Thursday, April 28, 2011

ottoneu PickSix Strategy

As many of you know, ottoneu just launched a new, daily game called Pick Six. Over the past couple weeks, I have been helping test the new game and basically been throwing together lineups daily. The details on the game are explained quite well by creator Niv Shah, so I won't bore you with repetition. Instead, I will try to offer some strategic insights. 

Here are 6 (naturally) things to think about when picking your Pick Six lineup:

1) Saves are actually quite high value (5 pts, about the same as a hit which is 5.6) and so a perfect inning to close a game earns you at least 10 points (5 for IP, 5 for save) plus 2 pts per K. BUT - holds are worth 4 pts. Which significantly closes the gap between, for example, Heath Bell and Mike Adams. It also means that there is some value in relievers who go more than one inning, which closers almost never do. The point is, don't just jump at the best closer you can afford (or the closer playing the weakest opponent) - there are some very good values out there among non-closing-relievers.

2) Watch the weather forecasts. Well...maybe not...but be aware that a rain out can crush your chances of performing well. With 6 positions all expected to, on average, produce the same value, a rain out costs you about 17% of your points for the day. Take two guys from one team (and this will be tempting when, for example, the Yankees face some terrible 5th starter) and lose that game to rain and you are going to have a pretty awful night. This doesn't mean you should check the weather maps before picking your team (the whole point of Pick Six is that it should be quick and fun and easy), but if you live in Chicago (like me) and know that it is raining (like I did yesterday) and decide to take Tulo (like I did yesterday)...that just isn't smart.

3) Remember that your SP do not get credit for wins. Scared to take Kershaw cause he is facing off against Lincecum? Don't worry about it - the stats he should rack up facing the Giants lineup will be quite nice and even if Timmy throws a perfect game, it doesn't impact you at all (other than the fact that you didn't pick him on the night he threw a perfect game).

4) Beware the platoon. Since lineups lock when the first game of the day starts, you need to be careful about guys who are not everyday players. This is particularly important with catchers who take at least a day off every week. Picking a guy who ends up riding the pine for the night costs you the same 17% as a rain out. 

5) When filling out lineups, think about value guys first. Know you can get an OF you love with a great match-up for $5? Grab him before filling in the other spots. If you can lock in a couple discounted players early (say at CI and OF), when you turn to MI and realize the match-ups aren't great and you have to spend big on Cano or Tulo, you can afford it.

6) The leaderboard shows usernames, and there are a few to keep an eye out for:
  • nivshah (@ottoneu) - created and programmed the game
  • dooberfig - responsible for the birth of ottoneu six years ago and behind a lot of the math involved in valuing players in Pick Six
  • chy924 (@chadyoung) - me, purporting to be an expert, probably not actually an expert
If you happen to see that you beat any of us...well...we have been playing this game for like two weeks now and so we probably deserved to be mocked. So bring it on. We can take it. Right, Niv?

Happy picking!

Friday, April 22, 2011

When to Buy

When I wrote the other day about when to start a fire sale, commenter Zach asked about the flip side of that coin - when to become a buyer. This, I think, is a much more difficult question to answer, as a lot of it depends on what "matters" to you in fantasy baseball, but I am going to try to lay out some criteria just the same.

To start, as with any good model, we need to lay out some assumptions. In this case, I am going to assume that your league is like the original ottoneu league (prizes for the top three finishers) and that you are like me (finishing in the money and bragging rights are your main objectives, but you place a serious premium on finishing first, beyond just the additional cash). I am also quite content to finish dead last if it means putting me in a better position for the following season, and I am similarly happy to doom myself to a dead last finish next year in order to win this year - not everyone will make these trade offs, so you may need to adjust the criteria accordingly.

With that said, here are my three criteria for determining if you should buy.

1) You can't win the league with what you have. It's this first criteria that some people (read: I) tend to ignore.

In 2007, I basically ran away with the original ottoneu league. I led more or less wire-to-wire and had a double-digit lead most of the time. But on August 7, 2007, I made not one but two trades. In total, I added Pat Burrell, Jonathon Broxton, and Brandon Webb in exchange for Ian Snell, Carlos Villanueva, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Gomez, and Matt Murton. Broxton, Burrell and Webb were all way to expensive to keep, at the time, so this was purely a win-now set of moves.

It happens that in this situation I had fortune on my side. In hindsight, we all know that what I gave up amounts doesn't amount to anything, really. Dempster would be nice to have, but the rest of those guys really have not been missed at all. But imagine Murton turned into the high OBP, solid OF I expected? Or that Snell didn't fall off a cliff or that Gomez developed... I potentially would be out an awful lot of cheap talent and all I would have to show for it was a title and a check that I would have won even without the trades.

Cheap, young talent is the lifeblood of a successful ottoneu team - don't give it up to secure a victory that was, barring something unforeseen, already secure. You have to be realistic, but when deciding to buy, make sure you are buying something of value - if you can win with what you have, don't mortgage the future.

2) The chance to win is in front of you. When this happens, jump at it. MLB teams rarely get a shot to win a World Series (Yankees and Red Sox notwithstanding) which is why, when the chance arrives, very few prospects are untouchable. In the immortal words of Herm Edwards, "You play to win the game," and you don't pass up that chance to win.

I am currently sitting 4th in the FanGraphs Experts League and have a pretty talented farm system (Hosmer, Montero, Moustakas, Teheran, Lamb). My expectation is that 2012 is my year, since those guys should be producing, and I will still have an inexpensive rotation (Hellickson, Weaver, and Marcum are all cheap enough to keep) and some potential value pieces on offense (Utley, Domonic Brown, Arencibia, etc.). But let's say we roll into June or July or August and I have a shot to win right now. Maybe the lineup I have can't cut it but if I gut my farm system to add a couple pieces, I can take the league. My stance is that I HAVE to go for it. Yes, I am dooming my team to failure in 2012, but I will fail just as badly if Hosmer turns out to be a AAAA guy, Lamb doesn't develop and Hellickson blows out his arm. Why go into 2012 on a gamble if I can make a much safer bet on 2011?

