Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Asymmetrical Auction Strategy

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Optimal Bidding - APPLYING THE 78% RULE

Most regular readers know of my so-called "78% Rule" but if you don't, it's pretty simple and no useful advice on fantasy auction strategy can begin without understanding the general concept.

In short, the 78% rule is a guideline that says that if you end up with a team that costs about 78% of its eventual value, you're probably going to be a strong contender.  Now, there are no guarantees and just because you had a team at 78% of its projected value, it never assures you that its real eventual value will end up being the same.  For that to happen, your team needs to perform as projected, of course.

The 78% rule is rooted in this idea: The average team ends up acquiring average value at average cost.  There's no escaping this.  So, if you end up paying what a player is worth based on all of the auction dollars being assigned out, then you end up with an average team.  The goal is to be better than average.  We originally came up with the 78% number more than ten years ago when we were able to study hundreds of final league results to see what the winning teams had done to acquire players.  There was no consistent number and in some leagues, the winning team might have only had to pay 85% of eventual value on auction day salaries and in other cases, they did well and managed 70% but when the dust had settled on our review, the average winning team seemed to acquire talent at a discount that worked out to paying about 78% of actual eventual value.  The percentage continues to work well and we keep using it in our own targets.

Now, easily one of the most common questions that arrives both in my mail bag and to our member support team has to do with the surprising player values that show up for new users.  For example, we often hear something like this:

"Albert Pujols is coming out as only worth $28 in my league.  Players like Pujols typically go for $40 and up in my league so how am I going to get Pujols at 78% of that $28 value?  I wouldn't even be able to get him for the $28."

There are several telling statements in a message like this and I literally can't count the number of emails that read almost exactly like this one.

First, there is an understandable tendency for readers to want projected dollar values that are in line with what they expect to see rather than what actually will help them win.  In other words, every change in the league parameters modifies a player's projected dollar value and the further you get from what an imaginary so-called "standard league" has, the more likely you are to see projected dollar values that are different than what you are used to.  I'm going to exaggerate here to make a point.  Let's pretend that each team in your league drafted the usual number of hitters but was allowed to have only one active pitcher.  What do you think that would do to the dollar values for pitchers?  Well, there would be very few pitchers with any value at all and each would be enormously important to your chances of winning and their projected dollar values would reflect that.

Let's take it to the other extreme.  What if you were required to have an active roster of fifty hitters.  Would there be any chance that Albert Pujols would be worth $40 to your team if you have a grand total of $260 to spend?  Of course not.  In short, our ranking sheets are trying to measure the value of each player as they contribute to winning given the parameters of your league.  It's the reason why starting pitchers tend to be more highly valued by us than many people expect them to be.  They are key contributors to assembling a winning team, especially in 5x5 leagues.

Of course, and this is really the trap that we all have to be careful to avoid, there is a two-part presumption here.  First, just because someone in your league always takes the bidding up to $40 for Pujols doesn't actually make him worth $40.  Look back at last year's league winner.  How many such players did he have on your roster?  We're not saying you can't win by overpaying for star players but go ahead and have a look at last year's rosters and salaries.  Did the winning team end up with any eventual bargains, players who far outperformed their salary?  Chances are good that they had several of them, at least.  How many of those $40 type salaries were on the winning team?  One?  None?  The second part of the assumption here is that the reader seems to think that you need players like Pujols to win a fantasy league and this simply isn't true.

Returning to the 78% rule, what you want is to target assembling a team for about 78% of its eventual value.  So, in a $260 league, you're trying to end up with about $333 worth of players or more, if possible.  However, and this is the key clarification, the strategy doesn't mean you have to pay exactly 78% of each player's value.  In fact, trying to do that during an auction could easily put you in a situation where you're sitting there two thirds of the way through the auction with plenty of dollars to spend and no players.

What you're trying to do is achieve that 78% by the end of the auction.  In other words, let's say you're absolutely convinced that you do need a player like Pujols to win your league.  You can not only honor the 78% target but also bid in line with how your league values superstar salaries.  To do this, you overbid on Pujols and compensate for the overbid by targeting bargains later in the auction.

