Friday, March 30, 2007

I Take it Back

Due to some strong complaints, I will stick with my original intention of identifying one undervalued starter and one undervalued reliever every day. I'll identify the criteria for 'undervalued' between now and Sunday.

Also, I've been saying that Rotohog sign-ups were ending this week. It turns out that isn't true. They will remain open thoughout the season. Late entrants just won't get to participate in a draft, and obviously they won't have much chance of winning the overall competition. But there will be monthly and/or weekly contents that they'll be eligible for.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Heath Bell

I knew that Heath Bell was a pitcher who has had a lot of success in the minor leagues, but was somewhat unfairly criticized for his lack of success in the majors, but didn't realize to what an extent this was true, until I looked up his stats after reading a short comment about him at Rotoauthority this morning.

Bell has an ERA of 4.92 in 108 innings pitched, and that's the kind of number that tends to scare people off. On the other hand, he's struck out 105 and walked only 30 in those 108 innings, so his K/9 and K/BB are both excellent. In addition he induces plenty of ground balls (over 50% in 2 of his 3 major league seasons), so it appears that his bad ERA has been mostly the result of bad luck.

Even more encouraging are the numbers Bell has put up in the minors over parts of the past few years. In 35 AAA innings last year, he struck out 56 and walked only 8 in 35 innings. That's truly exceptional, and Bell should be able to put up an ERA about 2 full runs below his major league total so far. I will be using him as a big part of my middle reliever rotation.

Some Changes

I've decided to slightly change the 'mission' of this blog. Originally I pictured most of my posts focusing on which pitchers to pick up off the waiver wire in daily transaction leagues. I've come to realize that I can still address that, while broadening the focus to include all sorts of discussion of how to make adjustments to your team during the season. Most fantasy baseball advice focuses too heavily on preparation for the season and the draft, and there's not enough information out there and how to make evaluations and adjustments once the season begins. For daily transaction leagues in particular, the in-season adjustments are critical, but they make a big difference in weekly transaction leagues as well. I was leaning towards this change in focus already, and then realized I had to do something to change the blog's stated mission, when I noticed that Yahoo doesn't list what percentage of leagues a player is owned in...making my original goal of recommending players who are less than 50% owned in Yahoo leagues impossible. So instead, I'll be explaining the transactions I make on my own Yahoo team, showing the statistical results of those transactions, and giving advice on how to manage your teams during the season. If anyone has any thoughts or suggestion regarding this change, feel free to email me or leave a comment.

Since the last update on my Yahoo team, I've made one transaction. After Julio was traded to Florida, I picked him up as a free agent and dropped Owens. This solved the last big problem I felt I had coming out of my draft - needing a 3rd closer. I actually expect to use Owens as part of my rotating middle relievers strategy, but not need to fill up a roster spot with him now...I should be able to pick him (or someone like him) up whenever I need. Julio should be a decent closer and I think he's likely to hold onto the role no matter how well Owens and the other Florida relievers pitch.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Closer Usage Patterns

I just did some really basic 'back of napkin' research on closer usage patters. I looked at data for three of the top closer - Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, and Francisco Rodriguez. Altogether there were 197 games where they had pitched the previous day. Out of those 197 games, they were used in a total of 51 games, and picked up 42 wins or saves. There were 289 games where they had not pitched the previous day. Out of those 289 games, they were used in a total of 145 games. So in games where they pitched the previous day they picked up a win or save 21% of the time, while in games where they did not pitch the previous day, they picked up a win or save 31% of the time. And they actually appeared in games almost twice as often following a day off. Note that the results would have been even more extreme if I had eliminated games where a player missed time for an injury, since these periods obviously consisted only of days off, followed by games where they did not pitch.

Why does this matter? Well, in many leagues, it doesn't. But in leagues where there's a possibility of rotating closers...for example a salary cap league with daily transactions, this is huge. Closers are going to be AT LEAST 50% more valuable in games where they didn't pitch the previous day.

Last Week for Rotohog Sign-ups

This is the last week for Rotohog sign-ups. The last drafts are on Thursday, and trading begins Friday morning. For those who don't know, this is a FREE, fantasy baseball game with a $100K FIRST PRIZE! Other twists to the game include a 37 minute draft (teams make picks each round simultaneously) and 'open market' style trading like a stock exchange. If you haven't already registered, please use my referral code 'waiverwire' (without the quotes) when you sign up at Rotohog.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Keys to Winning at Fantasy Baseball

This is a slightly revised version of a guest article I wrote a few days ago for Fantasy Baseball Guy...

Yes, I’m aware that at least three other bloggers have written about this very same topic in the past few days. But I have a slightly different take on what the keys to winning at fantasy baseball are, and I’d like to share them. Obviously there are a lot of different things that can impact your results in a fantasy baseball league, but I believe that these three are the ones that most frequently separate the winners from the also rans.

