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.


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.



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.


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.


The Price of Everything

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the dilemma of owning David Price in an AL only league in which the stats of players traded to the NL don’t count. I’d sent a note to the other owners in the American Dream League offering Price for a power hitter, a catcher preferably, but as a team battling for first place, willing to take any deal that returned fair value and helped my team in some way.

The initial offers—Jason Castro, Derek Norris—seemed potentially doable on July 29th, if I was panicked and certain that Price was going to the Dodgers or Cardinals, but not strong enough to get me to give up in early July the four or five more starts he likely had with Tampa in July, and the not insignificant potential that Price would remain in the American League.

I then came up with an idea that I thought was great. The team that owned Yu Darvish was in last place, below the point threshold that triggers a penalty in the next year’s FAAB. That is, a team loses one FAAB (of 50) for each point it finishes below 35 points. You also gain extra keeper slots for each standings place you gain, from four up to eight.  So a team in trouble has a great incentive to gain points.

My idea was to trade for Darvish, offering Price and James “Some Came Running” Jones, who has ranked second in the AL in stolen bases since he was inserted into the Mariners outfield on May 6th. Price is of equal value if he stays in the AL and no value if he is traded to the NL, which is where Jones comes in. If Price stays in the AL the team gets a huge boost, if he’s traded they still get some points moving up in steals.

The team that owned Darvish were not moved to move him. Part of the problem was that they only had three places to gain in steals, which is nice but not a big deal. And while Darvish and Price have keeper value for 2015, Darvish in all likelihood will be back. Not only might he lose Price this year, but he’d also likely lose him for next year.

At this point I was thinking that I might end up keeping Price. My pitching staff was okay, but it never hurts to have one of the best pitchers in the league on your team. And if I lost him? My staff was still okay, and if I managed it creatively I might even gain points in ERA and Ratio without Price. My lead in wins was big enough I wouldn’t be crushed. I was okay keeping Price, but then Huston Street was traded to Anaheim.

Huston Street

Two teams had $38 FAAB left. No other was close. One was in the second division, but second in saves with a big lead. He had no need for Street. The other was, depending on the day, a point ahead or behind me in the standings, a couple points out of first place. Another closer for him was worth at least three points in saves, plus another potential point or two in ERA and WHIP.

Over at the discussion board at I suggested that the team who didn’t need a closer might benefit more by buying Street and flipping him than by waiting to see who else is dealt to the AL. A bird in hand and all that. I wasn’t thinking at that time of being the one to get Street, I just didn’t want the team I was fighting to get him. That owner accused me of being self-interested. Guilty.

What I didn’t think of, the other owner did, was trading David Price for Huston Street. The other owner proposed it online, and there was only one reason I could see not to do it. I’m pretty far behind in Saves. Two saves for one point, and then it’s 13 saves to the pack. That’s a lot of ground to make up.

But I decided to go for it, for a few reasons.

Street is a fair value return for Price in 4×4. Did I mention this was 4×4? So far this year Street has earned $24 and Price $20, using Alex Patton’s prices. I don’t expect Street to outearn Price the rest of the way, Price’s first-half ERA was inflated by what seemed to be some bad luck on fly balls. More than usual left the yard. He should have a lower ERA in the last two months.

Important to me, however, is that relief pitcher ERA and Ratio have real value. To date, Price has earned $4.90 in ERA and $7.60 in WHIP. Street doesn’t have nearly as many innings, but he’s earned $4.20 in ERA and $3.90 in WHIP.

But if my per month earnings projection for Price is $5, he’s projected to earn $11 the rest of the way. While Street’s per month projection is $4, so he’s expected to earn $9. But there is some real chance that Price will do his earning in the NL. If that chance is 20 percent, I get a slight edge in the deal. If the odds are more 50-50, which I do, then things look very well today pricewise.

Category-wise, however, the prices are askew. For one, I have a big edge in wins, so Price’s wins (worth $8.70 to date) have helped me out to a decent lead in the category, and don’t mean that much to me at this point. And I have a big deficit in saves, so Streets saves (worth $14.90 so far) might not mean that much to me.

