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Friday, February 20, 2009
Rotohog Baseball is a fantasy baseball game with free entry, large prizes and a unique 'stock exchange' trading mechanism. Thousands of players compete in a global contest to see who can accumulate the most points. Like some "salary cap" baseball games, Rotohog gives you the opportunity to turn over your entire roster every day, greatly increasing the importance of taking into account factors such as opponent and park when determining your lineup.
Rotohog Baseball is scheduled to launch on Feb. 23. Assuming that the launch happens as scheduled, that means that this will be the last column I write before we know the rules (and the prizes) for 2009. What can we work on in the meantime, without knowing the specifics? One productive use of our time is to work on whatever statistical models we’re going to use during the season.
No matter where your statistical model stands (including "yet to begin") there is always something you can do to improve it. Despite the fact that I won Rotohog Baseball last year, the gaps and mistakes that I’m aware of in my statistical model are so extensive and so obvious that I would be embarrassed if anyone saw some of them. I have a long list of improvements to make before the 2009 season begins, and I have to confess that I haven’t gotten to any of them yet. I assume that most other competitors’ statistical models are in even worse shape.
If you haven’t started building a statistical model for Rotohog yet, where should you begin? I’m going to describe a few steps to get you started. These aren’t going to make you one of the top teams overnight, but they’ll give you a good starting point onto which you can continue to make additions and improvements. I should also warn you that this is going to take some time and effort. That’s why now is the time to get everything prepared. Once the season starts, you’ll probably find that you just don’t have the time to devote to it.
Choose a set of projections. This is the easiest step. It’s also probably the least important to spend much time on. There have been a number of studies of the accuracy of various projection systems, and the findings have generally agreed on one thing: Most of the top systems are fairly close in accuracy.
For hitters last year I used ZIPS, which usually has ranked near the bottom of the group of leading projection systems. I’m not sure how much I’d gain by using a more accurate system… most of the real differences in the systems come on younger players, many of whom won’t be good enough to figure into your Rotohog plans anyway. I did my own projections for pitchers, but wonder how much that really contributed to my success. In any case, once you’ve settled on a set of projections, you’ll need to get the data into Excel (or some equivalent spreadsheet software).
Link schedules to player data. For your statistical models to have much value, you’re going to need to make adjustments on a daily basis. That means you’re going to need a source of MLB schedules that you can get into a spreadsheet relatively easily. I found that the format that works best for me is the one that is available on mlb.com. But even that one requires me to manually use the "text to columns" command in Excel to get the data into a usable format.
To adjust your player projections to make contextual adjustments for today’s game, you’re going to need the row for each player to reflect the schedule—who today’s opponent is, whether the team is home or away, and what park the team is playing in. I make heavy use of Excel’s “vlookup” function for this. I may be doing something wrong, but I’ve never figured out how to make vlookup work on cells on a different worksheet, so make sure you copy the schedule (and projections) onto the same worksheet where you’ll be doing the calculations.
Adjust component statistic projections. I make all my adjustments at the component level. So I figure out what impact I think each factor (park, opponent, etc.) will have on each statistic and adjust the projections to reflect that. In some cases I think I gain a lot by doing it this way; in other cases I’m probably wasting my time. If you’re a little less ambitious, you can just estimate how much each factor impacts Rotohog scoring as a whole and use that as a multiplier for your projected daily score for each player.
Calculate expected points. Use your adjusted projections for the day to calculate an estimated score for each player for that day. I do this as my last step, but if you’re not making component level adjustments, then you’ll probably do this first, and then make adjustments directly to this estimate. Note that if you’re playing fantasy baseball formats other than Rotohog that also use daily transactions, you can calculation an expected daily score for each player in each of the scoring systems you’re interested in.
Posted by Alex Zelvin at 1:01am (3) Comments
Monday, February 23, 2009
Gil Meche is a guy you probably haven't seen very many profiles of this offseason. He's wholly unspectacular, throwing his fastball just 92 mph, pitching for the Royals, and amassing a pedestrian 4.36 career ERA. His 2008 fantasy line looked like this:
+------+-------+----+------+------+-----+----+ | YEAR | IP | W | ERA | WHIP | K | SV | +------+-------+----+------+------+-----+----+ | 2008 | 210.3 | 14 | 3.98 | 1.32 | 183 | 0 | +------+-------+----+------+------+-----+----+
Nothing to gawk at, but nothing to sneeze at either. Let's take a deeper look at his numbers to see what we should expect out of Meche in 2009.
