The XFL 1982 Retro Draft Was Last Night!

For 17 years I’ve played with a bunch of friends in a quirky keeper 5×5 (OBP) fantasy league called the XFL. We hold a $260 auction in the fall at First Pitch Arizona, keeping up to 15 players off the previous year’s rosters with a $5 increase (+$3 for players picked up before they had ML playing time). Then, in March, usually, we have a 17-round supplemental draft to round out our 40-man rosters.

Only this year, you know, we didn’t have that supplemental. We first put it off until April 20, and then as that date approached we collectively realized that it made no sense to spend time on something when conditions in the majors this year may be totally different, or that there may not even be a this year, so we postponed.

Which led to the idea of doing something. Anything. What that turned out to be, under the direction of Ron Shandler, was a draft of the major league players from 1982. I’m not sure why Ron chose ’82. I pushed for 1980, since that was the first year of our game and Dan Okrent’s piece about the Rotisserie League the following winter in Inside Sports magazine was called “The Year George Foster Wasn’t Worth $36.” But 1982 was fine, it was the first year I played the game, joining the Stardust League that Matthew Berry wrote about recently, in its second year.

There are things about a retrospective draft that are different than they are in a prospective draft. Our regular drafts and auctions before the season is played are shaped by our expectations–our projections–of what players may do, what chances there are that they will do more, or less, and how we put a price on that range of outcomes.

In a retro draft you know what a player has actually done, and you know the context in which he did it. That makes it fairly easy to come up with a value for each player and a ranking of player values. But it turns out that the math only gets you so far. Here’s why.

The Split: Many years ago, in the early ’90s, Les Leopold and I developed the idea that each player actually had two prices. One was his actual worth in the fantasy season just played (that’s his retro price), and his draft price, which was based on his projection and market expectations, what I call in The Guide The Big Price. We theorized that in a retrospective auction you would allocate 50 percent of your budget to pitching and 50 percent to hitting. This was something I tried to test for a long time, but there wasn’t much interest until everyone had to stay at home for months on end.

But alas, in preparing for this retro draft, it quickly became clear to me that allocating 50 percent to pitching didn’t solve all the problems. The one problem it did solve is that of pitcher injuries and unreliability, which are one and the same for the most part. Pitchers who stay healthy are reliable, but pitchers get hurt a lot. So while we discount pitching in our draft price, splitting our budgets about 65/35, spending half on pitching for half the points seemed like a good strategy.

But if you do that, I soon realized, you’re going to have to compete in all five pitching categories, and if you do that you’re going to bump into the fact that in a draft you can’t really load up your staff with aces. If you have the first pick and take Steve Carlton by the time you pick again all the other high strikeout, high wins starters will be gone. Drafts, obviously, are different than auctions, so once again we’re not testing the split.

Dumping: A draft is a linear playing field. The difference between the price of each successive pick is the same. But the value of the player pool is not the same. So, when you graph, say, the auction prices in a mixed league and compare it to the line of selections in a similarly configured mixed draft, you’ll see that the value of the first 50 or so picks is higher than the line, while after the third round most picks are under the line.

The blue line are actual auction earnings (15 teams, $260) vs the cost in a draft.

I prepared by running the available players through my pricing spreadsheet, adjusting for a 12 team mixed league. Absolute prices weren’t important for this exercise, it was a draft, but I tried to jigger the balance between the categories so that I didn’t overvalue low-ERA low-production pitchers. The danger of doing that is because you’re (I) using computed prices for the player’s season. When we’re ranking players prospectively, we don’t price their optimal performance but rather one that’s in the middle of the range of possibilities. Drafting retroactively, you know what Joe Niekro’s optimal performance was worth, but if the value of his ERA and Ratio outstrip Steve Carlton’s monster strikeouts and wins in your formula, are you putting together a roster that can win?


As it turns out, Brian Feldman ( led off with Carlton as the first pick. I had the wheel and took Andre Dawson with the 12th pick and Joaquin “Donde Esta Mi Cabeza” Andujar for some reason. Niekro was still there, higher on my sheet, but at that point my sheet was too big, too many columns, and I misread hits allowed for strikeouts in Andujar’s case and typed his name into the sheet. It was fine, they were close enough, but I had already deviated from my pricing.