Exploit Your Edge:
One of the keys to winning is having a plan. You need to know where your edge is going to come from and you need to have a strategy that allows you to maximize the benefit you’ll gain from that edge. It’s not enough to just draft the best players possible and hope for the best. If you do that, you’ll do ok if you value players well, but you’ll get beaten out by someone with a real plan for how to win the league.

For example, I believe that my edge comes from an understanding of how to project pitching performance. My understanding of which stats are good predictors of future performance and which aren’t has consistently allowed me to do a better job than most people of picking up undervalued pitchers and steering clear of overvalued ones. My strategy to exploit that edge is that I focus very heavily on hitting during the most drafts, confident that I can put together an ok staff of undervalued pitchers in the later rounds of the draft, and gradually improve my staff over the course of the season. Another reasonable strategy for someone with my edge would be to focus a little more on pitchers who I thought were good values even if they went relatively early in the draft (ie…pick Peavy if he’s there in the 4th round) with the intention of trading some of my pitching away once everyone else recognizes just how good my pitchers are…but obviously that will only work in a league where teams are so active that I can be sure I’ll find someone to trade with. My experience has been that that’s rarely the case.

Another example of an edge that someone might have is that they spend so much time online and watching baseball that they’re almost always the first one to know about injuries. For that person, it might be reasonable to draft only one closer, since they’ll almost certainly be able to pick up closers during the season when somebody gets hurt.

Know The Rules:
Its really important to know the rules of your league. Not just the obvious stuff like what the scoring system is, but every little detail. Is there an innings pitched maximum? An innings pitched minimum? Games played maximums at each position for hitters? What time is the transaction deadline? Are you allowed to draft an invalid roster? What are the requirements for position eligibility? Is there a disabled list? When do trading, waivers, and free agency begin? Are there limits to the number of transactions you can make? In a keeper league, what exactly are the keeper rules? Each of these (and many more) rules should play a part in the strategies that you consider using during the season. For example, a low enough innings pitched maximum might make middle relievers have some value, even in a shallow league where they normally wouldn’t. In league where you can draft an invalid roster, instead of drafting a replacement level hitter at your last open position, maybe you draft someone with an outside shot of winning the role as their team’s closer before the season starts. There are so many of these tricks and adjustments to be made, but if you don’t know the league’s rules really well, you’re not going to be able to properly take advantage of them.

Be Willing to Drop Players:
This was probably the toughest and most important lesson that I learned on the way from being a mediocre fantasy baseball player to being a good one. You simply can’t get too attached to your players. Lots of people advise this, but they’re usually talking about being willing to give up something good to get what you need in trades. While that is true, I think a willingness to drop ‘good’ players when its necessary is tougher, and more important too. In leagues with shallow benches, don’t kill your chances by carrying too manyh injured stars…at some point you may need to drop one to pick up someone who will play. In leagues with daily transactions, don’t hesitate to drop the 3-5 weakest players on your team, even if they’re pretty good. You’ll b e able to get much better production by rotating players in favorable situations….even if someone picks up the guy you just dropped. And never, ever sacrifice current production because you’re carrying a useless player for their ‘trade value’. You could wait a long time before someone is willing to trade for them.

Be Relentless:
While you can certainly lose the season with a bad enough draft, you can’t win it with a good draft. You’re going to need to check on your team and make adjustments throughout the season to have a chance of winning. Most leagues I’ve been in have been won by the person who did the best job of this, not the one with the best draft. Don’t underestimate how much ground you can make up by staying on top of things day in, day out, for the full six month season.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Tony Sipp

I decided to do some research on Tony Sipp after somebody posted on Rotojunkie that along with Fernando Cabrera, he's a possibility to take over as the Cleveland closer if Joe Borowski is injured or ineffective. I hadn't heard Sipp's name before, so I had to look up his minor league stats. I'm not actually sure that Sipp is even going to have a place in the Cleveland bullpen , but the poster was right about one thing - he should be immediately effective (although a little wild) when he gets his chance in the majors. At Akron last year (AA) he struck out 80 and walked 21 in 60.1 innings. Those are the statistics of an excellent prospect, and even if you assume that skipping AAA would lead to a relatively large drop in his K/9 rate and an increase in his BB/9, both should remain good enough for Sipp to hold his own against major league competition.


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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tampa Closer Situation

This is an updated version of a guest article I wrote for Fake Teams last week.

