Abandon Your Strategy

Hi all. I write about strategy, decision making, and human behavior as they relate to fantasy baseball and not-fantasy baseball over at Baseball Prospectus. Here at TDG I have written an article about these topics as they relate to fantasy football. If you have read my fantasy baseball articles, then you will recognize the concepts discussed in this article. My hope is that the ideas discussed are properly related to the concepts of fantasy football.

After a long offseason, after a lot of draft and auction preparation, after a lot of strategizing, drafts and auctions are finally upon us. We are in a wonderful day and age for fantasy football participants in which more amazing player analysis and (stemming from that player analysis) amazing strategy analysis is readily available than there was ever before thanks to our old friend the internet. Tons of information and analysis can be accessed with only a wi-fi connection and a little bit of effort on the participant’s behalf. The result of this? The 2016 fantasy football participant population (at least those competing in “competitive” leagues) will likely be the most informed and prepared fantasy football participant population ever.

The issue—at least an issue for those trying to win—is that preparedness or consuming the best analysis or having the most cutting edge strategy is likely only going to be enough to keep up with our competition as opposed to differentiate us. Why? Because if everyone is more informed, if everyone is improving, then no one is better off. In other words, improving is a means of survival rather than a means to thrive. So how then do we thrive? How can we hope to improve in ways beyond our competition? To do so, we need to improve in areas outside of rankings and analysis.

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Scouring The Lower Minors

A few weeks ago, my deep dynasty league had their monthly minor league auction which is the only time that true minor leaguers may be added to our rosters. Considering that there are 20 teams with up to 50 roster spots dedicated to minor leaguers, this is an important time. Since the team I took over hadn’t had any minor league transactions to date, I had the full $100 to work with. I quickly proposed about 20 one-dollar bids after a quick look at high performers at the Rookie and Low-A levels. One of the names I identified was Samir Duenez. When another owner bid $2, I let him go and laughed to myself at his effort to raise the price on a player I didn’t really care much about. A month later, I’m wondering if the other owner was in fact laughing at me. Duenez has seen a significant rise in value after a season in which he has seen him earn promotions from full season A ball to Double-A. It’s too soon to draw conclusions from his Double-A performance, but his other two stops were rousing successes. Leading up to 2015, Duenez, while young for his placement, did not show much success with the bat. He hit a total of two home runs in his first three seasons and generally had an OPS in the .650 range. This year has been a different story. For the season, he has posted a triple-slash line of .288/.348/.451. He’s probably not going to be a future star, but players with his profile – low strikeouts, decent walk-rate, a little speed – tend to have a high floor. He’s not a must-add in regular formated dynasty leagues, but in my league that rosters 1000 prospects, he was a great find.

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Playing The Stock Market – Dynasty Baseball Edition

I’ve never agreed with the thought process that a complete tear-down is the way to re-build a dynasty team. It can work and it can be fun, but it takes forever to see improvement in the standings. Drafting can be a crapshoot and you really can’t afford to miss. A top five pick in 2014 landed you Kyle Schwarber, Nick Gordon or Alex Jackson. I can’t imagine you would be very pleased about two of those today and the other probably won’t see catcher eligibility again.

I have found incredible success in actively trading players like stocks month-to-month and year-to-year. The goal is simple, buy a player today who could or will be more valuable in one year relative to what you paid. It can happen week-to-week if you are diligent. In three leagues, I moved on Matt Shoemaker the day after his May 21st start where he threw 50% change ups and plan on selling at the deadline. His acquisition cost was so low, that the return on this short investment will be immense. This strategy can and should be employed by teams who are contending as well.

The following six players are guys that I am investing heavily in before the trade deadline:

Wilson Ramos (C) WAS – Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy and Willson Contreras aren’t going anywhere in your league. Since Mike Piazza did it in 2000, four catchers have finished a season with a higher ISO and lower K rate than Ramos is flashing this year. Ramos has stopped swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and popping up. This is peak Victor Martinez stuff. He is a free agent this winter and if he ends up in the American League with the ability to DH on his days off from behind the plate, we could be looking at the new #1 dynasty catcher moving forward. Pay the price.

Derek Dietrich (2B/3B/OF) MIA – Remember this guy? Me neither. He never appeared on a top 100 list, but he’s hit at every stop in the minors. Dee Gordon’s suspension forced him into an everyday role at second base and all he’s done since is hit like a top 10 second baseman. With Martin Prado set to be a free agent at the season’s end, Dietrich has positioned himself for the lion’s share of the third base plate appearances in Miami in 2017. If he can improve a bit versus left-handed pitching, he has the ability to produce a top ten second baseman season next year.

Justin Turner (3B) LAD – Since the beginning of 2014, Turner has quietly been an elite hitter. His 141 wRC+ is ranked 17th among qualified hitters, one point behind Michael Brantley and J.D. Martinez. He combines borderline elite plate discipline with loud contact and lots of fly balls. Turner is a free agent this winter and feels like a New York Yankee. Holes at first base, third base and designated hitter create a perfect fit. This is a top ten fantasy hitter in Yankee Stadium even without the luxurious beard.

Jason Heyward (OF) CHC – Heyward’s value has essentially bottomed out. Here is the link to his 7-day rolling wOBA since 2014. It can’t get any worse than this. However, his plate discipline hasn’t eroded and his BABIP is over 30 points lower than his career average. This is an easy buy-low call. His value one year from today will be substantially higher than it is now.