At the next turn I took Dave Winfield and Goose Gossage, creating my own mini Yankees run which also set off a closer run. But I didn’t really mean to turn this into a play by play. There are a few other points about this exercise.

If you love baseball and play fantasy baseball this is potentially a great way to get together virtually with friends and spend some hours with a new way to play and talk about baseball. Some of us played fantasy baseball in 1982, some of us weren’t even born in 1982, but we all knew how great Robin Yount’s season was, how bad George Foster’s was. There was lots to talk about while selecting teams.

Zoom allowed us to see the excellent drafting spreadsheet that is part of the package. A handful of us were also on camera, though the demands of keeping up with our lists meant we weren’t watching each other. The rest were on audio feeds, which was filled with banter and reminiscing.

The spreadsheet updated after each pick with revised standings, but we didn’t start checking that (Todd Zola was updating the sheet and he’d have to be asked to show that page) until more than halfway through. If I’d been paying attention to it earlier I would have seen that by not taking Ricky or Timmy or Willie my pursuit of steals was doomed, which would have changed some of my later picks as I vainly pursued the bottom of the steals pack and failed. This came to a head fairly deep in the draft when I selected Dickie Thon’s 37 saves and didn’t make a dent.

Position scarcity is something I didn’t think about in advance and though I was in the lead for a number of the first 20 rounds my team faded at the end. I don’t think that was caused by scarcity because when you know everyone’s value the math tells you the tradeoffs. If you take Gary Carter in the third you’re getting fewer stats than if you take Gary Ward, do you get that back later? You might, but that’s not a sure thing. A properly formed price list would have the exact 168 hitters with the positions necessary to fill 12 team rosters and prices rejiggered to reflect the fact that some of those catchers are of negative value when you price all players. They’re not negative valued when you have to pay for them, the prices have to change.

In the end, Jeff Erickson pulled out to a good lead in the last round, optimizing his categories. I failed at optimizing, wasting value by buying too much average, wasting money on steals, and having too low an ERA and WHIP. We’ll be playing again in a couple of weeks, Jeff picked the 1990 season, and you can be sure we’ll all be paying more attention, not necessarily balancing the categories, but more effectively managing the categories we dump. Or not.

Click here for the draft results.

The Cadillac Edition of Patton $ Draft Prep Software and Data Is Out Now!

1976_Cadillac_Eldorado_convertible_1_--_10-23-2009The software is out now, full of projections, bid prices, expert league results, and prospect lists, in Windows software, Excel and Text Files.

It runs great on a Mac with Windows and Boot Camp, Parallels, or Fusion. If you want help preparing for your league, learn more about Patton $ Software and data by clicking here.

And joining, a lively discussion board about fantasy and real baseball, is free!

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ASK ROTOMAN: Should I trade my No. 1 pick? For a lot.


I have the third overall pick in a 12 team league. Twofold question, I have a trade offer of my First Rounder for a 2nd, 4th and Sonny Gray. Is this good? The guy offering the trade is in the 7th slot. Second, if I keep the pick, Kershaw or Stanton? Assuming Trout and McCutchen go No. 1 & No. 2.

“Two Shades of Gray”

Dear Two Shades:

I have a simple chart to show you why you don’t want to trade your third pick for a 17th, 41st and Sony Gray.

Screenshot 2015-03-09 22.37.39

Those are the prices, in descending order, for players in last year’s Tout Wars Mixed Auction. The things to notice here are the elegant curve of the line. On the left are the most expensive players, and on the right are the least expensive.

The 20 cheapest players cost $1. They’re that flat line to the far right. After that, the line moves pretty much straight up until you get to the 75th or so most expensive player, and then it starts getting steeper. By the time you get to the first 10 or so players, moving cheapest to most expensive, you’re clawing your way up a cliff.

This is the nature of the shallow mixed auction.

A shallow mixed draft is different. Each player taken in order is the best player available. So the price paid is one step down for each player taken. The line is a straight descending line, not unlike the auction values from about 75-336. But compare it to the auction line and you can see that the first 70 or 75 players are a draft’s bargains. And the earlier in the draft, the bigger the difference between the red line and the blue, which means the bigger the bargain.

 Screenshot 2015-03-09 23.41.53

I have to admit, Two Shades, from your description, I’m not sure what you’re ending up in this deal you’re talking about. But if I read it literally, you’re trading your first pick and ending up with two second picks and two fourth picks plus Sonny Gray. I hope that’s the deal, because then it is kind of close.