Let's continue with the example above.  Let's say that Pujols is showing up as a $28 value in your league and you know that it will cost you $41 to end up with him and you want to do that.  So, here's how the math plays out in this situation:

You started with $260 and spent $41 on Pujols.  Your target for the whole auction is $333 of player value because if you end up with $333 worth of player value for $260, you've bought a team at about 78% of its value.  So, you now have $219 left to spend (i.e. $260 minus the $41 you spent on Pujols) and you still need to acquire $305 worth of value (i.e. $333 minus the $28 estimated value of Pujols).

The implication of your significantly overpaying for Pujols is that needing $305 more value with $219 is that your target for the remainder of the auction is to pay about 72% of projected value for the remaining players or $219 to spend to acquire $305 of remaining value = 71.8%.

This is why keeper leagues are so great for applying the 78% rule.  With a tremendous keeper list, you can easily find yourself in a position where your remaining target actually goes above 100%.  This can also happen early in a draft if you end up with some bargains and your modifier will actually change throughout the draft.  You shoud keep track of the following two items constantly: How much remaining value do I want to end up with?  How much do I have left to spend?  As long as you can answer these two questions, you actually can bid with your instinct, especially in the first half of the auction.  Of course, you can't wait forever to achieve your targets and you have to know that you're rarely going to end up with $40 of projected value for only $1.

In short, this is where fantasy auction strategy really does depend on your knowledge of what it takes to win and not just a mechanical bidding method.  If you think Pujols is the type of player that you can build a winning team around, you can bid whatever you want for him without defying the 78% target rule.  In fact, I suggest that in most leagues, there are cases where you have to overpay for some of the well-established producers.  What you try to do is compensate for the overpaying by adding other potential bargain picks in the second half of the auction, the riskier picks who are projected to do well but who will be much more easily (and cheaply) acquired later.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bumgarner, Thames, Marlins 1b, D. McCutchen

As spring training nears the point where clubs are starting to make fairly major decisions about how their rosters will look on opening day, there have been several transactions in the past few days that will have significantly affected the forecasts.

As we alluded to last week in this space, Madison Bumgarner did end up getting sent to the minors and it's a major disappointment for him.  No one can blame the Giants for this move, even those who don't put much weight on spring performance.  Bumgarner wasn't just ineffective this spring.  His velocity was way off, just as it was late last season even as he continued to put up good results.  As it's now official he didn't win the fifth spot in the rotation, it won't surprise me if he spends most or all of this season in the minors and I'm downgrading his forecast for 2010 to almost nothing now.  In keeper leagues with deep reserve lists, he remains a good target, of course.

Marcus Thames appears to have won a bench spot with the Yankees and while I'm not about to project him to get full-time at bats, Thames is well-proven at being able to hit for power even when in a limited role.  He strikes me as the kind of player who could find 200+ at bats here and if that proves to be the case, he's a very cheap 10-15 home runs you can add to your bench.

Jorge Jimenez, a Rule 5 pick from Boston, failed in his bid to win the Marlins first base job and was shipped back to Boston this week.  That means that Gaby Sanchez is a good bet for 300+ at bats this year barring Logan Morrison breaking through somehow.  Sanchez's only expected contribution will be the occasional home run and he could hit 15 if he lasts the full season in the lineup.  Jorge Cantu appears to be moving back to third base full-time now.

One other event that caught my eye was that the Pirates named Daniel McCutchen as their fifth starter.  While McCutchen is good enough to last the season in the rotation, we're currently forecasting an ERA in the high 4's and obviously, he wouldn't be a strong bet to get many wins with this team even if he pitched better than we're forecasting.  He doesn't project to be particularly helpful in strikeouts or WHIP either and while this is a well-earned opportunity for him, he's a lot older than most would guess, already twenty-seven as the season gets underway.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

CLE, MIN Closer Situations

Two fairly significant injuries were announced after the cutoff point for consideration for this morning's published projection set, one of which we had pretty much expected and the other being a surprise.

First, the news we didn't see coming was that Kerry Wood could be out of action until May or June with a strained lat muscle.  As it happens, we had just given next-in-line Chris Perez 4 saves in the new forecasts and Perez's saves forecasted will now be upgraded to at least 10+ now.  Wood will be downgraded from 25 saves to no more than 16 or 17, I expect.  Perez is good enough to hold the job until Wood comes back and readers should keep in mind that there is always the risk of a player like Wood not making it back as soon as expected.  Needless to say, Perez now becomes a must-own in fantasy leagues that use saves as a category.

