How It Went: Tout Wars Head 2 Head

Tout Wars decided to start a Head 2 Head game and I set about to create a challenging 12-team mixed game that would not rely on extreme distorting tactics (overloading on relievers or starters) to win. The result was:

The Rules:

5×5, $260, standard Tout Wars rosters (14 hitters, 9 pitchers).

Categories: R, HR, RBI, NET SB, OBP, W+QS, ERA, NET SV, K/9, WHIP

Each team would face each other team twice in 18 one-week contests and four two-week contests. Each contest would generate six games of Wins and Losses. The team that won the most Hitting categories would get two wins, the other two losses. Ties split the two. Same went for Pitching categories, and Overall. So in any contest you might go anywhere from 6-0 to 0-6, with each step in between possible, too. These contests would generate 132 wins and losses for each team.

But there would also be a roto contest going on. Teams would be ranked by 5×5 roto standings for the first half of the season (opening day to July 3 this year),  the second half of the season, and the season as a whole. Each of the three parts would generate 11 wins or losses, so the first place team would go 11-0, the second place team 10-1, and so on. This would generate 33 more wins and losses, so each team would have 165 decisions, three more than a major league team.

There were minimum innings requirements for each half of the season and the season as a whole (450 each half, 900 for the whole).

Fairly late in the game I decided to play this game this year, rather than in Tout NL, because I had never played in a Head to Head league and thought I should take some of my my own medicine.

You can read my preseason comments about my team here.

rotomanisthebestLong story short? I finished third, behind Jeff Zimmerman and Brent Hershey. But the highlight of my year was winning a side bet with Howard Bender, which resulted in this picture being splashed via social media all over the internet.

Here’s a link to the final standings. You’ll find the week-by-week results here.

The first thing that happened was that my main steals guy, Dee Gordon, was suspended and missed the first 80 games of the season. Still, I finished second in steals for the first half because Mike Trout was running and Wil Myers was running and I picked up Jose Ramirez after it looked like Brad Miller wasn’t going to play regularly and he was running. As was Paul Goldschmidt. So, steals weren’t a problem.

Hitting wasn’t a problem, all season, except for the week I lost 6-0 to Andrea LaMont, whose team was built around a strong pitching staff that didn’t perform. Along the way I picked up Aledmys Diaz and Jean Segura, in addition to Ramirez, and all produced in the cumulative and qualitative cats, and Trout, Goldschmidt, Manny Machado all stayed healthy and did their typically excellent jobs. Then reservist Trea Turner emerged and Dee Gordon returned and the offense got even stronger in the second half, even with Diaz missing a lot of time to injury, though by then I could have used Brad Miller back, for his power.

Net Saves became a problem. Jonathan Papelbon, Trevor Rosenthal and David Robertson did not endure. So I hovered in the middle of the pack, winning some weekly contests and losing others.

The biggest problem was that I had one ace. His name was Jake Arrieta and he was a monster in the first half. So was Taijuan Walker. Rich Hill and Trevor Bauer helped in the first half, but Kevin Gausman was inconsistent and hurtful, and Jared Eickhoff turned a fast start into a mess. Still, the bottom line was that my anchor kept the ship afloat, and I finished middle-up in all the pitching categories except W+QS.

The biggest problem came when my anchor went overboard in the second half, and my ship,  er, pitching staff sank. Arrieta became inconsistent and in many weeks was a liability. Overall he had a 4.48 ERA in the second half and struck out barely more than seven batters per nine. Taijuan Walker was terrible when he was healthy enough to take the mound, and Rich Hill didn’t take the mound enough to compensate.

Saves continued to be a problem, too. I picked up Tony Watson and Brandon Maurer to replace the fallen Papelbon and Rosenthal, which worked for a while, but then they went down, too. I again finished in the middle of saves, but near or at the bottom of ERA and WHIP and in the middle in K/9.

The result was that I often lost the pitching categories in the H2H part of the game, which led to a lot of 4-2 and 3-3 weeks. Not good enough to catch Jeff Zimmerman and Brent Hershey, who soldiered on. I did wreck Hershey’s chances with a 6-0 victory over him in the penultimate H2H contest, but that’s no satisfaction.