3) There are sellers out there. There is an odd clash between buyers and sellers in ottoneu leagues - the earlier you buy, the better (you give up future value either way, but the difference between four months of an all-star and two months of that same player is huge), and conversely, the later you sell, the better (you maximize the time you have to see if your team can turn it around and compete).

Looking at this from an economic standpoint, to entice a team to sell earlier than they want, you have to compensate them for the option value they would have if they had sold later. Effectively, what this means is that there are ALWAYS sellers, as long as you offer a high enough price.

This is where things come down to personal choice. I believe in buying aggressively when you buy, and if you have to give up one more prospect or a better pair of prospects or something to get a deal done in April or May instead of July or August, you are probably better off paying that price.

But I know that a lot of other owners feel differently - in their minds, it seems, if you are not 100% sure you can win, you should wait to make the trade. The problem I see with this is that the value you need doesn't change, but I think the TOTAL price you have to pay goes up. Yes, you can probably get Albert Pujols for less on July 15 than on May 1. But five months of Pujols is far more valuable and to get the same value on July 15, you probably need to trade for Pujols and another star-level bat. So if you need those five months of value to win the league, your choices are to pay a premium to get Pujols ASAP or pay for Pujols and, for example, Braun, in a couple months. But my guess is that Braun and Pujols on July 15 will cost you more than Pujols alone on May 1 (as long as Pujols owner is willing to sell him on May 1).

Finally, ONLY get that player from an owner who has shown a willingness to sell (even if they are hesitant). If you have to talk an owner who is not considering selling into selling, you will overpay. But, as soon as you get the sense that an owner is ready to move present pieces for future ones...jump on it.

That was all a bit complicated, so let me boil it down to this: if you are a player or two away from winning, you should get that player as early as you possibly can. The longer you wait, the less value you get per trade, the more trades you have to make and the higher the total cost.

So where does that leave you, an owner who thinks you might be a buyer, today? Think realistically about your team - can your team as currently constructed "win" (with win being defined as whatever you want - first place, top three, competitive all year, etc.)? If yes, don't waste future talent for unneeded pieces. If not, consider whether you can win AT ALL. If not, again, don't waste your time buying and chasing an impossible dream. If yes, look around at the market - are there sellers out there? At least people who could reasonably be talked into selling? If no, then hold off - don't go crazy overpaying to convince someone to sell. But if there are is an owner who shows a willingness, however slight, to sell off pieces, consider that a door left ajar and find your way in. You'll get a better return from one big trade today than from needing to make two or three trades in August.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The First Trade

Early this morning, Eno Sarris and Andy Behrens completed the first ever trade in the ottoneu FanGraphs Experts League. It wasn't exactly a blockbuster, but still worth taking a look at, particularly because it nearly included yours truly.

Eno's Slaughter (bet you can guess which guy owns that team) sent Aaron Harang (priced at $1) to Andy Behrens (nothing like eponymous fantasy owners) in exchange for Placido Polanco (also $1).

At first glance, this deal seems to pretty clearly favor Andy - Harang, particularly pitching in Petco, is an awfully valuable piece. He won't anchor your staff (and he may not provide many wins) but he will perform well, help your rates and, if the first three weeks of the year are a signal, help out in K's as well. Even if you can't use him every time out, 15 starts in Petco, a couple in Dodger stadium, a couple at AT&T park and a few more non-division road games in pitcher's parks is a solid contribution.

Polanco, on the other hand, is hardly a world-beater at 2B. He has 2 HR so far this year, but had only 6 last year and has seen double digits just once since 2004. He hasn't broken 7 steals since 2003, although he should provide good average.

So you've got a high-upside SP swapped for a middling MI.

But there is some context to consider. First, looking at Eno's team, he has a number of starters ahead of Harang (Josh Johnson, Mat Latos, Ricky Romero, Jaime Garcia, John Danks, Wandy Rodriguez) and a couple guys (Erik Bedard, Derek Holland) who could provide value as well. Suddenly, losing Harang doesn't seem like a big deal. On the other side, Eno has been abysmal when it comes to batting average and his MI to date has been okay at best (Prado has been fine at 2B, but Andrus is hitting under .240 and Ryan Raburn has been just brutal). And he has no other MI on his roster.

Andy has Cano and Uggla at 2B and MI, meaning Polanco has no shot to crack his lineup. So he gave up a pure bench piece and added a nice part to a rotation that has struggled a bit (Liriano, Gallardo, Ervin Santana, Max Scherzer and Chad Billingsley make up his top five).

All in all, this seems like a perfect win-win trade - both teams gave up a relatively unimportant piece and got one with the potential to help out.

But, as I mentioned at the beginning, I ALMOST played a role in this deal. Prior to finalizing the deal with Andy, Eno and I were discussing a deal that would send Matt Laporta ($2) to my team for Alcides Escobar ($5). From my perspective, this would have been a big help - Escobar is one of five decent-to-solid MI on my team (Asdrubal Cabrera, Orlando Cabrera, Orlando Hudson and Freddy Sanchez are the others) not counting Chase Utley. But my 1B and Util situations are ugly (Carlos Pena and Jim Thome) and I could use OF reinforcements as well.

But, from Eno's perspective, Alcides is $4 more than Polanco and Laporta is probably of more use to him than Harang. I could argue that Alcides has more upside and will provide much more speed, but I am not sure I would disagree with Eno's decision, regardless.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

When to Sell

Three days ago I sent this tweet:
how early is too early for a firesale? my team in original  is REALLY struggling...
Today, @ottoneu sent this:
When does it make sense to start thinking about building for next season rather than going trying to win now?
Between us we have heard back from two people - a fellow original ottoneu owner told me it's never too early (although he just wants me to start selling so he can start buying) and an owner who has a sale already underway. Not a ton of help yet, so I figured I would take a close look at two things:

  1. What criteria should an ottoneu team meet to qualify for a firesale?
  2. Does my team in the original ottoneu meet those criteria?
Luckily, my team in the FanGraphs Experts League is definitely not in firesale mode - a few solid days have put me in 5th place (I'll try to have a recap of that league in full next week) - but my original ottoneu team is a disaster so far.

