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?

Maybe.

As it turns out, Brian Feldman (fantasybaseballauctioneer.com) 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 Mastersball.com 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.

Brian Walton Tastes Own Medicine. Smiles.

My friend Brian pays attention to the rules. He’s done that in Tout Wars for years, and in recent years has been writing a column at Creativesports.com (and Mastersball.com before that) about fantasy baseball rules.

This week I thought I’d caught him up in a rules violations in the XFL, a league we play in together.

 

And I did, but he’d already gotten clearance from the league’s poobahs, who said there was precedence for his position. Maybe there was, but whoever benefited from it should have also insisted that the language in the Constitution be changed. It wasn’t.

What I know is that I reverse engineered the box score, and Franmil Reyes had his 50th at bat of the season, changing his draft status, in the bottom of the 6th inning of Sunday night’s Padres game. That at bat clearly came before 9pm, draft time, when Brian took Reyes as a Farm player. That is, one with 49 or fewer at bats. But Brian was allowed the +$3 for his newest farm player.

My partner Alex and I were fine with the common sense rule being applied, rather than what was written in the Constitution, and yet we still nurse a grudge about the fact that the league didn’t apply the common sense ruling they should have, that when a Frozen player dies before the auction, as Oscar Taveras did a few years ago, you should be allowed to at least open up his slot on auction day to make room for a sentient body. The fact that no one had died in the last two weeks of October before meant that there was no precedent, but the exception is now in the Constitution.

You should always read Brian, he’s a punctilious  thinker and a good guy. Plus, among a lot of things, he knows his Cardinals. His story is here.

And the Constitution has been changed to reflect reality. Yeah for that.

Crafting Rules: A few thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team that finished fifth didn’t trade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

How’m I Doing? The End of April Report

I’m playing in three leagues this year. Tout Wars NL, American Dream League AL, XFL Mixed. This is about as close as I’ll get to the ideal of putting all one’s eggs in one basket, where attention is focused and mistakes hurt all season long.

So, how are things going?

TOUT WARS NL

The standings are bleak, and they’re not getting any better. Well, I did climb into 10th place last night, thanks to Todd’s nightmare.

Screenshot 2014-04-30 11.54.42

You can see all the league details here.

I went with an extreme Stars and Scrubs strategy here, and a pitching staff of Bumgarner, Rafael Soriano and a bunch of cheap guys. The hitting has not been helped by Ryan Zimmerman’s injury, and as expected picking up productive hitters via FAAB has not been easy. Tony Campana has helped with four steals. Otherwise, not so much from anyone.

The good news is that Nate McLouth should see more playing time due to Bryce Harper’s surgery, and I have an insane cushion in OBP. The question coming out of the auction was whether I would be able to deal OBP for productive hitters in other categories. It’s still too early to judge, but if I’m going to climb out of this hole it will be because someone saw lots of value in Joey Votto.

The other good news is that the pitching staff has been pretty good, despite their pathetic standing in WHIP. Cheap guys out of the draft, Wily Peralta and Tanner Roark, have been good. So has cheap FAAB pickup Alfredo Simon. Bumgarner’s WHIP has been a big problem, as has Edwin Jackson’s performance overall, though that has improved lately. There’s work to be done here, but if Jake Arrieta isn’t bad and Andrew Heaney shows up in June, there is some potential to be a pretty good staff.

Getting off to a bad start is a problem. It makes it more difficult to maneuver, and puts pressure on that leads to mistakes. My week by week finishes (11, 10, 10, 3) show some improvement. There is still lots of time, if I make the right moves.

AMERICAN DREAM LEAGUE

I’ve been in first or second all season thus far.

Screenshot 2014-04-30 12.10.51

I came out of the auction thinking I had a pretty strong team, both offensively and in pitching. Until last week I was languishing in homers, however, but then Kyle Seager busted out, and things are okay there.

Where I am suffering right now is stolen bases, despite having guys like Alex Rios, Shin Soo Choo, Erick Aybar, and Ian Kinsler. And wasn’t Eric Hosmer supposed to run a little, too? The problem is that all my speed guys are pushing into their thirties, so it shouldn’t be a surprise they’ve slowed down some. I’m going to need to do something about that.

Especially because I didn’t buy a closer, despite intentions to. I did buy Matt Thornton, as a CIW, and scored, sort of. He’s saved three games, which is better than nothing, but obviously if I don’t add steals I’m going to need to trade some speed for saves. It’s going to take a lot of luck to improve in both categories.

Last week was a rough one, because I lost Chris Sale and Shin Soo Choo for extended period, and dropped into second place. Shoo came back last night, and Sale is expected next week, probably. This team has broad enough talent that I should be able to compete, but it’s still early. Plenty more could go wrong.

XFL

This odd mixed league, with an auction in November and a 17-round reserve draft in March, is a keeper league. Alex Patton and I are co-owners.

Right now we have a strong offense, but have been hobbled by our big three starters, Jordan Zimmerman, Jered Weaver and Mike Minor. We also have a team construction problem. Since these guys aren’t big strikeout guys, and we’re playing three closers, we can’t really compete in strikeouts.

This being a mixed league (15 teams), the success of the secondary starters is very important and we’ve not gotten much out of Jenry Mejia, Felix Doubront, Jarred Cosart and some others. Henderson Alvarez has been excellent, but it’s hard to expect him to continue on this level.

This is a league in which teams play to win, and when that is clearly not in the cards they trade for next year’s keepers. We’re in poor enough shape to have started to think about the next step, but we have so much talent it’s hard to embrace failure so soon. Alex is chomping to make changes, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. But losing Archie Bradley is not a harbinger.

Screenshot 2014-04-30 12.25.56

Fear the Duck!

Don Drooker goes by the name the Duck, not because he waddles or quacks but because he, um, well, I don’t know. I’ve played with Don in the XFL for ten years now (our 11th draft is coming up in three weeks) and he’s won four times. It turns out that Don waddles and quacks in other leagues, too. He played in three auction leagues this year and won all three. He writes with humor and grace and pride about one of those leagues here.

XFL: Xperts Fantasy League Draft Results

XFL: Xperts Fantasy League

For those of you who follow the league of friends who are mostly in the fantasy baseball business, here is the draft sheet from the 2010 draft (took place in Phoenix on Nov. 6th). The red guys are keeps.

XFLTRACKER2010-1