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Tuesday 19th Sep 2017

Assorted Rants, Rumblings and Ruminations from the Mind of a “So-Called” Expert

OK, so I have an idea. Truth of the matter is I get tons of ideas but most of them get buried in a folder on my desktop called “Yeah Right.” The thing about this one is it was supposed to be a joke but a couple of guys think it actually has legs. Not just a couple of guys – a couple of guys in the fantasy industry that are pretty tuned into the landscape.

It came about at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association football draft last month. As Lawr detailed, we had the first pick. The order was drawn about 15 minutes previous to when we were on the clock so we didn’t have a lot of time to talk about who we wanted. We quickly decided we didn’t want Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson or Jimmy Graham, which left a running back. There are four ball-carriers that can be a defensible top choice: Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy. Who we took and why along with the relative merits of each aren’t important; they’ll be plenty of time to talk about that. What is important is what I off-handedly uttered to my co-manager with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek.

"Geez, I sort of wish we could pick a quarter share of each."

I told the story to a couple of guys at the FSTA conference, not to pitch the idea but rather to demonstrate how close the call is and how all of the four are viable options. They both said forget that, the idea was genius. Well, they may not have said genius but I need practice spelling the word properly and this was a good time to use it. Suffice it to say they both pushed me to seriously consider the notion. One, Fantasy Sport Network’s Nando DiFino threatened to pick up the ball and run with it if I fumbled. See what I did there?

The concept is a draft (most logically football but it could work for baseball) where you could pick partial shares of the player and the scoring would be adjusted to account for the percentage you own. So if quarter shares were allowed, Lawr and I could have actually done what I jokingly suggested and picked up a 25 percent share of Forte, Charles, Peterson and McCoy.

Obviously there's a ton of details that would need to be hammered out, not the least of which is a person goofy enough to organize and administer such a monster since there isn’t a commissioner service equipped to handle the format. The person would have to be pretty adept with spreadsheets and know enough people to recruit league members.

OK, I’ll do it.

At this point, the only rule that is set-in-stone is you can draft partial shares of players and those shares are available until 100 percent of the player is chosen. Past that, everything is on the table. I have some ideas (some rather obvious, some a bit more creative) but if the idea has legs, we can take it to the Mastersball forum and discuss the rules.

So, what do you think? Does the ability to pick 25 percent of Matt Forte, 25 percent of Calvin Johnson, 25 percent of Jimmy Graham and 25 percent of Payton Manning with the top pick pique your interest?

I’ll tell you what. Post a note in the comments or drop me a line and if we have ample feedback, we’ll take it to the message board so I can move this one into the “About Damned Time" folder. If we can come up with some rules, I’ll set it up and run the league from the site.


It’s no secret that I’ve been smitten by the daily fantasy baseball format. While I admit the format isn’t for everybody, I’m a bit taken aback by some of the comments I have heard and read about the game – some of which was in personal correspondence.

Cutting to the chase, the primary issue is how much luck is involved with daily fantasy baseball. There have been multiple contentions that it’s gambling and not fantasy baseball with some even claiming they are insulted that their sacred game has to share the name with such non-worthy variant.

As my compadre likes to say, chill out – it’s a game based on a game.

But it really is more than that. Equating daily fantasy with gambling is at minimum myopic with some bridging into an elitist arrogance. Honestly, I’m quite surprised with some of the comments I’ve read on various message forums and heard in conversation.

Maybe I’m the one that is naïve because I’m having a modicum of success and am justifying my participation. Not that I need to justify it, it’s just that some are questioning that I am now writing a lot more about daily and prefer I stick to traditional fantasy.

Here’s my take. Distilled down to its core, both daily and traditional fantasy entail predicting then quantifying player expectation. In traditional fantasy, the currency is auction dollars or a draft round. In the daily game, it’s a salary set by the site. The bottom line is the same analytic methods used in traditional fantasy are apropos for daily.

When I’m looking at a pitcher to use in my daily lineup, I look at the same strikeout and walk rates I use when projecting for the year-long games. I compare the hurler’s real ERA to his expected ERA to find options that are underpriced since most sites set the salary based on outcomes. I look at hit rate to find unlucky pitchers that other may avoid. Again – the same metrics are evaluated.