If you're unfamiliar with CAPS (Context Adjusted Pitching Statistics), it's a stat I invented and then improved upon earlier this offseason. It's a stat that can't be found anywhere else and can give us a much better picture of a pitcher's true talent than unadjusted number. CAPS adjusts each of a pitcher's component stats based on the following factors:
So what can CAPS tell us about Meche?
Note: In this table, the first line is Meche's actual line for the season. The second line is his CAPS line for the season.
+------+-----+----------+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+ | YEAR | AGE | TEAM | IP | ERA | QERA | K/9 | BB/9 | K/BB RI | GB% | +------+-----+----------+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+ | 2005 | 26 | Mariners | 143.3 | 5.09 | 5.90 | 5.2 | 4.5 | -0.63 | 39 | | 2005 | 26 | Mariners | 143.3 | 5.09 | 5.88 | 4.9 | 4.3 | -0.69 | 40 | +------+-----+----------+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+ | 2006 | 27 | Mariners | 186.7 | 4.48 | 4.64 | 7.5 | 4.1 | 0.10 | 43 | | 2006 | 27 | Mariners | 186.7 | 4.48 | 4.66 | 7.1 | 3.8 | -0.03 | 44 | +------+-----+----------+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+ | 2007 | 28 | Royals | 216.0 | 3.67 | 4.25 | 6.5 | 2.6 | 0.11 | 47 | | 2007 | 28 | Royals | 216.0 | 3.67 | 4.04 | 6.9 | 2.4 | 0.21 | 47 | +------+-----+----------+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+ | 2008 | 29 | Royals | 210.3 | 3.98 | 4.20 | 7.8 | 3.1 | 0.31 | 39 | | 2008 | 29 | Royals | 210.3 | 3.98 | 3.96 | 8.2 | 3.0 | 0.44 | 41 | +------+-----+----------+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+
We see that back in 2005 (and each year prior), Meche wasn't a very good pitcher and wouldn't warrant consideration in any mixed league. From 2005 through 2008, though, he has increased his QERA each year, culminating in a very solid 3.96 figure last season.
For the past two seasons, he's posted a CAPS QERA around 4.00, pitched over 210 innings, and struck out over 150 batters. In 2008, his CAPS K/9 rose to a very good 8.2.
Meche is an interesting case because his actual ERAs have actually been better than his QERAs over the past two seasons, yet Meche gets little respect from most fantasy owners. If he could repeat his 2008 CAPS season, Meche would be worth roughly $16 or $17. He should definitely be expected to regress in 2009, but he's not getting anywhere near that kind of play in 2009 mock drafts and rankings.
What's interesting is the breakdown of the type of owners who like and dislike Meche, even if none like him as much as his 2008 season (and rightfully so).
As you'll notice in the "Market value" section, the statistically-inclined guys seems to be split on Meche (RotoAuthority and John Halpin are high on him; RotoSavants, Razzball, and Rotoworld are low). The guys who are low on him are likely looking at his less-than-stellar pre-2008 peripheral skills. A 4.25 ERA pitcher on a poor team just isn't a tremendous pick. Because we have CAPS and can look deeper, though, we know that Meche is actually better than his peripherals indicate. It's interesting that some see him as a 4.00 ERA pitcher.
Interestingly enough, this lumps our (and RotoAuthority and Halpin's) assessment of him in with the less-statistically inclined guys (CBS and ESPN) who are probably looking at his actual ERAs. Very interesting.
What to expect in 2009
The best case scenario is this: Meche posts a K/9 over 8.0 as he did in 2008 and a BB/9 around 2.5 and a GB% above 45 percent as he did in 2007. A line like that would see his QERA approach 3.50.
A more likely (and not unreasonable) scenario for Meche is a 12 wins, 4.05 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 150 strikeouts (given 185 innings). That would make Meche a $12 pitcher, putting him in the top 25 or 30 starting pitchers. $12 isn't anything great, but when you consider that you should be able to get him for $5 or in the 19th round of some drafts, he could provide good value. And if he reaches his best case scenario (as unlikely as it may be), his value could surpass $20, so there is a little bit of upside.