The other news item that was pretty much expected was that Joe Nathan formally confirmed that he will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the 2010 season.  In this case, it was a pretty likely outcome all along since the injury was first announced.  In line with that, we had already downgraded him to just 6 saves left in the version of the forecasts that went online for this morning, with that forecast now to be erased completely.  Of course, there's no guarantee who will step in to replace him and while we've projected saves for all of Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and to a lesser degree, Jesse Crain (we still don't believe Francisco Liriano will be moved into this role), it still wouldn't surprise us to see the Twins bring someone in from outside.

If that doesn't happen, the potential contribution from any of these players could be temporarily measured by not giving much regard to the saves.  That is to say that any one of them could easily be declared the closer to start the season and be out of that role within weeks.  So, if you're drafting anyone from the Minnesota bullpen, I'd recommend focusing on their other potential contributions to your team without thinking too much about whether the pitcher is the closer of the week.  Rauch, Guerrier and Crain all are projected to be above-average relievers this year, with Crain being projected to bounce back from last year's disappointment.   So, any one of them can round out your pitching staff by offering a slight bit of benefit to ERA and WHIP.  If you think of each pitcher that way, and you happen to end up with one of the players who doesn't end up in the closer's role for now, you still won't be overly disappointed and they may ultimately get a chance at that role later in the season anyway.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bumgarner, DeWitt, Toronto Closer

It's time for me to openly answer some questions that have been sent to our mailbag and we'll continue to work in as many of these as possible in the coming weeks:

Q. Has Madison Bumgarner's spring cost him a spot in the rotation?

A. Yes, it's certainly in serious jeopardy anyway.  I often emphasize that you can't put too much weight into spring training statistics when it comes to forecasting ability but even if we don't do that, teams do when handing out roles on the big league squad for April.  In this case, it's understandable too as even in the small sample size of seven innings, Bumgarner has walked seven and struck out none and that's an alarming ratio even over a short stretch (to appreciate how bad that is, imagine how often you would see that sort of line in a regular season boxscore).  We weren't forecasting him to be an instant superstar, as he appeared to be in September of last year, but we didn't expect this sort of terrible spring either.  I expect he's headed to the minors to start the season unless he puts in a couple of dominating performances very soon.

Q. Who plays second for the Dodgers?

A. Those who subscribe to our extra optional spring training sets will notice I just upgraded Blake DeWitt to over 300 at bats in his latest forecast.  In other words, no matter what happens this spring, he's not outright guaranteed to get the most at bats here because being declared the second baseman in April (which he now seems poised to be) doesn't automatically get you the job in June.  So, even if Joe Torre says that DeWitt is his guy, I'm not prepared to go higher than about 380-385 at bats in my opening day forecast as he still projects as a mid .240s hitter with only occasional power, no speed and questionable defense.  In short, I could see him winning the job in March and losing it by May or June.

Q. I notice you've got a lot of saves projected for Toronto but no clear closer. Is this because you believe that they will go with a committee or you're just not sure who the closer will be?

A. You're much closer on the latter part of your question and this was sort of verified this week when Jays manager Cito Gaston openly implied that while he remained undecided, he'd rather give the job to one guy by the end of the spring than have uncertain roles handed out.  If I'm trying to handicap it right now, I would put Gregg slightly ahead of Frasor with the lefty Scott Downs (who has arguably looked the best of the three this spring) barely behind those two.  Just as I said above in relation to the Dodgers' second base position, even if the team declares an outright closer for the start of the season, it doesn't guarantee that player the role two months down the line if he doesn't do the job well.

If you're in an upcoming draft or auction and are so desperate for saves that you're searching staffs like Toronto's, it would be a good idea to hedge your bets here by doing everything you can to pick up more than one of the candidates.  Chances are good that if Frasor was owned last year, though, his previous owner will have locked him up for this year.


Later next week, I'm going to talk a bit about optimal bidding in keeper leagues and how I handle adjusting for the quality of my keeper list.  While I'll use 2010 examples and update my thoughts to remind about perception and never wasting unnecessary dollars just because a player is projected to do well, if you simply can't wait for that piece because of an upcoming auction, you'll definitely want to check out our long-archived essay On Paying 80% of Projected Value.

