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Wednesday 22nd Nov 2017

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

Freeman CATCHER: More of a time-share than platoon since they both hit from the right-side,   veterans Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki return.

 INFIELD: Freddie Freeman is one of the best at first base with youngsters Ozzie Albies   and Dansby Swanson slated to be the double-play combo. The hot corner is up for grabs   with Johan Camargo holding the edge over Adonis Garcia and Rio Ruiz.

 OUTFIELD: Here's where it gets interesing as Matt Kemp, Ender Inciarte and Nick   Markakis return with phenom Ronald Acuna waiting in the wings. The scuttlebutt is Acuna will be sent to Triple-A for a few weeks, then called up, a la Kris Bryant a couple years ago. The question is where will he play? Inciarte holds the most trade value while Kemp is essentially immovable and Markakis not likely to garner anything significant in return.

BENCH: There's ample infiield depth with Jace Peterson and Danny Santana joining whoever doesn't win the job at third. Matt Adams is also in the mix. The outfield reserves are unclear until the Acuna scenario plays out.

Teheran 2017ROTATION: Veteran R.A. Dickey is gone, leaving the inconsistent Julio Teheran to front a young rotation. Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims and Luiz Gohara currently line up to start the season, but don't count out bringing in another veteran as the promising youngsters can't be counted on for 32 starts each. Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair are in-house options.

BULLPEN: Hopefully, the club hands the ninth inning reins exclusively to Arodys Vizcaino, leaving Jim Johnson to set up. A.J. Minter has a chance to enter the 100-K club.

PROSPECTS TO WATCH: The aforementioned Acuna heads the list with a trio of young arms all with a chance to see action next summer. Max Fried debuted in 2017 and has impressed in the Arizona Fall League. Mike Soroko and Kolby Allard could do the same this season.

POSSIBLE ACQUISITIONS: It's possible Atlanta brings in a starting pitcher and third baseman, moving Camargo to super-utility, but other than how they clear a spot for Acuna, it looks to be a quiet hot stove for the Braves.

Do you want to win your league?

Platinum 2018, featuring the industry's earliest projections has launched. All you have to do is register an account, make sure you're logged in and click HERE.

Please direct all inquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Follow me on Twitter @ToddZola

Follow the site on Twitter @Mastersball

 

 

paul goldschmidt full

 CATCHER: Probably in the market for a backstop to replace free agent Chris Iannetta.   Jeff Mathis is more of a defensive back-up while Chris Herrmann is coming off a season   where he hit .181, albeit with 10 HR and 5 SB. J.R. Murphy is in the picture, but doesn't   appear to be a regular.

 INFIELD: The corners are set with Paul Goldscmidt and Jake Lamb. Middle is in flux with   Brandon Drury, Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte in the picture. My initial lean   is Drury at second with Marte manning shortstop, but early drafters beware, this is a   situation that will flesh out in the spring.

OUTFIELD: Two of the spots belong to A.J. Pollock and David Peralta, though Peralta often sits versus tough southpaws while Pollock's durability isn't exactly rock-solid. The third spot is open, with J.D. Martinez hitting free agency. Yosmany Tomas is the top in-house option with Socrates Brito healthy.

BENCH: There's plenty of infield depth with Daniel Descalso capable of backing up everywhere. if Tomas doesn't win a job outright, he could spell Peralta on occasion.

robbie ray

ROTATION: The quintet ending 2017 line up to begin 2018, lead by Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, followed by Taijuan Walker, Zack Godley and Patrick Corbin. Shelby Miller is in line for a return from Tommy John surgery sometime in the first half with Anthony Banda and Braden Shipley available if needed.

BULLPEN: Last year's closer Fernando Rodney is a free agent, clearing the way for Archie Bradley to assume the role, that's just speculation on my part. If another closer is brought in, Bradley is well worth drafting in all formats.

PROSPECTS TO WATCH: The cupboard is rather bare, especially at the top with no one knocking on the door to contribute in 2018. While he's not a prospect, someone to keep an eye on is first baseman Christian Walker, who crushed it at Triple-A Reno last season then impressed in a short September stint in the desert to end the season. Unfortunately, the 26-year old slugger is blocked by Goldschmidt.

POSSIBLE ACQUISITIONS: Look for the Snakes to bring in at least one, perhaps two productive sticks, with corner outfield and catcher being the likely destinations. They could also be in the market for bullpen help.

Do you want to win your league?

Platinum 2018, featuring the industry's earliest projections has launched. All you have to do is register an account, make sure you're logged in and click HERE.

