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Winning When It Doesn’t Matter PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Sunday, 15 March 2015 00:00

The mock draft season is about over. In all honesty, I won’t miss it.

I know that many like participating in straight draft mocks to get a better feeling for the player pool and I get that. However, drawing any meaningful conclusions about player value from isolated mocks is a waste of time, in my opinion. For that, you may as well use ADPs.

It would be only an amazing coincidence if individual drafters’ behaviors in your own leagues would be anything like what you would experience in a mock. Not only is it a different group of people at a different time, but motivations can and do change when the end result is actually binding.

One type of player mocks that do see the light of day are the variety of “expert” mocks that are scattered throughout the winter and spring. I participated in my first one in November, to help a well-known site make its magazine publication date.

For me, at least, they continued up until two weeks ago, when I joined Baseball Prospectus’ mixed mock. Like in the earlier mocks, I participated to help out an industry colleague. To be honest, I did not pick up anything from doing it that altered my preparation for my own leagues this spring.

The leagues that matter most to me are in the auction format and as a result, I do pay some attention to the industry auction drafts. That is not necessarily because I am analyzing individual drafting behaviors, but more to see where my peers value players compared to my own prices.

This work allows me to look for potential gaps or for possible bargain areas in my own drafts. Do I have better insight on this player than others, or did I miss something important?

So, back to the BP mock. I would have let it pass like all the other mocks, except for a follow-on note I received. In it, my projected category points was reported as 120. Not only was that best, it was 25 points ahead of the second-ranked team.

That got my attention, punctuated by this statement.

“When it comes to draft difficulty though, nobody had it better than you, as you ended up with more value available to you than any other team.”

How I got there is only mildly interesting perhaps, but the bottom line should be our primary objective in any draft in any format – find values wherever they are and exploit them.

Of course, the challenge is to hit that moving value target. Where will it occur in this unique draft? How can I recognize it? How do I take advantage in the most optimal manner?

Well, as I read further, I understood how to beat this particular system to “win” the mock. I did not get it at the time, but I do now.

The way one’s value-chasing acumen was measured was through a comparison between when a player was selected and his expected position. Those who grabbed players who fell furthest in the draft would score better than those who were perceived to be “reaching” for players.

Heck, had I known it was that easy, I could have set it on autodraft. The system would always take the top-ranked player remaining on the board, optimizing my score.

In real life, though, no one would draft an important team in that manner. Instead, let it serve as a reminder that a mock draft is never going to be a fully satisfactory replacement for the real thing.

The final paragraph of the draft wrap-up was this:

“Your best pickup of the draft was Phil Hughes, who was expected to have been selected in the 95th slot, but who you got with pick #133. However, you mixed in some (minor) duds as well, the worst of whom was Jedd Gyorko, taken 40 spots ahead of what his average draft position suggests.”

Now, that really set me off.

Here’s the problem, a system-caused quirk that I never would have accepted had this been a real draft. I did not learn until later in the draft that the software we were using had locked my third rounder, Todd Frazier, into first base, despite him being properly listed at third base when drafted.

So, I thought I had third base covered in the third, but here it was the 16th and it seems that I had no one at the hot corner. The way I discovered it was that I was not allowed to select Adam Lind as my corner infielder in the 16th. As I frantically tried to figure out why and with time running out, I had to take the next non-first base player in my queue, Gyorko.

We had been told by the moderator before we began that we were required to accept the player positions as assigned, so stopping the draft was out of the question.

As I continued to try to fix the problem for the next few rounds, more and more corner infielders were flying off the board. Giving up in the 20th round, I finally had to take the best third baseman available in Trevor Plouffe just to establish what the software considered to be a valid roster.

It was quite a step down from my original plan. Just another reminder that real drafts are superior to mocks in pretty much every way.

Here’s to the end of the mock season and the start of the real draft season!

