FANALYTICS: Winter advisories

This winter, I have been serving as the personal consultant for about two dozen fantasy leaguers who responded to an offer I made back in November. I donated my services in exchange for a donation to my daughter Justina's Kickstarter campaign. Thanks to their generosity, Justina was able to fund her music recording project and I have been spending my time advising on a myriad of issues.

In all the requests I have been receiving, the most prominent recurring issue has been the decision-making process for determining a protection list in keeper leagues. And the most prominent recurring theme has been the challenge of doing an honest evaluation of their roster.

It is tough to win; the odds of winning consistently are steep. So you never, ever pass up the chance to win even once when it is sitting in front of you. Even if it means sacrificing the potential to create a "dynasty."

One of my advisees told me he was one frontline pitcher away from what he considered the "perfect roster." However, when I advised him to trade his wealth of farm assets to acquire a top arm, he balked. He turned down one trade of Kris Bryant for Cole Hamels, and then another blockbuster where he'd deal an underpriced Mike Trout for two overpriced vets, Max Scherzer and Ryan Braun.

Those are deals you have to make if they can bring you a title. But he couldn't part with the promise of the future even though his present was here for the taking.

You have to commit.

Here is a sampling of some other interesting questions I've received this winter. This venue gives me the opportunity to expand upon my original responses.

How closely can I expect the projected stats to mirror the skill ratings? For example, if a player is in the top 10 (or 20) in power, will he be in the top 10/20 for projected HRs? If not, what other factors will impact his projected HRs?

Well, playing time for sure. Troy Tulowitzki is one of baseball's top power hitters but his HR projection will always be affected by his potential for injury-free at-bats.

There are other factors. A player can display improving power skill, but if his flyable rate is down or he lucks into a poor HR-to-flyball ratio (which can fluctuate wildly through no fault of his own), his HR total will decrease. The best you can do is chase the skills and hope that the factors outside of his control fall favorably.

A hypothetical: Assume that I'm in a league where every owner has the exact same information (i.e. research, projections, etc). In other words, an efficient market hypothesis situation for fantasy baseball. What will be the deciding factors for winning? Is it health and playing time? Is it finding the outliers (like Brantley, Altuve, Dee Gordon this past season)? Is it good old fashioned luck?

If you are talking about variables outside of your control, then yes, things like health, playing time and luck will be the deciding factors. But there are other variables still in your control even if all owners possess the same information.

In your hypothetical scenario, the biggest advantage you have is in the game play. In an auction league, things like optimal money management, knowing the optimal time to open bidding on certain types of players, and being able to read the poker faces in the room and know when or when not to go an extra buck. In a snake draft, being as tuned in to the rosters of your competitors as your own and anticipating when to jump on a player that someone else craves, when to start a positional or categorical run, etc.

You gain an advantage by better using competitive research of the other owners. Assuming everyone knows who is a Cubs fan, who loves stockpiling prospects, and who can be rattled by trash talk, an advantage can be gained by knowing when and how to deploy that insight. And during the season, the biggest advantage goes to the best salesman; many horrible drafts have been turned into titles by aggressive trading.

And of course, luck can lay waste to the best of plans, so plan for luck!

Care to put a number on the role of luck? A ballpark figure? Not for this hypothetical example but for an average, realistic league?

Depends upon the rules of your league. The shallower the penetration into the player pool, the greater the role of luck—because there are higher odds that the deeper free agent pool will yield impact players. If I had to put a wild-ass number on it, I’d say that, in a 12-team AL/NL-only league, the odds of luck having a role is about 33%. In a 12-team mixed league, probably closer to 50%.

I only get four keepers. Here are my options, with how I currently rank them. Most people usually keep all four hitters, unless they have Kershaw/Felix, but I'm worried about Ryan Braun.
1. Adam Jones
2. Edwin Encarnacion
3. Josh Donaldson
4. Ryan Braun
5. Gerrit Cole
6. Brandon Belt
7. Hyun-jin Ryu
8. Jeff Samardzija
9. Alex Gordon
10. Dustin Pedroia

Some of the decisions you have to make can gain clarity if you try to shop the players in question. Don't know if you should keep Braun? See what he'd draw in trade. If the return exceeds your perceived value, consider making the deal. In your league's case, if anyone considers Braun—or any of your players—worthy of keeping among their top four, then that's a strong statement. If not, then that player may not be worth keeping. Either way, the exercise may help you better value the player within the context of your league. (And no matter what, you're under no obligation to make a deal.)