Please direct all inquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Follow me on Twitter @ToddZola

Follow the site on Twitter @Mastersball

 

Several years ago, I introduced the concept of Category Efficiency Rankings (CER). The notion didn’t gain traction so it was abandoned. The idea involved massaging a conventional valuation set to render it more practical.

Fueling the move away from CER was a deeper understanding winning was less about pinpoint valuation and more about game theory and roster construction. Valuation shouldn’t be thought of in absolute, but rather in relative terms. Introducing a means of fine-tuning valuation simultaneous with preaching a more abstract drafting approach was confusing. Why do I have to think if CER does it for me?

Before delving into why it’s time to bring CER out of hibernation, let’s review valuation theory in general terms. Valuation is the process whereby a player projection is assigned a dollar value, ostensibly to be used in auctions, but also to proxy as a cheat sheet for drafts via ranking players by descending value.

There are three primary systems. We employ the Percentage Value Method (PVM). PVM distributes dollars in proportion to the players’ contributions to the respective categories. The most popular process is Standings Gained Points (SGP). Here, money is assigned relative to how each player helps a team earn points in each category. The last procedure uses standard deviations (SD). The player’s expectation is scored based on how many standard deviations it is from the mean of each category, then budget is distributed as a percentage of the player’s summed standard deviations across all categories to those of the field.

Regardless of the method, valuation is flawed. Plus, an output is only as good as its input, and the error bar associated with player projections is estimated around 30 percent. The dollar value is not only a function of the player’s projections, but also encompasses that of replacement level players and the cumulative contributions of the draft-worthy field. It’s plausible to nail a player’s projection but to miss on the dollar value if the other factors are off. As mentioned, my preference is for PVM. SGP is intrinsically flawed while SD lacks a theoretical basis.

The flaws with SGP pertain to the non-linear nature of each category. If it takes 5 units of a stat to gain a point in that category based on average standings and the player projects to producing 20 units, they are assigned four SGP (20/5). However, when you add up the SGP for each category, they’re all different. All categories count the same, therefore an equal number of SGP should correspond to each.

The discrepancy emanates from the uneven, top to bottom distribution in the categories. The lowest team gets one point. To earn more, other teams need to eclipse this barrier. Let’s define barrier SGP as the last place total divided by the units necessary to gain a point in that category. If stats were evenly distributed, the barrier SGP would be the same across the board, but they’re not. Typically, the barrier SGP for stolen bases is much lower than the other hitting categories (the same for saves in pitching) skewing the balance. While this is a flaw with the system, as will be explained later, it serendipitously acts in a positive manner. Still, I have an issue endorsing a method that’s right for the wrong reasons.

The SD method exhibits the same downfall as SGP; the sum of the SD per category aren’t consistent. In addition, while the SGP method has an elegance in its genesis, there’s no theoretical basis between standard deviations and the extent the player helps a team succeed.

PVM is far from perfect, but at least the theoretical foundation and math make sense. Other than the flaws inherent to all methods, the primary shortcoming of PVM is while value is allocated proportionately, spending the same amount in each category doesn’t result in equal points in each. The reason is the unequal distribution of stats within the categories.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so let’s use an image to illustrate the above. Data from the 2016 National Fantasy Baseball Championship Main Event will be employed. These are 15-team, mixed leagues with no trading so the player pool is as homogenous as possible. Results from 30 leagues were used to determine average standings. That is, the average total was calculated per category for each standings place.

The key is converting average standings to normalized standings. The entails assigning each category an equal number of units, we’ll use 1000. The average stats at each standings point are scaled so the sum of the 15 spots is 1000 for each. Here’s the plot:

HitDistributionNormalized

As suggested, the last place team in stolen bases has fewer units relative to the other categories. As one may intuit, runs and RBI track closely. Homers have the second lowest last-place barrier but it’s significantly higher than steals. Most noteworthy is the flatness of the batting average distribution. This will be of utmost importance when we get to CER adjustments.

Let’s save another 1000 words to graphically display how spending the same amount in each category yields a different number of points. Here, the budget allotted for each hitting category is computed based on conventional valuation methods. The standard budget is $260. While this differs by league, on the average, 69 percent of the budget is spent on hitting. These leagues have 15 teams with five categories so the amount dedicated per hitting category is $260 x 15 x .69 / 5 = $538.20.

Similar to categorical stats being normalized to 1000 units, they can be normalize to $538.20 showing how many points should be earned by spending a specific amount:

DollarsPerPoint

Keep in mind we’re all looking for a positive return on our investment, so if we spend, say, $36 in a category we’re hoping to accrue over $40 worth of points. Still, either you need to spend a lot more or get a huge profit in steals to finish in the upper third of the standings. This is relevant since league champions generally amass 115-125 points, an average of 11.5 to 12.5 in each category.