By the way, we've now assembled most of our participants for my mock auction experiment (invitations were sent out and accepted earlier this week and we're down to just two spots left as we await responses from aternates).  To expedite what is already likely to be an extended auction, to be held the weekend of March 27-28, we are going to keep the actual event private but in the week following the draft, we will not only publish results of the auction here for all to see but I will also explain how the theoretical bidding method I was using worked, what problems I detected in the approach and so on.  We had so many willing participants that I wished there had been room for more than 14 participants but an 80-team league just didn't feel right to me...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Target (Josh Parks)

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hitting Prospects Pre-2010

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Reyes, More Nathan, Challenge Reminder

It seems fairly certain now that Jose Reyes is not going to be ready to go by opening day, this according to an article on the MLB website published just a couple of hours ago.  The problem with a condition such as he's facing is that there never really is a specific timeline given for a return and he was already facing a comeback from a fairly serious extended absence and injury.  Even without the benefit of a timeline for his return, I do already plan to reduce his forecast to something closer to 120-125 games than the 145 we had previously published.

Though Joe Nathan is deferring a decision on whether to undergo season-ending surgery, it's looking increasingly unlikely that he pitches this season and in building his new forecast and revised versions for the likes of Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain, I'm currently going with about a 75% chance that Nathan doesn't pitch in 2010, meaning he still gets a forecast but not much of one.  I still don't see Crain as the new closer here but, if nothing else, his importance to the Twins goes up and his job security as a key arm out of the bullpen also improves.  It still wouldn't surprise me for the Twins to deal for someone who's closed out games more recently than any of the current candidates.

By the way, we already have almost a hundred people who volunteered to participate in my mock auction to test a new bidding method and we will be making the draw tomorrow with emails to go out to those selected by Monday.  With so many willing participants and only 14 spots available, obviously most will be disappointed but that's the nature of picking randomly from a large list.  If you'd like to be in the draw to be involved, be sure you send your email by 11:59 PM EST tonight as per the instructions published when I first talked about the idea.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Nathan, R. Martin, Playing Time Changes, Prospect Week

Since this weekend's projection set was published, we learn that Joe Nathan may be facing season-ending surgery because of a torn ligament in his elbow.  The gap between Nathan and every other reliever currently under contract with Minnesota is incredibly wide and there isn't a true "future closer" here who seems ready for 2010.  Jon Rauch and/or Matt Guerrier could close for now but Nathan has been one of the best closers of the past 5+ years and a guy like him is impossible to replace.  Jesse Crain's less than steller 2009 will likely cost him consideration.  There's the chance that Nathan doesn't opt for the surgery but we won't know anything for sure immediately and this could even cause a ripple effect involving another team.  In other words, maybe the Twins go out and trade for someone else's closer and open up a closing role elsewhere for another team that has a more ready closer in waiting.

Also since this weekend's projection set was published, we learned that Russell Martin has a strained groin that could keep him out for the next six weeks.  Though his exact recovery time is unclear, the official team site has reported that Martin was unlikely to play on opening day.  We were already projecting a lower-than-usual games played total for Martin, not because we could possibly anticipate this injury, but because we believed it would be quite difficult for him to maintain the incredibly high games played totals he's been getting as a catcher, if for no other reason than he would start needing more rest than he's normally received.

By the way, I briefly want to clarify that constant modifications in our projected playing time throughout spring training are not exclusively based on events that you read about in the news.  We've hit a point close enough to the season now where we're trying to examine how a roster shapes up and how the presence of certain players impacts the playing time of others.  We don't force balance the way we used to back five years ago when we forecasted exactly 162 starts for pitchers and the right number of plate appearances for the hitting side of the ledger and so on.  We discovered that attempts to insist on so-called realistic totals actually hurt the accuracy of our individual forecasts even if it helped the appearance of team summary information.  Still, we cannot deny that certain players do clearly impact another player's playing time or job security, especially in cases where options on the bench are arguably superior to the starting player and so on.  I wanted to emphasize that because not every change we make at this stage is about a battle won or lost in the spring or the result of an injury.