Except, I have a couple of outs, as we say in poker.

For some reason I bought Matt Lindstrom in our auction, and he was the White Sox closer at the start of the year before he got hurt. He is rehabbing now and is expected to be back in the majors in early August. If he is reinstalled as the team’s closer and save 5-10 games the rest of the way, I could actually make up ground.

I also have Aaron Loup, who saved two games for the Blue Jays this past weekend (before Casey Janssen was pounded last night). More saves is a big help (my fingers are crossed).

I hope that breaking the lead up to this deal will help illustrate the many different factors that go into dealmaking. I think the biggest one, however, are your league’s rules. This old school AL 4×4 league, the first AL rotisserie league in existence ever, is no longer typical, but then neither are your 6×6 15-team mixed league that doesn’t include teams from the NL west. Or whatever.

Working through how your league works will help you unlock value, and perhaps make trades that help both sides, and give you a better chance to win.

Ask Rotoman: How Do I Stay Out of Last Place?

Dear Rotoman:

I’m new to fantasy baseball and am struggling to stay out of last place.

It would appear I need better hitting in every category, especially HRs and RBIs.  What should I look for when trying to make trades?  It’s obvious the available batter with the most HRs on the season hasn’t helped me at all.

Is there someplace I can “learn” fantasy baseball strategy?

Oh, and while I’m in last place and it’s obvious my buddies are all better than me, is it okay that I still talk smack—or is that not protocol?

“Owning Last”

Dear Mr. Last:

At the risk of saying something obvious, something I’ve never done before, every league has someone in last place. There is no shame in it, but you sound rightly interested in allowing someone else to have no shame while being in last. Good for you.

If you’re a beginner and playing against more experienced players, it’s no wonder that you’re struggling. Fantasy baseball, in each of its many styles and flavors, is a game that requires knowledge in at least a few different spheres.

How well do you know baseball? How well do you know the rules and values of your particular fantasy game? How well do you know probability? How able a negotiator are you? These are just a few of the areas that you need to be able to handle to compete. There are more. Many more.

Which doesn’t mean, as a beginner, you can’t have fun. And it doesn’t mean you can’t have some success, too. A goodly portion of success (or failure) in any fantasy season, is pure luck. Lack of injuries and the unexpected breakout seasons of players influence any single year’s winning results, a lot, while even the best player can be destroyed by stars getting hurt or failing to perform for mysterious reasons.

As a beginner you’re not likely to overcome your mistakes, but if you make some smart decisions you may be able to beat out someone else who has had worse luck than you. That’s the first step toward fantasy baseball competence!

There are many places to learn about the game and it’s strategies. I dare say, starting at the early posts here at and reading forward, following links to my stories at ESPN and, will answer a broad range of questions for you about player evaluation, projecting and pricing players, and league ettiquette. (To answer your question briefly, it isn’t really right for losers to talk smack, but it’s fine to participate in the ribbing and shadenfreude that are inherent parts of any game.)

I also have a site,, which is serving as a fantasy baseball resource for beginners and experts.

There are countless articles on the web about playing fantasy baseball. My friends at KFFL have a beginners summary, which talks about many issues for those getting started, and there are many more out there. Not everyone is right about everything, sorting out the good stuff from the lame is part of the process, which will help make what you learn stick.

As to your question about which players to acquire, here are two tips.

1) Specialize. As the season progresses you cannot make up points in every category. Whether you play in a category or points league, focus on the scoring parts of your game in which you have the most potential, and trade off the other categories to improve those. This isn’t going to win you a championship, but it can get you out of the cellar, which is progress.

2) Buy low. Rather than buy the power hitters who’ve hit the most homers on the season, buy the available power (or other category) hitters about whom there were the highest expectations in the preseason. These players were released because they weren’t performing, but unless they’re hurt or have some other obvious problem (they’ve lost their jobs, for instance), you can expect them to play the rest of the way as was expected of them in the preseason.

In any case, welcome to the wonderful world of fantasy baseball.