The marginal value of your five picks after the trade is $31, while you traded away $33 of marginal value. Plus you got Sonny Gray! To make up the diff!

But Sonny Gray’s ADP is 78 right now. That’s the magic point where the blue line crosses the red line. Ergo, Sonny Gray has no marginal value above his draft position. Getting him in trade doesn’t really help you at all.

So, not only are you trading more value to get less value, but you’re using up two more roster slots to do it. There is a recipe for such advice. Don’t do it.

Which takes us to part two of your question:

Kershaw or Stanton?

There is a good argument to be made for saying that Clayton Kershaw has the most value this year of any baseball player in the fantasy game. He’s coming off one of the best pitching seasons of all time, at a young age, during which he missed 15 percent of his starts because of injury. And now he’s healthy. Amazing.

So I think it makes sense to take Kershaw if he’s there.

But I also think you should hope that one of the guys ahead of you takes him and leaves you Trout or McCutchen or Goldschmidt.

If you take Kershaw early you’re going to have a heckuva time adding enough hitting to your mix. It can be done, but you’re going to be sacrificing your big hammer, that is the hitter people are willing to bid up. Whether that’s Trout, McCutchen, Goldschmidt or the other big name first round hitter who has special status because he plays middle infield, these are the guys who make up a big part of that value cliff on the auction chart.

Kershaw is in there, for sure, but somewhere there is another chart that shows that more pitchers will come out of the blue and earn $30 than hitters will. And not a few great pitchers fail at some point.

Which is why, with a Top 4 pick I’ll take a hitter. But Kershaw gets very viable after that.


ASK ROTOMAN: Wacha Flocka Cashner?

Hi Rotoman –

Can you explain how prices sometimes do not coordinate with projections? For example below are your projections for Cashner and Wacha:

Cashner: 10 W, 3.53 ERA, 149 K, 1.24 WHIP
Wacha: 9 W, 3.45 ERA, 173 K, 1.16 WHIP

Yet you have Cashner at $16 and Wacha at $8.

Could the difference be perceived risk?

“Wacha Flaka Cashner”

Dear WFC:
In the Fantasy Guide, the projections are a starting point. They’re based on past performance rates regressed toward the mean, with some manual adjustments, scaled to a rough estimate of playing time (which is also regressed). The Projections are my attempt to describe a player using numbers. I hope that they give a sense how hittable a guy is, what sort of control he has, does he hit for average, can he run, that sort of thing.

The Big Prices in the Guide are my attempt to fix a guy’s value against the market. The prices are meant to be advice on who to buy and who to not buy. Essentially, I try to set the price on guys I expect to do well a buck or two higher than their “market” price. And guys I have concerns about, I set a buck or two lower.

It is important to note that the Prices add up to the budget for a 12-team AL or NL league with $260 budget per team. The reason to budget this way is because it helps you track the spending during the auction. If guys are going for more than the bid prices, you know that there are going to be bargains later. If guys are going for less? A bubble is born.

Now, let’s fast forward to March 15. That’s the day I posted the updated projections and prices here, for purchasers of the Guide. The adjusted projections were:

Cashner: 184 IP, 3.54 ERA, 10 W, 149 K, 1.14 WHIP
Wacha: 172 IP, 3.77 ERA, 11 W, 163 K, 1.24 WHIP

Now here’s the interesting part. The price for Cashner in 5×5 is $16. The price for Wacha is $15. But if you translate the above to dollar values, Cashner’s line is worth about $17, while Wacha’s is worth $8.

What happened?

Two things. As we hurtled toward the baseball season I learned that the market for Wacha is red hot. People consistently have him valued higher than Shelby Miller, which I think is a little wacky. It turns out that he tends to be going in the $16-$18 range in startup auctions. If I kept him at my pessimistic $8 price, it would look like a massive overpay when he went for twice that on draft day. But it isn’t really. The low end of the market for Wacha is $16, and I don’t want him at that.

Cashner, on the other hand, is a guy I want at $16. I mean, I’d rather have him at $14, and that’s been his average price this preseason, ranging from $13 to $15, but if I have to go $16 I’m okay with that.

The other thing I did was tinker with the projections to better reflect my perceptions about these two.

