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Old Man Teams Have Decided Downside

I have a couple squads who were constructed as veteran-laden powerhouses of old-manhood, with the idea that a stable core, supplemented with some young upside along the way, could and should rule the day. It’s a strategy towards which I generally gravitate in dynasty leagues, as I have consistently found over the years that veteran talent tends to be broadly undervalued in spite of its relative stability. But there’s downside too, and that risk has to be appropriately priced in if your old-timer’s club is going to have any staying power.

Take my TDGX team, for example. That league is three years old now, and after a podium finish (third) in the inaugural season, my squad has stumbled through consecutive injury-filled, underperforming seasons of abject mediocrity. Arms like Wei-Yin Chen, Rich Hill, and Homer Bailey – all of whom I had counted on to provide stable back-end production – have missed giant chunks of time along the way, while my battered old-man hitters like Pujols, Kendrick, Ellsbury, A-Rod, and Mauer have declined faster than Florida real estate. It’s imperative to get out from under players like these a year earlier than a year late, and that’s another bit of calculous that goes into the anti- column for the blue-plate strategy.

Whatever You Do, Trade for Mike Trout

Noted Yankee Stadium hot-take-haver Craig Goldstein and I took over a team together in a long-running, solidly competitive 15-teamer this past winter. The squad had quite a decent bit of raw material to work with, particularly in the starting rotation and on the farm, though it had been mired in a gradual, two-year slide towards the middle of the pack from monied heights when we assumed the helm. For our first order of business, we went out and got Trout with a Buxton-headlined package. Not only did that deal add Mike Trout to our team, it upgraded an outfield slot previously filled by David Murphy. And now, cash rules every so on and so forth.

But I bring this up not just to brag of mighty conquest, but to point out in raw terms the abject importance of consolidating your roster around as many elite players as you can finagle. There are limits to everything, of course, and tipping too far into a stars-and-scrubs roster construction has its own perils, particularly as league size grows. We gave up a substantial haul of talent in bulk terms in order to acquire Trout, just like you’ll have to if you’re going to acquire him or any other elite player this winter. But the real-term gains of adding top-20, top-30 talent to your roster – let alone a top-five guy – are not the marginal kind. The average big-league outfielder this season has hit .259 with 18 homers, 12 steals, 76 runs, and 66 runs batted on a per-550-at-bat rate basis. Adding Trout’s .319/27/25/110/89 represented a massive, across-the-board upgrade over the production we would’ve otherwise received at that position.

Sure, we could’ve traded less-shiny objects to acquire, say the 25th-best outfielder – as of this writing Adam Jones – and come out substantially ahead of where David Murphy or some other Outfielder X would’ve taken us. But in raw terms we’d be talking about a net-negative seven to nine standings points in the downgrade from Trout to Adam Jones for this year in a league where the scale has a championship-caliber team logging north of 125 points.

Can you theoretically close some of that gap by moving the extra piece or two you saved by trading for Jones instead of Trout? Sure, but the benefit is diluted because it lacks consolidated production – now you need to upgrade two, three, maybe four roster spots to make the same gains it takes you to make just by adding that one elite player. And with more moves come more risk; more things have to go right, more guys have to stay healthy and productive, and generally more things can go wrong to eat into your surplus value generation. One-stop shopping for upgrading your present roster is always preferable, and acquiring elite players, even at extraordinary cost, is the way to do that.

Seriously, Never Take Relievers on Draft Day

I continue to struggle with this concept despite being a reasonably intelligent human, so it bears pointing out, yet again, in the hope that in spite of this column’s title I actually will manage to learn this concept in the future. If you play in a dynasty league of any kind of depth, chances are the draft is a relatively staid affair consisting of a couple types of players, headlined by the new crop of draftees and international signees of the past year. They represent the bet avenue towards generating future value, and tend to dominate the first couple rounds. Then you have your older veteran types who offer particular value to particular teams in particular positions on the win curve. Your Carlos Beltran types who weren’t kept, but who figure to hold everyday jobs. Or your Ervin Santana types, who’ll hold rotation spots because they pitch for bad teams and who’ll generate value because of that, but come on, who wants to be the guy who keeps Ervin Santana? And then as a subset of that latter category, you have your rot-gut, bargain-basement relievers, the ones who litter the worst bullpen rosters for the most undesirable teams, and leach onto the scene in spring training to become the favorite for saves. You know, David Hernandez. Steve Cishek. Those guys. Do not waste your draft picks on David Hernandez and Steve Cishek.

Cishek’s season, broadly speaking, was an absolute best-case scenario for those who held their noses and grabbed him. 25 saves are 25 saves, and on the right competitive team, those are first-round difference-makers. But if you were in that position of spending your early pick on a closer, you were much more likely to end up with Hernandez production. Or J.J. Hoover production. Or Drew Storen production. Yes, all four of those guys went off the board among the top 30 relievers in standard re-draft formats this year, and chances are that at least three of them were available in your draft pools. Do you know who didn’t get drafted among the top 40 relievers? Jeanmar Gomez, Ryan Madson, Alex Colome, Sam Dyson, Seung Hwan Oh, Edwin Diaz, Tony Cingrani, and like 15 other dudes who compiled a discernable number of saves this year. And next year, after you grab young hitters who actually have the potential to mature into surplus value over the course of the season, you’ll still have plenty of FAAB dollars in hand with which to bid on next year’s versions of that motley crew above.