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Chance Favors the Prepared Mind


A Look at April Numbers PDF Print E-mail
Chance Favors the Prepared Mind
Written by Todd Zola   
Tuesday, 03 May 2011 01:01

I apologize for the short effort today, I have been focusing on our first in-season projection update for the Platinum subscribers, which this season includes some additional playing time notes.

April showers have brought May flowers, check local listings.  This week, I am going to take a look at April numbers in Major League Baseball to see if we can glean anything to help us manage our squads in a fantasy sense.  Today, we will present some data then on Thursday, we will look at how we may be able to use it to our advantage.

What we will do is compare the standard rotisserie stats from this past April to April of 2010 as well as all of 2010.  Some numbers will be normalized per inning such as hits, homers, strikeouts and walks.  Others will be normalized per game, namely runs and stolen bases.

If you sense that offense is still down, you are spot on.   Here is a table showing the relevant stats:

 

H/9

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

R/GM

SB/GM

ERA

WHIP

April/March 2011

8.52

7.09

3.28

0.91

8.58

1.37

3.90

1.31

April/March 2010

8.75

7.13

3.66

0.95

9.09

1.34

4.20

1.38

2010

8.84

7.13

3.28

0.96

8.77

1.22

4.08

1.35

Compared to both last April and last season, scoring is down.  Batters are getting fewer hits, especially homers.  Stolen bases, however, appear to be up just a bit, though steals are usually more prevalent early in the season.

Looking at pitching, after rising for several seasons, at least for one month, the league strikeout rate has stabilized.  It is a bit interesting to note that last season, the league walk rate was high in April, but this season it is down.  This could be a result of hurlers coming after hitters since power is down, or it could just be a blip, time will tell.  But it is apparent that the reduced number of free passes along with fewer homers has been the primary cause of the reduced ERA.

So power is down and speed is up.  While this is not surprising, the astute fantasy player will see if they can use this to their advantage as the season progresses.  On Thursday, we will put this concept under the microscope.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 May 2011 04:21
 
The Concept of Buying High PDF Print E-mail
Chance Favors the Prepared Mind
Written by Todd Zola   
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 00:00

The conventional advice offered by every fantasy baseball analyst is to buy low and sell high.  And of course, the notion makes perfect sense.  Buying low implies you are getting a capable player at a discount because he is off to a slow start and his owner may have soured on him.  Selling high suggests a player is performing at a clip better than normal and the trick is to find someone that believes the player will continue to perform at that elevated level.

The approach is obvious, which has led to a problem.  In order to buy low, you need to find an owner willing to part with a scuffling player.  The same pundit that that espouses the buy low, sell high theory implores you to be patient with your slow starters so you should be reticent to sell low.   On the other hand, the analyst that screams sell high is also pointing out how lucky the fast starter is, cautioning you against acquiring the player.  So sure, the axiom to buy low and sell high makes intuitive sense and has morphed into conventional wisdom, but let us be honest, do you really want to play in a league where the sharks are able to convince the minnows to pull the trigger on a deal of this nature?  What sounds great on paper is not so easy to manifest in reality.

Several years ago, I recognized this conundrum and first discussed what was considered to be counter-intuitive advice.  Since then, I have seen it discussed a few times, so maybe the idea is not so bad after all.  The idea is buying high.

A trade can be consummated in a variety of ways.  We will simplify this by segregating the reasons into three classes.  The first is a needs for needs trade.  Both parties value the players exchanged equally, but their respective squads benefit as each trades from strength to improve weakness, yielding a net positive on both sides.  The second is a present value for future value trade, the essence of which will be the subject of future site essays.  The final fits into the buy low, sell high mode where the participants have different beliefs with respect to the player’s worth.  The key to buying high is finding a player both partakers disagree with regard to a player’s value.

By means of explanation, if we can quantify a player’s performance, someone playing well may be scored to be 100.  It is universally accepted he is playing over his head so that score will regress.  Say you feel he will be a 70 player the rest of the way and I feel he will be an 80 player.  In order for you to agree to a trade, all I have to do is offer you a 75 player.  We both feel we are getting the better end of the deal.  Now, if I deal you a player I feel is a 70 and you judge him to be 75, that is even better.

There are two requisites in order to pull this off.  The first is the identification of a fast-starter you favor more than his owner and the second is finding a suitable player to offer in return.  The former involves some number crunching along with reading the tea leaves while the latter entails good old-fashioned horse trading.