Looking at what qualifies you for a firesale, the first (and most obvious) criteria is that your team can't be in the top 5-6 spots when you start the firesale. For example, Gerbils on Speed in original ottoneu came into the season already with one eye on 2012, although he did hope to succeed in 2011. That team currently sits in first place and the owner is now feeling a bit of a pinch - he doesn't want to hold his pricey stars (Lincecum at $58, Hanley at $57, Miggy at $52 and more) and finish out of the money (4th). But he also doesn't want to sell off those guys when he has a shot to win. 

This can actually be a rather difficult position to be in. When you feel confident your team can't keep up its current performance, you want to think about trading away unkeepable pieces. But, then again the WORST thing you can do is quit on a team that has a shot to win a championship. 

I found myself in this position in 2009, and sold later than I wanted. The result was a partial rebuild - good enough to build up a team for 2010, but not a team that could win. Had I not landed Jose Bautista in an early-season auction, I likely would have found myself just as in-between in 2010.

So, now that we have established you can't sell if you are in the first division, the next question is what makes a team placed 7th - 12th a candidate for a firesale, and the criteria I would focus on here, particularly this early in the season, is that you can't be riding a significant number of unlucky streaks. If you have a few bats and a couple arms that are all facing some bad luck (odd batted ball numbers, BABIPs way out of line, etc.) it can throw things off a lot. If you have a few guys who are performing below expectation and you have good reason to think they will bounce back in the coming weeks, selling now could cost you a shot to climb back into contention.

For example, in the Experts League, I am struggling in SB, but two of the guys I bought for SB potential - Julio Borbon and Rajai Davis - have really underperformed. Borbon yet to steal a base and Davis is on the DL. But there is no reason to think at least one of these guys won't provide me a boost on the base paths. Even if that team were not top five, I would hate to sell when the team hasn't had a full chance to perform as it can.

The final criteria to qualify for a firesale is that you shouldn't be waiting on a boost in talent that can be expected shortly. If you are struggling on offense but have a couple top bats in AAA that are due up soon, you might want to see what they can do. If you have Johan Santana or another injured pitcher due back soon, don't forget that you have 100 ace-level innings and overstate the trouble your pitching is having in the early going.

That leaves us three criteria on which to judge whether you are ready to start a firesale:
  1. You are outside the top 6
  2. You have had average-to-good luck
  3. You don't have a performance booster coming in shortly
With that, let me apply these criteria to my team in original ottoneu. The first is a breeze - even if you want to argue that in mid-April, top 6 is too strict a criteria to apply, the Freeport Pretzels are in 12th place, 1.5 out of 11th and 8.5 out of 10th. And this is a 4x4 league, so points are at a greater premium than in traditional 5x5 leagues.

As for the second, without diving too deep, I tried to divide my offense and pitching into categories of over vs. under performing. Let's start with the offense and begin with guys performing as expected:
  • Miguel Tejada (.308 OBP/.429 SLG, 1 HR, 4 R)*
  • Marlon Byrd (.351/.436, 0, 10)
  • B.J. Upton (.346/.457, 2, 8)
You can argue that Upton is overachieving, but I think this is a reasonable line from him. As for the over-performers:
  • Miguel Montero (.511/.711, 2, 8)
  • Paul Konerko (.407/.529, 3, 8)
  • Jose Bautista (.510/.595, 3, 9)
  • Ryan Zimmerman (.487/.536, 1, 5)
Zimmerman and Konerko you can argue with (Konerko cause he may actually be close to that good, Zimmerman cause he has been hurt so his counting stats are low), but I don't think Bautista will continue to get on base 51% of the time, nor do I think Montero will slug over .700 all year. Finally, the guys who are not meeting expectations:
  • Martin Prado (.276/.411, 1, 7)
  • Luke Scott (.357/.304, 0, 3)
  • Hunter Pence (.344/.429, 1, 3)
  • Justin Morneau (.269/.327, 0, 4)
  • Jim Thome (.294/.367, 1, 4)
  • Raul Ibanez (.304/.333, 1, 9)
So this is the longest list so far, but there are some real concerns here. Morneau may still be feeling the impact of his concussion, Thome may have finally remembered how old he is, Ibanez may be done. Pence may not be under-performing, to be honest. So while I think these guys have been below expectations, I am not sure they are as far below as Montero and Bautista are above. Finally, let's take a look at the "wild-cards" I have been using - guys who I wasn't sure what to expect from but was hoping to get real value from:
  • Brad Emaus (.294/.200, 0, 2)
  • Matt Joyce (.342/.378, 0, 3)
  • J.J. Hardy (.294/.400, 0, 4)
  • Brent Morel (.244/.296, 0, 6)
Not one of these guys has done what I hoped and my concern is that I have no reason to believe they WILL do what I hoped in the future. Joyce is the most likely to turn it around (he may have actually already started that process), but the others may be a lost cause.

All in all, I think the offense meets the second critera - I don't think I have had particularly bad luck. Yes, I do think I have been unlucky in that the guys I needed to break out have basically all flopped, but I don't see any reason to think that a simple turn in luck/regression to the mean/return to averages will result in a big climb on offense.