Could I have done something different? In hindsight I should have traded either Dee Gordon or Trea Turner or Travis Jankowski or Wil Myers or Paul Goldschmidt for good starting pitching. I mean, how could I not? What I can is that I tried to shortly after Gordon returned, but got no interest then at all, and I have to admit that after a while I felt defeated. I didn’t see a way to catch the leaders, even though I wasn’t that far back. The problem had to do with K/9 as a category.

Looking for a starting pitcher, I needed one with a high K rate. But so, obviously enough, did everyone else. That’s because most starters with high K rates are productive pitchers in ERA and Ratio, too, and probably Wins and Quality Starts, as well. That makes them hugely valuable and pretty much irreplaceable. Especially given the innings minimum, because not only are you then losing a high K rate pitcher when you trade him, but you’re adding someone who hurts you in that category. You can’t sit on a lead, you’re likely to be actively undermining it. Not cool.

I’m not sure if this is a flaw, exactly, but it was a part of this year’s game. Alternatives are all problematic, which is how we ended up with the current rules. Doing away with the minimum innings requirement means starters have no value in the H2H part of the game. Changing to a cumulative stat, like K or K-BB robs relievers of most of their value. But I wonder if that is a bad thing? It may be in a 12-team league, but not in a larger deeper league. I’m not sure.

We’ll be having a discussion about that over the winter. What seems evident is that teams that spent less on pitching finished in the top three positions (Howard Bender spent less, too, but had the misfortune of ending up with Sonny Gray and Gerrit Cole as his aces).

We’ll also evaluate whether going to Net Saves and Steals was a good thing, or if it just complicated things unnecessarily. What Net Saves did was undermine the value of non-closing relievers, because they tend to blow more saves than they get actual chances to earn them.

And finally, we’ll look at the hybrid H2H/Roto structure. It made a difference. Brent Hershey’s team won the roto standings all three parts of the season, while Jeff Zimmerman’s team finished second and I finished third. Zimmerman adapted after finishing tied for first in H2H the first half and won the H2H handily in the second half. Similarly, Jake Ciely’s team edged mine in H2H both halves, but I was able to overtake him because of the roto games. Since the advantage seems to have gone both ways, to the H2H play in the Zimmerman case, and to the Roto play in my case, maybe there is something to this.

The biggest problem was incorporating the roto standings into the website. If we can come up with a better way we’ll probably get rid of the roto part. Or not. It’s all up for review.

What I know is that this was a fun and challenging game to play and follow along with (though I’m not sure whether Doug Anderson and Andrea LaMont feel the same way).

 

 

Tout Wars Head To Head With Rotoman’s Team.

Tout Wars Head to Head is a new league with a group of owners from last year’s Tout X, from Tout’s other leagues, and Tout newbies.

It is also a league that has a set of rules that aren’t like any other standard set of H2H rules. You can read about all of that here.

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.

Screenshot 2016-03-22 17.46.58
The first week’s schedule.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. This is a head to head league, and it was important to load up on Steals and Saves.
  3. I was not going to roster innings eater type starters who have average or worse K/9 ratios.
  4. 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.

What follows is my roster, with some notes. You can see all the rosters here.

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’m looking forward to the start of the games.

 

Tout Wars: What Happened?

The Dark Other Side of My Worst Year Yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoulders not strong enough to carry entire staff.
Shoulders not strong enough to carry entire staff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

ASK ROTOMAN: Is Jake Elmore Perfect?

Hi.

This could be a dumb one but I cant find the answer anywhere. Last week I picked up Jake Elmore. In his first game he went 1 for 1 giving him a batting average of 1.000 on that particular day. If I don’t play him again and remove him from my roster do I retain that batting average towards the category? There’s nothing in my league settings that states you have to use a player a minimum amount of times. Is this a loophole that could be used towards batting average and also ERA and WHIP for pitchers? I really don’t want to question my Commissioner in case I have stumbled onto an advantage. I’m a first time player so I hope I’m not coming across as an idiot. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.

