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


  1. An equally interesting question, if you're fortunate enough to be in the position to ask it, is the flip side. That is, when to hit the market and make some big acquisitions. I'm faced with that question right now. My offense is clearly not good enough to win the league (only 22 total points in a 4x4), as I was too stingy with top offensive talent in the draft. But, my pitching is good enough to keep me within a reasonable distance (44 points) and I think a top-level bat or two could put me at least even with the top teams. I'm definitely not in fire sale mode as I think my offense will eventually improve, but currently out of the money and hanging out in fantasy purgatory.

  2. Definitely a good question and I will take a look at that next. I am in an extremely similar position in the Experts League - my offense isn't good enough but my pitching has been lights out and so I currently sit in 4th place. I have the prospects to be a buyer...but should I?