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Monday, 16 March 2015 08:37
 
Balancing Compassion with Managing by the Rules PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Sunday, 02 November 2014 00:00

The primary slant of this column, which runs irregularly during the off-season, is fantasy baseball rules. I always reinforce points made with real examples. That is why I am back today.

The baseball world was shocked by the passing of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras last weekend. After fans all over the world dealt with the tragedy and unfairness of the loss of two young lives (Taveras’ girlfriend and the mother of their young son also died in the automobile accident), questions lingered in a fantasy context.

For those in keeper leagues, and especially in those in which multi-year contracts are involved, the untimely death of Taveras created situations not previously considered.

Before we get into the details, my personal philosophy is that when a new situation is encountered, a strict interpretation of the constitution should prevail for the current issue on the table.

However, if rules clarifications are needed going forward, they should definitely be made with an eye on the future.

Against that backdrop, here is the Taveras situation in the XFL (Xperts Fantasy League), whose 2015 draft was held Halloween night.

2015 keepers were due two weeks prior, giving league members prep time and organizers a window to prepare materials for our in-person draft, held in Phoenix, Arizona. As one would expect, Taveras was kept by his current owner, for $4.

After Taveras’ death, his owner contacted the league commissioner with a three-part request. He asked that Taveras be removed from his keeper list, the $4 returned to his $260 overall budget and that he be allowed to replace Taveras on his keeper list with another player.

The league constitution simply states that the freeze date is two weeks prior to the draft. No exception cases are noted.

Initially, the commissioner showed compassion, granting two of the three requests. Taveras could be removed from the owner’s keeper list, with the $4 returned to the owner’s budget.

However, it was ruled that the roster opening could not be filled with another prior to the draft. After all, each owner’s non-keepers had already been released into the draft-eligible pool. Still, Taveras’ owner would be allowed to fill the vacated outfield roster spot with a replacement during the draft with his full budget.

As has been the case traditionally, once the 15 league owners assemble to draft, a preamble to the festivities is a recap of rules changes voted in during the previous weeks. In addition, the Taveras ruling was divulged to the league for the first time, with a recommendation to allow post-roster freeze date exceptions in the future.

While there was remorse over the loss of Taveras and the impact on that owner’s 2015 roster, the majority of the room ultimately voted that the freeze date was firm and fair to all and that exceptions should not be made.

The commissioner then recommended that for this one case his initial ruling be honored, allowing Taveras’ owner to refill his roster spot in the draft.

Before a second vote could occur, Taveras’ owner made a stand-up move that entirely diffused the matter. He explained to all that he was uncomfortable with an exception being made on his behalf, given the majority of the league being against the spirit of such a move.

As a result, Taveras remains on his roster. However, when our March/April auxiliary draft occurs, our rosters will fill out to 40 players. At that point, ample replacements for Taveras will be available. Taveras could be dropped and his roster spot re-deployed as soon as the first of May. (The XFL has a monthly free agent draft.)

It appears that the league constitution will not require a change.

The commissioner, who always has a tough job in any league, initially ruled with compassion, but in doing so, granted an exception with which the majority of the league disagreed.

In this case, the system ultimately worked.

The message for you?

In your leagues, even if you are not in charge, do your best to foster meaningful discussion among league members on issues like these. In doing so, stick to the written rules as much as possible. If changes are needed, by all means, make them – to take effect for next time.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Friday, 14 November 2014 14:36
 
It’s My Team and I’ll Dump If I Need To PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 04 October 2014 00:00

Friends and industry colleagues come together each October for the annual Xperts Fantasy League (or XFL) draft. The 40-man roster league offers the ultimate challenge – an auction draft before MLB free agents have even hit the open market, conducted with no supporting materials allowed.

Each team is granted up to 15 keepers, in any combination of established players and prospects. Salaries of players initially acquired as minor leaguers escalate annually at $3 per year instead of the regular $5.

One of the unusual dynamics of this 15-team league is that it does not take long after each season gets underway to ascertain whether or not one has a competitive roster.