“Idiot Wind”

Dear IW:

jakeelmoretwitterThe short answer is that without knowing your league rules, it’s hard to say exactly what having a 1-1 Jake Elmore means.

What can be said with certainty is that your ignorant question goes to the very heart of fantasy game theory when the game is played with category rankings.

That’s because one maximizes the qualitative categories (BA, OBP, ERA, WHIP) by reducing the number of AB or IP relative to productive evens (Hits for hitters, Outs for pitchers) by reducing the number of AB and IP, trying to prune away the bad ones and focus on the productive ones.

jakeelwoodFor instance, a pitching roster of middle relievers would almost certainly win ERA and WHIP, but would do very poorly in Wins, WHIP, and Strikeouts, the quantitative categories.

The challenge of Rotisserie style scoring is to find the balance between these two inexorable and mostly contradictory forces, though the challenge was reduced as the game moved from 4×4 (in which 37.5 percent of the categories were qualitative) to 5×5 (in which they are 30 percent). Still, in recent years a lot of roto thought has turned on how to take advantage of strong middle relievers in 5×5.

Still, it’s hard to see the advantage you’re going to get out of a 1 for 1 performance by Elmore. That’s just one of thousands of at bats your team is going to accumulate over the course of the season, which makes it the smallest of advantages possible.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

ASK ROTOMAN: Dump Power?

Rotoman:

5X5 , NL only, 10 team auction league. Have rule where we can keep toppers and at draft can keep them if we bid one more dollar where bidding stops. Am thinking about punting HRs and RBIs.

Have Grenke, Wainwright, Bumgarner, A.Wood, Wacha, all as toppers. Have deGrom at $10, Melencon at $5, Cishek at $17, and hitters Span, Revere, Carpenter, D. Murphy, J. Upton, Polonco, E. Young all as toppers. Suggestions on punting HRs and RBIs and are toppers worth keeping?

“Topper”

Dear Top:

I have one point. Toppers are fun, but they are almost never bargains.

The process of topping in your league turns a 10-team auction into a nine-team auction. That should make little difference, if any, on the prices paid for players in your auction.

This is important because it means you should not plan your auction strategy around your Topper list. Feel to hold onto as many Toppers as you’re allowed. Sometimes the bidding will stop early and you’ll save a buck or two, but more often, at least in the leagues I play in, someone else will bid the extra dollar, knowing that it makes the Topping decision that much harder.

It is your keepers that should determine your how you approach your auction.

deGrom at $10 is a decent keep. Melancon at $5 is a very good one. Cishek at $17 is keepable, but he’s no bargain. Your strength going into auction is that you won’t need to buy any saves.

Your weakness is that you’re going to have to buy everything else. Which brings us to your second question: Should you dump power? Or, as we say, should you Sweeney?

Screenshot 2015-03-05 08.38.43The decision to dump one category, much less two, is predicated on the competitiveness of your league. In a league where all the teams are relatively equal, the expected total points of the winning team will be relatively modest. In that case, dumping may be a way gain an advantage. Win the eight categories other than HR and RBI, you end up with 82 points, which can win a competitive league.

Is that the situation in your league? There’s no way I can know that.

What I can say for sure is that the best time to Sweeney is when you have great closer keepers, and an otherwise weak hand. That’s you, though I would say your closer keepers are just okay, since Cishek is at market value. Still, that’s a fair place to start.

The Sweeney Plan was invented in a 4×4 league. It is very hard to dump HR and RBI and win the Runs category. Here’s why:

Screenshot 2015-03-05 08.14.30Carpenter, Span, Reyes and Yelich didn’t hit that many homers, but they didn’t score that many runs either, compared to the leaders. Nine of the top 11 positions in this list of major league runs leaders went to guys who get paid to hit homers.

Fantasy experts generally say, Never dump a category in the auction! Never!

I’m a little less doctrinaire than that. There are times it makes sense to face reality before you auction. But I’m not sure it ever makes sense to Sweeney in the auction in 5×5, at least if you are trying to win. There’s just too thin a margin for error for the Sweeney to make sense.

