Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Slow Starts that Continue

I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago in this space but I continue to get questions to the mail bag related to players who are off to a cold start.  Some are more strongly-worded than others and we have to be careful not to overreact.  It's a major conclusion to decide that players with long track records are suddenly unable to play the game anymore, especially when we're talking about players in their late twenties or early thirties.  Of course, there's a broader range of ages involved in the slow starts.  Is David Ortiz facing the ultimate decline?  Will Chris Davis ever learn to make contact?

The following seven names seem to be the ones that are showing up the most often in emails sent to our mail bag and I'd like to focus briefly on what each player's start might mean to their remaining season:

David Ortiz: I downgraded Ortiz's forecast in the latest projection set published on the weekend.  No, it wasn't that I was able to make an entirely new conclusion about Ortiz's ability based on fewer than fifty at bats.  It's that I believe the Red Sox are forming an entirely new theory about his ability and what we've seen over the past week is that Ortiz is starting to ride the pine a bit more in favor of other options.  Remember, the DH position is the easiest one to fill because you can use any hitter and the concern with Ortiz is that even with last season's second-half recovery from a terrible start, he did end up with a .238 average by season's end.  I don't believe he's as bad as he's looked this year nor is he as bad as he looked at this time a year ago but it won't matter soon.  I've dropped him to fewer than 300 projected at bats the rest of the way, or about 200 fewer at bats than many regulars in the set.

Chris Davis: There's really not much that needs to be said here except that the Rangers were surprisingly quick to give up on him this year, already sending him back to the minors in favor of Justin Smoak.  As good a prospect as Smoak is, his immediate projected ability is unexciting for a first baseman (our new forecast for Smoak is .259, 11 HR, 48 RBI in 377 at bats from this point on).  So, while we had to downgrade Davis significantly to reflect his demotion, we left in about 100-150 at bats to reflect the expectation that he'll climb back up at some point later this year.  This was a pretty quick trigger, no doubt motivated by Davis's continued propensity for striking out, something that the Rangers shouldn't have been surprised at considering they saw it throughout the year last year.  Strikeouts are part of the Chris Davis power package.

Jay Bruce: We continue to expect good things from Bruce and haven't downgraded him too much, even with his miserable opening to the season.  He's rebounded somewhat the past week but is still only up to .215 on the season through play completed yesterday.  The most important two things you must remember about Bruce are that (a) he just turned twenty-three and (b) he was a .240 hitter in the majors coming into this year in more than 750 at bats.  The reason the second item is important is that because hitters very rarely decline at his age and so his average should be going up as he gains experience and continues to mature physically.  The most difficult aspect of our projection is knowing just how much job security he has and we believe that at least for now, he doesn't have to worry there.

Ian Desmond: Desmond was the highlight of a blog entry I wrote back in the opening week of the season and there's no point in restating what I said there.  In Desmond's case, our projection from before the season still stands pretty much and that is that we're projecting he will lose his job at some point this season.  So, in Desmond's case, the slow start matters because we believe that it represents a real problem for his current ability to hit in the majors, enough so that it challenges his job security.  He did have a 2 for 5 night last night, raising his average from .226 to .241, which is exactly our forecasted level of ability for him for the remainder of the season as well.

Carlos Quentin: There's very little chance Quentin will lose his spot in the lineup unless he gets hurt and his slow start likely represents one of those strange elements of streaks and slumps.  His power performance the previous two seasons promise better things and if you can find someone who believes that Quentin's permanently lost it at twenty-seven, get your trading hat on as quickly as you can.

Javier Vazquez: He's been getting knocked around so far this year and the April misery will form part of the final totals, meaning he'll be in a struggle for a while to get his ERA to respectable territory no matter how he pitches from now on.  Still, he's not quite yet in lose-your-spot-in-the-rotation territory and he's definitely a better pitcher than his 9.00 ERA reveals.  Look at the track record and then look at his age (33) and realize that a sudden decline, while not impossible, is unlikely.