ASK ROTOMAN: My Team Is Terrible. What Can I Do?


I feel like my team is jinxed this year. I have all the underachievers on one team. It’s kind of amazing. Anyways, its a 10-team 7 x 7 league with 4 keepers each year. What would you do with these guys?

Aramis Ramirez
and Mauer

They all are playing mediocre or awfully. Not really sure of a move to make here. Thanks!


Dear Stinky:

I’m assuming your pitchers are okay, since you don’t mention them, but still, this is a bad team because you have mediocre players having bad seasons at every position.

Mediocre, you might mutter, or splutter, trying to come up with a clever riposte, but don’t bother. In a 10-team mixed league, you need to have some stars, and you don’t have any. Look at your list:

Zobrist is maybe the eighth best second basemen. Seven teams have better keystone players.

Jennings, Beltran and Wil Myers were ranked in the 40s among outfielders going into this season. I assume your league rosters 30 outfielders (10×3). We’re talking below replacement level. Good players in baseball, because they have 90 starting outfielders, are not good players in a league your size.

Aramis Ramirez was the 17th best third baseman going into this season. Too old.

Billy Butler was the second best DH, out of three, and probably should have been third.

Allen Craig at first base was in a similar position as Ben Zobrist at second. Bottom three in your league going into the season.

And Joe Mauer ranked seventh among catchers.

In fact, your best player among their peers is Jean Segura, and he ranks sixth among shortstops.

I detail all this not to ridicule, really, but to shine the harsh light of reality on your roster. None of these players is a player you would want to keep for next year, even if they were having a typical year.

Which tells us what we need to know: You can’t wait for a rebound.

You thus have two choices.

1) Try to trade your way to a better team this year. This is a hard thing to do, probably impossible at this point in the year, but a worthy challenge if you like to deal. The secret is to unlock the value you have in mostly name brand players, to make speculative plays on young unproven players who are showing signs of breaking out this year. You might try Gregory Polanco, for instance, who was just called up, if he’s available. For a team so stinky, maybe Rougned Odor would be a good fit.

2) Set up your freeze list for next year. This involves a similar process, but means going for guys who might have value next year. Matt Harvey, coming back from Tommy John, is a illustration of this type of candidate. Risky, but worthless to any team that has him this year, so perhaps cheap now and possibly excellent in 2015.

You know better than I how your keepers are valued in your league. Whichever way you go, and you can combine the two approaches up to a point, be bold and uncompromising. Take risks, but jump only if the possible outcome is excellence. In a league your size, anything less is doomed.



ASK ROTOMAN: What is FAAB Worth?

Dear Rotoman:

I was thinking about redeeming the DLed Nate Jones in Tout Wars AL, which got me thinking about FAAB, Vickrey bidding and being in last place a few weeks after the season starts. I wrote about it here at USA Today.

Does it make sense to add Jones’ $14 now? Or should I wait to see if he can get healthy and reclaim the closer job in Chicago?

“Ron Shandler”

Dear Ron,

I had some thoughts about your recent column and thought they made a better topic here than at your various discussion boards. Though perhaps I’ll show up at those, too.

You raise a few interesting issues that I wanted to touch on.

I will admit that I thought the Tout Wars redemption process was going to be a disaster. It has instead been a great success. (I thought the same about FAAB trading as well, and was wrong about that, too.) In Tout Wars teams are allowed to cut any player on the DL and reclaim their draft day price as FAAB up until the All Star break—after which they can reclaim half their draft day price as FAAB.

The  usual dynamic for redemption is determining how long a player will be out, versus his utility when/if he returns, filtered by the value of the added FAAB. This means that guys who are out for a while, but who may not be out all season, can reside on a team’s unlimited DL reserve until it becomes clear that the extra FAAB is going to matter (as we approach the break, and the interleague trading deadline).

What makes Nate Jones interesting is that he could return to the bullpen eventually and not gain the closing job, which would pretty much waste his $14. That’s a good reason to cut him and reclaim his bid price, though at this point he’s not close to returning, and it is pretty unlikely that the $14 you add to your FAAB total will have any utility at all until much later in the season.

