May 12, 2014
Expert League Assessment: First Quarter
It is difficult to believe, but we are nearly one-fourth of the way through the regular season. It’s that time in fantasy baseball that is early yet not early. If you’re in second or third place and have a slow starting player or two you might not think much of it, whereas if you’re in eleventh place now might be a good time to take a long, hard look at your roster and figure out what you can do to improve your team.
I participate in three expert leagues: LABR, Tout Wars, and CBS. LABR is a mixed league, while CBS and Tout Wars are NL-only. Bret Sayre of Baseball Prospectus and I share the LABR team, while I run the CBS and Tout Wars teams by myself.
Here is how I’m doing so far in each league (through games played Saturday, May 10).
CBS Analysts League (NL Only, 12 team, 5x5): second Place, one point out of first.
Table 1: CBS NL Only Team: Auction Results and Current
The Plan: Compared to the more established expert auction leagues, CBS had a more freewheeling approach by its experts this year. As a result, I didn’t buy a player until 59 players into the auction and didn’t spend more than $24 on any player (Matt Holliday, in both cases). As a result, I figured that I would wind up buying a balanced team on both sides of the ball.
I wasn’t disappointed. I purchased 13 everyday players and McKenry. I figured that I would do well across the board on offense. Even if I didn’t dominate a category, having so many regulars would put me in strong position in RBI and runs. On the pitching side, I didn’t plan this but I purchased nine starting pitchers. I wanted a closer but CBS was surprisingly aggressive compared to the other expert leagues so I narrowly missed out on Jim Henderson ($15) and Jose Veras ($10) and decided to dump the category. Once the season started, I would pick up two or three middle relievers and treat this NL-only like a mixed league, streaming starting pitchers based on matchups.
Did It Work?
The pitching has been really solid as well. With six pitchers with an ERA of 3.02 or under, I’m competitive in ERA and WHIP. I haven’t been lucky on the saves front (I picked up Valverde after he imploded and his owner gave up), but I knew going in that I might only pick up one point in this category. The league is competitive so I know I can win without saves.
Tout Wars (NL Only, 12 team, 5x5 with OBP): seventh Place, 24 points out of first.
Table 2: Tout Wars NL Only Team: Auction Results and Current
I was hoping to split the difference between what I did in CBS and what happened in LABR and buy some top-flight talent but also try to grab some balance on offense. From a price perspective, that’s exactly what I did. At a combined $100, Wright, Upton, Hamilton, and Kemp made up the core of my offense. I had mixed feelings about both Hamilton ($22) and Kemp ($21) but believed in the upside on both hitters. The rest of the offense was mostly hitters in single-digits, with only Rendon ($17) and Ramos ($15) going for $10 or more. With the possible exception of Sanchez, I accomplished my goal of buying a starter at every position. Some of these starters were pretty uninspiring, but in an only league, you’re trying to accumulate and bludgeon the other guy into submission with counting stats. If I had a problem with this offense, it was that I had too much speed not tied into power in guys like Hamilton, Maybin, and Bourjos.
Just like in CBS, I didn’t want to splurge on pitching, but I did have pitchers I was “targeting” with strong prices. This explains why my top four in Tout mirrored my CBS staff. I was aggressive on Cashner, Ross, and Burnett, but wanted to get a strong foundation for strikeouts without spending too much money. I figured Johnson wouldn’t pitch a full season but would still get 100-120 innings, and Bradley could make up for the rest with a mid-season call-up.
My philosophy on closers was that I’d only get them if they fell in at the right prices, and that’s what happened with Henderson and Veras. At $19 combined, one of them could stumble and it wouldn’t matter and I would still have a nice baseline of saves. Brothers at $6 was a nice bonus. It wouldn’t surprise me if I won the category.
Did It Work?
Hamilton is running as much as I would have liked and has missed multiple games twice now due to injury. His 11 steals aren’t useless in fantasy, but the fact that he hasn’t stolen more makes trying to trade Bourjos or Maybin for another commodity harder. The early injuries hurt a little bit, but I knew Maybin and Kemp would miss some time when I bought them.