I will say that I don't generally select guys like Meche late in a draft. Instead, I tend to go with higher-upside players. Depending on the strategy you're employing and the way your pitching staff has shaken out, though, Meche could make a lot of sense.
FOX Sports - John Halpin: 42nd SP
Mock Draft Central Expert Mock Draft #2: 40th SP (R16)
ESPN: 41st SP
RotoAuthority: 43rd SP
Mock Draft Central Expert Mock Draft #3: 48th SP (R17)
CBS Sportsline: 54th SP
Mock Draft Central Expert Mock Draft #1: 54th SP (R18)
CBS Sportsline Expert Draft No. 1: 58th SP (R18)
CBS Sportsline Expert Draft No. 2: 60th SP (R19)
Razzball: 62nd SP
RotoSavants: 70th SP
CBS Sportsline Mock Draft No. 1: 75th SP (R23)
Fantasy Baseball Express: 88th SP
FOX Sports - Mike Harmon: Not in top 50 SP
Rotoworld ADP: Not in top 53 SP
Rotoworld: Not in top 57 SP
Meche's market value is all over the place. Where you can get him in your own league will depend upon the specific owners in it. He went as high as Round 16 in some mock drafts to not even being draftable according to our friend Tim Dierkes at RotoAuthority. If you're targeting Meche, you'll need to know a bit about your opponents to find the most efficient pick to use on him.
Posted by Derek Carty at 2:05am (7) Comments
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
The single most important element—the key ingredient—to any successful fantasy baseball league is the settings. Even more important than the people, the settings of a league have a tremendous influence over whether you are satisfied with your fantasy baseball experience at the season's end.
After running a simple regression analysis, I found that the correlation coefficient (r) for the relationship between a successful league and good league settings is .7499. This means that almost 75 percent of any good league can be attributed to its settings and therefore it is of paramount importance that we make sure our leagues for 2009 are set up perfectly.
Here is a starter list of some league settings I prefer:
High minimum innings pitched limits—I put this one first because I find it is a major problem in leagues. Too many leagues have minimum innings-pitched limits that are too low, like 10 or 20 innings a week (times 25 weeks makes 250 to 500 innings for a full season). This is it devalues the starting pitcher to a level that makes it possible to basically ignore them in the draft and still come out even in the pitching categories.
In a league with standard categories—wins, saves, strikeouts, ERA and WHIP—for pitchers, a team could quite easily secure near-guaranteed victory in ERA in WHIP without owning a starting pitcher. By simply drafting top middle relievers, who require nothing more than a late-round pick to acquire, two of the five pitching categories (ERA and WHIP) are almost guaranteed top three finishes. Invest a little more on some late-round closers and this team has a chance of an average showing in the saves category. Assuming a last place finish in wins and strikeouts, this team's pitching points in a 12 team rotisserie league look like this:
+----------+----+----+---+-----+------++-------+ | Category | W | SV | K | ERA | WHIP || Total | +----------+----+----+---+-----+------++-------+ | Points | 1 | 5 | 1 | 11 | 12 || 30 | +----------+----+----+---+-----+------++-------+
That equals a six point average in each category, which is only 2.5 points less what the average team should accrue in the pitching categories. Remember this was accomplished by drafting only closers and relievers who require a minimal investment, meaning this team's batters should be stacked. By simply increasing the minimum innings pitched limit to 40 or more a week (1,000 innings for the season) this loophole is averted.
In head-to-head leagues, the effect is even worse. The ERA and WHIP categories are almost guaranteed victories and in weeks when saves are won, this team would actually take the pitching categories three to two.
High minimum innings-pitched limits force teams to start a rotation of starters, which makes the league more fair and better simulating "real baseball."
Maximum DL spots—When a player gets hurt, it stinks. to put it nicely. If you have multiple players hurt, well, that is even worse. The least we could do for these poor owners of injury-riddled teams is give them plenty of DL spots to stash their players, freeing up a roster spot and allowing them to add another player from free agency.
No waivers—I have never been a fan of the waiver system, and now that other methods of acquiring free agents are becoming more accessible, I find the system even more disagreeable. I would rather reward active teams (through free agency) than last place teams (as waivers do).