But bottom line—Braun is a risk. When you only get four keepers, your risk tolerance has to be very low. You can’t afford to make a mistake. From that perspective, Gordon is almost a better option—at least you know what you are getting. Both players posted essentially the same numbers last year. We can’t assume that Braun’s injury-suppressed 2nd half won’t happen again just because he says he’s completely healed. His proclamations are noise until we see him on the field.

I'm receiving interest in Jose Abreu, who is only $2 now but signed long term at $3, $14, $18. The owner of Kershaw ($29) is interested in dealing for him even up. Do you think it's best to acquire an ace via trade, regardless of salary? I realize Abreu is dirt cheap the next 2 years. But given that he's a slight risk due to lack of track record and potential league adjustment, do you feel moving him for Kershaw would be a good move?

I have just as much of a man-crush on Kershaw as anyone else, but I would not trade Abreu for him. Regardless of this particular deal, I have always been against dealing a hitter for a pitcher even up because hitters contribute to more counting stats, making them immediately more valuable. These days, that mantra has become even more important. And here, Kershaw is at a good price, but Abreu is at a much better price. Just think of what caliber pitcher you could get with the $27 you're saving!

And you will find pitching during the season. Last year, if you had to replace Abreu’s production, what reasonably equivalent talent would have been available in the free agent pool? Maybe JD Martinez? But if you had to replace Kershaw’s production during the season, you would have had your choice of reasonable replacements—Shoemaker, DeGrom, Keuchel, McHugh, Richards, Arrieta, Roark, etc.—and you could have even protected ERA/WHIP with a Wade Davis, Joe Smith, Pat Neshek, etc.

Offense is scarce and Abreu is now on a team with a better supporting cast. Don’t trade one of your best hitters at a ridiculously low price, even for a Kershaw.

I just landed Justin Morneau in a trade. Now I need to figure out what to do with Prince Fielder. Do you trust him to come back strong or does his surgery worry you? Worries me, especially on a big guy like Prince. I know he was durable but will this problem affect him for a time? I am willing to cut him loose especially with Morneau in the lineup (although I recall the concussion problem Morneau suffered). I could drop Drew Smyly and buy an extra buck to make my keepers work but dropping Prince means no more out of pocket costs to me this season.

Interesting comparison with the BaseballHQ.com projections:

Fielder: 529 AB, 23 HR, 85 RBI, .279, $20
Morneau: 502 AB, 17 HR, 80 RBI, .293, $19

In statistical terms, these are completely interchangeable commodities. In fact, the Mayberry Method rates them both 3045.

The difference is in the risk profiles. Fielder is FBD (health, PT/experience, consistency), Morneau is CAC. Fielder is 31, Morneau 34.

The ballparks are pretty much a wash.

I suppose I give the edge to Morneau on health alone. Although he has had some concussion issues, he’s managed to post three 500-AB seasons in a row. Fielder’s health—well, we just won’t know until he gets onto the field. Go ahead and cut him.

I have a question about positional scarcity in the context of keeper decisions. The best keeper values on my team are four outfielders, a catcher and a shortstop. However, it looks like the 2B draft pool is going to be pretty shallow because several owners are keeping theirs. Should I consider keeping my own 2B and dropping my "least best" OF, although the value clearly lies with the OF? Specifically, I am looking at keeping Jason Kipnis at $21, which is a dollar amount I normally would not entertain as keeper value.

I probably could use a little more context here, but in general, position scarcity should color your decision, but not force it. Key issues:

  • What 2Bmen will be available in the draft and how many teams will be chasing them? Worst case, if you are the last team to draft a 2Bman, who would you end up with? Would that choice kill your team? If not, toss Kipnis back; you can always work around the alternatives.
  • If Kipnis can be kept at $21, what do you think he would go for in the draft? If you think you could get him back around that number, then there is no need to use up a valuable keeper slot. Really, if you think his potential draft value would be $25 or less, I’d toss him back. If you think he could go for $30 or more, then his $21 keeper price represents a value to you.
  • A good way to assess Kipnis’ market value is to offer him up in trade now and see what bites you get. If nobody wants him at $21, that tells you a lot.
     


 


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