Last week, Joe Maddon was quoted as saying that he was far from having his mind made up about having Seth McClung act as the closer for Tampa Bay to start the season. Well, I’ts about time! Up until then, we’d been hearing that because he throws hard (or something like that) McClung was going to be given the closer’s role. Whoever had decided this apparently was overlooking one important fact…Seth McClung is a terrible pitcher. Last year he walked more batters than he stuck out (68 to 59)! That’s awful. And that was in 103 innings, so its not like he showed signs that he could be a superstar if he just improved his control. McClung hasn’t pitched well at any level above high A ball. Pitching in relief after the All-Star break last year, he wasn’t much better than as a starter in the first half of the season. While his K/9 rate went up substantially, so did his BB/9. You can’t success as a major league pitcher walking a batter every inning.

The amazing thing about how long they’d clung to the idea of using McClung as their starter is that Tampa Bay has a number of superior options.

I’ve talked about Chad Orvella before here. While he’s certainly a high risk choice, he’s got TONS of upside potential (unlike McClung who has very little chance of excelling in the majors despite the speed of his fastball), and the potential downside isn’t much worse than what McClung has done so far in his career.

A safer choice among young, unproven pitchers would be Juan Salas. I have to confess that I didn’t know much about him until recently, when somebody told me he might have a shot at the Tampa Bay closer job. I took a look at his stats, and I like what I saw: Combined 2006 stats at AA, AAA, and 10 major league innings were 93 strikeouts and 28 walks in 73.1 innings. If Salas wins the job, he should do a perfectly adequate job…far, far better than anything they could hope for out of Seth McClung.

An even better choice would be Al Reyes. He’s not young, but he’s been pretty good over the course of his major league career, with a K/9 rate close to 9 and better than a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio. And it appears that he’s been getting better over the years as his K/9 and K/BB have been substantially better since 2002. The main question with Reyes is whether he will pitch effectively after missing all of 2006. So far in Spring Training, he looks ok with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk in 6 innings pitched.

Why they would consider handing the closer’s job to a marginal major leaguer like McClung over a proven pitcher like Reyes is beyond me. But given their questionable decision making so far, Tampa Bay fans should be afraid…very afraid. Because one of the alternatives that has been mentioned is to make Ruddy Lugo the closer…and he may be even worse than McClung based on last year’s 48K/37BB in 85IP performance.

One last contender for the role of closer on Tampa Bay has emerged in the past week. Brian Stokes is a 27 year old with unexceptional minor league stats. Maddon has announced that he’ll be moved to the bullpen and is in the mix for the closer job. At AAA last year he had 103K/49BB in 133.2 inning pitched. In 24 major league innings, he had 15K/9BB. The relatively low K/9 and K/BB in AAA (and his limited time in Tampa) suggest performance similar to what I’d expect from McClung or Lugo, but he does have one thing in his favor. He’ll be moving from a role as a starter to being a reliever, and many pitchers are significantly better as relievers.

So far, it seems that only McClung has likely pitched himself out of the role, and even that isn’t definite. If Orvella, Reyes, Salas, or Stokes can win the job, I think they have a reasonable chance of pitching well enough to keep it. If McClung or Lugo win the job, I’d expect them to struggle to hold onto it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

DIPS, K/9, K/BB, and more

I realized that I talk a lot about how important ratios like K/9 and K/BB are in predicting future performance, but I've never really presented the evidence for that belief in this blog. Here's a link to a 2004 Article in Futility Infielder that summarizes a lot of the information and provides links to virtually all the important research that had been done on the topic up until then.

In addition, there are two books that devote at least a chapter to the topic and have tons of other great baseball research if you're into this stuff. I've read 'Baseball Between the Numbers' (which is by the staff of Baseball Prospectus) and although I haven't read 'The Book' yet, the authors (Tom Tango and Mitchel Lichtman) have published a lot of great work online, so I'm looking forward to having the time to read it. Don't be fooled by it's current lack of is completed, and just looks like the hardcover version is out of print so they're taking pre-orders on the paperback.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Innings Limits & Platooning

I got the following questions in an email from a reader yesterday:

1. Do you run into problems with the max innings pitched and max games played?
I'm having problems with my fantasy basketball team cause I've maxed out the games played at various positions already.

2. Do you run platoons?
I've loaded my team with lefties and I plan to utilize my bench spots by platooning a lot of positions (3b, OF, 1b, util). Unfortunately, if you platoon like this you'll have less roster spots available for waiver wire transactions, which I'm supposing is the basis of your whole strategy.

These are great questions, and I'll try to answer both of them. Obviously the answers are going to depend on the type of league you're in. But assuming that there is an innings pitched limit, then that plays a large factor in my strategy. In a daily transactions league (which I assume is what the reader was asking about) I'm going to be rotating middle relievers and starters in and out of my lineup on a daily basis. The middle relievers are in there to allow me to lower my ERA and WHIP. The starters are basically just innings eaters, in their to make sure I get enough innings pitched to be competitive in strikeouts and wins. If I'm able to draft enough good starters, then I might not rotate any starters during the season, but I generally am going to focus on hitting during the draft, so typically one or more of the starters I draft aren't good enough to outperform rotated starters I get off the waiver wire when they're in good pitchers parks and facing weak lineups.