The $36 above wasn’t arbitrary. Distilled down to the team level, equal spending per category amounts to $35.88 each. Not-so-coincidentally, that lands at the midpoint in the standings per category, hence the obvious need to derive profit to win. For what it’s worth, it usually takes $320 worth of stats to drive down victory lane

Relating this to CER, doesn’t it make sense to allocate more budget to homers? Adding $3 to homers yields 13 points while subtracting $3 from steals renders 6 points for a total of 19. Equal spending returns 16 points. Again, profit is expected regardless of the amount spent. But even that favors funneling budget away from steals and to homers. The landing in steals is just past where points between adjacent teams is greater. On the other end, just a little profit in homers earns 14 or 15 points, along with contributing to runs, RBI and even batting average, something relevant that hasn’t been broached yet.

Speaking of batting average, look at how little money separates first and last place, barely $3. Plus, batting average is the most unpredictable category as there’s more variance. Shunting budget from average may not even sacrifice points if one or two hitters get a little lucky with batting average on balls in play. Truth be told, aiming for a low average in lieu of more counting stats is a common ploy. The above chart lends credence to the tactic.

There are two more reasons favoring drafting homers in lieu of steals. The first is the way league champions fared across the hitting categories. Here’s the average number of points the 30 league winners totaled in each of the hitting categories:

BA R HR RBI SB
11 13.1 12.9 13.1 11.9

Victors scored highest in runs, homers and RBI, a full standing place higher than steals and two more than batting average. This is in perfect sync with the conclusion drawn from the charts above; spend more on homers, take away from steals and batting average.

The other justification takes advantage of what’s available in season. Traditionally, more stolen bases than homers are added via free agents. One way to show this is comparing drafted stats to season-ending numbers. Using the NFBC Main Event, the stats derived from treating opening-day rosters as a draft-and-hold, then comparing those totals to actual final numbers, historically 90 percent of homers are acquired on draft day, in contrast to 85 percent of swipes. It’s not much of a difference, but is sufficient rationale to focus more on homers at the draft table.

Pulling things together, there are three viable reasons to devote more draft-day attention to homers at the expense of steals:

  1. Category distribution
  2. Champions fare better in homers
  3. More steals are available for in-season acquisition

Those with extensive experience can likely assemble a quality squad without CER adjustments. But why not get a nudge from more practical rankings?

Before addressing that question, let’s circle back to the contention that SGP, and to a lesser extent SD, are right for the wrong reasons. Here’s the 2016 end-of-season earnings for the top hitters per each system:

  PVM SGP SD
Mookie Betts $43 $41 $42
Jose Altuve $41 $38 $40
Mike Trout $40 $39 $39
Jonathan Villar $39 $34 $31
Paul Goldschmidt $34 $33 $32
Jean Segura $34 $30 $31
Charlie Blackmon $33 $31 $33
Nolan Arenado $32 $35 $35
Kris Bryant $31 $32 $32
Brian Dozier $30 $31 $29

The pair to focus on are Jonathan Villar and Nolan Arenado. Note how much higher PVM places the stolen base leader Villar while lagging on Arenado, who swiped only two to complement his 41 homers. Serendipitously, SGP accounts for the three bullet points above.

Now consider that SGP is the most popular valuation process so most of your league-mates will be guided by SGP ranks. Experienced players intuitively know to go the extra buck on sluggers like Arenado and be careful with speedsters like Villar or their team will suffer a paucity of power in lieu of a surplus of speed.

Until recently, I opted to direct writing energy towards this Zen style of drafting, rooted in numbers and analysis but with an overall awareness of team construct. While this is still largely the manner I’ll draft, there’s a tangible benefit to utilizing CER. Hence, the decision to relaunch the concept, in hopes this time it germinates.

Two obvious questions are now on the table. What should the adjusted category weights be and what about leagues of different size and format? Let’s work backwards.

All the described trends transcend standard 5x5 leagues. The categorical distributions are slightly different, but in the abstract, the same three reasons supporting CER for 15-team mixed leagues hold true in all leagues.

That leaves the big question, how should the hitting budget be allocated for most efficient spending? Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Plus, remember values and ranks are still just a guide. Reading the room to optimize roster construction is still paramount.

