lively storytelling will carry those who don’t give a hoot about Ron Shandler and Bill James and Keith Law and Mike Gimble and Dan Okrent and the other geeks whose stories he tells, through a gentle and appealling baseball book that pokes and prods our understanding of what the game is and how it works.

For my part, I was a founding member of Tout Wars. My friend and sometimes partner Alex Patton named the league, though I still like (given our roots in rejection of LABR) my alternative name: REBL (Rotisserie Experts Baseball League). And I would have loved to have someone like Sam Walker pick apart my game play the way he does that of Trace Wood (who won TW the year Sam writes about) and the other guys he played against that year. I had the pleasure of getting Sam to write for The Fantasy Baseball Guide 2006, not knowing that he had a four month old in the house, but reading his book I wish I played in the AL Tout Wars that year rather than the NL.

But that’s vanity. This may be the most fun book you can can read about fantasy baseball that isn’t really devoted to helping you win. And, unlike the Universal Baseball Association, Henry J. Waugh, Proprietor, by Robert Coover, which Walker doesn’t mention, it might actually help you win anyway.