Jason Kubel: Again, we come back to the idea that if a player is still relatively young and has a lengthy track record, then the greatest concern about a slow start should be that it hurts his chances of playing.  Kubel may be facing a little of that now as he did get a day off on Sunday but you have to remember that he hit .300 last year, will turn twenty-eight next month and was a career .278 hitter in the majors heading into this season, in more than 1,600 big league at bats.  In other words, the slow start is almost certainly just a fluke.

In short, if you're trying to assess whether a player's start matters, here are the key factors you have to consider:

1. Is he old enough that this could represent a real, permanent decline?  In other words, a player can decline at thirty-four or thirty-five or, in rare cases, even in his early thirties.  Players generally do not significantly decline in their twenties unless some outside factor happens to permanently change their ability, such as multiple injuries or major surgeries.

2. Is the performance this season over enough of a large sample that we can now give little weight to his previous big league performance?  In short, we're asking here whether a player's .150 average over 50 at bats should have our attention more than his .280 average in the majors over 1,500 at bats.

3. Is the player's performance so far enough to jeopardize his role as a regular contributor?  This one's the most challenging and the most important to get right.  With young players, it's common to see benchings or even demotions as a result of bad starts.  With veterans, they have to be a little worse but you do see it and theoretically, just about any player can end up moved from the rotation to the bullpen or given an extended stay as a pinch-hitter when they're performing poorly.  This is the key question to answer in most cases for if you believe in the player's long run skill, the player still needs to get the playing time to demonstrate his real hidden ability.  In other words, if a pitcher gets moved to the bullpen after 40 miserable innings to start the season, it will take an incredible performance in the bullpen, where he'll get fewer innings, to right the perception ship with his manager.

4. Is a potential replacement candidate good enough to keep this player's job?  For example, we're asking here whether Justin Smoak is good enough to offer enough 2010 ability to the Rangers that they will feel justified leaving Chris Davis in the minors.

Those are the main elements I'm considering when I'm evaluating whether a player's slow start really matters for what we'll forecast the rest of the way.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Small Samples That Matter

The other day in this space, I reminded readers of the importance of not putting too much weight into the hot or cold start, especially with only a week in the books.  There is an exception, though, and so today I want to talk about the flipside of that equation.  There are times when you do need to seriously consider how well a player has started and those occasions are when a player's manager believes that the player is better or worse than originally expected.  In other words, if a manager or team's front office becomes convinced that a hot or cold start is representative of a player's current ability (or lack thereof), then it can have a significant impact on the player's projected eventual value.  In particular, this happens the most with rookies and to an arguably greater extent, closers.

With rookies, everything the player is doing early is establishing the perception of how ready the player is for the majors.  A rookie hitting .150 at the end of April is at least somewhat likely to lose his job and one hitting that at the end of May is almost certainly headed back to the minors.  Veterans, especially the highest-paid ones in whom so much is invested, really don't have to worry too much about a slow start.  It can happen when a well-established player starts so poorly that he is given the boot but he's not facing the same challenge of proving himself that a rookie is.  With the rookie, losing a job is virtually guaranteed if the player doesn't offer at least some hint of hope by May or June.

In the case of closers, perception is so important because the manager directly controls the save opportunities.  In other words, potential saves are directly linked to what a manager thinks of a player and of the other pitchers on the team.  For example, Jason Frasor was designated Toronto's closer near the end of spring training but has been shaky in a couple of outings so far, this as Kevin Gregg has performed well enough to already potential challenge him for the role even though so little of the season is in the books.  It has me re-thinking forecasted saves for both Frasor and Gregg in the next edition of the forecasts.  Neftali Feliz has been given at least a temporary bump up to semi-closer status in the past few days, this because he's looked so good and Frank Francisco hasn't.  The list goes on and we're constantly evaluating whether our forecasts need to be revised based on the latest news.

While my entry of the other day was emphasizing that the first week or two of the season reveals only a little about a player's real hidden ability, there is no escaping that managers and front offices do put a lot of weight into early season performance, enough so that we must always consider the hot or cold start in the context of how it impacts a player's potential role and job security.