Wacha was a fastball/changeup guy last year. That’s it. An excellent fastball, a tough change, and early success, but it’s really hard to sustain a high level of success over multiple times through the lineup with just two pitches. No matter how good they are. My pessimism derives from the limited arsenal and the good chance that as major league scouts and hitters get repeated looks at him, there is going to be some payback.

The reason why most everyone thinks I’m wrong is because Wacha has added a curveball, which he threw a fair amount in his first start this year, and a cutter, which he didn’t throw much. It’s early, the pitches are new, and so there’s a lot we know. If he adds them effectively, he will become every bit the ace he looked like late last year. My bet is there is going to be some adjusting and he’s going to have some rough starts. So I think he’ll allow more hits and runs. We’ll see.

Cashner, on the other hand, is older, more experienced, has a more traditional fastball/slider/change repertoire already in place. I like him being at least as good as he was last year, when he earned $17.

The final word is that this process is one that consists of information, generated by the players that play, the press that follows them and tells the world what happened, and the numbers that describe what they did. This information is distilled by analysts as it comes in and added to both the projection, something of a description of average talent levels, and the market, which filters it all through the lens of risk and reward, which leads to bid values.

The whole process stops, for a few seconds at least, the moment the auctioneer says Sold! And then it starts all over again.


LINK: OBP’S Lawr’s Lawr Michaels tackles on-base percentage, as Tout Wars’ AL and NL leagues transition to the greatest stat ever! Um, to a better stat than Batting Average. Read it here.

ASK ROTOMAN: How Do I Scale Your Prices Down For My Smaller League?


Many people asked this question when the Guide came out, so I wrote up a step-by-step guide here. And many more have asked me in the last couple of weeks.

Read moreASK ROTOMAN: How Do I Scale Your Prices Down For My Smaller League?

LABR AL Results 2014

Have been posted at Real Time Sports.

What you need to know: Tanaka went for $19. Most expensive starter was Yu Darvish at $28. Scherzer and King Felix were $27.

Jose Abreu went for $24, and Prince Fielder in Texas went for $33. Top hitters were expensive, generally. Pujols went for $29, Manny Machado for $19. Trout was $45, Miggy went for $42.


ASK ROTOMAN: Mr. Consistent Choo vs. Wildman Gomez?

Dear Rotoman:

Which of these 2 outfielders would you rather have for 2014?

  Average HR SB Runs RBIs
Player A .284 19 20 97 60
Player B .277 21 38 76 67

Player A is Shin-Soo Choo.  Player B is Carlos Gomez.  These statistics are their averages over the past 2 seasons. Gomez has the advantage, perhaps, but if you extend the timeline to four years Choo is clearly superior.

Shouldn’t we value consistency more?

Dear Fantasy Assembly:

As you can see from the above signature, I cheated. You, Fantasy Assembly, didn’t write asking my advice. I happened upon your site today and was interested in your story about consistent players. Hat tip to Ray Flowers, too.

Not because you (and he) are necessarily wrong, but because I think if you frame the question differently (as they slyly do, in fact) you’ll see that you clearly don’t want consistent players.

Here’s why.

Let’s say everybody in your league knew the right price of every player. And let’s say that they price enforced so that every player was bid up to the exact right price. If every owner knew exactly what the player was actually going to, say you were drafting last year’s stats, then every team would pay $260 for $260 talent. You’re looking at a 12-way tie!

Of course, players aren’t predictable. They have good years, bad years, better and worse years. Sometimes it’s luck, good or bad, sometimes it’s injury or distraction. But in our experience some players are more consistent than others.

One guy may earn $24-$26-$27 over a three year period. An average of $26.

Another might earn $38-$15-$24, also an average of $26. Now, if the down year was due to injury, it would be tempting to say this guy is a $26 player, too. Or close.

On draft day, both players are taken for $25. A $1 bargain, their owners think, but what is likely to happen?

Mr. Consistency might lose a couple of dollars or earn a couple of dollars. Not bad, but fairly low impact.

On the other hand, the wildman could earn $15 or he could earn $37 or he could earn $27, depending on which year you land him. That obviously hurts if you catch the bad year, but championships are won with clusters of good years. A midseason look at how the Tout Wars teams who had last year’s biggest breakouts were doing showed that one big win was not enough to drive a team to the top.