Since your team is wide open, since your keeper list is weak, it makes sense for you to look for a competitive edge. I would suggest deemphasizing batting average. Not dumping, exactly, but disregarding BA as a category when you’re evaluating players.

Try to accumulate as many at bats as you can, getting regulars at every hitting slot. In your league, look for top of the lineup types who aren’t stars, obviously.

You’ll still have a tough road ahead. I’m sure you have competitors with much better freeze lists going in. But if you are able to buy enough at bats and a couple of those guys have career years, especially with the batting average, well, ya never know.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

 

 

 

ASK ROTOMAN: Getting Ahead in Head 2 Head

Dear Rotoman:

I have played in a head to head league on CBS sports for the past five years.  The first year, I followed fantasy advice and skewed heavily towards hitters rather than pitchers.  I got destroyed that year.

Mat_Latos_01In this league, pitchers go first and often.  By the time I started drafting pitchers I was left with Mat Latos, Kyle Lohse, and downwards from there.  The best teams in the league had 12 starts for their pitchers each week because they had so many pitchers, while I had 5-8 starts.

Since then, I have sought the best bat available in the 1st round, two aces in rounds 2-3, and a decent player with position scarcity in round 4.  In the next 18 rounds, I target middling pitching, youth (ages 25-32) and OBP.  I don’t draft relievers until late and usually punt 2nd base and catcher.

Any ideas how I can improve my draft philosophy this year?

“Trying To Get Head 2 Head”

Dear Trying:

I guess after taking the standard fantasy advice, things didn’t go much better the next four years. Am I right? So you’re back.

I will not give you standard head 2 head advice, because you didn’t tell me your scoring system, so I can’t get to much into that. But I do have some suggestions I’m sure are worth taking a look at.

Take A Look At History: If the team that wins every year takes an ace starter early, and teams that don’t take an ace starter struggle, it’s probably worth giving the winning way a try. Not only will you end up with a better pitcher than usual, but your opponents will end up with lower-ranked pitchers in their later slots.

Take A Look At Categories: Different providers have different point values for different stats, so it is dangerous to get too specific about values from provider to provider. But CBSsports has a good stat download service, allowing you to download last year’s stats (I think) and definitely this year’s projections. You can then multiply the category values  by the player’s stats or projections in a spreadsheet, add them up, and see which players have real value across the season. One reason starting pitching often has a extra value is because points are given for a Win and a Quality Start and Strikeouts. That makes an ace on a good team a huge contributor when he pitches. Closers usually get a nice bump for a Save, too, though you can often find guys who get saves in the later rounds.

Take The Best Player Available: In auction leagues, you can concoct different strategies for your team by deciding how to budget your money, but in a draft league you want to focus on the best available player with each pick. Early on this is easy, the only questions will be whether you should take players at the less hitting-rich positions ahead of similarly rated guys at 1B and the OF. The answer is almost always yes, but you should always be looking at your next two picks, trying to find the best available talent for those two spots combined. I’m not sure how you’re dumping 3B and C, but my guess is that at some point you’d be better off taking better guys at those positions and scrambling at the end for your last outfielder.

Take Fun Guys Late: The last few rounds are the time to look for high upside risky players. There will always be boring productive guys on your waiver wire, so use those last spots to take erratic starters with high strikeout rates, and the home run hitting prospect who may not be called up until June, or the overall bum who has amazing splits against lefties or righties (or maybe at home versus the road). These types will vary depending on the size of your league and how aggressively owners chase this sort of talent. Just remember that you don’t have to be the most aggressive to score big here, if you study up before your draft.