To make an analogy I would compare waivers to the current Type A/Type B free agent compensation system Major League Baseball uses. Both systems are flawed and can screw over a player or team through an unfair ranking. (See: The Orlandos)
Even better than the traditional free agent system is the increasing-in-popularity FAAB system. Discussed in this mailbag, FAABs (Free Agent Acquisition Budgets) are offered standard by some fantasy hosting sites and would not be too difficult to set up manually if you and your buddies choose that route. They are fair and require plenty of strategy on your end.
Large benches—My favorite part of fantasy baseball is the sleepers. Drafting players in the last rounds and having them turn into valuable commodities is awesome.
The problem with some leagues, though, is that they allow for only two or three players on the bench. Besides a few necessary backups, there is no place on the roster where those sleepers can be kept until they wake up. I find that leagues with plenty of bench spots (or even entire minor league rosters) turn out to be the most fun and rewarding.
Can't cut lists—Don't use them, plain and simple. If you are in a league that needs to protect itself by having a list of top players that cannot be cut, I would not be in that league. Otherwise, you got Albert Pujols on your team and because of his elbow he is out for the season. No big deal, just stash him on your DL. Then a couple more injuries pile up, and you want to put those players on the DL and drop Pujols because he is wasting a roster space. The head-banging catch: You can't drop him.
Have any more settings you prefer? Disagree with some of mine? This article was meant to be an icebreaker for discussion, so leave them in the comments below.
Posted by Paul Singman at 1:01am (12) Comments
Philosophers have spent a great deal of time classifying the wide array of logical fallacies, but one in particular stands out as wreaking havoc for many who play fantasy baseball.
We’re talking about the “Gamblers’ Fallacy,” the belief that because something unexpected has happened in the past, the future will compensate. The most cited example of the Gamblers’ Fallacy is a coin flip—five consecutive coin flips yielding “heads” doesn’t mean that a sixth toss becomes more likely to land on “tails.”
In fantasy baseball, we see the Gamblers Fallacy in various ways.
During the season, some may decide that a player suffering through extraordinarily bad luck makes a worthwhile trade target. This course of action is wise only if the owner has a realistic expectation of what’s most likely to occur next: One can’t expect the bad-luck player to have a streak of good luck to even out the fates of fortune; one can expect only a return to the norm, or performance stripped of luck altogether.
A far more dangerous application of Gamblers Fallacy happens in drafts and auctions.
Those who love baseball are up to their ears in player hype, especially concerning young prospects. Often, we witness performance not living up to massive expectation, such as the recent cases of Delmon Young, Jeremy Hermida, or Rickie Weeks, among many others.
Fantasy baseball enthusiasts often have a hard time adjusting their expectations. Indeed, some perceive a sense of “discount” when they are able to get a player with great upside who has thus far failed to match the puffery.
Unfortunately, the perception tends to be illusory for three reasons.
First, player projections tend to be extrapolated from past performance. Young, hyped prospects have short track records and their forecasts are given with little supporting evidence and a tremendous amount of volatility. Just because touts once projected Hermida as having a great chance of hitting 30 home runs doesn’t mean that he’s more likely to outperform new, reset projections.
Second, upside is a hard-to-quantify variable whose scarcity tends to be overestimated. Perhaps Delmon Young still has the potential at his young age to one day be a 25 HR-25 SB superstar. Just because he maintains this upside doesn’t mean he’s much closer to fulfilling it than someone like Colby Rasmus, who will be coming to the majors soon and goes largely undrafted in fantasy baseball leagues.
Third and finally, the elasticity on a young player’s draft position or auction price also tends to be overestimated. Demand on upside isn’t fickle. Here are some examples: Corey Hart's average draft position has climbed more than 14 percent from drafts last year. Yovani Gallardo's has climbed about than six percent. Edwin Encarnacion's has climbed more than 16 percent. Did any of these three players do anything extraordinary in 2008 to merit a jump in expectations into 2009? Not really.
Bad luck, disappointments and unfulfilled potential are a natural part of baseball. But when considering player acquisitions, one shouldn’t assume that any of these things translates to the opposite outcome. The gods of fate aren't that kind.