I typically don't run lefty/righty platoons, although there's definitely some merit to doing so. If I rotate hitters at all (which I do a lot less than with pitchers) I'm typically looking for players going in good hitters parks and against pitchers with low strikeout rates. Either way, the key here is that I'm mostly doing this with the players at the 'bottom' of my roster, so I just drop whoever I'm not using. Unless you have a very large bench in your league, you're going to sometimes have to drop some pretty decent players to maximize the advantages you can get from rotating players.

Monday, March 19, 2007

More on My Yahoo Team

In the comments section on my 2nd post about my Yahoo team, Nimrod (his name for himself...not mine) said that he doesn't think my pitching looks that good. He's not the first one to say that, and that's usually the case for my teams. I still believe that I will be able to win or come close to winning most of the pitching categories. First of all, I like the pitchers I got...I suspect that they're generally going to outperform most people's expectations and make this at least a middle of the pack pitching staff. But the real reason I'll excel in the pitching categories is that I'm allowed to make transactions and this is a daily league. You can expect me to drop several of my lesser pitchers (and hitters on my bench) and rotate through top middle relievers in favorable situations (at home against weak opponents) as well as possible rotating some 'spot starters' in especially favorable situations. This will let me lower my ERA and WHIP substantially (because of the middle relievers) while accumulating a ton of Ks and Ws. Because I'll be making so many transactions during the season, I'm going to spend most of my time with one of the lower waiver priorities...its just not worth delaying my pick-ups to keep a high selection. With that in mind, I solved my problem of having only 3B on my bench by using my #1 waiver priority to drop Alex Gordon and pick up Delmon Young who had just been dropped. Now all I need is another closer (assuming Owens doesn't win the role in Florida), but there's plenty of time to pick one up.

I think it's worth discussing the general lessons here - tailor your team to the strategy you plan to use, and come up with a strategy that takes advantage of the type of league you're in. In leagues, but especially those with daily transactions, there are TONS of opportunities to tinker with your rosters and gain many, many small edges over your opponents over the course of the season. Those edges add up to an extremely high likelihood of winning your league. Ulimately, I think that's what this blog is about. Other blogs are almost entirely focused on preparing for your draft, and then keeping up to date on the news during the season. The Waiver Wire will be focused on finding opportunities to gain the upper hand throughout the season.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Park Factors

I was looking for a site with good park factors, and discovered that ESPN has great park factor data. Instead of the usual runs and home runs, their data includes specific park factors for HR, H, 2B, 3B, and BB as well. Also, they have the data for each of the past 5 seasons. And it looks like they'll be updating the 2007 data on a daily basis once the MLB season starts.

I think most of us probably underutilize park factors. Sure, when a player switches teams we make some kind of adjustment based on the ballpark he's moving from and the ballpark he's moving to...but do we actually figure out the impact on each of his component stats and how that affects his valuation?

And even fewer of us are using park factors as a major factor in our determination of who to play each week (or each day in a daily transaction league). We may take a quick glance at where our pitchers are scheduled to play, but in theory we should be making park-based adjustments to our projections for all players each week or each day and recalculating their value based on that before we decide who to play each week. The bottom part of our roster (especially in daily transaction leagues) should probably be a rotating door of players facing especially favorable situation (both park and opponent) rather than us using a 'buy and hold' type strategy with mediocre players.

I'm going to have a LOT more to say on this topic over the coming weeks and months.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Fantasy Game Day

Some how when I was originally looking for other useful fantasy baseball blogs, I missed this one. Fantasy Game Day is definitely worth visiting. They've got lots of great stuff, starting with their ADP (Average Draft Position) data, which is really valuable in helping plan out your draft strategy and avoid wasting a high pick on a favorit player when you can get the same player much later in most drafts.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Home Run Mania

You may have noticed the description of and link to another fantasy baseball game on the right side of the screen. This one is called Home Run Mania, and while it lacks some of the intricacy of other games, it's ideal for those who don't have the time to devote to preparation, lengthy drafts, and in-season transactions. Basically the idea is that you choose a team of 8 players who hit a total of less than 200 home runs last year, and your score is the number of home runs that those players hit over the course of the 2007 season. At least 80% of the entry money will be distributed in monthly and season long prizes to the highest finishers, which compares favorably with sites such as CBS Sportsline whose public leagues give out barely 50% of entry fees in prize money.

Three announcements that are somewhat related to Home Run Mania:
1. If you register to play it, please let them know I sent you, either by selecting 'The Waiver Wire' in the drop down that indicates where you heard about the game, or by letting me know you signed up with them, or by putting waiverwire as your referral code. Here is the link to play Home Run Mania.