The bottom line is that you’re going to win if your accumulate the most talent, so the only trick is knowing who has the most talent so that you make the best pick each time your turn comes. Good luck.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

The First Round (and the second): Some Thoughts

Tim McLeod wrote me yesterday:

A funny thing happened today while I was testing some strategy play in a mock. I’m taking the first slot so as to get a better feel for Tout (Wars Mixed Draft) and drafted Kershaw first. The gentleman in the second slot just hit McCutchen by reflex without evening looking at the board. The comments were pretty fast and furious. Not only was I one of the few to take someone other than Trout first, he actually fell to the No. 3 pick. It was worth the price of admission for everyone other than the McCutchen owner, who wasn’t overly thrilled at the turn of events. We’re so conditioned to seeing Trout, McCutchen, one-two that it really did create some havoc. More testing to follow. Tim

This reminded me of Ron Shandler’s study of first round picks a few years back, showing that most of the talent taken in the first round doesn’t earn first-round value. He seemed to be suggesting that this meant you should go for the player you think most likely to earn first round talent, even if they’ll probably go later in the draft.

andrewmccutchenDepending on what draft position you’re in, that might be completely wrong or just plain wrong or possibly a little right.  In other words, if you have the first pick, you want to take the player among the top 29 you think is going to have the best year. While if you have the 10th pick, you want to take the player from the pool of players between the 10th and 19th pick you think is going to be best this year.

In a draft, you’re constantly assessing the talent available for your pick against the rest of the talent that won’t be available the next time you pick. While it’s possible to outthink yourself, for instance by not taking Mike Trout with the first pick, the fact is that Trout probably won’t be the top-rated player this year. Last year Trout was selected No. 1, but was the ninth best player in 5×5 BA, behind Jose Altuve (77), Michael Brantley (299), Victor Martinez (184) and Jose Abreu (86), on the hitting side, and Clayton Kershaw (9), Felix Hernandez (41), Johnny Cueto (159) and Adam Wainwright (34).

So, while Trout was the ninth best pick last year, only one player in the Top 29 beat him, so a perfect draft board powered by hindsight would have had Kershaw atop it, followed by Trout.

But should it have? You have to remember that you are not only drafting the best available player, but you’re also trying to set up the best available match in the second round. Here it gets tricky to evaluate, since hindsight gives us an answer that isn’t all that meaningful at this point. But last year, if you took Kershaw with the first pick, you would have ended up with Freddie Freeman or Elvis Andrus or Jose Reyes, while if you took Trout first you would have ended up with Max Scherzer (or Freeman et al, or Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburgh, Adam Wainwright or Madison Bumgarner).

These two points are the crux of snake-drafting good teams, and which is why I find it silly to mock somebody who ended up taking McCutchen over Trout, even on purpose.

For the record, here’s where the Top 30 players from 2014 finished the season (Top 29 finishers are in BOLD):

Mike Trout (9)
Miguel Cabrera (11)
Paul Goldschmidt (76)
Andrew McCutchen (10)
Carlos Gonzalez (358)
Ryan Braun (87)
Adam Jones (22)
Prince Fielder (580)
Clayton Kershaw (1)
Bryce Harper (238)
Joey Votto (424)
Edwin Encarnacion (58)
Jacoby Ellsbury (28)
Hanley Ramirez (102)
David Wright (140)
Chris Davis (295)
Jose Bautista (19)
Robinson Cano (18)
Jason Kipnis (220)
Shin-Soo Choo (268)
Yu Darvish (335)
Troy Tulowitzki (88)
Yasiel Puig (44)
Justin Upton (38)
Adrian Beltre (23)
Giancarlo Stanton (13)
Evan Longoria (98)
Dustin Pedroia (133)
Carlos Gomez (15)
Max Scherzer (126)

I’m sure Tim has more to say about this, too, and hope he chimes in.

By the way, the rankings are based on 5×5 BA prices, while Tout Wars uses 5×5 OBP. So these rankings aren’t definitive, but rather suggestive, and sure represent (roughly) the dynamic of roto values.

ASK ROTOMAN: Help My 17-Team Deep League!

Dear Rotoman:

I’m in a 17 team deep league with unconventional custom categories. I don’t have time to do my own custom predictions and valuations — so i’ve been using Baseball Monster to give me a sense of value. Do you know of any other sites that you would recommend higher? Thanks so much!!

“Unconventional and Custom”

Dear UaC,

It seems that Baseball Monster hasn’t been updated since the end of last season, so I can’t test their custom pricing tool. But I wanted to take on your question because it raises some good questions about customized categories and shallow versus deep leagues.