Posted by Eriq Gardner at 1:02am (7) Comments
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
My friends and I are starting a fantasy baseball league, but we are arguing over the settings. We previously did a standard 5x5 roto league, 10 teams, 5 keepers, 22 starters (we did MI, CI, 5 OF, 9 pitchers) and 25 roster spots. It fell apart and we want to redo it now with 12 teams. We want to add on more keepers and roster spots, is 12 teams 10 keepers 30 roster spots too much? Some people are worried that 10 keepers means too many players are tied up, and may mean people who are bad one year will stop following.
I argue that more keepers gives the worse teams a lot of space to actually rebuild, and that more roster spots would also be necessary to do that. So I guess more specifically I am asking am I wrong? I feel only 3 bench spots isn't enough with more keepers, but is 30 spots too much, and does 8 keepers work better than 10? When we did 5 is was such a tease, I'm worried 8 will be similar. Please shed some light on this.
Preferences are idiosyncratic, so it is hard for me to tell you or your league-mates what to "like." But we can shed some light on the implications of having so many roster spots and starters and also so many keepers.
First the roster spots: This is really up to you and your friends. I would say that I think you are at or near the outer limit of starters and roster spots. If you were to add a few more starter spots, you would start running out of regular players to start at those positions. The marginal player would have very little impact on your team's overall performance. (If each team's "last" player never gets an at-bat, it is like he never existed.) The same goes with roster/bench spots: if you have really large benches, then you can pick up and hold a lot of players and a team is never forced to ask itself whether it likes player A more than B, since it can have both. I think eight bench spots is enough, especially since you have so many starters.
On the keepers: I am not sure how more keepers, everything else equal, means easier rebuilding. To take an extreme example from another sport, the NY Knicks have been stuck with contractual "keepers" for a while and look how long it is taking them to rebuild. A losing fantasy team is more likely to have lost because of a bad or unlucky first through fifth pick than from a later round pick. With a lot of keepers, it is tougher to recover from these mistakes in later years.
- Jonathan Halket
I'm in a league and we are working out the kinks regarding our prospect draft in a dynasty league. One of the major road blocks is trying to figure out whether we should do a snake-style draft or a non-snake draft.
This is the second year of the league and the first year for the prospect draft.
What do you think is the most fair and efficient style to draft?
I've always been a fan of the snake draft simply because it is the most fair. In a straight-style draft it is round after round of the same team getting the higher pick and it gives too much of an edge to the higher picking teams.
If you are only using this draft to fill out rosters, meaning it is only a few rounds long, then a non-snake draft would be fine. But if this draft is creating entire squads of minor leaguers, then your league should definitely use a snake draft. To much emphasis is placed on order in a non-snake draft otherwise.
- Paul Singman
I'm in a 10-team keeper league where we are allowed to keep 8-10 players every year. We are also allowed to make offseason trades in which roster size (either gaining or losing) does not matter until we name our keepers. I plan on keeping Miguel Cabrera at first; Ian Kinsler at second; Alexi Ramirez at short stop; Alex Rodriguez at third; Carl Crawford, Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp in the outfield; Chad Billingsley and John Lackey as starting pitchers; and Jose Valverde as a relief pitcher. I will be letting go of Hunter Pence, Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright, Kerry Wood and Jonathan Broxton. I have two questions ...
(1) Do you agree with my 10 keepers?
(2) Would it be a good idea to make three-for-one trade offers with maybe one of my keepers and two potential throw backs for the likes of Mark Teixeira...for example Pence, Verlander and Valverde for Tex? Another trade I've been offered is Crawford, Verlander and Wood for David Wright ...
Any help would be appreciated ...
It looks like you've done a good job putting together a reasonable list of the 10 best keepers. I think you could make an argument for either Wood or Broxton instead of Valverde, but Valverde probably has the least injury or job security risk. I also wouldn't be shocked to see Verlander bounce back and outperform Lackey, but again you're going with the safer pick, which is generally a good idea.
You have to view any players you don't plan to keep as completely expendable. If you can give up several of them along with one keeper in return for a better keeper, you should do it in a heartbeat. Since Verlander and Wood aren't on your keeper list, you're basically getting the opportunity to upgrade from Carl Crawford to David Wright at no cost to you. That sounds like a great deal to me. Go for it!