I prefer not to use this space as a means to review player analysis, the site has and will be doing plenty of that.  But my means of a brief synopsis, my personal favorite metric to evaluate a hitter’s performance is his strikeout rate.  Keep in mind the reason a player is off to a hot start is usually because they have enjoyed a good degree of luck in a small sample.  This luck can come in the form of a fortuitous hit rate, resulting in a high batting average or an elevated HR/FB, rendering more homers than usual.  Both of these will regress.  My hypothesis is if the player is simultaneously exhibiting improved skill, the regression may not be as steep as others suspect.  The primary skill I track for hitters is contact rate, secondarily looking at walk rate.  If a batter is fanning at a lower rate, the possibility exists that his skills have taken an uptick, leading to better than expected numbers.  With respect to pitchers, I also look at strikeout rate and walk rate and if the hurler has improved, the regression due from a fortuitous BABIP or HR/9 may not be as extreme as my trading partner anticipates.  While I am not a huge fan of looking at last season’s second half as a harbinger of present success, if the player also demonstrated an improvement in skills the second half of last season, I will consider this season’s fast start to have a better chance of being real.

After identifying a player you suspect might be a trade target, you must then find a way to gauge his availability and find a suitable player to deal in return.  This should segue into the proverbial “tricks of the trade” column, but I think I will save that for another time.  I will however, highlight a few recommendations.

The bottom line is every competitor is different and there is no single best manner to negotiate a deal.  Actually, this would make for a fun message board discussion, so I will initiate a thread on our forum and invite your participation.  In short, the best means of working out a deal is to be cordial and keep your fellow owner’s needs in mind.  Of course, you want to improve your squad, but as the saying goes, it takes two to tango.  My rule of thumb is if I initiate trade talks, I will make the initial offer.  If someone wants one of my players, I will always consider an offer, but may not be willing to make the first offer.  You came to me; you show your cards first.  If the owner inquires about a player I am actually looking to move, I may in fact open serve.  If after receiving an offer, I feel there is a chance of hammering out a deal, I will respectfully decline, but make a counter.  If I sense the interest in my player is significant, I may not even counter, instead waiting on a second proposal from my opponent as a means to gauge what they may be willing to give up.  This is dangerous as they may move onto another owner and involves a gut feel of how interested in your guy they truly are.  Perhaps this makes me a bad trader, but I personally believe in being up front and honest in negotiations, even though I know there is a certain level of acceptable gamesmanship permitted.  On a personal level, I just need to make sure no one takes advantage of this, but in the long run, I feel it aids my ability to make trades, not to mention sleep a little better.   And to think, I am in the midst of contemplating shifting my day vocation from making little chemical thingies to selling them.  Unemployment will do that to you, but I digress.

In summary, if there is someone in your league looking to deal away some fast starters because the smart thing to do is sell high, and you sense that player is not going to decline as much as his present owner, drop them a line.  You never know, you could deal for this season’s Jose Bautista.  Or the real Jose Bautista.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 April 2011 02:09
 
Please Tip Your Waitresses PDF Print E-mail
Chance Favors the Prepared Mind
Written by Todd Zola   
Tuesday, 19 April 2011 00:00

This is the worst time of the season for those of us in the business of offering fantasy baseball strategy advice.  There is not a whole lot we can do other than to regurgitate Fantasy Baseball 101.  You know the drill: be patient, it is a marathon, not a sprint and buy low, sell high.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is just kick back and clear your head so you are ready for the long grind ahead.  So today, I thought I would take a break from the deep thinking and just get a few things off my chest.  Some will be baseball related, some will not.  But if nothing else, hopefully this will be a reminder that this is supposed to be fun.

Is there anything worse than checking the box scores, seeing a slugfest only to discover your guy went 0-for-5?

I suppose having your closer being brought into that game during a non-save situation and getting racked would beat it.

I am actually enjoying the ESPN Sunday night broadcast with Dan Schulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine.  Schulman is perfectly understated, letting his analysts do their job.  And although Hershiser and Valentine occasionally get into an “I’m smarter” contest, they play off each other quite well.  That said, to me, the best of the bunch is Aaron Boone.

How come a soft-throwing lefty is deemed “crafty” while a soft-throwing righty is deemed “sucky”?

Are ketchup packets really that expensive?  If not, why are places so stingy giving them out?

We all do it.  And it is okay, you will not go blind.  Heck, contrary to popular belief, females even do it.  We do not like to admit it, we pretend we do not do it, but we all do it.   Trust me, those that claim they do not do it really do.  We are only human.   Even though in the big picture, it really means nothing, it satisfies an urge so we do it.  Heck, Perry and Jason just blogged about doing it.  We all look at the standings and feel good about the teams that are doing well and are concerned about those struggling.

Martin Sheen has to be pissed Charlie did not use Estevez as his last name.

How come when a senior wide-receiver makes a tip-toe sideline catch the announcer chalks it up to his experience, but the next year in the pros, when he barely touches his toe out-of-bounds, he made a rookie mistake?

This Sunday has got to be the worst nightmare for those in the restaurant business as Easter and Passover coincide.

The commercial they show during Seattle Mariner games with Felix Hernandez dressing up in disguises is freaking hilarious.