The same idea holds true for hitters. Unlucky batters are likely to be underpriced. Everything that goes into evaluating player performance for six month goes into researching players for use that night in daily.

For the sake of argument, let’s say I’ve convinced some proponents the above is true. The follow-up will no doubt be something like…

“That’s all well and good, but the success rate of projecting a season’s worth of performance is much greater than predicting out performance for one day. Projecting a sample as small as a day is almost luck. Therefore winning at daily fantasy is almost all luck.”

Look, I’m not going to deny that luck plays a major role in deciding daily contests – it does. But you know what? It also has a significant influence on the result of year-long contests, just ask those that picked up Jose Fernandez last year. And don’t even pretend you thought he’d be that good.

There’s no doubt that in order to take down a large entry tournament you’re going to need to hit on a player or two that has a highlight reel night. But without a supporting cast that does their job, the surprise production that game would have gone to waste.

Hmmm – sounds just like the dynamic of the sacred traditional format.

An argument to which I do concur is volume playing is an unfortunate repercussion of daily games. As I’ve admitted, there’s more variance in daily games. One way to mitigate the variance is to play in multiple contests– and by multiple I mean hundreds a night.

I understand this feeds into the gambling narrative and I have no retort. A major element of daily games is bankroll management with the underlying understanding odds and probability. Entering a team into a daily contest definitely has a betting feel when you take this aspect into consideration.

But I ask, what’s wrong with that? Seriously, why is this an issue? So it’s not baseball. Is being a good trader baseball? (Insert the high stakes arena and my league doesn’t allow trading here.) There are skills other than “knowing baseball” necessary to compete in the traditional format. And there are skills other than knowing baseball that are part and parcel to the daily format.

I realize some are not going to get over the perceived luck and gambling element of daily fantasy sports.

That’s fine.

I just don’t get some of the vitriol. If you don’t like a TV show, you don’t watch. If you don’t like a song, you change the station. If you don’t like some food, you don’t eat it.

If you don’t like daily fantasy baseball, don’t play.

From Twitter: To quote Larry Brown, Zola's team is "total, puke garbage."

To quote The Rock, "It doesn't matter what you think."

From the NL Tout Wars chat: "I’ve seen Zola hold back before… unsuccessfully, I might add. Don’t understand replaying failed strategies."

Too bad SiriusXM doesn't cover the NFBC NL-only auction championship, you know, the league I have won the last three times I have entered. #humblebrag

Also from the chat: "Zola’s team is a train wreck."

All aboard!


The 2014 National League Tout Wars auction was held last Saturday in New York City. As suggested by the lede, my team was not a favorite among the peanut gallery. But I'm fine with that. I accomplished what I set out to do, which was not pay more than what was dictated by my tiered rankings. I look at my bid values as dynamic, not a static go/stop number, so I'll exceed the number I have assigned to each, but I try not to exceed it such that the cost would push the player into the next tier. It goes without saying I really like paying the price assigned to the next tier down for players in the tier above, and I managed to do that for most of the team.

But here's the deal: When your most expensive player is a closer (somewhat controversial unto itself) and you only exceed $20 on one hitter, you're not going to own a team with any star power, so it's not going to attract the attention or be given the same early recognition as others.

And I'm fine with that. While I have yet to win Tout Wars, I have cracked the top-three on multiple occasions. It's not the strategy; it's the players. It's not why you pick them but who you pick.

Here's who I picked in the rough order in which I purchased them. Sorry, but I don't keep as meticulous notes as others.

Craig Kimbrel $25 - Closers contribute more than just saves and the difference between the top and bottom closers is larger than ever, so it follows the ancillary help is better than ever. While ultimately it depends on the distribution within the associated categories, on the average Kimbrel's normal ratios add 2 points in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts as compared to the average closer and an extra point when compared to a poor closer. This is very significant and in my mind worth paying for if you get it at a discount. My price for Kimbrel was $32. I entered the auction with the notion I would bid Kimbrel up to $25 and be thrilled if the bidding stopped there. Anything more and we're teetering on a price within his tier and I could likely wait and get a different closer at a nice price. Obviously, the room was not going to go above $25 for any closer, so Kimbrel is mine.