- Alex Zelvin
Posted by THT Fantasy Mailbag at 1:07am (2) Comments
Over the past couple of weeks, I've discussed the hidden value of injured players. We found that injured players can make excellent draft picks given the right conditions. There were two primary reasons for this: 1) A player's fantasy value is heavily influenced by the number of at-bats he receives 2) An injured player can be replaced, and the replacement player's numbers can be included in the original player's value.
I mostly discussed this in the context of late round draft picks, but in certain situations, using it on a player in the early rounds can be a sound strategy. One player who I strongly believe fits this mold is Chase Utley.
The value of Utley
Utley, as I'm sure you know, could miss up to a month of time at the start of the season. If he does, his production would take a serious hit, but as we know, in the time he misses, we could still collect some modest production from a replacement level player. Below is a chart illustrating what Utley's value would look like in three different scenerios (500 Utley at-bats, 500 Utley at-bats plus 100 replacement at-bats, 600 Utley at-bats) from four different projection systems (THT, Bill James, CHONE, and Marcels).
As will always be the case when looking at these graphs, we see an upward curve.
500 Utley at-bats
In 500 at-bats, Utley's value would range from $23 to just $28. This would cause him to be ranked from 15th overall to 23rd overall — a mid-to-late second round pick. Mock Draft Central's ADP data shows exactly this. Utley's ADP is 17, meaning he's generally taken in the middle of round two. Fantasy owners clearly aren't accounting for the replacement at-bats.
500 Utley at-bats + 100 replacement at-bats
In a 600 at-bat combo, Utley's value would range from $30 to $35. This would cause him to be ranked from 4th overall to 10th overall — squarely in the first round. This means that even if Utley misses the entire month of April, he would still be worth a first round draft pick.
600 Utley at-bats
If Utley somehow manages to get 600 at-bats all on his own, his value would range from $34 to $39. This would cause him to be ranked from 3rd to 5th overall, among the elite.
The DL spot problem
As many commenters have noted, and as I've discussed in part three, this strategy shouldn't be taken to the extreme. If you end up with several players injured at the same time, you will wind up not having enough DL spots to store them all and would therefore need to use a bench or active roster spot.
I don't believe, however, that this should be a consideration for Utley. Unlike a player like Chipper Jones who could get injured at any point in the season, we know when Utley will miss his time. He will miss his time in April, which it makes it much easier for us to make adjustments and less likely we will have simultaneous injuries.
If you draft Utley, you will go into the season knowing that he will occupy one of your DL spots for the first three or four weeks. As long as your league has at least two bench spots, though, you should be perfectly fine. It would take some awful luck for your team to lose two more players to injury before Utley returns, and even then, you'd only need to occupy a bench spot for maybe a week.
If it costs you $24 dollars to get Utley and he delivers $33 dollars in value, that $9 is well worth the cost of a bench spot for a week. It would even be worth simply taking some zeroes for that week. And remember, this is the worst case scenario where you happen to have two other players get injured in the opening weeks of the season.
The uniqueness of this situation
Honestly, a potential $9 of marginal value has got me drooling right now. Big value like this usually comes from high risk/high reward type players in the later rounds of the draft. These players are far from sure things, and many will end up being worth $0.
How often, though, do you get a chance to make this kind of profit in the early rounds of a draft? The answer is "almost never". If I draft David Wright for $40, what are the chances he delivers $49 worth of value? It would take a very big year for that to happen, and the chances of it are relatively low. With Utley, though, it's about as sure of a thing as we can get. Getting this kind of value early in a draft gives you an enormous leg up on the competition.
There is one possible hole in this plan, unfortunately. It's now being said that Utley could be ready for Opening Day (resident injury analyst Chris Neault examined this situation the other day at his blog). Once this news starts to spread, fantasy owners could become more willing to draft Utley in the first round. After all, everyone knows he has the skills, and his low ADP is mostly a function of the missed playing time.
This leaves us in a bit of a sticky situation. If we're picking in the middle of the first round, do we pull the trigger on Utley (knowing that he is worth it) to make sure we get him, or do we hope he lasts until our second round pick? It's a very tough call.
My thoughts on the situation
Here's the way I'm leaning, as of right now. With picks 5, 6, and 7, Utley would be roughly even value as a "500+100" player. So instead of selecting him here, I'll take another even-valued player and hope that Utley falls to my next pick. If he does, big value! If he doesn't, well, I didn't miss out on much. Taking him earlier would have delivered about the same value as the guy I ended up taking, but it would have eliminated the chances of getting that big second-round value altogether.