For those reasons, I suggest waiting until he’s either done for the year, close to returning as a non-closer, or you need the $14 to buy something better.

As for Vickrey, the bidding auction system that we use in Tout Wars, it awards the FAAB player to the highest bidder, but reduces their cost to $1 more than the second highest bidder. Cory Schwartz was quoted earlier this week about how he thinks Vickrey just randomizes the process, and he doesn’t like it, but his bidding last week in Tout Mixed Auction is a prime example of Vickrey’s importance and why you and I like it.

As we all know, there were some closers available in last week’s bidding. Cory decided he needed one of them. Zach Steinhorn agreed with Cory that the best available closer was Francisco Rodriguez. Zach bid an aggressive $33, but Cory trumped him by bidding $60, which was then reduced a la Vickrey to $34. One can look at this as Cory “saving” $26, but it is a fairer evaluation of Vickrey to say that Cory bid aggressively because he wanted K-Rod most. Such overbids are made knowing that someone else who did the same thing would raise the price of K-Rod a lot, but that was a price Cory was willing to pay. The stated intention of Vickrey auctions are to limit system rigging, since bidders are encouraged to bid the absolute most they’re willing to pay (knowing that if they value more than the market they won’t have to pay their full price). Cory bid what he was willing to pay, and since no one else would pay as much, he ended up with a discount, as it were. That’s a feature, not a bug.

Where Vickrey excels is when there are a number of bidders. Where Vickrey falters is on the players for whom there is a limited market. With only 12 or 15 teams in a league, many without holes at particular positions, there may only be one or two teams looking for a player at a particular position. There may only be one or two of those players at that position available. One of those teams may value one of those players a lot, but chances are, even if he bids aggressively, his bid will be reduced to $1 or a few dollars because there was no market for that player. That seems to me to distort the bidding process.

For a couple years we played in Tout Wars with a $10 floor on bidding. If you bid $10 or less, that was the price you would pay if you won, with no reductions. If you bid $10 or more and no one else bid more than $10, your winning bid would be reduced to $10. If two bids exceeded $10 the standard Vickrey rules applied. The idea was to increase the cost of roster churning at the low end, where the market is less than robust. Many objected to this, saying they thought that if we were going to play with Vickrey we should play pure Vickrey. After a rule change, that’s the way we play now, and while I still think it makes the low-level bidding somewhat arbitrary, it isn’t really a problem.

I recommend Vickrey bidding for the most contested players, but the use of a floor for the cheap bidding. That’s the best balance in my opinion.

Okay, back to FAAB and inseason values. One rule that might help us find the balance between Draft Day dollars and FAAB dollars would be to combine the two. Let’s say teams are given $360 on auction day, and are told that they can spend as much of that as they like, with the balance ending up as their available FAAB balance. How much would they actually spend on Draft Day?

Or, less radically, you’re restricted to the $260 for your regular team, but then can bid FAAB $ for the reserve rounds.

By increasing the porousness between Draft Dollars and FAAB budgets, we open up ways for teams to play different strategies at the draft table, in the reserve rounds and all season long during waivers and claims.

Earlier this year I looked at how many stats were available via FAAB and claims in the NL and Mixed Leagues. This is what our money goes to buy on draft day versus what we’re able to add as the season progresses. Would that number change if we spent more cash on draft day and had less available for inseason buys? It sure looks to me that paying more on draft day is the way to go.




Thoughts about LABR 2014.

I looked at the AL LABR results and had a sense of deja vu all over again. Hitters were expensive, top pitchers were cheap, and some midlevel aspirational pitchers got bid up beyond their risk level because they throw strikeouts or have yet to prove vulnerable or both. I’m looking at Danny Salazar, Sonny Gray, Alex Cobb and Dan Straily, who Steve Gardner cites in his roundup at

What’s interesting about this Groundhog’s Day expert league auction experience is that there is not a surefire counter to it. Try to beat it on values and you end up with too many pitchers. Adjust your values properly (this year the AL split 69/31, the modern classic split, after going 71/29 last year), and you squeak out a nice-looking but uninspiring team, as Larry Schechter did.