As the league is currently conducting its annual free-for-all, er…discussion about potential rules changes, several vocal league owners aired criticisms over the rash of what they consider to be “dump trades” too early in the season.

In 2014, a number of teams made deals in which they sent established players to contending owners in return for younger, cheaper talent. These trades began in earnest by late May, less than two months into the season.

Owner complaints seemed focused on the supposed increased stratification of the standings, making the league less competitive from top to bottom, coupled with a desire by some to implement various penalties on rebuilding teams that “dump.”

Oddly, some of my peers seem to forget that it takes two to trade. The few proposals raised that might penalize contending teams for gobbling up the best players from the dumpers were initially met with general disinterest. They are along the theme of lower cap values in-season or for keepers during the off-season.

Though the results of the league vote have yet to be finalized, a number of others, including me, came down in opposition to making changes in this area.

Having become a dumper for the first time in my decade in the XFL this season, I admit my wounds are fresher than most.

Consider my story.

My team was an annual contender, among the top six of the league from 2008-11, but has slid every year since. One key reason was that my core +$3 pitching, Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander specifically, were getting into the $20s. Same with my hitting base, led by David Wright.

Over my first 10 years in the league, I had consistently resisted dumping, competing in every monthly draft and fielding the best lineups I could each week. Still, I was losing headway in recent seasons, dropping all the way to 14th place (of 15) in 2013. In the interim, I had tried trading prospects for more established players to cushion my fall, but it did not alter the trajectory.

I drafted last October to the best of my ability, but it was clear almost from the start of the 2014 season that I was destined to finish at or near the bottom of the pack once again.

As a result, I made a big decision – not to dump - but to execute a very specific plan – to replace my expensive core starters with a new generation of +3 aces. I targeted several young, low-cost, front-line players out for 2014 with Tommy John surgery – a procedure from which there is a high recovery rate.

Having to trade quality to get quality, I gave up Wainwright among others to acquire two inexpensive +$3 Tommy John hurlers – Matt Moore and Matt Harvey. I tried to get rid of Verlander and Wright, too, but it became clear I waited a year too long to make those divestitures. I also added several top prospect hitters close to the bigs like Addison Russell and Miguel Sano, the latter also a TJS acquisition target. Russell, injured in spring training, spent the first two months of the season on the DL.

The particular players that met the profile of what I wanted – top talent with a low +$3 salary and depressed value this year due to injury, but a much higher ceiling down the road – were few and far between. I needed to act quickly to get the specific guys I wanted for 2015 before they were potentially traded to someone else.

I don’t think I swung the 2014 balance of power in the league with my deals. Of the teams I executed major trades with this season, there was a representative cross-section. One finished a distant second, another came in sixth and the third ended up in ninth.

Obviously, I would not have been able to make these deals had not these other owners also been anxious to trade. Anyone who has ever been in an industry league knows how trade-resistant that population is by definition.

Before making the swaps, my 2014 season was already in the tank. I am pretty sure I was going to be among those near the cellar either way. Having said that, I am not proud to have finished firmly in last. I continued to participate in every monthly free agent draft, but by August, it was clear I could not escape - this year, at least.

As a result, I traded my #1 spot in the August draft for better position in next April’s supplemental draft, receiving an extra third-rounder. This transaction also elicited some peer criticism after the fact. That surprised me. I saw the 2015 pick carrying far more value than acquiring than a +$5 August free agent added to my last-place team for eight weeks before being released.

Earlier, I had included my June #1 pick as part of the deal for Russell, also giving up Asdrubal Cabrera, while receiving a fourth-rounder next April.

I am not embarrassed in the least about any of these moves and feel I was still competing in the most advantageous manner for my team’s future. I would do every one of the deals again.

Yet, I did not make my rebuilding decision lightly and hope I am not going to have to resort to these kinds of drastic moves again anytime soon.

I cannot see why some in the league would want to penalize me for trying to break out of a losing spiral in a logical and well-thought out manner. Being in the unenviable position of looking up at 14 very competitive teams is enough of a deterrent.

