Signs of and advice on handling players who aren't up to par with the competition in your league.
If you are a veteran fantasy player like I am, chances are good that you participate in leagues with strong competition. I have played in “easy” leagues in the past, and while on some level it is fun to watch a powerhouse team roll over the competition, it isn’t very challenging and after a while becomes staid and boring. I’d rather beat strong players as opposed to simply rolling over a group of chumps that is already looking ahead to fantasy football in early August.
While playing against excellent competition is the fantasy baseball ideal, sometimes a “bad” player or two does slip through the cracks and make it into a competitive league. One bad apple won’t necessarily destroy a league, but can have anywhere from a mild to moderate impact on the quality of the league depending on the nature of why the player is weak.
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We all have our own idea of what constitutes a good ERA, FIP, or xFIP, but it's important to make sure that our benchmarks keep up with the times.
While some of us have come to use plus-or-minus stats that adjust to league average to make our determinations on where a player lands within his ranks, it’s clear that many people still use the standard ERA to evaluate a pitcher or batting average to evaluate a hitter. There’s no issue with that, especially when those are the relevant categories in a fantasy league—but there’s something of a collective benchmark that we have for what determines a good, great, or elite ERA or batting average. Even more advanced stats like FIP or xFIP fall prey to this collective benchmark and to our failure to adjust for context.
Focusing on the pitching side of the equation, based on the era I grew up in a 3.00 ERA was/is my benchmark for whether someone is a good pitcher. There are shades of gray of course—a mediocre pitcher can have a fluky season—but everything revolves around that 3.00. A 3.30 was pretty good and a 3.50 was solid. A 4.00 was fit for a fifth starter/long-man type. Reality, of course, is a different story. We all know that we’re in a down offensive period in baseball, but I do wonder if enough of us have adjusted to what that means on the pitching side of the equation. This is an effort to show just how dramatically things have changed over the last few years, so that we can recalibrate what an elite or good pitcher is, and then use that as a new frame of reference.
In order to do so, let us take a look at forecasting and what humans do when forecasting. My favorite definition of forecast (the verb) is from Merriam-Webster and it goes, “to predict after looking at the information available.” I like this definition because it is convenient for my article. I also like it because it highlights that our forecasts are dependent on “the information available.” Relatedly, in Thinking, Fast and Slow, our main human, Daniel Kahneman writes, “An essential design feature of the associative machine is that it represents only activated ideas.” Put differently, we cannot take into account that which we cannot imagine. I am throwing around a lot of combinations of words right now, so please allow me to simplify all this:
If these players are on the waiver wire, they might be worth a look, depending on the format of your league.
Norichika Aoki, OF, Kansas City Royals
The Royals have been on quite a tear in August, and having their leadoff hitter doing what he’s supposed to be doing has certainly helped them in this stretch. Aoki, who had been quite a fantasy disappointment over the first four months of the season, is doing the two things the Royals and fantasy owners want him to do recently: get on base and steal bases. Since August started, Aoki is hitting .295/.386/.410 with 14 runs scored and six steals in just 18 games. Compare that to the 40 runs scored and nine steals Aoki had over the first 82 games of the season, and you start to wonder what your team could have looked like if he had been doing this since the start of the year. And while it’s true that non-elite speed gets devalued a bit in shallower mixed leagues, Aoki’s strength in batting average (or OBP, depending on what you fancy) and runs helps make him a player who should be owned across the board right now in rotisserie leagues. —Bret Sayre
J.P. wasn't expecting much from the Brewers righty, but he's been pleasantly surprised.
Admittedly, this article stems from a recent article by our own Craig Goldstein and an ongoing series by Jason Parks. It revolves around the idea of making preseason projections and ultimately being wrong. Goldstein took the high road in his article last week and explained that baseball analysts can occasionally hide behind process as a way of lessening the impact of making an incorrect prediction. He writes:
I often think my reasons at the time were justified, and that just because it didn’t break my way, doesn’t mean I was wrong, just that it turned out differently. This is hiding behind “the process.” I was wrong, and good reasoning at the time or not, that needs to be owned.
Craig doesn't like being wrong, but he doesn't mind owning up to it about the Pirates outfielder.
This won’t come as a surprise to most anyone, but I thoroughly enjoy being correct. My default form of conversation is argument/debate, and I’ll generally play devil’s advocate even if I agree with someone, as a means to ferret out why I agree, or why that point is worth making. Basically, if I’m talking to you or at you, it’s because I have a vested interest in making a point that I want you to agree with. I’m a terrible person.
What sucks (for me) is I’m wrong a lot. I don’t think the percentage is particularly egregious, but as with anyone who puts their opinions on record, those opinions are going to be wrong with some regularity. I’ve accepted that as a part of life, but it’s still hard to swallow. I often think my reasons at the time were justified, and that just because it didn’t break my way, doesn’t mean I was wrong, just that it turned out differently. This is hiding behind “the process.” I was wrong, and good reasoning at the time or not, that needs to be owned. I was wrong about Starling Marte.
Reevaluating the fantasy value of two elite hitters you may have been nervous to draft this spring.
“He’s just a name-brand at this point. He’s not as good as people think. At this point, people are blinded by previous performance, rather than current or future performance.”