Jordan Zimmermann $18 - I was willing to pay in the 20's for a real ace but the price of Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee, Madison Bumgarner and the like were too rich for my blood, especially with Kimbrel in the bank. So I went to Plan B and looked for a couple of guys from the next tier with Zimmermann being my hopeful acquisition. He gets discounted since he doesn't whiff as many as the others, but Kimbrel helps mitigate that.

Sergio Romo $15 - There are many that feel an ace starter is wasted if you don't surround him with more quality arms. I feel the same way about saves. There are those that are content with one closer and rolling the dice, hoping they finish on top of the pack of teams with just one closer. I prefer to have two and challenge for the league lead, then deal saves as dictated by standings gaps and needs. My third place finish last season could have been better had I not pulled the trigger in an overreaction to some early injuries and waited on dealing Kenley Jansen until he had officially claimed the closer job. This season, I plan on being more judicious in the event I shop around saves.

Mark Trumbo $22 - It's no secret I feel Trumbo is in for a big season (I'll take him over Jay Bruce). Even in an OBP league, I'm willing to take the category hit for the power potential.

Aaron Hill and Chase Utley $19 - Good thing my friend Larry Schechter wasn't in the room or he would have scolded me. I won both guys with a jump bid to the nines. There's a psychological barrier to upping a bid ending in nine, thus jumping a bid to the nines could serve as a freeze bid and you often win a player at $19, $29 or $39. The idea is the faster it gets to that barrier, the less time you have to consider it and the less likely you are to top it. I'll only do it on players I have priced a little higher, and I had Hill and Utley both at 21, so I was happy to take them down at 19. I believe I took Hill from 16 to 19 and Utley from 17 to 19. Larry would have suggested I should have bid 17 and 18 and hoped the bidding ended there but it's my experience when the room is doing the slow +1 thing, the psychological influence of bidding to the nines is negated. That is, 16.....17......18......19.....is much more apt to see 20 than 16......17......19, etc.

Tony Cingrani $14 - Nothing special other than he came in under my number and I wasn't going to be picky here since this tier has been decimated by injuries (Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Patrick Corbin, not to mention Cole Hamels' and Doug Fister's woes).

Yonder Alonso $15 - I don't love this, it was a purchase within a tier and not below it but in order to exhaust your budget, you need buys like this.

Alex Wood $9 - Wasn't planning on this but I had the budget and I had him priced in the low double-digits.

Dee Gordon $7 - At this point, it was very apparent my shortsop and third baseman would be weak, so I decided to roll the dice on Gordon while trying to get Alexander Guerrero later, put him at utility or swingman then get a replacement in reserve. I actually didn't expect to get Guerrero since someone would be willing to chase him, and I was right.

Will Venable $21, Angel Pagan $17, Nate Schierholtz $12, Justin Ruggiano $11 - As is often the case, when you middle an auction, you will make a string of buys, mosty often in the outfield, and this was no exception. I got very lucky as none of these purchases were at prices above the tier. The room could have squeezed another buck or two from me on a couple of these hitters.

Dillon Gee $4 - My standard late purchase while someone was trying to fill those last couple pitching spots.

Carlos Quentin $10 - This could be my key as I needed help in both power and OBP and a healthy Quentin would be huge for me. Here's another guy I would have gone higher based on his intrinsic value to my team construct at that time.

Marcell Ozuna $4 - Sometimes you misread the room and I thought Ozuna would go for more, which left me with some extra budget. I know he doesn't have the job and could be sent down, but he'll earn me $4 and maybe more.

Charlie Morton $5 - I'm not a fan of parsing data into arbitrary splits, but there was something about Morton's second half that intrigues me. Well, the fact he was throwing harder and with more accuracy post TJS is the allure.

Jordan Pacheco $2, Hector Sanchez $1 - This was odd, as the room usually deflates the better receivers, but they all went for a premium, so I opted to go the end-game route. Pacheco should see some reserve games at catcher along with dabbling at the infield corners. Sanchez will pick up the slack when Buster Posey turns in his catcher's mitt for one of the first baseman's variety.

Juan Francisco - $1 - Chirp, chirp. It was chase Juan Uribe or just take the guy at $1 and put the extra elsewhere. With the release of Francisco, it looks like I was damned if I do or damned if I don't.