2. If you send me an email to be included on my mailing list, I'll send you what I think is the optimal selection of players for the game.

3. I'm going to be taking entries for the first contest I've run here. Sort of a mini-Home Run Mania. Entry is free. Pick any 3 hitters who totaled a maximum of 50 home runs in the major leagues in 2006. Email me your picks. Unless you specify otherwise, I'll add you to my mailing list, and I will be sending out standings to members of the list periodically throughout the season. At the end of the season, I'll announce the winner. In addition to bragging rights, the winner will receive the choice of either writing a guest article on the topic of their choice (anything non-offensive or controversial to me) or of having me write an article on the topic of their choice (again, within reason, but doesn't have to baseball related). You can use this as an opportunity to promote a web site of your own, advertise a commerical venture you're involved in, look for a job, help a charity...whatever you want.

More About My Yahoo Draft

In the comments section for the post where I showed the results of my Yahoo Draft, ratdog gave a really good assessment of my draft. For anyone who's interested, I suggest reading what he wrote. The league is a 12 team, daily transaction, 5*5 rotisserie scoring league.

Here is the actual order of my picks:
1. (12) Carl Crawford OF
2. (13) David Wright 3B
3. (36) Hanley Ramírez SS
4. (37) Joe Mauer C
5. (60) Adam Dunn OF
6. (61) Prince Fielder 1B
7. (84) Brett Myers SP
8. (85) Cole Hamels SP
9. (108) Álex Ríos OF
10. (109) Brad Lidge RP
11. (132) John Patterson SP
12. (133) Jim Thome Util
13. (156) Takashi Saito RP
14. (157) Ian Kinsler 2B
15. (180) Dave Bush SP
16. (181) Adrián Béltre 3B
17. (204) Alex Gordon 3B
18. (205) Ted Lilly SP
19. (228) Scott Olsen SP
20. (229) Henry Owens RP
21. (252) Scot Shields RP

I like my pitching staff, and believe that combined with rotating in a ton of good middle relievers in favorable situations, I should win most of the pitching categories (other than saves unless I can get more closers) despite my lack of a true ace.

As I mentioned before, my biggest mistake was getting two 3B for my bench. I won't be able to fill in when players in other positions have the day off or get injured. The best hitter available on waivers right now is Frank Thomas, and he wouldn't solve my position flexibility issue - I really need an OF. I haven't taken the time to see who's available yet. One of the great things about shallow daily leagues is that you don't need a star at every can often make do with an ok player going against a weak pitcher in a hitter's park.

Stock Up, Stock Down

A few quick updates on players who I've talked about in previous posts...

Octavio Dotel: 3IP, 4K, 0BB. Tiny sample size, but its looking like he's ok. Nice sleeper for most leagues.

Zack Greinke: 9IP, 11K, 0BB. Very nice. Too bad they're talking about having him start the year in AAA. Some other team should volunteer to take him off KC's hands, since they don't seem to recognize that he's a pretty good pitcher.

Brad Lidge: 5IP, 5K, 2BB. Not bad, but because of his 10.80 ERA there's a perception that something is 'still wrong' with him. I think he'll pitch fine but might downgrade him slightly just because of the risk that they could pull him from the closer role prematurely.

Mark Prior: 3.1IP, 0K, 5BB. Uh oh. Normally reports of low velocity and control issues in Spring Training aren't anything to be too concerned about. When the stats confirms those reports in a player with Prior's injury history, be concerned. Add to that the fact that he was moved back in the rotation, which may indicate that he's no longer being considered for the Cubs #5 rotation spot, and Prior is now AT MOST a $1 player.

Rich Hill: 5IP, 6K, 0BB. Nice.

Ted Lilly: 5IP, 2K, 0BB. Not so nice, but nothing to be concerned about at all.

Henry Owens: 7IP, 3K, 1BB. Not bad, but not too exciting. His 0.00 ERA certainly still has him in the race to be Florida's closer, although Gregg and Lindstrom also have low ERAs, and Florida is said to be considering trading for Benitez or Julio, so this is far from over.

Yusmeiro Petit: 7.2IP, 8K, 0BB. Nice. Too bad his 7.04 ERA is likely to scare them away from giving him a spot in the rotation.

Phillip Hughes: 4.2IP, 2K, 6BB. Along with a 7.71 ERA. If there was any chance of him making the team out of Spring Training, its gone now.

That's it for now. Note that Hill, Lilly, and Lidge do NOT qualify as the types of players who you should really be tracking Spring Training stats for...I just included them for anyone who is curious.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Yahoo Draft Results

The results of the Yahoo draft I mentioned earlier are below. Overall I thought it went pretty well given the extreme lack of preparation. The only two real flaws were:

1. Both offensive players on my bench are 3B. I'll need to trade or drop one of them before the season, so I can get an OF to fill in on days when my OF have the day off.