With the 10, 11, or 12 pick, I wouldn't have a problem taking Utley. Here, he's delivering enough value to warrant the selection.
The 8th and 9th picks are the trickiest. It's going to be a judgment call here, and it will depend in part on how well you know the other owners in your league. In a vacuum, I'd probably take him given the recent news. If he plays a full-season we'd still be getting good value, and there's a solid chance that he might not be there by the next pick.
What would you guys do in these scenarios?
Posted by Derek Carty at 2:00am (14) Comments
Thursday, February 26, 2009
There's been a lot of material on players with upside. Recognizing and properly valuing players with upside potential is a key to winning in fantasy. However, chasing upside is dangerous and, in a sophisticated league, does not come for free.
Take an abstract league and baseball world with no injuries and no match-up considerations. In this world, you'd start your 20 starters for as long as you don't have a bench player worth replacing the starter with. Midway through the season you may feel that your starting catcher is putting in a worse season than your blossoming backup catcher and so you switch them, starting the latter. In this way, your starters are sort of like stocks in the stock market while your bench players are like call options.
When you own a stock, like Ford, you own a piece of the company's performance. When it does better than expected, you make money or a "profit". When it does worse than expected, the stock goes down relative to the price you bought it at, and you lose money. Players that you draft to be starters in fantasy are more or less the same.
A call option on Ford stock is different. You pay a much smaller price for the option than you would for the stock itself. In turn, an option protects you from the downside—you make money if Ford does well and lose nothing if it does poorly. There is no explicit downside risk from buying a call option. In this sense bench players are similar to call options—if they end up as stars, you get the upside by putting them into your starting lineup. If they stink, you can cut them at virtually no loss.
Of course, nothing is free—in the stock market, you do have to buy this option from someone willing to take the risk. In the fantasy world, the cost is the price of the player in an auction or the opportunity cost of not drafting a different player in a draft league.
Risk is a spread in potential performance. Increased risk means higher highs and lower lows in performance, keeping the same average or expected performance. Increased risk is mostly bad for starting players. Everything else equal (including average performance), you'd rather take the steadier player - this is one reason why the best pitchers are valued lower than the best hitters.
Increased risk may be very good for options and bench players though. If your starter gets a season ending injury rather than just a 15 game DL stint, that's a big deal. If your borderline bench player does, you don't care, as you'd probably drop him in either case. With bench players, you don't care how low the low is, but a higher high is great. Upside players may be on average just as good as journeymen players, but you only care about the jackpots. So, for the same price and expected performances, you should take the player with upside over the steady journeyman.
The thing about options is that since no cares about how bad the downside is, all the option's (or player's) value comes from beliefs about how high the upside is. Consider these three players: Player A is your starter and is guaranteed to hit exactly 25 home runs; Player B is has a 90 percent chance of hitting exactly 10 home runs and a 10 percent chance of hitting 24; Player C has a 5 percent chance of hitting 30 home runs and 95 percent chance of hitting 10.
Should you draft player B in this simple world? No, since he has zero chance of out-performing your starter, Player A. Player C is the one with more upside value since he has a chance of being better than A, despite the fact that his average performance is worse than B's. Note that all of this came only based on your expectations of the probability of relatively low-chance events. Small changes in expectations can cause large changes in value. So Upside-only players are the ones where inflated expectations can cause you to overpay by the most.
However in an auction or draft you're going to a pay a price to buy this upside, frequently giving up the chance to buy a steady player with a better average outcome. This may or may not be a risk worth talking.
Allocating at least some roster spots for upside players is an important part of any winning strategy. In fact, one could argue that modern versions of the LIMA strategy are all about upside starting pitchers. Still, I want to caution against too much risk taking. Capturing upside performance in a bottle is tricky. Let's consider one likely sources of upside: young players with little performance history.
Players with little or no major league experience present two problems. First, their upside potential is much more uncertain and so harder to value. Rookies are the stuff that dreams are made on for fantasy owners. But the low-chance events that upside-rookies' values are based on are the ones that are hardest to learn about with small samples of data.