Therefore, in the same way that you can exploit early perception by getting better than par value for players who have been on hot streaks to start the season or acquiring undervalued ones on cold streaks, you can also take advantage of opportunities that will be earned by a player's hot start or the cold start of another teammate.  It doesn't mean you have to believe that a player is actually as good or bad as he has seemed in early April.  You just have to believe that his manager is putting a lot of weight into it and be looking to acquire players who may be on the verge of new opportunities as a result of unexpected performances early in the season.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wells, Perception and the Hot Start

I don't want to repeat what I wrote in an extended essay back in May of 2005 so I'll begin by drawing an old article to the attention of newer readers via this link as it covered a lot of what I would be inclined to write today about the order of performances skewing perception.  In summary, that article was a presentation on just how the earlier stats can create confusion about how a player is actually performing during the current season.

Turning our attention to 2010 or if you're not interested in reading that extended essay, there is no more serious a time to apply the "buy low, sell high" mentality than early in the season.  It's incredible how much a player like Vernon Wells has boosted his trade value with just one strong week.  If he had hit four home runs in a week in, say, June, we'd be talking about a hot streak.  When you hit four home runs in the first week, suddenly the general population is armed only with that performance to analyze your current ability and speculates you're Babe Ruth.

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to pick on Wells for having a strong and well-earned start to the season.  He had wrist surgery during the off-season that may have lifted his power back up somewhat compared to how it appeared last year.  In fact, we are expecting his power to be a bit better this year than last year as we're currently projecting a home run about every 30 times he puts a ball in play compared to about every 36 times last year.  But we weren't projecting anything close to what he's done this week.

On that note, we have to remind ourselves of other great starts in baseball history that are comparable.  In particular, I am drawn to the three home run opening day performances of George Bell and Karl Rhodes, Bell in 1988 and Rhodes in 1994.  For what it's worth, Bell went on to hit only 21 more the rest of the way that year and Rhodes hit - wait for it - just 5 more home runs after that strong opening day, even though he managed to finish with 269 at bats that year.

The extended essay I linked to in the first paragraph reminds us that just because a player starts hot does not mean that he's bound to have a balancing cold streak later.   It's that we just have to keep year-to-date stats in perspective and remember that one week rarely, if ever, reveals a complete change in ability.  It can happen but it would take something extraordinary.  For example, when Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros in 1998 in a single game without walking a batter, whatever limited doubt I may have still had about his readiness for the majors was instantly removed.  A game like that is not comparable to a more common shutout where a pitcher strikes out 10-12 batters, walks 2 or 3 and gives up a lot of ground balls.  The distinction is crucial if we're to recognize genuine readiness or change in a player's ability.

As there always is in April, there's an incredibly good opportunity right now and that is the potential to exploit a player's hot or cold start in your trade discussions.  A player like Vernon Wells is a great example of one who is now much more likely to hit 20 home runs than the 15 I was projecting a week ago, not necessarily because he's proving that he's a 20+ home run player but because he's already got a head start and even if he's only a 15 home run type player the rest of the way, he's already got four in the books.  Of course, when you're trading fantasy players, your focus should be on the portion of the season that hasn't yet been played.

Don't be afraid to deal away players out of fear that they're actually going to have a great season.  It can happen and when it does, you pick yourself up, tell yourself you got that one wrong but played the percentages and then move forward.  What you're interested in is long run ability and what is likely.  Let's continue with Vernon Wells.  He's thirty-one years old and to give him credit, he's been an exceptionally good sport given all the heat he's taken for a massive contract that's now in the $20+ million per year range, obviously anxious to prove his critics wrong.  But at his best in his career so far, he's had two seasons with more than 30 home runs and when he was in those best years, he was ranging between 23-33 before dropping back to the lower levels of 2007-2009, a great deal attributable to injury-shortened seasons.  Last year, he hit only 15 in 630 at bats.

