FANALYTICS: Tying up loose ends, 2014

So, how did you do this year? Good? Bad?

I will finish somewhere between 2nd and 5th in every full-season league I was in. In the three one-month experts leagues at Shandler Park, I finished 3rd, 1st and am currently in 2nd. Good? Bad?

Everything is relative. Given how I started the year, these finishes are huge successes. Given that I won't win anything, at least not in the full-season leagues, it was a huge failure.

From a prognosticating perspective, we had some major success stories (more on those beginning next week) and some life-altering epiphanies that I'd like to sweep under the carpet. Let's review...

The terror of Larry Schechter's book (January 3)

Last winter, Larry Schechter wrote a book detailing the strategies that have brought him amazing success in fantasy league play.

Coming into 2014, he had won Tout Wars six times in nine tries; nobody else had won it more than three times. He's won the CDM Diamond Challenge twice. He has a LABR title too. I wrote: "Given Larry's incredible and consistent success, you simply can't discount or dismiss his methods no matter how outrageous they might seem."

Still, there were some elements that I just could not bring myself to agree with. Most notably I could not buy into his dogged insistence to live and die by his projections and values. But I don't have anywhere near Larry's hardware, so who am I to disagree?

As 2014 wraps up, I am having a tough time putting Larry's season in perspective (as I'm sure he is as well). It looks like he'll finish behind me in Tout Wars (which likely means 6th place or lower) and no higher than 2nd in LABR. I don't believe anyone overtly copied his strategies or deliberately scooped him on players, certainly not just to mess with him. But there will be no titles this year.

Will 2014 go down as the season when he became a victim of his own success? Was writing his book a bad idea? Or was 2014 just a single, isolated, unrelated data point?

Strategizing the early rounds of the FSTA draft (January 24)

I spent a good four months of this season in 2nd place and could well end up there, quite a feat given that Prince Fielder was my 2nd round pick. But the system described here did work, and helped uncover undervalued gems like Todd Frazier and Neil Walker.

Looking back at the draft roster, it is interesting that I will finish the season with just 17 of the 29 original players. The offense was devastated by injury and underperformance; my pitching staff was largely intact.

A critical analysis of the first round (February 28)

This is the column I have the most fun writing each year, because... it is about the easiest phenomenon to analyze. Recency bias and inflated expectation drive draft behavior for what is arguably the most important group of players to get right.

But the marketplace consistently gets it wrong. The ADP history shows we're correctly identifying each season's top 15 players at a rate of about 35%.

If you heeded my advice in this piece, you would have avoided Chris Davis, Ryan Braun, Hanley Ramirez, Bryce Harper and Troy Tulowitzki, all of whom had a first round ADP. Granted, Tulo provided a half season of exceptional productivity but still will not end up earning his draft slot.

I wrote:

So... of all the players currently going in the top 15, there are only eight players that I would feel comfortable drafting that high. In my own personal order...

1. Mike Trout 2. Miguel Cabrera 3. Andrew McCutchen 4. Adam Jones 5. Robinson Cano 6. Carlos Gonzalez 7. Prince Fielder 8. Clayton Kershaw

...and I already know that 2-3 of these guys are likely going to fail at earning back their draft spot.

As of today, the ADPs correctly projected just four of the 15 in the first round.

Draft Radar - Batters (March 7)

I toss out lots of names for these annual exercises. Some are dead-on hits, some are marginal hits and some are blatant misses. It's always a mixed bag but there is also tons of food for thought.

This year's edition identified players who could rise into the first round, including Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton. Of Jose Abreu, I wrote: "What if he is for real? This is not just any Cuban import; he comes to us as a fully-formed, at-peak 27-year-old who will play half his games in a launching pad. His peripherals in Cuba were better than both Cespedes and Yasiel Puig."

I also wrote that, if you ignored batting average, there were profit opportunities in Chris Carter, Tyler Flowers and Evan Gattis. I wrote that there was speed profit in Dee Gordon, Jarrod Dyson and Jordan Schafer. Devin Mesoraco was among my post-hype prospects who could take a step up. And on and on. But as is the nature of the exercise, there were plenty of misses too.

Chris Davis, first rounder? (March 9)

Every single point I made in this piece was dead-on... until I speculated on where I personally would draft him. If only Mike Trout was this cooperative last year.

Draft Radar - Pitchers (March 14)

A bunch of good calls here too. I was not willing to draft Yu Darvish and Jose Fernandez as high as they were going. I elevated Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner into the elite class. I warned against the limited track record of Danny Salazar (wish I took my own advice in Tout Wars, however). Rick Porcello and Phil Hughes were among the post-hype prospects I was targeting. I even had Jake Arrieta on my "Intriguing What-Ifs?" list.

The 2014 Tipping Point (March 28)

This is a good read, in retrospect. My conclusions were not perfect but the trends noted are continuing. I told you to "buy big power" regardless of any other offensive deficiency.

I wrote: "A hit list of the best hitters to target might be one that looks solely at high contact rate, high LD/FB rates, high PX level and high walk rate." Among the names on my list were Jose Abreu, Jonathan Lucroy, Lonnie Chisenhall and Neil Walker.

I'll be talking a whole bunch more about this in the Baseball Forecaster.

Elite Player Perspectives (from the First Pitch Forums)

For those who attended the First Pitch spring tour, you heard me (or a reasonable facsimile of me) give a presentation about an experiment in re-setting our perception of the first round.

I spoke about how the recency bias completely skews how the marketplace projects player performance. So I offered an alternative 2-step fix.

The first step was to start with a baseline that combined two seasons—2012 and 2013. Then I filtered out segments of each player's performance that might have been an isolated outlier (and non-repeatable). So if a player was a consistent .287 hitter all season but batted .365 in one month—thereby elevating his final mark to .300 -- I omitted that one outlying month and re-set his baseline.

Players who managed consistent production month after month fared best in this analysis. The ones who were more volatile lost ground in the rankings.

The resulting re-ranking of players was interesting. It moved Adam Jones up to #5 on the list and Bryce Harper down to #20. Giancarlo Stanton rose a few spots and Hanley Ramirez dropped to #24.

Joey Votto dropped to #28 thanks to several outlying months (he batted .388 in May 2013 and .392 in June 2012). Similar outlying months suppressed Mike Trout's projected batting average to .311, more than 10 points lower than either of his two actual marks and an accurate pointer for the direction in which his BA did head.

On the mound, it elevated Madison Bumgarner to #3 in the pitching ranking and dropped Yu Darvish to #6. But the biggest takeaway was that the arms ranked #3 through #10 were essentially interchangeable commodities. By combining 2012 and 2013, and filtering out the outlying months, pitching projections were flattened significantly. The only pitcher who ended up with an ERA projection under 3.24 was Clayton Kershaw.

Now, while these results looked interesting, they weren't perfect. Chris Davis was still ranked #8. Freddie Freeman—who many of us thought would have a breakout year—rose to #13. Jacoby Ellsbury dropped to #25. Among pitchers, Felix Hernandez ranked 11th; Adam Wainwright was 13th.

So, no Holy Grail yet, folks.

And in closing, our annual reminder...

Our Three Cardinal Rules for Winners:

1. Revel in your success; fame is fleeting. 2. Exercise excruciating humility. 3. 100% of winnings must be spent on significant others.

If you cherish this hobby, you will live by these rules or die by them.

Next two weeks... Our forecasting success stories.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.