2. I picked 6 SP. I like all of them, but I know that my strategy for these leagues works best with only 4 or 5 SP. Instead of Olsen or Lilly I would have been better off picking a top 5 MR (Neshek and Broxton were still available), a potential closer (some of the guys from Florida, Tampa Bay, and Cincinnati were still available), or a top 10 MR with a very slight chance of ending up somewhere as a closer (Linebrink). As it is, I'm probably going to end up dropping one of the SP I picked, unless I'm able to trade them or someone gets hurt. I'm not too hopeful about trades, since I won't be devoting too much time to this league.

C: Mauer
1B: Fielder
2B: Kinsler
3B: Wright
SS: Ramirez
OF: Crawford
OF: Dunn
OF: Rios
Util: Thome
BN: Beltre
BN: Gordon

SP: Myers
SP: Hamels
RP: Lidge
RP: Saito
P: Patterson
P: Bush
P: Lilly
BN: Olsen
BN: Owens
BN: Shields

I'd love to hear some comments on what people think of this draft!

First Draft

In about 2 minutes I'll be starting my first draft of the season. Its a Yahoo Public league, and I should mention that I haven't prepared for it at all - no valuations, no pre-ranking, nothing. I don't have a lot emotionally invested in winning the league, although I certainly expect to win. I'm entering it because if I'm going to be making recommendations throughout the season on what undervalued pitchers to pick up, I want to be using those suggestions myself. I'll post the results sometime after the draft. The basics of my strategy are:
1. I'll be rotating in a ton of middle relievers, so I only need about 3 starting pitchers and 3 closers.
2. Draft hitting early.
3. There is generally a position surplus in the OF in Yahoo leagues.
4. Draft high risk, high reward players late in the draft.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Zig When They Zag

This post is about one element to choosing a set of statistical projections to base your fantasy baseball player valuations on. Obviously if you have reason to believe that you know which set of projections are the most accurate, that's the one you should use. But most people don't have any means of determining which of the dozens of projections on the market are the most accurate, and the only study I'm aware of that looked at this didn't find any overwhelmingly persuasive evidence in favor of one set or another.

So assuming that all the sets of projections are about equally accurate, you should use one that the other people in your league are NOT using. While your data won't be any more (or less) accurate than your opponents', you won't end up overbidding on the same players as everyone else, and the guys you identify as potential sleepers will tend to go cheaper than the 'sleepers' on everyone else's list.

Sometimes these 'tactical' suggestions are easiest to illustrate with simplified examples. Let's look at two players - Ted Lilly and Rich Hill. Imagine you're in a ten team league. You use one set of projections. The other nine people in your league all use the same set of projections as each other, but a different one from what you use. Let's say your projections show that Lilly is a $3 player and Hill is a $10 player. Your opponents' projections show the opposite - Hill is a $3 player and Lilly is a $10 player. Since we're assuming that both projection systems are equally accurate, Lilly and Hill are actually likely to perform equally over the course of the season. But in the draft, you're going to be able to get Hill on your team for $4 (a bargain according to your data) while someone else is going to have to pay at least $11, and likely much more for the same production from Lilly. Without having any more accuracy, your projections have helped you get the edge on your competition simply by being different than what everyone else was using.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Next Wave in Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy baseball has gone through a few phases in its history. First there were the days of keeping track of stats on paper or in a spreadsheet and live in-person drafts for all leagues. The next major 'revolution' in the development of fantasy sports games was the advent of internet leagues where you could play online against people who you didn't necessarily know. For the past few years, there hasn't be a lot of change in what kinds of games are available, but this year appears to be the beginning of another period of change, with lots of really original new games becoming available, and more in the works. I'll be talking about some of these periodically, because I believe that some of them will be really fun, and that until enough people are really paying attention and have time to figure out the correct strategy, there are going to be some great opportunities to make a lot of money. Most people just don't understand strategy well enough to adjust quickly to new sets of rules.

I've already talk at length about Rotohog, and am excited enough about it that I started a blog The Rotohog Blog dedicated to it. Today I want to talk about another of the new faces on the fantasy sports scene.

GameDayDraft has a few twists of its own. First of all, each contest only lasts one day. You can 'draft' your team right before the games begin, and by the end of the night, you know whether you won or lost. You can play free games, or deposit money and play for real cash. And best of all, they offer some games with free entry but small cash prizes! The games themselves use a points scoring system, and you choose a roster of players made up of one from each of a number of 'groups' or categories. Basically, the strategy comes down to proper valuation of players, and knowing how to make adjustments for the specific conditions (ballpark, opposing pitcher, etc.) of that day's game. Everything about the site from the single day contests to the slightly cheesy graphics makes me think that it will appeal to bad players, making it a VERY profitable opportunity for those who know what they're doing. I can't wait!