Why the heck did Miguel Olivo just try to steal a base?

If umpires do not appreciate being shown up, why do some use such an exaggerated strike-three call?

Note to Joe Buck (like he is going to read this) – you have the greatest job in the world, can you please sound like you are not pissed off you are calling the game?  I understand some veteran teams turning it on for the playoffs, but announcers?  Come on man.

Did you ever notice the same people that spend the off-season criticizing the moves of real-life baseball general managers do similar things when managing their fantasy squads?

Sometimes I wonder if the only words written inside one of those “get rich quick” books are “put out a book saying you know the secret to getting rich quick.”  I mean, think about it, if the person really had the answer, why do they need to sell a book?  Same goes for gambling advice and how to beat the stock market.

Okay, gotta run.  I have some real-time standings to check out.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 April 2011 00:05
 
Early Season Tips PDF Print E-mail
Chance Favors the Prepared Mind
Written by Todd Zola   
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 00:31

While it is true that patience is the proper approach early in the season, there is a difference between being patient and being complacent.  There is still some early season roster management that you can do to help improve your chance of success.  Today, we will discuss a few of them.

COMB THE FREE AGENTS EACH WEEK FOR UPGRADES

This is especially true in mixed leagues where the available player pool is rather plush.  Even if you do not have an opening in your active roster, if you see an upgrade to your reserves, make the move as eventually, you will need everyone on your roster.  Pay special attention to the previous week’s drops as often, your fellow competitors get a bit antsy and release valuable players off to a slow start.

DO NOT WORRY ABOUT CATEGORIES

Even if you sense you are strong in one area and weak in another, unless you are floored by a trade offer and feel you are receiving more value in return, early on pound up your counting stats and worry about managing categories later.  What you perceive to be strength now can quickly turn into weakness with an injury or two.  There will be plenty of time to wheel and deal later once the categories have really fleshed out and you know where you stand.

BE COURTEOUS

Even if you are not inclined to make a deal early in the season, be courteous and consider all offers.  You never know when you will be approached with the proverbial godfather offer.  The comfort level and trust you establish now can do wonders later when you are in fact looking to swing a deal.  If possible, engage in casual discussion about your league or baseball in general.  You often can glean some tidbits that may help you down the road.

BE CAUTIOUSLY AGGRESSIVE WITH YOUR PITCHING

I know, cautiously aggressive is an oxymoron like a little bit pregnant or semi-kosher.  On one hand, early on, the conditions usually favor pitchers as the weather is cold and off days prevent hitters from getting into a groove.  On the other hand, I personally feel more comfortable starting a pitcher with a few outings under his belt so I can look at the peripherals and decide if the hurler is throwing well.  Similarly, one can argue that if you happen to get burned by a bad start or two, you have the whole season to get your ratios back in line while someone else can argue it is best to build up an innings buffer using high strikeout relievers early, allowing you to absorb some rough outings down the line.  The bottom line is there is no right way to deal with early season pitching.  My suggestion is if you have a knack for finding quality pitching as the season progresses, be aggressive early.  Sometimes it is a numbers game; the more pitchers you audition, the better the chance of hitting on one.  If you feel as though you are always behind the eight-ball with respect to your ERA and WHIP, do not take chances early and deploy solid middle relievers to build a foundation of strong ERA and WHIP.

PAY EXTRA ATTENTION TO YOUR HITTING

Early in the season, before injuries really set in is the best time to maximize at bats, especially in daily transaction leagues.  But even in weekly leagues, look at the matchups, the possible righty-lefty implications, the respective venues and do your best to have your best possible lineup active.  Trust me, as the season wears on, you will be starting your healthiest players, not your best players.  This is the time to jack up your counting stats with extra at bats.

CUT YOUR FAVORITE FANTASY PUNDIT SOME SLACK

You are no doubt aware that early in the season, some pitcher’s go through a dead arm period.  Well, on the off chance your favorite fantasy analyst is going through a dead brain period after working on content since November 1 and perhaps writes a shorter column than normal, in less depth than usual, give him a week to recharge his battery and I can pretty much promise things will be back to normal soon enough.  You know, hypothetically, of course.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 April 2011 08:56
 
Remember the Postmortem PDF Print E-mail
Chance Favors the Prepared Mind
Written by Todd Zola   
Tuesday, 05 April 2011 00:00

It may sound cliché, but sometimes cliché is sound advice.  Over the weekend, the auction for my local Boston keeper league was held and I am tucking away a couple of tidbits that I hope will be beneficial next spring when we get together.  I am not going to present the following and suggest it is globally true.  In fact, something to keep in mind when you review your drafts and auctions is not to assume the same thing will happen next time, so be careful about planning a stringent strategy around something you hope occurs again.  There is a fine line between tucking away some hopefully helpful hints and assuming too much.  The take home lesson is going to be to take a few minutes and think about your drafts in an effort to elucidate some potential tips to utilize next draft or auction.