At the beginning, it was stated that valuation shouldn’t be thought of in absolute but rather relative terms. It’s not that a $25 player is worth $25 and a $24 player is worth $24. It’s that’s in a vacuum, the $25 guy contributes a little more than the $24 guy. Who knows, maybe the contributions of the $24 player are more useful based on your team construct. Still, the better the relative ranks, the better your basis for making decisions.

Here’s an example of a logical category adjustment based on the data presented for the NFBC Main Event content. It was already demonstrated that taking $3 from steals and giving to homers results in three more points so let’s start there. The flatness of the batting average curve screams to borrow from Peter to pay Paul, so let’s take $2 and give a buck each to runs and RBI. Lastly, to account for the second and third justifications for CER, let’s grab another buck from steals and award it to homers. Keeping in mind the starting point is $35.88 for each, the final dollars per category are:

HR RBI SB BA R
$39.88 $36.88 $31.88 $33.88 $36.88

My value calculator allows customization of the category weights. The default is 1 for all five, which was used to generate the PVM earnings presented earlier. Converting the adjusted budget distribution to category weight yields:

HR RBI SB BA R
1.11 1.03 0.89 0.94 1.03

Plugging those coefficients into the value calculator renders CER earnings, displayed with those already shared:

  PVM SGP SD CER
Mookie Betts $43 $41 $42 $43
Jose Altuve $41 $38 $40 $41
Mike Trout $40 $39 $39 $40
Jonathan Villar $39 $34 $31 $36
Paul Goldschmidt $34 $33 $32 $34
Jean Segura $34 $30 $31 $33
Charlie Blackmon $33 $31 $33 $33
Nolan Arenado $32 $35 $35 $34
Kris Bryant $31 $32 $32 $32
Brian Dozier $30 $31 $29 $30


Villar is still higher with CER but he deserves it, in a vacuum steals are extremely valuable. Sure, we can empirically adjust the category coefficients to match SGP, but why not just use SGP? From where I sit, being guided by the better PVM process, then monitoring team construct is the best of both worlds. The impact of Villar, and other speedsters, is softened, but not mitigated. This seems fair.

With respect to Arenado, and other sluggers, their value is poked up to almost match SGP and SD. Understanding the imperfection of projections and valuation theory while keeping in mind we’re talking about relative and not absolute rankings, the CER adjustment is plenty convincing to go the extra buck or two so you aren’t devoid of ample power. The kicker is if you’re bidding against others using PVM, you may split the difference and not have to bid the full CER increase.

Well friends, there you have it, the case for CER, part objective, part subjective. While some may be wary of the subjectivity, that’s the beauty of it. It’s not a one-size-fits-all entity. Some need more of a push than others. Different leagues have different characteristics, especially those of the long-standing variety with established trends. Combining the advantage CER offers along with your expertise is a surefire recipe for success. Let’s swap victory stories in the winner’s circle!

And so it ends.

Seven years ago, Lawr Michaels and I merged our sites, with Lawr graciously agreeing to use the Mastersball brand. Brian Walton joined us as Managing Partners. When we went public with the merger, the overwhelming reaction was, "What took you so long?"

A few years earlier, after two years with Fantasy Planet, I rebooted Mastersball with the help of Gary Jennison, J.P. Kastner and... Lawr. Without Lawr's generous offer of sharing server space, along with freeing J.P. to build the new site, there's no way I could have gotten back in business, so to speak. A couple years later, the time was right to merge Creative Sports and Mastersball.

The seven years with Lawr and Brian, and the rest of the staff, were a supreme pleasure. I couldn't ask for a better couple of guys to work with. But, a lot happened in the ensuing seven years, both personally and professionally. Lawr talks about it in his touching farewell.

Early in the summer, I made one of the most difficult decisions ever bouncing around my gray matter.. I called Lawr and Brian and told them I needed to simplify things, saying I really need to focus on my freelance work with Rotowire and ESPN, along with a great group of loyal Platinum subscribers. Not to mention, my health. Don't worry, I'm fine. I just want to stay that way.

The best way for me to do this was to fly solo with Mastersball. After breaking the news, their response was, "What took you so long?"

You see, great as it was to be in business with Lawr and Brian, they're even better friends. Their concern wasn't the business, but me. I can't express how much that means to me. I'm not very good at this, but thanks guys!

I have no doubt Lawr will build Creativesports2 into an industry leader. i wish nothing but the best for Lawr and his staff.

More importantly, I'm forever grateful to Lawr for not only being there when I was getting back on my feet nine years ago, but for being a great friend for two decades.

And so it begins.