Finally for today, I'm pleased to confirm that this is "prospect week" and that means you'll see the return of our dynamic prospect ranking lists, with the first hitter list for 2010 coming by Friday morning and the first pitcher list by Saturday morning.  As we did last year, we'll identify 50 players (25 hitters, 25 pitchers) along with some additional names you need to know about and this will define the baseline prospect set for the 2010 season.  Once this baseline is established, as we did last year, starting in the final week of April and through to the end of the full minor league season, we'll revisit these lists every Friday, alternating between hitters and pitchers.  We're going to try to build on what we started with this trend last year and if you weren't here last year, you can still check out the final 2009 hitters list and pitchers list, which is in a similar format to what we'll do again this year throughout the season.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The All "Second Half" Team

Before we get to today's entry, I already want to thank readers for the tremendous interest shown in being involved with our fantasy auction experiment.  Within hours after posting yesterday's blog entry, we were flooded with emails from people willing to participate and we'll continue to accept emails for this up until Thursday March 11th at 11:59 PM.  Apparently, some readers made extensive cases for why they should be chosen and so I must remind that the choice of who gets to participate will be entirely random with every email address receiving an equal chance.  It's great to see that some strong players have already volunteered but we want this to be an entirely random process so I'm sorry for those who don't get picked but it's going to be a draw from a hat.  Also, if we detect duplicate emails such as one sent from the same IP address, that will disqualify the entry - please, we're asking readers to act in good faith and send no more than one email and we'd be very disappointed to detect otherwise.

Continuing our fun of identifying certain themed fantasy teams, here's one that doesn't have dollar values because it's more about what could happen rather than what's projected to happen.  Also, we just couldn't fill out complete fantasy rosters with today's criteria.  This list is entirely made up of players who for whatever reason (e.g. injury, need to win a job, uncertainty) are likely to produce more in the second half of the season than the first half.  Some aren't projected to be instant superstars but all have in common that their peak value is more likely to come in the second half of the season.

I know there are some other obvious contenders I've left out (e.g. Buster Posey) but these are the guys who most jumped out at me as having at least semi-clear paths to a big league regular role by the end of the year.

Carlos Santana, c, CLE: I'll be surprised if he isn't Cleveland's regular catcher by the All Star break.

Brett Wallace, 1b, TOR: Admittedly, unlike most of the other players we're listing here, we're actually not forecasting him to be a regular by the end of the year but it could happen, especially if the Blue Jays can find a trade involving Lyle Overbay.

Freddy Sanchez, 2b, SF: Almost certain to open the season on the DL, he's not likely to be too far behind.

Pedro Alvarez, 3b, PIT: Everyone knows about him but you also need to know that barring a terrible first half in the minor leagues, he'll be Pittsburgh's regular third baseman by July.

Jose Reyes, ss, NYM: In addition to questions about his recovery from a torn hamstring, we now hear reports about concerns over his thyroid.  We're hoping it doesn't delay his return but it wouldn't surprise us if the Mets play this one extremely cautiously and we don't see the "real" Reyes as early in the season.

Carlos Beltran, of, NYM: It could be a month or more into the season before Beltran is back, this as he recovers from more knee surgery.

Michael Brantley, of, CLE: Before Russell Branyan was signed, we had expected Brantley to be a regular outfielder with Matt LaPorta at first base.  Now that he's facing competition from LaPorta for essentially one job, it's not unthinkable that Brantley gets sent down for the start of the season and shows up as a regular later in the year when the first player goes down because of injury.

Jason Heyward, of, ATL: Still young enough to end up back in the minors, he's got a shot to make the Braves as a regular out of spring training.  If not, he still may be a regular in the majors by the end of the season.

Desmond Jennings, of, TB: He had a brief scare already this spring when his elbow was hit by a pitch but he's apparently okay.  He's very unlikely to start the season in the majors but depending on how Tampa Bay does this year, he could be a regular in the lineup by mid-season.

Michael Taylor, of, OAK: Taylor may very well end up as a regular outfielder for Oakland right out of spring training but if he doesn't, he has a good shot to be there by mid-season.

Eric Bedard, p, SEA: He's out at least the first couple of months but he was so good the last time we saw him pitch that he's definitely worth a gamble.

Matt Latos, p, SD: He still has a shot at a rotation spot out of the gate but regardless, he almost certainly will be a member of the rotation by season's end.

Brad Lidge, p, PHI: Admittedly, he's a gamble given last year's struggles but for now, it's not clear if he'll be healthy in time for the start of the season.  He may very well end up being the cheapest 20+ saves you can buy on draft day.

Ted Lilly, p, CHC: There was briefly talk this spring that he would be ready to go from day one but most reports now revert to what everyone was saying a month ago and that is that he won't pitch until mid to late April at the earliest.