My buddy, Drew, leaned forward and smiled as he crossed off Tom Brady’s name from our pre-draft ranking sheet. Drew and I have co-owned a fantasy football team for years. He’s the brains of the operation. I’m along for the ride because it makes me more interested in the NFL than I otherwise would be, but Drew spent the better part of two months preaching to me that Tom Brady was no longer the quarterback everyone had grown accustomed to over the past decade. We had him as the no. 8 QB in our pre-draft rankings and it’s not difficult to imagine the smug look on our faces as we watched Brady go as the third-overall QB in the second round.
Looking at the pros and cons of various methods to curb or prevent "dump" trades.
Last week, I talked about salary caps in auction-style leagues and how they can still allow non-contending teams to rebuild without destroying the integrity of your league. As many of my readers have pointed out, there are several other methods you can use to either curb dump trades or prevent them entirely if you so desire. Over the years, I have used some of these methods in my carryover leagues. Others I have not used but have heard about through either reader feedback or from other fantasy baseball analysts who also play in keeper leagues. The list below is not intended to be comprehensive but offers a guide to different ways you can navigate this issue in your league or leagues.
A salary cap addresses how much salary a contender may put on his or her roster, but does little if anything to discourage a team at the bottom of the pack from simply vacating its roster and shipping everyone away to another squad. An alternative suggested by many of my readers is a salary floor. Putting a minimum required salary on a team still allows teams to play for next year but prevents teams from simply jettisoning everyone off of their rosters and potentially disrupting the competitive balance of the league.
The Rays righty is back on the mound, but is he ready to help you in fantasy leagues?
Stop getting excited about Jeremy Hellickson. All four of you. If we haven’t learned that we shouldn’t judge anything based off of four starts or 20-plus innings, we sure as hell should have. So let’s not declare him “back to the old Hellickson,” or make any other bold proclamations here. Let’s just take a look at what he’s done over 20 brief innings, and see if he’s doing anything different. If he is, perhaps you can get in on the ground floor of his value, after a rough 2013.
With his strikeout and walk rates in the same vicinity of his career totals, let’s start with his velocity, per Brooks Baseball:
Examining how the concepts about which Jeff writes can be applied to a real fantasy league scenario.
Less specifically, I type words. More specifically, I type words about the theories and concepts that surround fantasy baseball strategy. Every once in a while, it is worthwhile to zoom in a little, to take a look at an actual fantasy baseball example because it allows us to see how these concepts and theories can play out in our leagues. Consequently, I bring you a case study from my NL only keeper league (which also happens to be my favorite league). The trades and non-trades made by the top three teams in my league provide excellent studies on strategy, owner tendencies, competitive response, and trade markets as well as the interactions of all these concepts. Let us get cracking.
11 team, NL only, 5x5 roto, 15 major league keeper max, 4 minor league keeper max, 12 hitters/9 pitchers/1 utility slot.
In-season salary caps can restrict unwanted trade activity, but they might also alter your preferred strategy.
One of the most common complaints from fantasy baseball players revolves around trades with disparate value. While this complaint exists in non-carryover leagues, it is a far more common issue in keeper leagues, where there is always room for debate about what constitutes fair value. Depending upon what your league is like, a cost-controlled Byron Buxton for Miguel Cabrera and Felix Hernandez trade either sounds eminently fair or like a complete and utter sham.
One conundrum in auction-style Roto leagues is that depending upon the league’s contract, salary, and freeze limit rules the market price for Buxton might very well be much higher than it is for Cabrera and Hernandez. There are several reasons that this phenomenon might occur, and to catalogue all of them is well beyond the intended scope of this article. In some leagues, though, it isn’t uncommon to see trades where three, four, or even five major league players are swapped for a cost-controlled Buxton.
Helpful tips for making the most of your 11th-hour swaps.
Good whatever time of the day you are reading this; more importantly, good almost trading deadline. At this point, you are all familiar with my love of the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amost Tversky as well as my love of Kahneman’s very excellent Thinking, Fast and Slow. Up to this point, when my articles have involved their work, they have been regarding the thinking part rather than the fast and slow part. This has not been unintentional because in fantasy baseball we almost always have time to analyze every decision we make; thus, we almost always get to avoid thinking fast or System 1 thinking as Kahneman describes it. One of the exceptions to this particular “almost always” is your league’s trade deadline. In some leagues, there is a flurry of activity right before the deadline and thus a flurry of System 1 thinking.
This very moment seems like a great time to explain System 1 and System 2 thinking. Kahneman calls System 1, “the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach” and System 2 “the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates.” The former is great for making life more enjoyable by lowering the cognitive burden of living in such a complex world. In other words, System 1 is great for quickly and effortlessly making decisions of little consequence. When deciding which parking space you should park in or whether to go with Regular or 100% Colombian at Wawa (#regular4life), System 1 is the perfect system for the job. In fact, using System 2 for these types of decisions would be exhausting. That said, System 1 has many problems for navigating complex problems in that it is affected by biases, finds connections that do not exist, makes counterproductive associations, jumps to conclusions, and chooses the less cognitively difficult path instead of the optimal path. Conversely, System 2 is the better system for making important, difficult decisions. System 2 is not perfect for such instances, but it is the best we have and it is much better at overcoming many of the obstacles presented by System 1. The catch with System 2, however, is that it requires a certain amount of time.