Could Wells return to 30+ territory?  Sure.  Could he have a career year and hit 35-40 home runs?  Maybe. But in making fantasy transaction decisions for any player, consider the player's long run ability, the kind of ability you would bet on being the average if you played a billion seasons and averaged the outcomes of each.  If after analyzing the evidence of Wells' track record, including this excellent first week, you conclude that he's more likely to hit 15-20 home runs the rest of the way, well then now is the time to deal him if he's on your team.  Someone out there will salivate at the home runs so far and conclude that he's back to being what he was back in 2006 or maybe even better.  Perhaps he is but it's not a question of what he actually ends up doing as much as what he's likely to do that should motivate and inform our trading decisions, especially at this time of year.

In short, while it's possible that hot and cold starts reveal that a player is a completely different one than the one we saw last year, you have to remember that we're talking about one week of play when compared to entire still-recent full seasons of outcomes.  I don't remotely dispute that what a player has done more recently is a better indicator of his ability than what he did a long time ago but the great unknown is how much weight to apply to each.

On that note, let's consider the actual weight a little more.  Vernon Wells, as of this writing, had 17 at bats in the books this year.  Last year, he had 630 at bats.  Imagine that a player's real ability is comparable to a giant drum of marbles in which different colored marbles represent a different outcome.  Throughout his career, the percentage of home run marbles in the drum is constantly changing as he gains experience, ages and of course, ultimately declines.  Now, last year we drew 630 times from the drum labeled "Vernon Wells" and pulled 15 home run marbles.  This year, we've pulled 17 times and have already pulled 4 home runs.  How much faith are you going to put in those 17 recent draws and how much will you put in last year's 630 draws?  Can we conclude that the marbles in this year's drum are made up of an entirely different proportion than last year's based on those 17 draws made this week?  Ultimately, each of us has to decide this for ourself in the context of our comfort level and confidence.  I personally try to do this as we adjust our forecasts throughout the season and certainly, by the third or fourth week of April, a player's start does begin to significantly affect the forecasts.

For now, you've got an opportunity to account for an unexpected start without over-weighing it in your trade discussions.  Above all, never be afraid to get individual decisions wrong as long as you're always thinking about the long run and your average outcomes.  I've seen players lose their league because they were afraid that a player was about to have a career year and thus, didn't want to trade for him after a hot start.  Perhaps they fear acquiring a player like Javier Vazquez, who just had one of his worst starts in a couple of years, because they think one terrible start represents something wrong with the player.  Sure, it can happen.  If you traded for Chien-Ming Wang after last year's miserable beginning to the season, you got burned even more after he never recovered from it.

But remember that fantasy baseball and winning is about playing the percentages and accepting that by the nature of that, there will be times you get it wrong.  The key is to always be putting the odds in your favor and taking advantage of the far too heavy weight that some others put into April stats.  No doubt, some players really will be revealing entirely new abilities this month.  In the long run, though, when it comes to veterans with strong job security, the first week is just another week, April is just another month and Vernon Wells is not likely to become Ryan Howard.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Desmond and Projected Disappointments

I received a somewhat strongly-worded but still worthy mailbag question the other day that I'd like to address in today's entry:

"Regarding your forecast for Ian Desmond, I think you're nuts.  Guzman can't physically play shortstop anymore and the Nationals have nothing else to lose by giving Desmond the at bats.  I think you're way low on his ABs and production.  I'd recommend researching Guzman's shoulder issue a bit more, as you'll find he can't make the throws anymore."

Now readers know that it's very rare for me in recent years to give publication space to questions that come across this way as it just encourages a harsher tone (usually comments that call me 'nuts' never even make it to my pre-screened inbox) but this one happened to make it through and despite the way it's phrased, I think the concerns raised are good ones that are worth discussing.

The first clarification that's needed is the one that we had already published in the notes included with the opening day projections, just in case some readers missed it:

"We are aware that Washington has named Ian Desmond the starting shortstop. A close look at our forecast will reveal that we're not forecasting him to hit well enough over the long run to hold down the job for the whole season (our current forecast is for a batting average around .240). The same could be said in the American League for Oakland's Cliff Pennington, currrently projected to hit in the low .230s. If they outperform our ability forecasts, both of these players will likely exceed our projected playing time as the two are tied together."