For one, you score every category the same. At least to start.

If you were making a price for Hit By Pitch, you would rank the hitters from first to last in that category. You would subtract the number of times the last drafted guy is expected to be hit from all the draftable players, which gives you the marginally valuable HBP. You can then divide the number of Marginal HBP by the total Marginal HBP and then multiply that times the amount of money allocated to that category (if your league had four categories, that would be one quarter—25 percent—of the money). Easy.

When you do this after the season you get the true value a player contributed in that category for the year.

But when you do this based on projections for the coming year you run into a few problems.

For instance, not every category is equally reliant on a player’s skill. Strikeouts and walks for pitchers are pretty reliable, at least until the pitcher gets hurt or his skills change, but wins, for instance, are not so reliable.

Clayton KershawClayton Kershaw, the game’s best pitcher, has won 13, 21, 14, 16, and 21 games in the past five years, making all his starts each year except last year. His marginal value would have been 6, 14, 7, 9, and 14, which varies wildly at or above the median marginal value (six each of those years) of a fantasy pitcher taken in the auction. In the three years he didn’t win 21 games, his value above an average starter in wins would have been 0, 1 and 3 wins. No great shakes at all.

So, how do you value those wins? Same pitcher, wildly divergent results. I dare say you don’t value them as reliably as you value his strikeouts. Yet in the standings, each category generates the same amount of value. But in Wins those values are compressed around the middle.

Another way categories vary in value is strategic. In the classic roto game, stolen base and saves guys generally cost less than you would expect based on the value they generate in those categories. While some part of that may be risk management, not putting all one’s eggs in one basket, another reason to devalue a category is because it’s possible to gain points in it without spending any money on it.

The ability to avoid paying for steals and saves in the auction encourages some teams to dump out of the category, spending money that might be budgeted for steals or saves on HR, RBI and Ks. Once a few teams do this, the demand for the top guys in these cats is lowered, and prices fall a bit. The category is still worth the same as other cats, but strategic investment creates and opportunity to reallocate resources more efficiently. You hope.

These are just two ways to evaluate your custom categories, and adjust your thinking about how money will be allocated for different players in your league.

Another factor is the deepness of your league. You call a 17 team league deep, but at that level the available replacement player is a starter. Maybe not a very good one, but good enough to fill in and produce when you have an injury. This bountiful replacement pool means that there is no reason to pay $2 or $5 or even $8 for a player. You can do just fine with the proverbial $1 player at a position or three. And what should you do with the extra money you save?

Buy scarce talent at positions where the talent isn’t that deep. Meaning, buy the best catcher, the best shortstop, the best third baseman, oh, and a reliable closer. Buy steals. Your goal is to get the players who do things that other players at their position don’t, and don’t worry about overpaying for them.

Get the best, then fill in as best you can.

Because, while the Baseball Monster pricer (and really all pricing software) might be able to tell you how much a player was worth in the past, it stumbles dealing with the non-linear values of the top players in a league that has a lot of available replacement talent.

The bottom line here is that you can call a league deep or shallow, but there is an actual definition that describes the difference. In a deep league almost all the available players are active on teams. There is virtually no replacement pool.

A league that has a replacement pool of some robustness is a shallow league. Maybe not as shallow as others, but it is a league that has the qualities of the non-linear pricing described above.

 

I’m sure there’s a formula out there to help translate the values of true deep leagues to far less deep leagues like yours, one that stretches the curve appropriately, but the best way for a fantasy player to make the adjustment is to sit down with the price list and to personally reallocate the excess values of the replacement level players to the best players. Adjust them also to better reflect your assessment of talent and the vagaries of your league, too. It is these things that matter more than hard and fast dollar values in a shallow-er league (much as any competently constructed pricer, like the one behind the pay wall at Rotowire, or the one in the Patton $ software we will be selling very soon, can give you).

Is there a free player pricer that works? There may well be, but the ones I used to use are gone. If you find one you would like me to evaluate, let me know. I’m happy to check it out and pass along what I find.

Linearly,
Rotoman

 

Can Something New Be Said About the Choice Between Running and Passing on Second Down in the Super Bowl?