The messages for you?

First, this is the time of the year to discuss rules changes in your leagues – while the topic is still fresh in your minds. Sure, everyone is already focused on football, but if you wait until spring, many of the good potential fixes will be forgotten – only to be re-discovered the hard way next season.

Second, resist the temptation to rush to solutions. When ideas are suggested, make sure you challenge your mates to clearly articulate what perceived problem they are trying to fix. Too often, one potential change opens the door for two possible new issues.

It is always best to agree on the original problem statement before throwing around ways to address it. This is far easier said than done, but if you can enforce this kind of discipline, you may be able to avoid the frustrating free-for-alls that we have all faced.

Finally, when you know in your heart that you have to make a tough move, such as my decision to blow up my XFL keeper team, step up and do it. It was Baseball Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey who once said, “It is better to make a trade a year too early than a year too late.” I had to re-learn that valuable lesson this season.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 October 2014 08:25
 
Will Stanton Become the Next Miggy? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 27 September 2014 06:53

Long before his face was smashed by an errant pitch from Milwaukee’s Mike Fiers on September 11, outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was the source of intense interest across Major League Baseball.

The realities of baseball’s economic structure likely make the Miami Marlins a short-term home for the best young hitter in the National League. Though the men who run the Fish say they are going to try to keep Stanton for the long-term as the cornerstone of their franchise, the likelihood of a Jeffrey Loria-owned team anteing up the tens of millions it is going to take seems a low-odds bet, indeed. stanton

I run a St. Louis Cardinals-focused message board and hopes and dreams, mostly the latter, about the club acquiring Stanton have been posted and re-posted for months. I bet most every contending club in Major League Baseball has a segment of its fan base drooling all over themselves thinking about the possibility of their team being the one to land the 24-year-old in a trade.

It is certainly not crazy. After all, not many months ago, we could have substituted “pitcher David Price of Tampa Bay” with “outfielder Giancarlo Stanton of Miami” and most of the rest of the words would fit like a glove.

Many believe that the Rays asked too much for too long in return for the former Cy Young Award winner and ended up receiving much less than one dollar in return for each dollar of Price’s real value.

For that reason, some think the Marlins will trade Stanton this winter, as soon as they make a failed attempt to re-sign him to an extension.

One reason Cardinals fans may crave such a deal – other than the immediacy of a life-saving transfusion for an anemic offense – is that they remember the club swiping shortstop Edgar Renteria from Miami at the start of the prior decade.

Most trade ideas are unrealistic, either too weak, unloading a quantity of underachievers for the one player, or too strong, giving up too many of a good club’s best young players for the services of one man.

However, the Cards have nothing on Price’s new home, the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins in December 2007. Since then, Cabrera became baseball’s best player, adding two American League Most Valuable Player Awards to his trophy case.

The Marlins, then called the Florida Marlins, also unloaded a declining (at age 25) Dontrelle Willis in the cost-cutting deal. They added six players in return. Problem is that none of them have been much as major leaguers. One did not make it at all.

For the record, they are Dallas Trahern (minors only), Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Mike Rabelo.

What does this have to do with Stanton, you ask? Well, interestingly enough, when Cabrera was dealt away, he was the same age as Stanton today, 24, and with roughly the same level of Major League experience.

No one knows if there are seven 100-RBI seasons and a pair of MVP awards ahead for Stanton, but there is no reason to believe he cannot become that good for that long.

The review of the Cabrera trade should serve as a good reminder that prospects are never a sure thing. I am on the road now so I don’t have my 2007 Baseball America Prospect Handbook with me, but I bet a good number of the six players moving to Miami in the trade were considered strong potential major league talents at the time.

So no matter how the Stanton deal goes down, if it goes down at all, like any other trade, it will take at least three to five years to properly evaluate.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
Last Updated on Saturday, 27 September 2014 09:15
 
deGrom and DeSclafani Together Again, Sort Of PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 20 September 2014 00:00

This past week, rookie National League hurlers Jacob deGrom and Anthony DeSclafani were again in the news, though for much different reasons.