I think the reader already understood this and the contentious issue here seems to be that even if Desmond performs as projected, the reader believes that he will continue to get playing time regardless.

On this note, I want to clarify further even beyond the remark listed in the projection notes.  It's important to understand this in terms of all the forecasts and not just Desmond's.  Just because we forecast a player to hit only .240 doesn't mean he will hit exactly .240.  In other words, it's entirely believable to me that Desmond could hit .241, as projected, and still keep his job beyond the 231 at bats we're forecasting.  Rather, there's a range of possible performances being accounted for here and if .241 is the average outcome, if you could imagine playing the season a billion times, there's a wide range of possible outcomes. 

In other words, a player projected to hit .241 has a decent chance to be hitting .220 or even .200 after 200+ at bats.  If that happens, no matter how good he is projected to be or how much Washington or any team would want him to learn, he will not keep his big league starting job.  In fact, if he's hitting .150 after 60 at bats, he will lose his job extremely early.  Albert Pujols couldn't lose his job that early.  Ian Desmond could.   Distinguishing between those types of players is part of the challenge the forecaster faces and one of his most important tasks.  To address the reader's comment, there actually is something to be lost by playing such a player after he struggles so miserably as you can ruin him permanently as he attempts to overcompensate for his struggles by constantly grasping for any change that will make him ready quicker.

The second part of the reader's email suggesting I should research Guzman's shoulder more was a bit strongly-worded in that it implied that somehow I don't follow aging or injury concerns closely.  But let's go ahead and get into that.  Just over a week ago, the Washington Post carried an article that interviewed Jim Riggleman about the decision to go with Desmond over Guzman at shortstop.  In the article, which you can read here, Riggleman was quoted as saying that Guzman's shoulder was not a factor in the decision and then went on to say of Desmond that "...he may not be playing good in May, so Guzman may be our shortstop.  To open the season, we're going to give Dessie a shot there to hold that position down.  We hope that works."  There are a lot of reasons Riggleman might insist Guzman can still play shortstop, perhaps to maintain his trade value, but this didn't read to me like a manager unwilling to go with Guzman if the Desmond experiment doesn't work out.

Our Guzman forecast isn't exactly lights out either. The moment Desmond moved ahead of Guzman in mid-spring, we downgraded Guzman significantly until he ultimately landed at just over 400 at bats in our opening day set. This isn't all coming at shortstop and Guzman will be fighting early for utility at bats and pinch-hitting appearances.

Just as important to understand here is that setting aside Guzman for a moment, teams find someone else to play if their top prospect rookie doesn't work out.  It doesn't have to be Guzman.  It can be a player claimed off waivers in May.  It can be someone else who breaks through early in the year in the minors.  It's not about whether there are viable options when it comes to not ruining a prospect.  They get someone else to play there if the prospect doesn't pan out.

So, if Desmond does have one of those 10-20% type outcomes that lands him in the lower .200s, he will lose his starting job and someone else will be playing shortstop in June or July.  Now Desmond may not end up disappointing and as I say, it's possible that if he lands precisely on our forecasted ability, that he keeps his job.  But if our forecast is at or near the midpoint of expectations, as we often describe it, there's a lot of room on that "under" mark of our forecast to end up having Desmond back in the minors.

Today's entry really isn't about one player.  It's about the idea that when we consider projected playing time, that forecasted current ability is very much tied to the forecast.  As I often say, if we prove to be outright wrong about a player's ability, particularly underestimating a prospect's readiness for the majors, then we will definitely be wrong about his playing time.