Pitching is where my faith is wavering and I believe I might not have enough to contend. Johnson’s injury left me without a fifth starter and the reserve rules in Tout have made it next to impossible to find a viable replacement. With Bradley’s injury, I may need to hold my nose and pick up a less than desirable starting pitcher off of the wire or—failing that—carry 10 pitchers for a while to try and grab some relief strikeouts.
The more significant problem was losing Henderson and Veras, putting me behind the eight ball in a category I invested in and where believed I would contend. Rondon helped slightly, but unlike 2013 free saves haven’t been plentiful in the free agent pool. Just like in CBS, I picked up Valverde after his brief stint as closer so I didn’t get those saves either. I probably won’t finish last in saves, but 2-3 points wasn’t what I had in mind.
LABR Mixed (15-team, 5x5) : third place, 11.5 points out of first.
Table 3: LABR Mixed (15-team, 5x5) League: Draft Results and Current
I appeared on Sirius XM during the draft to talk about our team to that point, and the hosts were surprised by how much risk they believed we were assuming with Ramirez, Stanton, and Pujols. I disagreed. I believed that the trio would produce enough to anchor our team, even if all three players missed 120-150 games combined for the season. Stanton in particular was a player I believed the market was undervaluing in 2014 after overvaluing him in 2013.
For me, the real risk was Hamilton. Buying him in an NL-only like Tout Wars concerned me less than drafting him in a mixed league. One-trick ponies in only formats can be quite profitable; in mixed leagues, they need to be elite in a category in order to carry their weight. The rest of our team was also light in steals as a result; we weren’t going to gamble on Hamilton in the sixth round and then waste too many more picks on speed plays.
Because other teams were taking pitching somewhat earlier than usual, I liked our offense overall. Alonso, Nava, and Plouffe were potential weak links, but in a deeper mixed format every starter isn’t going to be a slam-dunk. We hoped that Reynolds and eventually Jonathan Singleton (on reserve) would be suitable alternates for Alonso and Plouffe if they flopped.
Despite taking pitching relatively late, I liked the front end of our rotation. We deviated from our plan a little bit with Fernandez in the fourth round but didn’t want to get caught without an ace. The Cobb/Miller/Moore combo was a solid no. 2-4 in our opinion. It was the back end where I felt we were weak. Johnson’s injury history worried me and I thought Gee was just marginal for a mixed league. For someone I had never partnered with before, Bret and I were surprisingly on the same page in a lot of areas, but I wasn’t enthused by Matt Harrison, Brett Anderson, and Edwin Jackson, even as reserve picks. I figured that we would be making moves early on the pitching front.
I thought we’d be fine with the closers that we took (keep in mind that the draft was in mid-February). I have always been a fan of Henderson and of all of the relievers in the White Sox pen, I had faith that Jones would be the man. I figured that Crain would miss some time, but still envisioned a scenario where we’d get 20 or so saves out of him.
Did It Work?
Something that has hurt on offense is the combination of Hamilton’s lackluster start and a lack of complimentary steals from the rest of our offense. We’re scuffling in the category, which is something I would not have expected when we drafted Hamilton. He has improved at the plate after a horrid first week but if he doesn’t stay on the field we’re not going to make a big jump in the category.
Unless you’re marooned on an island, you know by now that our closers all not only imploded but didn’t even make it to Opening Day as the closer. We made an attempt via free agency, but that worked out just as badly with J.J. Hoover. At this point barring a miracle we are committed to tossing the category aside. Playing a nine-category game in a mixed format is far from optimal, but it doesn’t make sense to blow through the rest of our free agent dollars for a one or two-point gain in saves.
After losing Cobb and Miller to injury, I thought that we were doomed to a lousy pitching staff. But a series of solid free agent pickups combined with Fernandez’s awesome start has put us in a good position on the pitching side. The lone drawback to our injuries is that we’re lagging somewhat in strikeouts because our pickups are pitchers like Buehrle, Hammel, and Jordan Lyles but our ERA/WHIP are strong. If we can hang on until Cobb comes back later this month, we might actually pull out 40-45 pitching points.