Stephen Strasburg, p, WAS: Okay, you don't really need us to say anything here.  Our only remark is that he's likely to be more of a second half than a first half contributor.

Edinson Volquez, p, CIN: His return may be much later than most of the other names we've mentioned here but he was at least tolerable the last time he pitched and is only a year removed from an excellent season.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

An Invitation

Many readers write to ask how they could play in a fantasy league against me.  I find it flattering and it's unfortunate that I almost always have to say no for many reasons, some of which I usually explain in my notes of decline.

Well, with more people than ever asking about this in the past few months, I had an idea this week that has now solidified into a plan.  I'm going to invite 14 readers to join me online in a fantasy auction as I try out a very new systematic auction strategy, which is admittedly very much in the early theoretical stage if not still the idea stage.  Using a strategy we've never even remotely tried before in real competition, the results could be that I end up with a worse team than anyone else and I don't mind if that happens.  My one wish is that the readers who get selected for this experiment do try to put together the best possible team they can in the auction.  We want tough competition here.

For the strategy to be effective, I will not tell readers in advance how it works but once the auction is over, I will write it up here and explain what went right and what went wrong and what weaknesses I detected in the approach.  There's no substitute for trying ideas out against players who want to beat you and are capable of beating you.  This will not be a true "league" in the sense that we're only going to do an auction (i.e. you're stuck with the roster you drafted, no trades or transactions) but we will still track the teams throughout the season and will occasionally revisit them to see how everyone did.  Also, even without any post-auction transactions, whichever reader ends up with the highest ranked team at season's end will get their name published here, if they wish for it to be published that is.

So, to be fair to everyone, here's how this is going to work.  The mock draft will be a 5x5 mixed league with an auction format.  Additional details about roster requirements will follow once we have identified the participants.  We don't have a draft date set but it will be on an afternoon or evening in late March or early April, outside of normal business hours, and we may very well split the auction over two sessions if necessary.

We definitely will have more people interested in participating than there are spots so to be considered, send an email to...

... and put the subject of your email as the word Challenge.

There is no need to write anything in your email as these messages will automatically go into a folder and only those selected for the league will eventually receive a response.  You do not need to be a subscriber to the paid section of the site and the only criteria to participate is that you must be an amateur.  In other words, if you have a website that publishes information about baseball or if you write a baseball blog or even the occasional article, even if you don't make a profit, well then this league isn't for you.  You will be asked to confirm your eligibility if and when you are selected.  I'm trying to get strong players but at the same time, players who aren't trying to get in for the purpose of promoting something.  On or around Friday March 12th, we will pick 14 random email addresses from all received and those readers will be contacted during the weekend following with additional details, including a draft time and day.  If any reader can't make it for the date we pick, we'll continue to draw randomly from the willing participant pool until we end up with 14 opponents to go up against me in this mock auction, forming a 15-team auction.

In a semi-mock league that doesn't have transactions, there will be a huge amount of luck, especially the negative kind.  In other words, if someone's ace pitcher tears his ACL on Opening Day, well that's a team that probably won't win.  However, we'll still track the results throughout the season and again, I don't mind if this idea I have doesn't work out for our system.  While a single league doesn't ever prove that a system is good or bad, I have noticed that even the first application of an idea to a fantasy league often reveals fairly obvious weaknesses in any idea or approach.  If the system I'm trying finishes last, well then we will probably have learned something.  It's all in good fun and I feel the only way to test out the idea effectively is to do a very preliminary test of it against players who will do everything they can to end up with a better team than me.

So, if you're interested, please follow the instructions above on how to submit your name for consideration.  We're hoping for some tough competitors!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Strasburg, Posey, Bumgarner

A lot of pre-season questions to our mail bag inbox have revolved around Stephen Strasburg and Buster Posey and to a lesser degree, Madison Bumgarner.  Everyone knows that these guys are widely projected for great things long-term but, understandably, many want to know how long they're going to have to wait for results from each player.

I've noticed that fewer are openly wondering about Buster Posey's 2010 prospects since the Giants brought Bengie Molina back.  While we did significantly reduce Posey's forecast, I'm not yet ruling out that Posey will still make it to the majors by mid-season and take over the catching job.  What's holding me back here is that I don't believe the Giants would ever call Posey up to be Molina's backup.  What needs to happen is that either (a) Molina needs to get hurt, (b) Molina needs to get traded or (c) Molina needs to become a backup catcher.  I suppose any of these three are quite possible and I'm going to be listening carefully to what San Francisco's management says throughout spring training.  For now, I'll be extremely surprised if Posey doesn't start the season at Triple-A.