As the clock counted down to the end of the Super Bowl Sunday night, the announcers speculated that maybe Bill Belichick should stop the clock, to give his team a chance to march the length of the field after the inevitable TD. But Belichick didn’t.

I would like to say that I assessed the situation and determined what the right thing to do was, for everyone, but mostly riding on the giddy head of Jerome Kearse’s insane catch moments before, all I was thinking was that the Seahawks were going to win in a most improbable manner. No way could they fail, I was thinking.

Iwouldbutidied

After the interception the social media blew up with astonishment that the Seahawks didn’t give the ball to Marshawn Lynch, and let him run for a touchdown. That seemed like the safe thing to do, and it certainly would have covered Pete Carroll’s ass, but Matthew Iglesias explained on Vox yesterday why throwing the ball on second down made good sense. In short, and ignoring the significant third possible outcome, a pass would have led to a Touchdown or a stopped clock, which would have allowed the Seahawks, if they didn’t score, to either run or pass on third down—since they had only one timeout left. In other words, by passing, the Seahawks would have time for three plays. If they ran they would have had time for two (or would be obliged to pass on third down, with everyone knowing the pass was coming).

Now, this is kind of true, but not only didn’t Pete Carroll use this explanation after the game for his decision, but such rational thinking about the situation gets in the way of game theory, and the need to mix it up in order to keep your opponent off balance.

Justin Wolfers explains in today’s New York Times that good and effective strategy depends on randomizing one’s choices. If the best choice is to run, and you always run, your opponent will defense against the run and running will no longer be your best choice.

Which raises the interesting question: If Belichick is so smart, shouldn’t he have realized that the Seahawks better strategy was to pass? And if he realized that, wouldn’t he assume Pete Carroll would also realize that? And, if Pete Carroll thought passing was the better strategy and he assumed that Belichick would also assume so, wouldn’t he be obliged to change up his plans and call for a run?

It’s important to remember that game theory helps us figure out the competing motives, but before time runs out a decision has to be made.

That it was to pass was fine, I think, but I wonder about throwing the ball into the middle of all that stacked defense. Why not throw over the head of a receiver running to the corner after a play action? Or have Russell Wilson roll out and throw if a receiver was open, with at least the option of carrying the ball in if they were defensed?

What we know for sure is that, no matter what the coaches were thinking, Malcolm Butler saw what was happening and stepped up at the right time. Nice play.

The David Price Equation

A quick post trading deadline note.

Regular readers will recall that I tried to deal David Price at the start of July, based on the likelihood he would be traded out of the American League by the end of the month. I did not receive an offer that I though had enough of a premium until the third week, when I accepted a deal for Huston Street.

Even though I was kind of out of the saves game.

My thinking was that there was about $12.50 value left in Price for the last 10 weeks of the season. There was about $9 value left in Street. Since there was somewhere between a 25 to 50 percent chance Price would be traded to the NL (and my league would not count his stats), he was worth somewhere between $6 and $9 to me going forward.

Because of my position in Saves Street wasn’t an ideal match, but he would help my qualitatives and he meant I would end up with something rather than nothing.

After I acquired him I quickly moved past the one team immediately ahead of me in Saves, and the team that was behind me in Saves dealt his bevy of White Sox closers. I seemed secure at three points, with one team with no closers 10 saves ahead. That was the only other Saves point Huston Street could get me.

So, I offered up Huston Street for trade, and eventually dealt him for Kole Calhoun and Luke Gregerson. I hope Gregerson will put up good qualitative numbers, to help my team’s ERA and Ratio the way Street would have, and Calhoun will help offset some of what I lost when Eric Hosmer went down.

If Street was worth about $9 at this point, Calhoun was worth perhaps $7 to $9. He’s earned $11 in 4×4 already, in 300 AB. He should get close to another 200, making this a fair deal that better suits my team’s needs. Plus Street goes to a guy who can pass one of the guys I’m battling for first in Saves.

So: Price * 1/2 = Street = Calhoun + Gregerson. But it isn’t as straightforward as that.