If you sign up to play there (no deposit'll get 1000 pretend dollars to start), they'll require you to put a referral code. Put waiverwire to let them know I sent you. And if you sign up for my mailing list, I'll be sending out some player valuations, and tips on adjusting for ballpark and opposing pitcher. The link to access the game is Game Day Draft.

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Friday, March 9, 2007

Chris Young

In his excellent Rotoauthority blog, Tim Dierkes recently argued that Chris Young is unlikely to equal last season’s success, because his .230 BABIP is historically low, and likely unrepeatable. Although Tim did acknowledge that Young might improve in other areas (specifically his control), but he’s still projecting him for a 3.99 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, both of which seem substantially too high to me.

For those who don’t know, BABIP is ‘batting average on balls in play’, and research has shown that it’s largely out of the control of the pitcher, depending more on defense and luck. What that means is that when a pitcher has an unusually low BABIP one season, his stats are likely to change for the worse the next season, and when he has an unusually high BABIP, they’re likely to improve the next season.

While Young’s BABIP will almost certainly be higher than .230 this year, there are a couple factors that are likely to negate the impact this will have on his ERA and WHIP.

Firstly, he’s an extreme flyball pitcher. While this is generally a bad thing (because it means he’ll always allow plenty of home runs), it generally leads to a lower BABIP, so Young will tend to have below average numbers in this area. In other words, while his ERA may generally be higher than his K/9 and K/BB would predict, his WHIP will tend to be lower.

Second, and more importantly, despite the move from the AL to the NL, Young’s walk rate was almost 50% higher than either of the previous two years. While this could be due to some change in health or mechanics, I’m going to view it as a bit of a fluke until he proves otherwise by repeating the high walk rate. I think Young’s control will be so much better this year, that it cancels out the impact of a rising BABIP. I think Tim isn’t too far off on Young’s likely ERA (I’ll predict something like 3.60), but I think he’s way off on Youngs WHIP, where I think something around 1.17 or 1.18 is likely.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

When Do Spring Training Stats Matter?

For the most part, Spring Training stats should be ignored, just like Spring Training standings. But there are at least three situations where its worthwhile to pay attention to Spring Training stats:

1. To see whether players returning from injury will be effective. Particularly with pitchers, you can tell how they're doing by looking at their K/9 and K/BB. Just make sure to ignore stats like ERA that have more variance. Good examples in this category this year will be guys like Dotel, Gagne, and Isringhausen.

2. Look for young hitters with MONSTER numbers. Not just good numbers, but numbers among the best in the league. Research has shown that guys who have a Spring Training slugging percentage more than .200 better than their career average will tend to improve their regular season stats. Andruw Jones right before his breakout season was a good example.

3. See how players fighting for jobs are doing. You're really trying to look at this from the perspective of their managers, many of whom put too much stock in Spring Training stats, despite the small sample size. This may be players trying to stick in the majors, fighting for the closer job, or fighting for an everyday spot in the lineup.

The best place to get Spring Training stats is MLB Spring Training Stats.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Pat Neshek

In his first major league opportunity last year, Pat Neshek proved to be one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. What is especially amazing about his stats (K:53, BB: 6, IP: 37) is that this was done in less than half a season. Add in his AAA stats, and he pitched almost 100 innings of absolutely great middle relief. His K/9 and K/BB ratios have been terrific at every level of the minors, so there's no reason to expect anything other than another great season from Neshek. With Nathan, Rincon, and Neshek in their bullpen, teams better get ahead of Minnesota early in games this year, because they're not going to be scoring many runs off the bullpen!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

I wanted to remind any new readers that 1/4 of whatever I earn from the ads on The Waiver Wire will be donated to Save The Children. If you're interested in helping this worthy cause, obviously the best thing you can do is give them money directly. The next best thing is to make purchases through the ads on this site and on my other blog The Rotohog Blog. If you are planning to buy any books, do it through the ads on this site (even if its for a different book than advertised). If you're going to buy baseball tickets, consider doing it through the StubHub ads on either site, and if there are other vendors you plan to do a lot of online shopping from, let me know and I'll see if I can add them.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Henry Owens

Right now, Henry Owens is probably third in line for the Florida closer job behind Taylor Tankersley (if healthy) and Kevin Gregg. That said, any one of 5 or 6 different pitchers could win the job by opening day, and Owens is definitely in the mix. This is worth watching VERY closely. Owens has been overpowering at all levels in the minors with a total of 341 strikeouts in 249 innings. He's struggled a little (not badly) with his control at times, but its still unclear why he never pitched above AA until he was 27 years old. His season last year at AA was incredible - 74K/10BB in only 40 IP!!! That's astonishing. His downside this year should be a VERY effective middle reliever, but if he gets a chance to be the Florida closer, he's going to be an incredible bargain in most leagues.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Aaron Brown Article Up At The Rotohog Blog