Today marks the first day of Mastersball as a solo entity. And, it didn't start out so great. I still have no idea why, but the system decided to auto-renew over 800 registrants, sending them a receipt for a service they didn't order. Oy vey.

If you are one of the unfortunate recipients, please accept my apologies. Trust me, Platinum is NOT on auto-renew. No one was actually charged. For that I am thankful. It was bad enough deleting over 800 memberships by hand, rebating that many PayPals would have been more tilting, not to mention embarrassing.

Anyway, things should be squared away and the first release of 2018 projections are available. If you're a Platinum 2017 subscriber, you can access then through November 14. If not, Platinum 2018 is open for business!

Plans for public facing content are still a work in progress, though I have plans for a November series featuring the playing time outlook of a team a day. Check back later for the Arizona Diamondbacks review.

in the meantime, I have a plane to catch in a few hours as I'll be joining Lawr, Brian and many others in Phoenix for the Baseball HQ sponsored First Pitch Forum.

 

 

 

Can you believe it? We’re about to embark on our 21st season on this Interweb thing. Who knew, way back in March of 1997, what the next twenty years would bring. For me, it paved the transition from a career as a peptide chemist to making my living as a fantasy writer. We’ll have plenty of time to reminisce as we celebrate our 20th anniversary in the spring. Of immediate focus is…

Platinum 2017 will be launching on Tuesday, November 15!

Once again, we’re the FIRST source of projections, rankings and dollar values specifically tailored to fantasy baseball enthusiasts, like yourself. The initial drop will be just projections. As always, we’ll roll out all our additional content throughout the off-season. This includes Lawr Michaels unique Top-250 Minor League rankings, Perry Van Hook’s minor league rankings focusing on the 2017 season and of course my player profiles and all the other goodies to aid in your draft prep.

New this season, I’m writing The Z Book, a collection of strategy and game theory essays. I promise you won’t find anything like it anywhere. The Z-Book will be part of your Platinum subscription as well as available for separate purchase. The ETA is February 15, giving you ample time to digest everything in time for the primary drafting season in mid to late March. Topics will include

  • Detailed review of projection theory
  • Detailed review of player valuation
  • Using projection theory and player valuation to win your league
  • Scarcity, Shmarcity
  • Park Factors: A Necessary Evil
  • Using wOBA and K% for DFS: When are splits actionable?
  • Rethinking how we rank catchers
  • And more!

Let’s be honest. If you’re already yearning for projections and rankings, there’s a good chance you’re preparing for the early pay-for-play drafts. Granted, there are exceptions, those that want to get going on keeper and dynasty league preparation but most early subscribers are getting ready to draft in high stakes contest. The majority of these are of the draft and hold variety, with ultra-deep rosters. As such, you’ll want projections and rankings for everyone with a chance to see action anytime in 2017.

Don’t worry, we have you covered!

We’ve gone over the prospect lists and will have a projection for any player with a modicum of a chance to play this season. Anyone missed that’s drafted in any national contest will be added to the next posted projection set. Shoot, if you’re thinking of drafting a player not projected, drop me a line and I’ll ask my little black box to do its thing.

More good news for those that play in leagues with non-standard categories. I’ll be adding new statistics to the projections, most notably quality starts for pitchers among others. I can open the floor for requests, with the understanding I may not be able to honor it. If the data is available and the projection is easily automated, I’ll gladly add it.

Why use Mastersball Platinum? Four of the past five National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) Main Event Champions are subscribers. This includes our own Greg Morgan, who writes a monthly column on the NFBC, available free the first Thursday of each month. The Mastersball staff aren’t just writers, we play too. Lawr Michaels is a two-time AL Tout Wars champion, Brian Walton has won NL Tout Wars while Zach Steinhorn is the defending champion of Mixed Auction Tout Wars. Pardon the humblebrag, I won both NL Tout Wars and Mixed LABR in 2016, along with being among the career earnings leaders in NFBC auctions, including winning the NL only league three times and co-owning an Ultimate Auction winner.

The price for 2017 Mastersball Platinum will be $39.95 – worth all 3995 pennies, I promise. If you haven’t registered, please take a moment to do so, using the box in the upper-right part of the home page. Then on Tuesday the 15th, log-in and click on the SUBSCRIBE NOW link under the site masthead on the right side. At the bottom, you’ll see SUBSCRIBE button taking you to the PayPal subscription page. You’ll have immediate access to the 2017 initial projections and rankings. If you prefer to pay by check, drop a note to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we’ll arrange payment and prompt access.

Questions? Hit me up in the comments section.

Fasten your seatbelt, 2017 promises to be our best season yet!

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