Next, let's turn to the pitchers. The guys performing as expected:
  • C.J. Wilson (3.72 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 0.00 HR/9, 12 K in 19.1 IP)
  • Heath Bell (1.50, 1.00, 0.00, 2 in 6)
Short list, eh? Both guys will give up HR at some point, and Bell will get more K's eventually, but in terms of overall value, these guys are what we thought they were. The list of over-achievers in my pitching staff is equally short:
  • Jered Weaver (1.30, .78, 0.65, 31 in 27.2)
  • Josh Beckett (2.08, .92, 0.00, 14 in 13)
Not much to say here. Weaver is legit but can't keep THAT up. Beckett may have bounced back, but the chance of injury and his track record from 2010 make me awfully nervous. As for the long list of guys who have under-performed to date:
  • Chad Billingsley (7.71, 1.71, 1.29, 13 in 14)
  • Carlos Zambrano (6.11, 1.59, 1.53, 13 in 17.2)
  • Matt Garza (6.27, 1.71, 0.00, 25 in 18.2)
  • Clay Buchholz (6.60, 1.73, 3, 8 in 15)
  • Takashi Saito (9.00, 2.50, 9.00, 3 in 2)
  • Matt Thornton (7.71, 3.21, 1.93, 3 in 4.2)
  • Rafael Soriano (7.71, 1.50, 0.00, 4 in 4.2)
  • Rafael Betancourt (4.05, 1.05, 2.70, 7, 6.2)
If it weren't for Betancourt (who would belong in the "as expected" list if not for the 2.70 HR/9) the ERA's here would all be above 6 and the WHIPs all above 1.5. That is actually good news as every single one of these guys is basically 100% guaranteed to improve. The problem is I don't know that these guys can bounce back enough. Zambrano is a bit of a wildcard, Garza has actually pitched incredibly well and been very unlucky, but he isn't going to strike out almost 1.5 guys an inning the rest of the way. And relievers are always a crap shoot.

That said, overall, my pitching has some hope. I feel good about the ability for my pitching to pitch as expected the rest of the way. The issue is that I never expected to have a top 3 staff - I thought I would have the 5th or 6th best staff and that would be enough to keep a good offense in the money. But unless they turn around FAST, I will end up with five months of a top 6 staff which, when averaged with a dead last pitching staff is probably not enough to get into the top 3 overall.

As for the second criteria as a whole - I think my pitching can rebound, but not sure how much. I think my offense kind of is what it is. And combined, that is not a team I expected to climb into the money.

Finally, let's look at the third criteria: the presence of guys who could provide a spark but haven't played yet:
  • Chase Utley
  • Scott Sizemore
  • Chris Carter
  • Brandon Allen
A couple things to note here - first, there are no pitchers. Other than the Indians rushing Pomeranz or the Tigers bringing up Andy Oliver, I have no pitching help coming, unless I make some trades or find a gem on the FA market. Utley is clearly the biggest piece here, but really, I am not sure I see anything to write home about. All in all, I think I will get a nice boost at MI, but not nice enough to overcome my shortcomings elsewhere.  

Having said that, I think there is a big caveat to this: I have, based on two weeks of stats, more or less written off Emaus, Joyce, Hardy, and Morel, assumed Ibanez to be done, Morneau to be still concussed, Thome to be done, Prado to have fallen off for the year, etc. And those are some drastic assumptions to make just two weeks in. If those guys return to form or produce like I think they can, suddenly Utley and maybe a bump from Carter or Allen goes a long long way. Honestly, that is not far from the roster I ended last season with, minus a couple SP who I could get via trade if I need to. And I won the league last year.

Based on that, I think my best bet is to hold on a couple weeks, at least, and see where I am then - and to reconsider each of the three criteria above. Of course someone could blow me away with an offer. There are some guys I really like (Hosmer, Moustakas, Trout, Teheran, Turner, among others) and the right package including some guys like that could convince me that now is the right time to sell.

*Stats as of the start of 4/16

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Use RP in a 4x4 League

In a comment on a previous post, Brian asked about RP usage in ottoneu 4x4 leagues. I started to break down the strategy I used in past seasons and decided I needed more space than a simple comment, hence this post.

Before diving in, here is a quick primer on the RP context of ottoneu 4x4: As with all ottoneu leagues, you have five RP and five SP slots, and you are scored on ERA, WHIP, HR/9 and K. You are allowed 1250-1500 innings pitched over the season.

Brian's comment suggested relievers are overpriced and that he was better off investing in starting pitching - he even goes so far as to leave two RP slots open on his team. Interestingly, this is completely counter to what I had done in the past - making sure I had 5 very good RP to fill my RP slots AND finding a couple guys who were relieving by qualified at SP, allowing me to start 7 RP on a daily basis.

So who is right? Well, I don't have much detail on how Brian came to his conclusion, but I can at least walk you through my rationale and let you decide if it makes sense. And Brian, please feel free to post any counter-points you have - if I can do something to improve my team in the original ottoneu, I will be happy to try it out!

The first assumption I have been working with is that, when wins and saves don't count, RP are better on an inning-by-inning basis than starters. But I never really tested this assumption, so I devised a simple comparison based on 2010 stats. Using all "qualified" relievers and starters on the FanGraphs leader boards, I came up with the following numbers (SD= standard deviation):

Stat   SP Avg   RP Avg   SP SD   RP SD
ERA     3.78   3.47   .76   1.14
WHIP   1.28   1.27   .13   .22
HR/9   .89   .81   .29   .44
K/9   7.0   8.1   1.45   2.15

Hardly a detailed analysis (covers 91 starters and 134 relievers) but this seems to verify my initial assumption that RP are, in fact, better per inning. But it also shows that they are more volatile. This all seems pretty straight forward, actually.

For a more specific example, let's take a look at a Player A/Player B comparison (credited to Joe Posnanski, who is, for my money, the best sports writer out there today):

Player A: 3.37 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .56 HR/9, 8.79 K/9
Player B: 3.34 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .56 HR/9, 8.49 K/9

Incredibly similar across the board in the ottoneu 4x4 stats. If you were offered 50 innings from one of these guys or 50 from the other, you really couldn't go wrong - B gets you .2 fewer runs, 1.7 fewer hits and walks, and one fewer K. Not much to write home about.

Well, you might imagine that since I am comparing RP and SP, I picked a RP and a SP're right! Player A is one of the top earning pitchers in ottoneu - Justin Verlander. He is tied with Cliff Lee for the 5th highest paid player in 4x4 leagues at $33 on average and he has cost as much as $44. Player B is the immortal Kyle Farnsworth. He is going for, on average, $2 with a max of $3.