Taylor Jordan $2 - Tanner Roark went for a couple more bucks so I was a little worried, but at the time of the purchase, there was no mention of either winning the job yet, so I put my money on Jordan.

Sean Marshall $7 - Here I got the idea to buy a DL guy and if he isn't closing, I'd turn in his salary for 7 FAAB units.

Heading into reserve, I knew I needed to cover third and short and get two pitchers (one for Marshall and one for general matchup deployment). I was hoping for Maikel Franco with the third pick but he went second, so I threw a dart at Wilmer Flores. Flores is starting at Triple-A at shortstop and if he proves capable of handling the glove, he could be up sooner than later and can cover thrid or maybe shortstop if he sticks there.

I picked up Tom Koehler and David Hale since both have rotation spots. As a bonus, they both have the benefit of working in good home parks, which helps streaming.

Daniel Descalso wrapped things up with his trio of eligibility being the key as he can cover my weakness at third and shortstop.

There's nothing sexy about this squad, but other than having a pair of reserve catchers, everyone but Francisco is a starter and I could have a starter to cover third in Flores sooner than later. Deep leagues are all about not falling in a hole with pitching and getting counting stats from at-bats.

Or plate appearances. After all, it is an OBP league.

Finally - five weekends, nine cities, seven hotels, five seminars, ten drafts, ten airports, three bus stations and an absolute bitch of a head cold and it's OVER!

It’s been a hectic stretch, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Well, maybe the head cold part but at least that had the courtesy of waiting until the very end. Though technically what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas. Obviously, germs didn’t get the message. Finally home to sleep in the comfort of my own bed and I can't breathe. Freaking germs.

But that has not stopped my mind from pondering.

One of the more interesting dynamics of doing what I do is balancing information provider with fantasy player. It’s been suggested by fellow analysts as well as candid competitors that I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to game play. I’ve been told not only does everyone know how I feel about every player but they also know my strategy.

Here’s my rebuttal: "My feelings about players are largely dictated by the numbers and I can’t recall a single player where I was the only one feeling a certain way." Sure, we all have our guys but we also share guys. Maybe I’m naïve but your knowing how I feel about a player doesn’t bother me. If you want to keep me from getting the player by overpaying, either in terms of auction dollars or draft rounds, more power to you. If my winning or losing solely revolves around getting my guy, either I need more guys or a different strategy.

Speaking of strategy, I get a kick out of those that claim they know my strategy because I’m never sure what it will end up being in any given draft or auction. Well, that is, other than wanting to amass as many potential stats as possible. If you think you know how I’m going to go about assembling my team before the draft or auction, you know more than me.

Maybe that’s a fault with my game play as I don’t have a specific strategy that I map out and execute, instead prefering to have a greater understanding of the landscape and hence go with the flow. But again, if you take a player because you feel it impedes my strategy, kudos. That’s what adjusting on the fly is all about.

I admit, while we all share feelings on players, there are different manners to interpret numbers and we all add our own seasoning. Ergo, while we may share opinions, each one of us has a unique assessment of the available inventory and each one of us believes ours to be best.

And while I may not have a specific strategy I plan to deploy, I most certainly have a defined objective with respect to my desired team construct both in terms of hitting and pitching. My perceived edge is within the greater understanding of the landscape mentioned above. That is, there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat just as there are many pathways to attain my preferred team composition.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this perceived edge and whether it’s real or imagined. I believe it to be real, but sometimes question if I am doing what I often accuse others of doing and that is unnecessarily trying to be the smartest person in the room. Be it in industry showcase leagues, the private sector or in the high-stakes arena, I see efforts that I categorize more as gimmick than I do strategy.

I’m sorry, but taking nine pitchers with your first nine picks or spending $9 for your entire pitching staff is more gimmick than strategy. Can it work? Sure, at the end of the day, it’s not why you pick but who you pick. I don’t know, I just think that a strategy should be based on cogent analysis and not a whim or even a perception.