By means of a bit of background, the league I am going to discuss in an American League only, 5x5 rotisserie scoring, keeper format with a minor league reserve squad.  As with most keeper leagues, there is some inflation at the auction and trading away some of your future to boost the present is integral to winning.  The small catch with this league is we have an amendment to the constitution that adjusts the roster size and salary cap if we have fewer than 12 teams.  I joined the league last season and we played the season with 11 teams and maintained that number this season.  The roster adjustment is to add an extra utility spot and a 10th pitcher.  This adds 22 players to the pool, which basically makes the pool penetration the same as if there were 12 teams with 23 man rosters.  The salary adjustment was for everyone to start the auction with $283 and not the usual $260.  The idea here is $253 added to the overall available money balances the $260 that would have been associated with the 12th team.  The end result of these adjustments is to keep the salaries of the players consistent with what they would be if we expanded to 12 teams, so the keeper dynamic would not be affected.

I came into the proceedings with a keeper list that included Miguel Cabreraat $46, Jacoby Ellsbury at $33, Nick Markakis at $25, Dustin Pedroia at $22 and Max Scherzer at $19.  I had ample high priced players and planned on buying a second decent starting pitcher and a closer.

The first tidbit I noted was a phenomenon known to exist, and that is a geographical bias with respect to prices.  Maybe I did not notice it last spring, or maybe these players were not available in the auction, but it did not take me long to notice there was a definite Boston tilt in the room.  To wit, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were both bought for $38 while Kevin Youkilis was purchased for $40 with Adrian Gonzalez leading the pack at $44.  The difference may not seem to be that great, but in a neutral setting, Teixeira and Gonzalez would normally go for about the same price while Rodriguez would sell for a few bucks more than Youkilis.

I learned several years ago that while it is fun to joke about, a player’s performance is not impacted by his presence on my roster, so I have grown immune to the name on the front of my player’s uniforms, only caring about the stats produced by the name on the back.  As such, even though I had not planned on buying another high priced stick, I had to take advantage of the table’s bias and purchased Alex Rodriguez.  In retrospect, had I known of this league trait, I would thrown back Cabrera and saved a few bucks targeting Teixeira.  I knew by purchasing A-Rod I would be handcuffing my ability to spend on the pitching I needed, but I decided that since trading is allowed, I would still look to get the starter and closer, but if I could not, I would channel old partner Jason Grey and continue to fortify the hitting, cobble together a pitching staff and then trade bats for arms to make a run if necessary.

This segues nicely into the second observation, which was even though top players, as usual, went for high prices, the inflation never seemed to abate and the prices of players I expected to drop never did – particularly the starting pitchers and closers.  I will not bore you with the list of names and prices, but suffice it to say that almost every hurler went for greater than full value, even considering the conventional means of calculating inflation.  Had I not invested in Rodriguez, I would have not hesitated to pay the going rate.  But, I made the decision that the value would be with hitting towards the end and decided to make sure I had a full time player at each hitting spot so I would have ammunition to trade for pitching.

Here comes the interesting part.  On my ride home, I was trying to figure out why the prices of the pitchers never fell.  I was perplexed that even though a ton of money was spent at the beginning, effectively wiping out the inflation from the keepers, players continued to sell at full value much longer than usual.  Then it struck me.  I completely overlooked a very key point.  Maybe you have figured it out by now.  If not, I will give you a hint; it revolves around the roster and budget adjustments we made for the reduction to 11 teams.  Do you know what my big mistake was yet?

With 11 teams, we added two extra roster spots and $23 per team.  This kept the average player to be about the same $11.30 in each setup.  But the additional 22 players were obviously well below average.  Many owners simply slotted $1 for the two extra roster spots, allowing them to distribute the remaining $21 to the rest of their roster.  This is what subsidized the high prices for longer than I anticipated.  I completely failed to recognize this was happening during the auction.  If I had noticed it, while I still would have likely purchased A-Rod, I may have not been as reticent to overpay for a closer or quality starter instead of hoping to take advantage of the expected deflated economy, which never came.

So my “note to self” for this league going forward is not to rely on being able to go bargain hunting and still get quality players like is often the case even in keeper leagues.  In fact, the best play may be to get my top players early as the trend was similar to what happens in the industry leagues like LABR and Tout Wars where sometimes the bargains are the first few players.

In summary, the point of this discussion is not to suggest what happened in my league will happen in your league.  The point is to spend some time going over your leagues in an effort to pinpoint something that may help you prepare better or execute your plan better next season.  And, after you think of it, write it down and put it in a place where you will remember it, unless of course you write for a web site and can archive the notes in a weekly column.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 April 2011 00:18
 
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