Again, this seems to confirm that RP put up better stats per inning than SP (no one would deny that Verlander is a better starter than Farnsy is a reliever, right?). Of course when comparing value over a season, you can't just look on a per-inning-basis. Looking at those same sets of pitchers, the starters threw 199 innings on average last year and the relievers threw 63. This means that you get roughly three times as many innings from a starter as a reliever.

Well, even if you expect Verlander to net you 4x as many innings, he gets paid 16.5 times more than Farnsworth. You need to calculate in some kind of a risk premium on RP, due to the higher volatility, and that brings down Farnsworth's salary. You could also say he is less likely to repeat his numbers. But 16.5 times more salary is a lot.

If you don't like Farnsworth, the highest paid reliever is Carlos Marmol at $12.60 on average. That is just over 1/3rd of what Verlander gets paid, in 2010 Marmol had a 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, .12 HR/9 and 15.99 K/9 - undeniably better than Verlander on a per-inning basis.

So what does that tell me? RP are an undervalued commodity. For $32.40, on average, you can have Marmol, Heath Bell and Joakim Soria. Those three should almost definitely have better stats than Verlander in similar total IP (213.1 last year compared to Verlander's 224.1). Last year Santiago Casilla had an ERA under 2 and more than a K/IP and my guess is you can have him for $1 right now if you want him.

The hard part with relievers is figuring out who to go after, due to the high volatility, but if you hit the right guys, you can put together a complete bullpen for the price of a single ace starter that well outperforms that starter.

To do this, first and foremost, I say you pay the premium for star relievers who are sure things. Heath Bell falls into this camp. So does Mariano Rivera. Hong-Chih Kuo should be in here, too. Soria as well. Feliz and Marmol probably belong. Beyond that it gets tougher, but the prices drop a lot, too.

Next, scour the waiver wire for cheap relievers that are performing well are have historical peripherals that suggest great ability. RP are volatile in part due to small sample sizes on a yearly basis, so a guy who regularly has a good K/9, decent BB/9 and is putting up a good year may be a good bet. And for $1, you really can't go wrong.

Finally, keep in mind that a lot of relievers will put up ERA's below about 3.50 (68 of the 134 from the stats above which is more than the total number of RP slots in an ottoneu league), while very few SP will (31 of the 91). If you can start your share of those RP - which is actually almost 6, rather than just 5 - you are going to help your numbers. Finding guys who qualify at SP but act as relievers can be a big boost - Sean Marshall was a huge value for me last year, as was J.P. Howell a few years back.

Think about it this way: if everyone in your league starts 5 RP from among that set of 68, there will be 8 RP with sub-3.50 ERA's remaining. Assume your pitchers are 100% average in sum, and you max out your IP. Now assume that instead of just 5 of those relievers, you find 2-3 who qualify at SP and start them as well. Over the course of the season, here are your potential final stats based on the number of relievers you use:


Note that in some cases, your WHIP would go down by .01 - it actually drops by about .003, which could make a difference. But comparing Brian's 3 RP plan to my 7 RP plan, you shave .05 off your ERA, .01 off your HR/9 and add 34 K's.

All of this does rely on your ability to identify the right RP, which is a more difficult task than identifying the right SP, I think, but even factoring that in, you can really improve your pitching stats by taking advantage of what appears to be a market inefficiency.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Biggest Surprises on my Teams (Original ottoneu Edition)

Continuing on the theme started yesterday, I'm turning my attention to the surprises on my original ottoneu team. I haven't covered this team yet on this blog, so there is a bit of a lack of context here, which I will try to provide where possible. Reminder that this league is 4x4 (OBP, SLG, HR, R; ERA, WHIP, K, HR/9).

Positive Surprises
Miguel Montero - After years of holding Montero at a low price, refusing to move him for rent-a-players and basically sticking to the theory that I have a long-term starting catcher locked up, I would LOVE to claim that there is nothing surprising going on here - but a .500+ OBP I think has to count as a surprise. I mean, sure I thought he would be at .450, but .515?

That said, this is probably about as scary a positive surprise as you can have. Montero is absolutely raking right now, but his BABIP is almost .500 too (.478), his BB% is almost 4% higher than his career numbers and his K% is almost 7% lower. His LD% and HR/FB are through the roof as well. All of which suggests that he could crash and crash hard. My hope is that his increased LD% is not completely artificial - same with the BB% and K%. Even with marginal improvements in each of those areas, Montero may finally make the leap to the upper echelon of catchers. A return to his career averages would have been a solid season, but maybe he can set his sights a bit higher, looking at his 2009 season (16 HR, 68 R, .355 OBP, .478 SLG) gives a signal of what he is capable of - maybe 2011 can match that?

Context: Montero and Jake Fox are the only catcher qualified players on my roster. Wilin Rosario is already raking for Colorado in AA, so maybe there is a chance he sees some time in the bigs late this summer, but I will need a catcher to spell Montero before too long. Regardless, Montero at $8 and Rosario at $5 or $6 in 2012 will be a solid combo, and Montero should do what I need in 2011 as well.

Josh Beckett - Still sad I haven't gotten full use of him this year, as I have been scared to start him, but the line speaks for itself: 13 IP, 14 Ks, 5 BBs, 0 HR allowed, 2.08 ERA, .92 WHIP. And actually the underlying numbers suggest this isn't a total fluke. Beckett's xFIP is 3.19 - not 2.08 but not bad either. His walk rate is actually a bit high for him, and his k-rate, while a little high, is not far off what we'd expect. His BABIP is quite low and his LOB% is a bit high, so some regression is to be expected, but I don't see much reason to think he can't keep up his xFIP and have an ERA to match.

Context: At $11, Beckett is a potentially incredible value for me, and a guy I basically picked up on a whim. I have cap space in this league ($18 to be precise) so spending $11 on Beckett is no sweat and if he blew up, I could pretty easily cut him. He isn't a SP I 100% rely on - Weaver, Billingsley, C.J. Wilson are all above him on my pre-season depth chart, with Cly Buchholz, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza close at hand. My issue is that my depth got destroyed just before the season started - I traded Dan Haren just to have Adam Wainwright go down, suddenly shifting my pitching from a huge strength to a big weakness.