Robbie Ray (SP) ARI – His terrible win/loss record and ERA likely make him very available in your league. Ray is 24-year-old starting pitcher who throws left-handed and averages nearly 94 miles per hour with his fastball. He is currently sporting nearly identical strikeout and walk rates as Jake Arrieta while maintaining near elite contact rates. If the light turns on in 2017, the return on this investment will be colossal.

Matt Bush (RP) TEX – Bush is holding elite velocity and consistently throwing three pitches. He’s pretty clearly next in line for saves in Texas and Sam Dyson is starting to look like the overuse is catching up to him. Bush has mentioned on several occasions that he would like the opportunity to start in the future and the Texas Rangers under Jon Daniels have shown a willingness to allow relievers to give starting a run. It hasn’t always worked, but C.J. Wilson has an extra 50 million dollars in his account because of it. I do have to mention that Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando appeared to all break almost immediately, but they did get their shot.

I’ll continue to touch on this series weekly with pop-up dynasty buys and sells.

Buy-High Guide: Hitters

One of the most popular trade strategies in fantasy baseball is to ‘buy-low and sell-high.” While it’s a smart idea on paper, this tactic has become a bit cliché and significantly harder to carry out given its prevalence. To counter this approach, I like to employ the “buy-high” plan. Often times, a hot start from an unexpected source can be misidentified as a sell-high candidate, not a legitimate fantasy asset. Many fantasy owners may be scrambling to deal this player at a price less than their performance has made them worth, in an effort to deal them before their luck runs out. Recognizing which early-season successes are real and grabbing them at what may still be a reduced price isn’t always as easy as buying-low and selling-high seems, but it can be just as profitable—especially with owners who think you’re falling into their trap. Right now is the perfect time to put this plan into action, so here are some ideal buy-high targets.
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The Trade Block Commandments

On the morning of the second month of the fantasy baseball season there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the trade block, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in your dynasty league trembled. Then the Commissioner led the people out to meet with The Dynasty Guru, and they stood at the foot of the trade block. The trade block was covered with smoke, because the Dynasty Guru descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole trade block trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, the Commissioner spoke and the voice of The Dynasty Guru answered him. 

And The Dynasty Guru spoke all these words:

“I am The Dynasty Guru, who brought you out of redraft leagues, out of the land of poorly constructed trade blocks.

“You shall have no other blogs before me.

You shall not make for yourself a trade block lacking meaningful information. Your trade block should include actual players offered, positions or stats requested, or at least a comment with meaningful information.

You shall not consider ‘serious offers only’ as meaningful information if you are only offering waiver wire-caliber depth pieces.

Remember the trade block and keep it updated. Do not be the person whose trade block lists Alex Rios and Greg Holland and has not been touched since August 2015.

You shall not seek to deal your depth for a top player if you are not willing to deal equal value. A combination of middle relievers, right handed platoon bats, and AAA catchers will not return you an SP2 no matter how many paragraphs of justification you belligerently write in your trade proposal.

You shall honor the trade block and keep it holy by including in your trade proposals or conversations the actual players, stats, or skills referenced in your potential partner’s block. The team who has Paul Goldschmidt at 1B and is offering to trade Justin Bour is not interested in dealing you Goldy so that he can slot Bour at first, and you are not going to convince him to do so.

You shall not covet the player you just traded away, even if the team you traded him to already moved him for more than you got in return.

You shall not collude.

You shall not whine.

You shall not veto.

You shall monitor the trade block and leverage it to improve your team and your relationship with the other members of your team. The trade block is a conversation starter, not a conversation avoider, and you shall treat it as such and honor those who respect your trade block with thoughtful counter-proposals.”

A Holistic Approach To Trade Evaluation

 

As the bard Dave Barry once wrote “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” The same goes for all fantasy baseball players’ belief that we are above-average trade negotiators. Each of us may not think we’re the  best at trading in our particular leagues, but none of us thinks we’re the worst or even the median. How can you tell, then, if you’re an above-average trader? And once you realize you’re NOT above average, how do you improve?

The best description of trading I’ve ever read was by Mike Newman, of the dearly-departed website and newsletter RotoScouting. “A fair trade is one in which both owners are hesitant to pull the trigger,” he once wrote, and while the sentiment is by no means unique to him, he articulated it perfectly. You can test this perspective in the polls of the Trader’s Corner pieces Nick Doran writes here at TDG– many trades have a clear winner or loser, but the best trades may be the ones where neither side is fleeced. Continue reading

Damming The Stream: Streaming Starter Counter Strategies

 

It’s the third week of the 2016 season, which means it’s time to overreact. You’ve worked hard all offseason to get your roster in good shape, somehow you’ve avoided the brutal injuries that will end your season before it starts (or you didn’t in which case, sorry). You’ve got a plan, and it’s going to propel you right to the top this year. Nothing can get in your way.

Except, maybe, that person in your league who just milked 18 strikeouts and a sub 2.00 ERA streaming Ubaldo Jimenez and Bartolo Colon even though the rest of his staff is anchored by a couple SP3 types.

Streaming is a high risk, high reward strategy that can help owners with a weak rotation and too much free time outperform their true talent. In a post-Daily Fantasy world and high strikeout, low offense era, it’s never been easier to find values on the waiver wire, even in deep dynasty leagues. Figuring out how to beat a streaming team can be infuriating, especially in head to head formats but even in roto. There will always be starters on the waiver wire, and some of those starters will have a good start against your team. If you’re trying to contend, how do you counter the streaming strategy without sacrificing your plan or sanity?

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