In my view, a couple of common misconceptions about the present player pool pertain to the notion of scarcity and the depth of pitching. I won’t bore you with the details as these are both topics I have addressed ad nauseam the past couple of years. I believe scarcity is a myth and it’s not worth leaving stats on the table early in the name of securing a perceived scarce player. And while pitching may be better than previous seasons, everything is relative. It’s more difficult to acquire impact pitching later thus to make sure you roster impact pitching, you need to pay the price.

I will admit, this season I am seeing more of my industry brethren change their tune and not preach scarcity or to wait on pitching. In my not so humble opinion, they’re a couple of years behind.

The current fallacious stream of misinformation involves closers. Never pay for saves, right? I say wrong. I say not all saves are created equal. It’s not the actual saves that are my focus but that which comes along for the ride. Proponents of not waiting for saves because they are so easy to acquire in season are already claiming victory since there are five scenarios that are already different than anticipated. But think about it. While Jose Valverde, Matt Lindstrom, Francisco Rodriguez, Sergio Santos and either J.J. Hoover or Sam LeCure will rack up some saves, you ratios are in jeopardy. My contention is the edge you get from Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland, David Robertson, Koji Uehara, Ernesto Frieri, Trevor Rosenthal and a healthy Aroldis Chapman is worth the price.

Pencil in 35-40 saves for all these guys as well as for any full-time closer. That’s not the issue. I’ve done the math. The issue is one of the elite stopper being worth, on the average, anywhere between four and six more roto points in strikeouts, ERA and WHIP than an average closer and even more than a below average closer. Saves is saves is a misnomer. Some saves come with baggage.

When I claim I have a better feel for the big picture than others, this is an example. As discussed earlier, I have a desired goal with respect to my pitching staff in terms of whiffs and ratios with multiple means to get there at my fingertips. One which I have discussed is eschewing taking an elite starting pitcher and instead doubling up on elite closers and waiting for a couple of lower tier starters. When you add up the numbers of the two closers and two starters and compare that to the numbers of a couple of better starters and a pair of middle to lower tier closers, the end result is a wash.

In my mind, this is better stated a tactic than a strategy but in this case the difference is semantics. The point is there’s some analysis behind the ploy; it’s not an attempt to be cute or make a statement. It’s a designed effort to assemble the best team.

Did the person taking nine pitchers with their first nine picks really do the math and conclude they can accrue ample offense to contend?

Did the person buying nine $1 pitchers (as Larry Labadini famously did in LABR’s early years) really think he could identify sufficient gems in today’s landscape and compete in pitching, even with trades? Maybe they did, I don’t know.

If you can’t tell, I am having my own version of buyer’s remorse but it has nothing to do with the players I have put on my rosters over the past few months. I never question who; I question why. And I realize this contradicts an earlier statement that it’s not why but who you pick and choosing better players should supersede any strategy, no matter how well formulated and grounded in logic it may be.

It’s just the way I am.

Or maybe it’s the cold medicine talking.

Freaking germs.

The NFBC Draft Championship format has exploded. This is a 15-team league with rosters that go 50-deep. The catch is there is no in-season FAAB though standard bi-weekly hitting and weekly pitching moves are allowed.

We've put together an NFBC Primer that talks about a lot of the different strategies for DC leagues. It's available as a stand alone for $10 (more pieces will be added to cover all the March contests) or for an additional $5 when you purchase Mastersball Platinum (normally $34.95, but only $39.95 with primer).

Tonight, Mastersball is going to be sponsoring the live tracking of a Draft Champion Express League. The usual format allows 8 hours between picks (the average time is about an hour). However, the Express has a 45-second clock. It'll be tight but I'll be live-tracking the draft on a Google-Doc and the link will be publicly available. We'll post it here later. The festivities start at 8 PM.

We'll also have a forum dedicated to commenting in real time.

So if you don't have anything to do for 4-5 hours o Sunday night, you can join everyone on the forum where you can dissect my squad.

Actually, maybe we can make up a couple of drinking games. Let's play "Who will Todd pick?" in the chat room. Whoever gets it right doesn't have to do a shot. If you get it wrong, drink up!

Or maybe have a couple of prop bets:

In what round will Todd draft Alex Cobb?

In what round will Todd draft Drew Smyly?

In what round will Todd draft Corey Kluber?

So be sure to drop by and heckle me and my team.


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