B.J. Upton -First and foremost, I felt from the moment I bid $9 on him at auction, that this was a huge mistake. Upton really doesn't bring much more than potential to the table in the 4x4 format. But so far he has earned his keep, with a couple HR and a .425/.571 batting line. The glaring concern here has to be the .400 BABIP, which is sure to come way way down. His batted ball stats don't offer any clear indications of what may have changed - he has a few more FB and a few fewer GB, with a slight bump in HR/FB - so this is likely a case of a guy who is just finding spots on the field to place the ball at the moment.

That said, so far he is controlling the strike zone better than he has in the past and even a moderate improvement here would help a lot as a guy with his power potential (remember, he did have a 24 HR season in the bigs not that long ago) and speed can do some damage as long as he is putting the ball in play. Upton won't turn 27 until August, so he is also on the right side of the age equation to show improvement. His numbers will come back down, but I think he can easily earn his $9 this year with a return to a high OBP, even if the power doesn't re-materialize.

Context: Like Beckett, Upton is not a guy I was counting on. Bautista and Pence are my top two, with a group of guys I like (Luke Scott, Raul Ibanez, Marlon Byrd) expected to fill out my lineup. My real hope was to have a youth movement in my OF with Matt Joyce, Brandon Allen and Chris Carter all playing key roles, but Joyce has struggled in the early going, Carter is getting a bit more AAA seasoning and the Diamondbacks have decided to bury Brandon Allen instead of, you know, playing the guy who has absolutely crushed AAA pitching and still profiles as a very good ML bat. I'll have more on Luke Scott shortly, but suffice it to say, I would be in a lot more trouble than I am if Upton weren't producing.

Negative Surprises
Luke Scott - The Orioles have too many OF and Luke Scott has been playing too poorly to justify time in that OF and now a guy who was a major piece of an off-season trade (Verlander and Fred Lewis for Scott and Brett Lawrie) has basically no value to me, which is just terrific. The .375 OBP looks nice, but he has shown no power and has played in only 5 games, netting 16 PAs. That is such a small sample size (not that these aren't all small sample sizes, since it is now April 12) that it isn't worth reading much into any changes in his profile. Instead, my real concern is just playing time - if he gets it, he will bounce back, I would think (at least I have no reason to think he won't), but I am not sure he will get it. Hopefully he is over his groin injury and will get back into the swing of things.  We will see...

Context: I gave you the OF update above, but it's worth noting that the Verlander deal is not as terrible as it looks. I was going to have to cut Verlander (his price was way too high and at the time I had a stacked rotation) and was extremely happy to get a solid OF and a good prospect in return. Lawrie I turned into Garza, as well.

Almost My Entire Bullpen - Thank you Heath Bell for allowing me to use the word almost. Without getting into details, let's just say that Rafael Betancourt (3 HR/9), Matt Thornton (2.73 WHIP), Rafael Soriano (9.82 ERA), and Takashi Saito (DL) have all been pretty much disastrous. And I kept three of those guys (all except Betancourt) from the previous season.  I am not yet ready to give up on all of these guys (although I likely won't stick too long with Betancourt or Saito) but this is getting me back to a theory I ran with a couple years ago, which is that RP in a 4x4 format (no saves) are almost never worth keeping. Of course, I would have put Soriano, Thornton and Bell all in the worth keeping camp (and they may still be worth keeping), but I think I need to be more discerning about my relief pitchers. I am sure there will be some solid middle relief types out there on the FA market, so I should be able to salvage my pen reasonably quickly, but...yikes...not a good start.

Chad Billingsley - Basically everything looks bad about Billingsley right now. His K-rate is down, his BB-rate is up, his xFIP is way too high. His BABIP is about where it should be so that isn't inflating his numbers, although he does have an awfully low LOB% which should increase and help a bit moving forward. His velocities look fine, too. Basically, I am just banking on the fact that his second start, which is what is truly blowing up his numbers (his first wasn't great, but wasn't terrible either) was in Coors. He became my #2 when I lost Wainwright and traded Haren, and my expectations from him are much higher as a #2 than as a #4.  He is on the mound today at SF so, like Dempster last night, I am looking for a bounceback.  Hopefully his manager recognizes when he starts to really labor and takes him out before he implodes (Yeah, that's right Mike Quade, I'm talking to you).

Conclusions: My OF is kind of a mess due to under-performance by players (Scott, Joyce) and teams (Oakland sending down Carter, Arizona sending down Allen), and my bullpen may be completely shot, but there is some hope here. A bounce back year from Beckett is looking more and more likely, and my worst SP to date is Billingsley, who I imagine will be fine before too long.  I will say that I have learned a major lesson about counting on teams to do what you'd expect - I have Carter, Allen, Scott Sizemore, and Chris Nelson all rotting on my bench, and I am not sure what to do with any of them.

Next Steps: Identify RP options. Consider trading for an OF or SP. Hope and pray that Ryan Zimmerman and Chase Utley get back soon. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Biggest Surprises on my Teams (Experts League Edition)

Both of my ottoneu teams are middling in their leagues right now, which means I have to do one of two things - either improve and move into the money or take a step back and start to rebuild. One thing I like to do every year when trying to evaluate early results is look at who has really surprised me - both positively and negatively - so far. If I think the happy surprises are flukes and the less happy ones not...well...that isn't good. If, on the other hand, the positive surprises are potentially legit...maybe things will turn around with time.

Since I haven't done much analysis of the original ottoneu league here, I'll start with the experts' league.

Positive Surprises
Asdrubal Cabrera - This is a dangerous surprise for me because, as an Indians fan, I want SO BADLY to believe that this is legit, the never-doubted culmination of the development of a terrific young player the Indians stole from the Mariners. I want to believe that Cabrera can turn into the infield equivalent of the other loot the Tribe stole from Seattle - Shin-Soo Choo.