If you haven't already signed up for Rotohog, or visited my new blog The Rotohog Blog dedicated to this new game, you should take a look now. I've just posted a LONG article to the blog that was written by Aaron Brown, the author of The Poker Face of Wall Street. There are very few people who combine as much knowledge about the financial markets with a love of games as Aaron does, and if you think the strategy for Rotohog will be just like other points based fantasy baseball games, think again...and read Aaron's article!


One great blog that I linked to a few days ago, but haven't mentioned yet is Boogeyblog. If you're as excited by the idea of a 500 word discussion of the merits of trading Brandon McCarthy for Mark Teahen as I am, head over there...that's the topic of the latest post.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Chad Billingsley

I've been engaged in a bit of a debate about Chad Billingsley in one of the online forums. My 'opponents' think he's a top prospect who may be ready for a breakout season. I don't. In 90 major league innings last year, he struck out 59 and walked 58. That's awful! He was a little better later in the year, but not good. His minor league stats (available from The Baseball Cube here show a guy who will have a good (but not phenomenal) strikeout rate, but will be VERY wild in the majors. He's got a shot to be an ok major league pitcher, but he won't be good this year, and if the Dodgers put him in their rotation ahead of Kuo, they're making a very big mistake. He belongs in middle relief or at AAA. Someone suggested that his minor league number looks a lot like Randy Johnson's...and that's true. But they also look like a lot of guys who never made the majors. And based on his age, even if he followed Johnson's career path he'd be 4 years aways from being an effective major league starter, and 8 years from having his first exceptional season. Stay away, unless you're in a deep and/or keeper league.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Anthony Reyes

Pitching in AA in 2004, Anthony Reyes struck out 102 batters and walked only 13 in 74.1 innings. I was convinced he was a future superstar. It now appears that his strikeout rate that season may have been a bit of a fluke. While he still has a fairly bright future, nothing he's done before or since seems consistent with such an overpowering K/9 rate at AA ball.

In the majors last year he struck out 72 and walked 34 in 85.1 innings. That's not a bad K/9 or K/BB and indicates that he should easily improve on his 5.06 ERA of a year ago. Based on his minor league stats, it also seems reasonable that he could lower his BB rate a little. So far in the major leagues, he's been a fly ball pitcher, so I expect him to continue to allow home runs. Overall, I think its reasonable to expect an ERA right around 4 or slightly higher this year.

Yusmeiro Petit

With the health of Josh Johnson's shoulder in question, Yusmeiro Petit has gone from having a very remote chance of making Florida's rotation to having a good chance of starting the season in their rotation.

Petit is a guy who has generally been loved by most 'numbers guys' and considered only a fringe prospect by traditional scouts. Maybe ironically, after looking over his stats, I think the scouts may be onto something here.

Between 2003 and 2005 Petit pitched a combined 341.1 innings in the lower minor leagues (up to and including AA) and was dominant: 413 K with only 69 BB. He was significantly less effective at AAA in 2005 and 2006: 82 K and 26 BB in a combined 111.1 innings pitched. His brief opportunity in the majors was pretty consistent with his AAA performance: 20 K and 9 BB in 26.1 innings. In addition, he's had pretty bad HR/9 throughout his professional career, and was an extreme flyball pitcher in the only sample for which I have GB/FB data (the 26.1 innings in the majors).

So based on his AAA and Major League experience, we'd have to assume that he'll be a moderately effective major leaguer who is prone to high home run rates. Basically a #4 or #5 starter throughout his career. This is more or less what the scouts and 'tools guys' have been predicting for him for several years. Even when he was dominating at AA they said that his less than overwhelming fastball wouldn't convert well to the major leagues.

So is there hope for anything better from Petit? Maybe, for two reasons:
1. He's still only 22 years old. While youth isn't always the blessing for pitching prospects that it is for hitters, it means there's plenty of time for him to improve.
2. His performance in AA in 2005 was really exceptional. The competition at AA (where many top prospects are sent) typically isn't that much worse than AAA (where rosters are often filled with washed up or failed major leaguers) and he managed to strike out 130 batters in 117.2 innings with only 18 walks. Adjusted for the more difficult competition in the majors, that should indicate he's got the potential to be a decent #2 or #3 type starter. If that happens this year, then he's going to be a huge steal in fantasy drafts. Since you'll be able to get him late (probably undrafted in shallow mixed leagues), there's some upside without any real risk.