Larry’s potential downfall is a pitching staff that lacks a clear standout starter. I like all his pitchers and their prices, but when David Price is $23 you need to keep pushing. It sounds like I’m blaming Larry here, and I’m not. Just saying that if David Price is $23 then Masuhiro Tanaka should be $13, not $19. But the real thing is that Price should be more, and it’s a mistake he isn’t.

But that AL mistake is a common one, and reflects everyone’s wariness about pitching (except when they’re excited about a shiny new toy, like Salazar, or able to push up his price because there is unspent money). In the NL LABR auction, Gardner chronicles the air coming out of the top tier hitters as well as pitchers. Cargo was the top price at $36.

At the end of his story, Steve points out that there are three new owners in the league, as a way of perhaps explaining this bizarre turn, which made me think about the decline of auction fantasy. With more people playing mixed leagues and daily games, the hands-on familiarity of the auction is diminished. But the LABR NL field, it turns out, is full of grizzled veterans of rotisserie play. These guys didn’t just hop over from a Yahoo league. So what happened?

I made two charts to show where the money went. The first shows, from left to right in descending order, what was spent for each pitcher in each league and each hitter in each league. If you want to see it larger you can click on the image.

Screenshot 2014-03-05 12.33.29The chart shows that the highest priced pitcher in the NL cost much more than the highest priced pitcher in the AL, but the NL was outspent on pitchers who cost from $27 down to about $10. The NL spent more in the high single numbers, the AL a bit more in the low singles.

In hitting the AL clearly outspends the NL on hitters above $27 and is clearly outspent on hitters from $22 down to $15 (the prices are the y axis). The NL then crushes the AL between $8 and $3.

Another way of looking at it is to line the grafs up so they show cumulative money spent starting with the highest priced player and adding on down to the lowest priced player. The chart moves from left to right. You can click it to see a larger version.

Screenshot 2014-03-05 12.39.33To give you an idea of the difference in the two streams, at the $500 mark, where the AL it seems to be most outspending the NL on high priced players, the AL has spent $515 to the NL’s $483. That’s $32, or six percent. Not a huge amount, but obviously a distinctive difference if the talent pools are equal.

Also notable that by the end, the NL outspent the AL in hitting by $28. So that’s a $60 difference on players who cost less than $27.

Screenshot 2014-03-05 13.41.23I made an ugly little chart that tracks how much ahead or behind the NL is in spending at various points.

The red line, series 2, shows the pitching cumulatively, while series 1, the blue line, shows the hitting. The x-axis is the rank of players from most expensive to cheapest. If the quality of the two leagues were the same it seems like these lines would be flatter, but we’ll have to look at other leagues to know what to make of that.

If the pools are congruent and the NL pays more money for the $3 to $8 players than they’re worth because it has money to burn, that has to be a mistake. Then a team like Ambrosius/Childs, last year’s champs, which spent widely on expensive players and picked off useful pieces in the later stages of the less heralded, has a big advantage.

But what if the pools aren’t equivalent. Certainly the A/C team is risking a lot building around the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki, Bryce Harper and Hanley Ramirez, with the leaden Ryan Howard to boot. So, if these guys are too risky at these prices ($28, $32, $31 respectively), what would have happened if less money was spent on them?

And if the expensive guys are mostly risky (I’m not sure Paul Goldschmidt is that risky, for instance), then doesn’t it make sense to spread money across the board, buy at bats and cross your fingers (as the NLers seem to have done, a little)?

I don’t have an answer. I dove into this to find out just how different the results were of these two apparently dissimilar expert auctions. It turns out that even though they look different, the dynamics are pretty close. The split for both leagues was similar. Either 68/32 and 69/31 (AL/NL) if you count the money left on the table, or 69/31 and 70/30 based on all the money available. These crusty auction vets are trying to get a foothold, a bit of advantage, but apart from Billy Hamilton’s fast feet the surface is pretty crumbly.