Getting lucky

Before addressing today’s topic, I want to highlight an upcoming THT Fantasy feature. As early as this week your favorite AL Waiver Wire Reporter, Josh Shepardson, will be publishing his list of the Top 100 Fantasy Prospects. The version of this feature currently available on this site was compiled by Matt Hagen and updated for the start of this season. Now, Josh takes over the helm and shuffles up the deck, offering his insight on which prospects might be poised to make the most fantasy noise in the near future. We thank Josh for all his hard work in readying this project in time for September call-ups.

After taking the time to promote this feature and Josh’s work compiling it, I’m going to be my classic contrarian self and offer an alternative approach to mining prospects, for those looking to catch lightning in a bottle over the last month of the season. The truth of fantasy baseball is simple: most of the game’s elite prospects never achieve fantasy stud status, let alone do so right out of the gate. While we are often drawn to the mystery and unlimited potential of the unknown quantity that is “the hyped prospect,” perhaps we can do better by outworking our opponents and hoping for a bit of luck as well. Instead of playing the September call-up prospect lottery, why not attempt to construct the super waiver wire composite player?

The owner who is willing to do a little legwork is often rewarded by getting the best of the players who are, overall, replacement-level producers. Don’t be afraid to aggressively drop and add players to cobble together production from your last roster spot. Pick up guys who are hot, drop them after their first 0-4. Look into handedness splits and upcoming probable starters and pick up the lefty-killer who is set to face two lefties in a three-game series. Chase the hitters who are visiting friendly ballparks.

The underlying strategy of free agent-hopping is two-fold. One, it puts you on the right side of favorable splits and increases the likelihood that your frog will be a prince they day you take him out. Second, you increase your variance, thereby elevating the ceiling of the good luck effect.

It’s cliché to say, but luck is largely the product of planning. A strong component of luck is needed for any player, or set of players—prospect or veteran—to approximate elite production out of nowhere. And, on any given day, it is an act of luck for any individual player to hit a home run; the odds are against it no matter how much you can tilt them to be a tad less so. Betting on an elite prospect is hoping to get lucky, the same as riding free agent carousel. The latter differs from the former in that it tries to optimize your chances of getting lucky every night, as opposed to making one big bet on day one and hoping it pays off. Basically, the only way the blue chip prospect strategy pays off is if that young player’s skill really is substantially above replacement level right off the bat, and such a disparity is not overwhelmed by either bad luck overshadowing better talent or good luck propping up the lesser player.

There are several different ways to beat your opponent in fantasy baseball, some of which are responsible for final outcomes more than others. The most profound sphere of influence is talent; out-scouting and outmaneuvering your opponents to build a talent disparity in your favor is the single most influential aspect of the game. With trading deadlines long passed, one has fairly little latitude left to exploit this aspect of the game. However, many people think that the late season call-up of a new prospect represents an opportunity to replenish the roster from a new well of talent. My contention is that this is more often a mirage than an oasis; one should look towards other avenues for improvement that are still open, though maybe not as profound or sustainable.

The other remaining tools for prevailing over your opponents include outthinking them, outworking them and getting lucky. The former two improve the likelihood of the latter. The one thing that circumstance can not prevent you from doing is outworking your opponent, and the composite waiver wire all star is the epitome of hardworking, margin-scraping, blue collar hustle. If Darin Erstad played fantasy baseball, this is how he would win!

Now, of course, you’re still dealing with tiny sample size. In fact, you’re courting small sample size. So, it’s totally possible that you could do everything right from a probabilistic perspective only to see your project yield a neutra,l or even negative, ROI. But you’re dealing with a short period of time, so luck will be a major factor in the outcome of whatever strategy you choose. Therefore, the goal here is to try to kickstart a string of wonderfully beneficial, but wholly unsustainable, luck.

When you’re the sex-starved frosh with nothing going for you, do you want to take your chances at the library with the one really sweet and pretty girl who you think might be wife-material, or do you want to see what happens at the kegger where all the promiscuous drunk girls are partying? Most likely, you’re going home alone no matter what, but all you can do is give yourself the best chance to get lucky, one night at a time.

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  1. Brad Johnson said...

    As long as you limit this behavior to one or two roster spots, it’s a good strategy over the full season. At least, it’s what I do and I seem to finish in the top 33% pretty much always.

    You might lose a couple great performances like Brandon Beachy (I’m still kicking myself for that one, but I thought I could stealthily pick him back up at the time).

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I think playing the matchups with hitters can be dangerous, honestly. If you trust a guy to get you certain numbers over the season, then ride him out. Production tends to come in bunches often. Players often have games that make up 4-6% of their total season production in a category. If you miss a day like that, you’ll kick yourself.

    Still, intelligent hitter streaming can be key. In Yahoo, where they have “Rankings”, I am guilty of seeking out the 4/5 star players on off days

  3. Josh Shepardson said...

    I’ll keep tabs on when a “lefty killer,” ala Johnny Gomes or others of his ilk have a few games against southpaws and scoop him on occasion.  Usually I’ll do that end of season or when I lose a player to injury and the pickings are slim on the wire.

  4. George said...

    I don’t think there is much value in trying to ride hot hands…indeed, I think you’ll find you end up playing a bunch of guys right after they’ve had their week of the season.  Best thing to do is play guys who play, who get lots of ABs.  It’s when you see that playing time go down that you need to take action.

  5. Brad Johnson said...

    There is a certain skill to it. If you try to apply riding the hot hand in a systematic manner, you will get burned. By virtue of being on the waiver wire, hot hand candidates are – on average – worse than rostered players.

    However, not all hot hands are created equal. The key is to find hot hands who have temporarily or permanently increased their talent level. I find myself to fairly successful at this but I couldn’t tell you how I do it, I just trust my intuition and watch the players play.

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