Also, as is the case with many highly-touted prospects, Posey's numbers don't forecast out to an instant superstar.  Let's pretend that Molina were to suffer a season-ending injury in spring training and Posey ended up with the major league job and picked up 450 at bats this season.  As we're forecasting Posey's current ability, he would end up hitting in the high .270s with 10-15 home runs and around 60 RBI, numbers that are good for a catcher but far from the batting title numbers most expect him to one day put up.

In fact, I don't think I can warn enough that when it comes to even the best prospects, immediate sustainable success in the majors is a rarity.  There are exceptions like an Evan Longoria or Ryan Braun but generally, it's unlikely.  I say this because I've noticed a trend in some non-keeper leagues in recent years that players like Posey (e.g. comparable to how we were considering Baltimore's Matt Wieters last spring) seem to go much higher in fantasy auctions and drafts than their current season prospects would justify.  In those non-keeper leagues, a top prospect is just another player who has to be ready to contribute significantly now if he's to justify an early pick or high auction price.  It is crucial never to confuse a player's top prospect status and name recognition with his ability to contribute for the single season in question in non-keeper leagues.

On that note, let's move on to Posey's teammate, Madison Bumgarner, who actually has a strong chance to crack the starting rotation from the outset.  He needs to have a tolerable spring but unlike what Posey is facing, there's at least a clear shot to an opening here.  Bumgarner also doesn't forecast out to instant super-success, no matter how good those minor league numbers look or those ten innings we saw from him in September were.  Remember, all those sub-2.00 ERAs were accumulated at the far less competitive Double-A level or below and while it's possible he becomes an elite pitcher from the outset, it's far more likely he'll start out as an above-average #4 or #5 type pitcher with an eye on becoming an ace type within the next five to six years.  He's good enough to have rounding out your pitching staff but, again, if you're considering a player only in the context of what he will contribute in 2010, you have to temper your expectations here and remember that if he has a miserable spring, he's headed back to the minors.

Finally, the player it seems everyone is asking about is Stephen Strasburg.  Unlike these other two, I do the rare thing where rookies are concerned and project him for a fairly strong performance from the start.  Here are the main problems: First, Strasburg is unlikely to end up in the majors to start the season.  It's possible but I'd expect that he could go out and have a good or even dominant spring and still end up sent down to start the season with an eye on him joining the rotation around mid-season.  That's what our current forecast reflects as we've given him about 15-16 starts in the latest forecast set.

But even more than Posey or Bumgarner, I have to openly declare here that Strasburg's forecast is, admittedly, almost entirely low confidence guesswork.  Yes, I said the word guess here because unlike the other two prospects we're talking about in today's entry, I have very little reliable data on Strasburg to help form a remotely scientific forecast.  All we have to work with here is a tiny sample of results collected in this past off-season's Arizona Fall League and then, after that, his performance at San Diego State and in the 2008 Olympics and his scouting reports.  I so want to tell readers that there's an X% chance he does this and a Y% chance he does that and so on but I just don't have the data.

In short, today's entry doesn't apply to just these three players.  Every year there are players like these few, top prospects whom everyone wants to have on their team so they can end up with the next Pujols or Lincecum but at a very general level, it rarely happens.  Remember a few years ago when everyone was drafting Alex Gordon?  He may still end up as the prospect everyone imagined but so far, we're three years into his big league career and since he has arrived, he has yet to have as valuable a season as, say, the often more easily obtainable Ty Wigginton has had during that time.  How about the relatively unanimous top prospect of several years ago Delmon Young?  He's definitely proven himself to be a major leaguer but since the start of 2007 (when he became a full-time big league player), do any of his three seasons so far stand out as one that justified his draft position or auction price in 2007?  Only you can answer this question for yourself.

So, if you're in a keeper league, especially a newly-formed one where no one is taken heading into this year's draft, by all means any of Strasburg, Posey or Bumgarner are players worth having in your future plans.  But in non-keeper leagues, remember that all top prospects are high risk players, especially for the short-term.  You can win a league without a single rookie on your roster and you need to remember this as you prepare for your upcoming drafts.