In a new season, don't be haunted by old ghosts. Try fresh tactics.
There’s an old saying that “generals always fight the last war.” The origin of the saying is unclear, but the idea behind it is not. During their current engagements, people tend to do the things that has worked well and avoid the things that didn’t work well during their previous engagement, rather than choose their course of action based on the current circumstances. And it’s not limited to war—a variation on the statement insists that “economists always fight the last depression.”
In my deep AL-only league keeper league, I’ve had the same issue the past few times I’ve had a contending team. I didn’t trade away my prospects and/or cheep keepers to the teams that dumped early because I didn’t like the prices I was paying. Each time, I felt like the contenders who made those deals overpaid and that I would overtake them when I made subsequent deals at better exchange rates. Each time, I was wrong.
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Middle relievers with big strikeout totals are gaining in value, which has fundamental implications for how fantasy baseball should be played.
A large portion of the conversation in fantasy circles has revolved around how the spike in home runs has altered the landscape—and with good reason. Home runs have increased from 4,186 in 2014 to 4,909 in 2015 to 5,610 in 2016. Entering action Wednesday, major-league hitters were on pace to hit 6,133 home runs in 2017. It is with good reason this has been analyzed ad infinitum. But since this fertile soil has been properly tilled, we can look at a different trend that is slipping under the radar somewhat.
Table 1: Major League Baseball Starting Pitchers, 2013-2017
You could say that the most Sergio Romo save of Sergio Romo’s 2014 season was his 17th, a wobbly six-batter adventure against the Cardinals in which he entered with a two-run lead and held on for a one-run victory in this sequence.
My daughter completely schooled me this week. In the 2013 Baseball Prospectus Annual, I talked about how she, at the tender age of three, was a better sabermetrician than I, because she’s much more experimental about life than I am. She turned four a few months ago, so she’s not really young for her level any more, but she’s still better at this than I am. Last week, my wife and I were in the kitchen and my daughter was busily drawing a picture of… something. My wife mentioned that one of her friends had made a bunting (the kind that a baby wears) for her infant daughter. My daughter asked what a bunting was and my wife explained. As an afterthought, I tacked on, “and it’s a bad strategic play in baseball.” My daughter stopped drawing, looked over at me, and asked her favorite question, “Why?”
If it doesn't make sense to call for pitchouts, why do major-league managers keep doing it?
Last week, my colleague Sam Miller ran a few numbers on the pointless, yet poignant play that is the pitchout (a billion points to whomever catches that reference) and concluded that pitchouts are actually a net loser: they cost the defense/pitching team more in runs than they gain. Sure, individual pitchouts sometimes nab a would-be base stealer (and that's a good thing), but overall, managers guessed wrong so often that the expected payoff wasn't high enough to justify the strategy. Rule number one of strategic thinking is that just because you got lucky on a stupid bet, it doesn't negate the fact that it was a stupid bet.
Most pitchouts aren't very effective. Maybe managers should stop calling for them.
On Sept. 23, 2012, the Washington Nationals pitched out. “I could count the times on one hand that the Nats have pitched out this year,” said MASN broadcaster F.P. Santangelo. Hmmm.
I think I stopped paying much attention to pitchouts around 1987. I know they happen; if you’d asked me to guess, I’d have guessed there was one every two games, enough that I know they happen but don't really notice them. I know they work sometimes; if you’d asked me to guess, I’d have guessed the pitchout was timed correctly about half the time, and if you’d asked me to guess, I’d have guessed that in such cases the baserunner was out around three times out of four. If my guesses were correct, it would make the pitchout a tremendously valuable strategy, but one that, for obvious reasons, could be deployed only occasionally.
Some strategic questions have different answers in September than they do during the rest of the regular season.
During the first four or five months of the season, I don’t care which teams are playing, as long as there is at least one day game I can watch from my location six time zones ahead of the East Coast. But when September arrives, I often find myself looking at the schedule in disgust when I learn that the only game played at 1 PM features two teams already out of contention.
September also brings a different kind of baseball, as rosters expand and teams pull out all the stops to make the playoffs. Given the altered nature of the game in the final month of the regular season, the men in charge of pushing the buttons should know the answers to a few questions that either do not arise or are not really relevant earlier in the season. Let’s have a look at a few of them.
Tom Tango returns to address your second and final batch of questions from last week.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
You asked, he answered. Below is the second and final batch of responses to the questions BP readers submitted for sabermetrician Tom Tango. All questions are presented in their original form.
Auction keeper advice from Jason, with a little help from an ancient Chinese strategist.
Ever since I started playing fantasy baseball I have been involved in keeper leagues. My first league began in 1987 when I was a sophomore in high school: my friends and I started simulated leagues using Earl Weaver Baseball to play out our games. I maintain that Earl Weaver Baseball was light years ahead of its time, as you could input your own stats and customize your own ballparks. Rather than pick from the standard player pools as we all do these days, we picked our players from the Topps baseball cards that we had purchased that year. The only flaw in the game was its inability to handle extremely small sample sizes. For example, Carlos Garcia went 2-for-4 as a member of the 1990 Pittsburgh Pirates but I turned him into a pinch hitter extraordinaire as he safely got a hit fifty percent of the time I used him. The league flourished in my Computer Programming class during my sophomore year in 1988—despite the 5.25” floppy disk's confiscation one January following a Kent Hrbek homer around the Pesky Pole, an event that set off celebratory music celebratory music in the lab.
The Yankees look to get back to yet another World Series while the Rangers are in uncharted territory.
From 1996 through 1999, the Joe Torre-led Yankees and the Johnny Oates-piloted Rangers faced off in three American League Division Series, the first three times the latter franchise had ever reached the postseason. The Yankees won nine of those 10 games, holding the Rangers to a lone run apiece in their 1998 and 1999 sweeps. Times have changed, however, and while the Yankee machine has simply kept rolling, racking up four pennants and two world championships while missing the playoffs just once since their last meeting, the Rangers endured a dark decade before reemerging as AL West champions thanks to the shrewd deal making of general manager Jon Daniels and the fruits of their well-stocked farm system.