The first place I look when a hitter is surprising me is at BABIP, K% and BB%, just to see if anything is immediately glaring. Cabrera does have a .346 BABIP, but he is at .332 for his career and there was nothing even before the year to suggest that wouldn't continue. Even if that number regresses, he's still doing a-ok. And his K% and BB% are oddly much worse than his career averages (26.3% vs. 18.2% and 4.8% vs. 8.1%) suggesting that even as his BABIP comes down, his batting average could stay somewhat steady and his OBP could even go up as he walks more and strikes out less.

Taking another step deeper, it is clear that the big jump he has this year in power (which shows up in his ISO) is a result of a sky-high 27.3% HR/FB rate, about five times higher than his career rate of 5.6%. His LD rate is up, GB rate is down, and FB rate is up as well.  All of this adds up to more hits and a lot more HR.

So the pessimists view would be that his HR/FB coming down (a lot) will sap his power, drop his BABIP and bring down basically all his stats. But I think there is some room for optimism. While his LD rate is up, it is basically following a trajectory started in 2007 (ignoring 2010 for a moment, his numbers are 19.7%, 20.9%, 22.0%, 24.1%) and there is no reason to think that he may not be simply continuing to develop (he won't turn 26 until after the season).

My best guess is that Cabrera's SLG will drop a lot and he will not keep up the 50 HR pace (I think that is a safe bet, actually), but that he will improve on the OBP and still have a good shot to put up career bests in terms of power. Do I think he is suddenly a superstar SS? No. But I am quite happy to have him on my roster and perfectly comfortable with him as a starter.

J.P. Arencibia - The .333 BABIP immediately looks way too high for a catcher who sat closer to .300 in the  minors, so from the get-go, there is a good sign that he should fall back a bit. Of course his OPS is over 1400, so he could fall back an awfully long way without losing value. His walk and k-rates are both much better than they were ever before, including his minor league career, so this might be another sign of a step back. In terms of batted balls, he has traded off some GB for FB (likely a smart decision, if it was a decision) but that is about it. Nothing spectacular there.

Of course Arencibia is even younger than Cabrera (by about two months) and may also be experiencing growth rather than a fluke. This is a guy who has raked at every level in the minor leagues and while I don't think there is any chance he can keep his K% down and his BB% up like he has, there is no reason to think that a slight shift in his batted ball numbers and a bit of a jump in HR/FB aren't legit. Personally, I think Arencibia is going to struggle a bit this year - we'll see flashes of what we've seen so far, but we'll also see that BABIP come down, the strike outs jump up, and the overall numbers take a dip.

But I also think he has an awfully bright future and he sits in an interesting position on my team. I have Brian McCann for $33 and Jesus Montero for $13, meaning my present and future at catcher are quite strong. The question I have to answer is do I believe in J.P. enough to move McCann now or to use Montero as an asset to add a much needed bat? Or do I determine I just don't need a guy between McCann and Montero and move Arencibia while his value is up?  For now, I think I'd rather keep the youth and so I will probably put McCann out there for trades if Arencibia has another good week or two (or if Montero gets the call).

Negative Surprises
Carlos Pena - Maybe I should give him a pass due to having only played seven games, but I had high, high hopes for this guy. And a 42.9% K% was not part of that. His BB% is good, maybe even a bit high, but when you strike out in almost half your at-bats, even a lot of walks won't save you. Honestly, I am not sure there is much else worth analyzing here. His batted ball rates are fine (the 0% HR/FB is not, but as soon as he hits his first, that will improve a lot since he has only 8 fly balls) but they are pretty useless since the guy has only put 13 balls in play in while striking out nine times.

I am going to assume this is pure small sample size and not a situation where Carlos suddenly forgot how to make contact (I mean, he always struck out a lot but my goodness this is terrible). But I thought it was insane that I got him for only $8 and now I am wondering if everyone else saw something I didn't. I cannot win without production from Pena, so let's hope this is a short-lived slump...

Ryan Dempster - After 11 years living in the Chicago area, I am picking up and moving to the West Coast in a few short months, and the Cubs appear to be taking their vengeance (cause, you know, baseball players do things like suck purely to piss off random people moving out of their city).  Actually, Dempster hasn't really sucked. Despite being the anchor weighing down my starting pitching, Dempster has 13 K's in 13.2 innings, a career low BB/9, normal HR/FB and GB rates - but a .341 BABIP and a 52.3% LOB rate. All of that adds up to some extremely bad luck and an xFIP of 3.50, more than 3.00 below his ERA. Tonight he gets Houston and I imagine the BABIP will come down, the LOB will go up and the ERA will move towards the xFIP.

Of course Halladay and Weaver won't continue to be AS GOOD as they have been, but Dempster should more than make up for that as his luck balances out.

Nothing earth-shattering here (as there shouldn't be two weeks into the season), but there is some reason for optimism. I think Cabrera and Arencibia are both break-out candidates (which is why I went after them in the first place), and while they won't maintain their early season dominance, they should continue to provide far more value than what I am paying for. Pena makes me nervous, as he is almost 33 and could easily be in for a quick, early collapse, but I think he will be fine this year - maybe not great, but he'll hit for the power he needs to hit for, once he starts making contact at a more typical rate. And Dempster is just going through some bad luck, which hopefully corrects itself tonight.

Next Steps
Explore the catcher trade market and see what might be out there for McCann. May need some MI help - if I can bump Cabrera down from being my best MI to being my second or third best, it would make a big difference. Track Pena closely and do not hesitate to jump on a 1B bat if I can get one. Thome isn't a great option at Util anyway, so if I go after a 1B bat and Pena bounces back, I can always start them both.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Roster Breakdown

It has been almost a week since the FanGraphs Experts League Auction, and I haven't had a chance to give you a full run-down of who I bought and what I think of my roster, so here is a position-by-position breakdown:

Brian McCann - $33
Jesus Montero - $13
J.P. Arencibia - $3
Jake Fox - $2

So I may have gone overboard at catcher. McCann is a star and well-worth the $33, and I was surprised to get Montero for only $13 and Arencibia for only $3. I should be well-stocked here for years to come and I will likely look to trade McCann once Montero gets the call. Fox, by the way, is purely a utility guy for me - for $2 he can catch, play first or play OF, and was well worth a flyer. Once I move McCann, he'll be nice insurance.