So maybe spending par to buy consistent players to shore up your stats isn’t the right way to go. Maybe taking riskier guys, with a bigger swing of potential outcomes, gives you a better chance of winning. Sure, in years where it all goes wrong, you’ll get killed. But in the years when things go right, you’ll have a dominating team.

Now, Fantasy Assembly kind of nods to this way of thinking, when it suggests you buy some consistent players and then make your upside plays in addition. Which may be enough, but I’m just not sure. The logic suggests that if you get fair prices on the erratic guys, they’ll give you a better chance of winning than the consistent guys, who give you a better chance at fourth place.

Of course, one great challenge is figuring out who is truly inconsistent, but with potential (not on his way down).

Tilting wildly,

ASK ROTOMAN: You like Teixeira better than Papi?!?!?

Dear Rotoman:

Fantasy BB Guide is the only place I’ve seen Teixeira rated higher than Ortiz. The others I’ve looked at have Ortiz higher, by a lot.

Larry Schechter

Dear Larry,

I was kind of surprised when I saw your post at about Ortiz and Teixeira. I didn’t think my valuations were extreme. In the Guide I have Ortiz at $13 and Teixeira at $15. These are conservative bids on an old guy and a guy coming back from a wrist injury.

I don’t think they’re bids that buy either of them, and that’s okay. (I happen to have a $10 keeper on Ortiz in the American Dream League, so I’m hoping he can duplicate last year’s magic, but I don’t expect him to.)


After reading your post, Larry, I went to Wise Guy Baseball to see how much Gene disagreed with me. He has Ortiz at $15 and Teixeira at $12 (but points out that Ortiz should be expected to miss time this year, and Teixeira’s price will go up if he shows power during spring training), which is not really much different from my take.

But then I picked up the Baseball Forecaster and see what you’re getting at. They have Teixeira at an optimistic but reasonable (if he’s healthy) $17 for the coming year, and Ortiz at $27, which for some reason makes me want to say Kiss my grits!

I mean, as an Ortiz owner I’m hoping against hope that he can do it again. He earned $32 last year, so it isn’t out of the question. But then I think about last year’s auction. Ortiz was coming off a $21 season. going into his age 38 season. He’d averaged $25 a year the preceding three years, and he went for just $10.

Why? Because he’s an old DH, and he looked so seriously overmatched in 2009 that it is hard to put the images of his flailing out of one’s mind. That he hasn’t looked overmatched since counts as a little miracle. That his 2008 and 2009 problems were wrist based and similar to Teixeira’s now is certainly meaningful. But most importantly, David Ortiz is going to be 39 years old this year, and old guys with no defensive value do not decline slowly. They’re here, they produce, and when they stumble and fail to produce they are dragged out into the woods to die a noble death, after which they are eaten by bears.

I think it is possible that Ortiz could earn $27 this year. If he was 31 years old I would expect him to, but he’s far older than that and he’s very vulnerable. What I know is that he cost $10 in a keeper league with inflation in 2013. Bump him a few for his great season, but anybody who bids him up to the high teens is trying to beat back time. Good luck with that.

Now, I may have been overly optimistic on Teixeira. He is expected to recover from surgery and be as fine as a 34 year old coming off wrist surgery could be. Which means that maybe there will be a power problem, which would be a big problem because between the defensive shifts he faces and his demonstrable inability to hit for average, if Teixeira doesn’t have any power he’s a poor first baseman. But he is expected to recover, at some point.

The Yanks are slow rolling him into practices and games, supposedly to help his rehab, not because there are concerns about his health. There’s no way to read that except cautiously. If he was 100 percent he’d be playing. He’s not 100 percent, which doesn’t mean he won’t be ready come April. But it certainly doesn’t mean he will be.

So maybe I should have been more cautious about Teixeira. Maybe Gene got the ratio right. I’ll mess with this as we learn more. But what I’m sure of is that paying Ortiz as if he wasn’t going to be 39 years old this year. as if he didn’t qualify only at DH, is a mistake. Unless you think, because he’s going to be 39 years old in November, he’s a young 39.

Which has me wondering. How high will best-selling author Larry Schechter (see the ad in the sidebar, buy the book Winning Fantasy Baseball) go on the Cookie Monster in Tout AL a mere four weeks from now? He ended up wasting $6 on Teixeira in last year’s auction, but it didn’t hurt him (and was a worthy effort). Is he targeting Ortiz? Or just trying to stir up interest among the gullible?