Second, during the season you are also dealing with small samples of data. Say your rookie, bench outfielder has a hot April and one of your starting outfielders is struggling. Do you pull the switch in a weekly league where you'll be stuck with your choice for at least a week? Many players revert to their average, expected performance. This is one of the toughest decisions an owner has to make and chances are you're not going to get the timing just right. That's fine, but when you're valuing these upside players, you should adjust accordingly for the timing mistakes.
Posted by Jonathan Halket at 3:41am (3) Comments
Friday, February 27, 2009
The highly anticipated launch of Rotohog’s 2009 Baseball contest arrived with a thud. In 2007, the winner received $100,000. Last year, I won a car for finishing first. This year, the winner will win several hundred dollars of Rotohog merchandise. Obviously, participation is going to be down. Way down. For players who enjoy evaluating daily matchups, and want the opportunity to profit from that skill, what other options exist?
One of the most similar (and most popular) games is ESPN’s Baseball Challenge. Contestants pick a team within a salary cap each day, with points accumulated throughout the season. In the distant past, Baseball Challenge offered large prizes. Unfortunately those prizes have been reduced over the years, to the point where last year’s grand prize was a $1,000 Circuit City gift card. I hope the winner spent it promptly.
The good news is that with Circuit City out of business, ESPN mightl find a more generous sponsor. This year’s rules and prizes haven’t been announced, but we should expect them around the same mid-March timeframe as last year’s game launched.
Salary Cap Baseball was a new game in 2008, and appears to be roughly similar to Baseball Challenge (other than the fact that it runs in Facebook). Prizes were small last year (an XBOX 360), and the company’s stated vision of providing fun games for the casual player doesn’t lead one to believe that it'll improve on that very much this year. That said, it will be worth watching for the game’s 2009 launch, which is supposed to happen on March 12.
Another option is to play in private Yahoo or ESPN "traditional" leagues for money. However, these formats don’t provide as much of a reward to those who specialize in analyzing daily match-ups as the other games I’ve mentioned. Once you’ve drafted your team, most of your players are going to be worth using every day, regardless of their opponent or where they’re playing. Don’t get me wrong…these are great formats, just not exactly what some of us are looking for.
The last group of full season, daily lineup games are those offered by TSN. These have some reasonably large prizes. However, due to some of the intricacies of the rules, success at them is more about game strategy than evaluating player match-ups. A large number of loyal fans of the games have spent many years fine tuning their strategies for building roster value and for taking advantage of changes in position eligibility.
So if none of these formats provide an opportunity to make significant money by evaluating daily match-ups better than others, is there any way to do so? The answer is yes.
A new category of fantasy games gaining popularity is daily fantasy contests. Players enter contests each day, with results calculated based on the results of each night’s games. While these contests don’t offer the chance to become emotionally attached to the players on your team, they do have a number of advantages. First, they’re perfect for those of us who like to evaluate all the factors that go into a single day’s performance. They’re also perfect for people who like fantasy games, but don’t have the time or inclination to keep up with transactions every single day. You can enter a daily contest whenever you want, without making any future time commitment.
Many sites have sprung up that offer daily contests, including Draftbug (my site), Snapdraft, Drafthero and Fantasysportslive. While the sites all have some things in common, there are a number of differences. Scoring and roster requirements vary.
All the sites offer "salary cap" contests, but some offer "live draft" contests as well. Some sites pay out 90 [ercent or more of entry fees as prizes, while others return as little as 80 percent, making them very tough to beat. The levels of service provided and the overall quality of the user experience vary quite a bit.
In the coming weeks, I’ll talk about strategies you can use to succeed in many of these daily transaction formats. The beauty of them is that you can incorporate an endless variety of contextual factors such as opponent, park, home field advantage, weather and more into your calculations, and the more accurately you do so, the more you’ll be rewarded.
Posted by Alex Zelvin at 1:01am (1) Comments
Rotoworld Mock Draft article
My first article of the year went up over at Rotoworld last night. It talks about a recent mock draft I did while using a "take pitching early" strategy, opposite of what I normally do.
KFFL Expert League
Victor Wang and I are currently participating in a draft for KFFL's Expert League. After each pick, each team discusses the reasoning behind the pick and it pops up over at KFFL. So far, we have Miguel Cabrera, Chase Utley, and Matt Kemp. Click here to continue keeping tabs on the draft and to read what we and the other owners are saying.