FOX Sports Expert League recap and strategy discussion (Part 1)

Well, the season is in the books. At the end of every season, it’s very important to analyze what went right, what went wrong, and the various processes that went into your decisions. Even if you won your league, did you luck into the win or was your process actually sound? This can be very important, because if you lucked into it and don’t recognize your mistakes, you’re apt to make them next year when luck might not be on your side.

I have officially won the FOX Sports Experts League I participated in this season. I finished with 102 total points, 15 ahead of second place, and I thought that this would make a good, real-life example of how we should go about evaluating our seasons.

Let’s start with my draft.

Note: I originally intended for this to be much shorter—just one article—but with some year-end data-crunching still required and the final data still a few days away, I figured I’d expand the discussion while we wait. I realize that hearing someone gloat about his league isn’t the most entertaining thing to read, so I tried to cut back on the gloating and focus only on the process involved in my decision-making. Hopefully this should give you a good idea of how you should be evaluating your own season.

Picks 1 to 3

I had numerous contingency plans in place, but my early round strategy was the same with all of them. I wanted to spend my first three picks on three players who were worthy of being drafted early but didn’t have much downside (i.e. low risk players). When I received the second pick, I knew that I was in a decent position to enact the plan I favored most and target the three guys I wanted most. David Wright came first, followed (luckily) by Carlos Lee and Mark Teixeira.

As Victor Wang has been talking about, using past risk to predict future risk isn’t the most sound method, but even ignoring risk, these three all warranted their draft positions at the time of the draft. Plus, I don’t believe I was actually using past risk, considering other factors besides past performance. They were all at good ages with no obvious playing time or injury concerns, plus all had solid, high sample size skill sets.

Pick 4

In round four, when Russell Martin was taken just a couple picks before me, my decision came down to Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Guillen, with Guillen a tick higher on my list. Being that it was an expert league, though, the competition was very good and it wouldn’t be enough to take all low risk players. I needed to take some high upside players as well, as the winners of experts leagues are very often those who manage to hit on a couple of these high upside guys.

This was a great opportunity to take one given the low risk associated with my first three picks and how closely I had Tulo and Guillen ranked. Drafting Tulo obviously didn’t work out, but the process was sound, and I wouldn’t have a problem doing it again next year in a parallel situation. Guillen had little upside, while Tulo had lots of it. Unfortunately, he had much more downside than I imagined. Perhaps that’s an important lesson going forward, to focus as much on downside as upside when considering drafting a high risk player.

Picks 5 to 11

Not getting Martin and being that it was a two-catcher league, I needed my first catcher now. Brian McCann worked out very nicely. I then shifted into pitching mode, taking James Shields, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Lincecum. All turned in great seasons, although Dice-K’s was very lucky (we’ll talk more about him soon).

Round nine came my favorite pick, Jermaine Dye. Loved him coming into the year and was excited he fell so far in drafts. Then I took Johnny Damon to help with steals and runs and followed with Hideki Matsui. Damon turned out solid, Matsui mostly busted, but the process was okay there. I needed a couple of solid hitters and some steals, and they fit the bill.

Picks 12 to 15

Knowing who I wanted at the end of the draft and relatively certain I’d get who I wanted, I decided it was time again to take a few risks. I had three very solid starters already, so I went with two high upside ones in Dustin McGowan and Pedro Martinez. Neither really worked out, but the process was strong. I was mixing high upside players with those who had established track records and good skills.

The way the draft had played out, I knew at this point that I wouldn’t be very competitive with steals and didn’t want to take a Michael Bourn type just for the steals. I decided to instead load up on power and hope to grab a waiver wire guy or make a big trade mid-season using the surplus power (even if that meant overpaying in the traditional sense). With Wright, Lee, Damon, and talk that Tulo might run, I thought I’d have enough to at least stay even with the back of the pack and then grab some points later on with a big acquisition.

Still without a middle infielder, I went with Ty Wigginton, who I had very high on my list. I saw him as a poor man’s Dan Uggla, especially with the Crawford Boxes helping his power. Frank Thomas came next, as I was very high on his skills — especially the power. He got treated like crap by the Blue Jays and later got injured, but as a 15th round pick it wasn’t a big deal. Again, more of a high risk pick, but I’d have no problem taking Thomas again next year if he falls into the right situation (albeit a bit later).

Picks 16 to 20

In Round 16, I saw Joakim Soria still sitting there. I wanted to wait another couple of rounds before I took my first closer, but I couldn’t pass up a guy who was on par with those taken in the 10th and 11th rounds here. If nothing else, he could be trade bait in May or June.

I then went with Jose Guillen, who I thought was incredibly underrated, and a high upside guy in Edwin Encarnacion. Both turned out to be very solid picks. Freddy Sanchez came next (bust) because I needed another middle infielder. After missing out on an elite second catcher, I went with Mike Napoli next to go along with my newly adopted late-draft power strategy.

Picks 21 to 23

Kevin Gregg came next, and a guaranteed closer in the 21st round was a good pick. Then I went high upside with Evan Longoria, finally hitting on one. He was integral to my season. Rafael Betancourt was a no-brainer next. All the closers were gone, and he had great skills backing up a guy with terrible skills. Didn’t work out due to his bad luck, but the process was perfect.

Then, to hedge my McGowan/Pedro bets earlier, I went with Andy Sonnanstine, who I saw as a very solid pitcher (albeit without much upside). Jason Kubel came next as a high upside guy/hedge bet with aging outfielders in Dye, Matsui, and Damon. Finally, I took Chris Carpenter with the second to last pick of the draft. I simply placed him on the DL as a potential future trade chip and then picked up Jeremy Accardo to hopefully get some early saves and to have another full-time closer if B.J. Ryan had a setback.

Thoughts

Overall, I was very happy with my draft. I got my specific targets in the first three rounds, a top notch catcher, three great pitchers without giving up a top five pick, several guys I considered undervalued, and several high upside guys. Looking back, I don’t see any really big blunders. I diversified, followed my plan, and came away with a solid team.

Player evaluation is a different topic entirely, but I do think mine was pretty good. I missed on most of my high risk guys, but I wasn’t counting on all of them to be effective anyway. Being able to distinguish between which players you really thought would help and which you simply drafted for their upside (and were willing to let them go if necessary) is an important thing to do when evaluating your team at this time of the year. Because I missed on so many, I will look over my process in more detail at some point (hopefully it was simply bad luck), and I think Victor’s methods will help a lot in that area.

Closer strategy

So I’m sure you noticed that I didn’t take my first closer until the 16th round and said that I had intended to wait even later.

On draft night, I had a couple of options with how to approach closers. With everyone being an expert, I knew that a lot of their time is tied up in writing columns (with deadlines) throughout the season, plus whatever they need to do if they have real-world jobs and personal lives besides. In addition, I noticed that a couple of the participants were already trying to balance a few other things while the draft was going on.

Since I’m inclined to wait on closers to begin with, these two conditions made it a pretty easy decision. I would attempt to be the first to the waiver wire to pick up closers. If that didn’t work, I’d pick up guys who I thought could be inheriting the role soon since in a 12-team mixed league only a few setup men get drafted and are owned at any one time.

As a fall-back, I figured I could spin at least one of the starters I drafted before round ten for a closer at mid-season, if necessary. I also thought that closers with slightly better than borderline skills or who weren’t getting save opportunities would make good targets and wouldn’t even cost one of my three starters.

Overall, I had lots of “outs” with big reward potential, so I chose that path.

Concluding thoughts

In Part 2, I’ll look at the early portion of the season.

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