Carlos Pena - $8
Eric Hosmer - $5
Jim Thome - $1 (Util only)

Carlos Pena may not be a star, but $8? And why does everyone say that Garza going from the AL East to the NL Central is counteracted by his moving to homer-friendly Wrigley...but NO ONE mentions that the same transition should give Pena a shot to hit for a ton of power this year? I expect close to 4 HR/$ from Pena. And that is value. No reason to think he and Hosmer won't both be starting for my team before long, considering Thome doesn't play enough to really fill my util slot.

Chase Utley - $10
Orlando Hudson - $2
Marco Scutaro - $2
Freddy Sanchez - $1

Utley may not play a single game this year and I am thrilled to pay him $10 for the option to hold him at $12 for 2012. If he comes back in the next couple months - well that is even better. In the meantime...yuck. And this is one spot where I don't make up for a lack of talent with some legit youth. That move with McCann I mentioned? Likely will have to be for a MI.

Asdrubal Cabrera - $6
Alcides Escobar - $5
Manuel Machado - $1

Machado will be awfully nice for $3 in two years. But clearly not helpful any time soon. I actually think Asdrubal will be a solid starter this year, but Escobar I am not that excited about. If Utley doesn't come back, Cabrera plus two of Sanchez, Escobar, Scutaro, and Hudson is not going to make for a fun MI and I don't have any ready youth here either. Hopefully Cabrera proves worth the investment and Utley comes back. If that happens, I may be onto something here.

Pablo Sandoval - $24
Mike Moustakas - $4

Another position where depth is a real issue for me, and I am NOT a fan of Sandoval. The more time I spend on this breakdown, the more I am thinking 2012 needs to come quickly. Moustakas at $4 is a steal, though. Everyone in this league will come to regret that I came away with that steal.

Matt Holliday - $38
Alex Rios - $25
Hunter Pence - $24
Vladimir Guerrero - $17
Rajai Davis - $12
Domonic Brown - $8
Carlos Lee - $7
Julio Borbon - $2
Chris Carter - $1

Injuries are again a concern here - Brown is out for a while, Holliday will likely miss April, but I like what I have here. Vlad's OF eligibility makes a big difference and I see no reason to think he won't be well worth that $17 this year. Personally, I think I got Brown at a discount due to the injury, but considering his long-term value, I am extremely happy with him. The problem here for me is that my OF is likely not good enough to win nor is it young enough to be of long-term value. Holliday is extremely keepable at $40 next year, but I am more likely to move him for young talent before too late in the season. Vlad is also likely to be traded (don't need to be tied to him for $19 at DH only in 2012) and Rios could be movable too, although I would be fine holding him for another year.

Roy Halladay - $43
Jered Weaver - $26
Jeremy Hellickson - $13
Shaun Marcum - $10
Ryan Dempster - $6
Julio Teheran - $4
Jair Jurrjens - $2
John Lamb - $1
Clayton Richard - $1
Drew Pomeranz - $1

For starters, Pom is probably little more than a homer pick, but I am a-ok with that. I think he has legit upside and why not hold an Indians prospect for a buck? I think starting pitching is going to be a strength now, though. VERY happy with those four as my top 4, but I am a bit nervous with the depth. Looking to the future, though, only Halladay is even in my consideration set to trade now - Weaver, Hellickson, Marcum should be a solid trio in 2011, 2012 and hopefully beyond.

Neftali Feliz - $21
Jonathan Broxton - $14
Kyle Farnsworth - $2
Evan Meek - $1
Hong Chih Kuo - $1

Not fun. Meek and Broxton have already looked weak, Feliz may be an over-pay, Farnsworth I don't even think I want. Kuo is the one guy I am happy with - he should be awfully good and will be a nice handcuff if Broxton doesn't get his act together.

Honestly, after doing this analysis, I am not optimistic about 2011. Not so down on it that I am quitting today, but definitely going to have to be future looking in my moves. Part of this is that I was poorly prepared for the auction, part is that I haven't been in a 5x5 league in so long that playing for Saves, SB, and Wins is just completely foreign to me. SB in particular were an issue - I didn't do a good job valuing speed early in the auction and ended up paying for guys like Borbon, Davis, and Alcides, in the hopes that they will provide the speed I need...but who knows.

But if you look at my potential lineup in 2012, I see a lot of cheap talent and plenty of cap space to buy a couple big stars to round things out.  We'll see how that works out, but it's probably my best shot.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Post Auction Thoughts

First, I want to apologize for the lack of posts leading up to the auction. I am in Ohio for a few days dealing with a family emergency. It will lead to a few more days of light posting (maybe no posting), but I wanted to drop a quick note about the auction before returning to my family.

Let me start by thanking all the writers and the one professor who are participating in he league. The auction took us about 8.5 hours last night and didn't end until about 2:30 a.m. ET. Made me wish I was home in Chicago (or at my future home in Seattle), but everyone was upbeat and involved the whole time and it made for a great event. Also a shout out to the Tufts students who were following their professor in the draft - really wish I had the opporunity to watch a fantasy auction for college credit.

That said...I do not like me team. My big bat was the appendicitis-inflicted Matt Holliday, and my IF is Carlos Pena, Freddy Sanchez, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Pablo Sandoval. Not exactly an awe-inspiring offense. My rotation is a bit better - Halladay, Weaver, Marcum, Hellickson.

But my real excitement is about the future. I have Jesus Monetero and J.P. Arencibia at catcher (along with McCann), Hosmer at first, Utley at $10, Moustakas, some of the young guys mentioned above. If those guys don't contribute early enough to strengthen my 2011 season, I can move Halladay and Holliday for some more young pieces (Eno, I'm coming for Trout; will need some OF youth as well), and 2012 could start to look awfully good.

I hope to have more detailed analysis soon, and I will post my full roster later, too, but hopefully this will tide you over for a bit.