On Monday, deGrom tied the Major League Baseball record with eight consecutive strikeouts at the start of the New York Mets’ game against the Miami Marlins. Ironically, it was the opposing pitcher who broke the streak.

DeSclafani was not deGrom’s starting pitching counterpart for the Fish that evening. The right-hander is appealing a three-game suspension for intentionally hitting Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez after an official warning was in effect.

To an extent, one can see why DeSclafani did what he did.

After all, it was the same contest in which an errant offering from Brewers hurler Mike Fiers caused serious facial injuries to Giancarlo Stanton, who left the ballpark in an ambulance. Not only that, but Fiers struck the following batter, Reed Johnson, with his very next pitch, yet remained in the game.

Sadly, the retaliation/suspension may be the highlight of DeSclafani’s unremarkable rookie season, while deGrom is considered one of the two front-runners for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, along with Cincinnati centerfielder Billy Hamilton.

You might be wondering why I used the word “again” in my opening sentence.

Their unusual last names have forever tied the two pitchers together in my mind. It began the week of May 14 when the two were called up to the bigs almost simultaneously.

DeSclafani, the beneficiary of the season-ending elbow injury suffered by star Jose Fernandez, was promoted from Triple-A New Orleans to make his MLB debut on May 15. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed just two runs in six innings while earning a win at all places, Dodger Stadium. If he can win there, he can win anywhere, right?

That same night, deGrom made his first major league start, summoned to the Mets to step in for the injured Dillon Gee. At home against the Yankees and in front of a national audience, deGrom impressed, allowing just one run in seven innings. Yet with no run support, he took the hard-luck loss.

After that pair of personally successful first outings, the two were part of the National League Tout Wars talent pool for that Sunday night’s bidding.

The DeSclafani-Fernandez connection was most ironic, as the latter was the best single FAAB addition in NL Tout in 2013. His injury replacement was positioned to potentially accomplish the same in May 2014, with 4 ½ months of play still ahead.

Bidding was spirited, but semi-cautious for both players. I remember this all too well, as I acquired neither. They both sold for the exact same amount, $14, with the Met going to Phil Hertz and the Marlin to Lenny Melnick on May 19.

That is probably the last time the two pitchers were mentioned together until now.

DeSclafani was slapped around by the Phillies in his second start and was returned to Triple-A for the first of three demotions this season. Melnick had enough and dropped his $14 acquisition.

Back in June for three starts, Anthony yielded a symmetric, yet ugly and unlucky, 13 runs in 13 innings. Gene McCaffrey apparently saw something to like, adding DeSclafani for a buck just in time to absorb a two-run-in-three-inning start that was actually his best of a bad June. Two weeks later, the Marlin was back on the waiver wire.

When brought back to the bigs for a third time briefly in August and again with expanded rosters in September, DeSclafani was sent to the bullpen, where his fantasy value is zilch.

On the other hand, deGrom took off like the promise of a top prospect might suggest. The 26-year-old right-hander has made 21 starts and has compiled a stellar 2.68 ERA to go with 134 strikeouts in 134 1/3 frames. He has just eight wins in part due to the Mets' anemic offense.

deGrom has helped Hertz hold the NL Tout season lead in both ERA and WHIP while Melnick is dead last in both categories. (In the spirit of openness, both are ahead of me in the overall league standings.)

Certainly how the two chose to spend their respective $14 on May 19 is not the only reason they are where they are. Yet it serves as a great reminder to use whatever FAAB it takes early on to get difference-makers - but keep expectations in check. Understand for every deGrom, there is bound to be a DeSclafani or two or three.

At least these two owners were trying. Coming in second in FAAB bidding, or even worse, not bidding at all, leads to nothing other than the kind of regret that leads to articles like this instead of celebrating winning titles. The former is something I want to avoid in 2015 so there can be more of the latter.

Please join me! 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 20 September 2014 09:55
 
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