On that note, as for whether we're underestimating Desmond specifically, yes he had a strong spring (.318, 1 HR, 13 R, 15 RBI, 6 SB in 68 AB) and a very good 2009 minor league campaign but as recently as 2008, he hit just .251 at Double-A and the year before that, .264 at High-A and the year before that, .244 at that level.  The great unknown here is how much weight to put into what is more recent versus overall.  He's still relatively young (24) but for now, looking beyond last year's strong Triple-A performance in 55 games, here's how he's done in his career so far at each level:

AA .252 in 614 AB
High-A .255 in in 1,042 AB
A and Low-A .247 in 308 AB
Rookie Ball .236 in 229 AB

It's the above numbers that have us concerned as none are even reduced to account for the inferior quality of competition at each level.  In making our forecast, we have accounted for that plus the effects his experience should have on his improvement, his more recent strong performances and so on.

In short, I wanted to highlight Desmond today as just one example of many.  Clearly, so much of our projected performance is directly tied to whether we prove right about a player's unreadiness for the majors and I completely understand the frustration of readers who want to see us go along with what they expect from a player.  A player may very well end up being exactly what the reader imagines and I have no problem conceding that.  In other words, if Desmond is hitting .270 in June, we are going to be wrong about our forecasted at bats unless he gets hurt.

In fact, while I want our projections to be as accurate as possible, I really do root for up and coming prospects as I always enjoy seeing the next generation of players break through.  I'll be the first to admit that especially with players with such limited big league data, there will be a high percentage that we're plain wrong about.  Whether Desmond specifically proves to be one of those isn't the issue here.  It's that I wanted to offer reassurance that we do consider everything possible when putting together a forecast and we're not simply ignoring the apparent plans of each team or the health status of each player when we seemingly go against consensus projections.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Opening Day Commentary

It's become a tradition for me to publish a commentary just before opening day each year and this season will be no exception.  To varying degrees, much of the material I publish throughout the year in this space is either rooted in some sort of scientific method, whether it be completely unproven theories (such as our recently-discussed Asymmetrical Auction Strategy talked about this week) or more well-established methods, like our constantly revised forecasting process for individual player forecasts.

Today's piece is the exception.

In other words, what we're about to offer today isn't a scientific projection.  While I can't deny that my sense of each team is certainly influenced by the individual player projections we publish, we've often reminded readers that our focus on the individual forecasts does not enable the reader to add up the sum of the parts to make accurate estimates of how a team will do.  For example, we haven't forecasted every single at bat or inning for each team and there is an unfortunate but deliberate gap between how many innings a team will actually get and how many are projected in the individual forecasts.  This gap represents the complete unknown, players who are starting the season at Double-A and who get added to the 40-man roster in May and called up in July when three pitchers go down with an injury the same week.  For some teams, like Kansas City, this gap is much wider than, say, the one you'd find for the Yankees.

So, as I say every year, there's no need to send me an email to prove me wrong here as I'll go ahead and say that these are best guesses, my very rough approximation of how I see each of the division races shaping up.  We have no doubt that many readers are capable of forecasting the races much more accurately than I could ever pretend to do.  I even contemplated discontinuing this tradition a few years ago until readers told me that they can accept the warnings and the crudeness of the whole operation as if we were having a casual discussion and I was just openly saying how I thought each pennant race might go.  So, if you're still reading and are prepared to tolerate that, here's my take on the 2010 season:

American League East

1. Boston
2. New York (projected Wild Card team)
3. Tampa Bay
4. Toronto
5. Baltimore

I think both Boston and New York have incredibly good teams and with that said, the only surprise in this division will be ranking Toronto ahead of Baltimore.  No, it's not because I root for the Blue Jays and this ranking is almost a coin toss between the two.  I think Baltimore's pitching is going to be disastrous this year, among the worst in the majors.  As for the top of the division, I believe the Red Sox have put together the best run production machine in the majors and their pitching is comparable to the Yankees.  Most readers know that I have usually picked the Yankees in recent years but this year is an exception.

American League Central

1. Chicago
2. Minnesota
3. Cleveland
4. Kansas City
5. Detroit

Picking Detroit last here will not be popular with my friends in Michigan and this isn't so much a forecast to disastrous results as much as it is as I think the Royals are about to improve, especially on the pitching side, edging out Detroit.  I used Kansas City as an example in the introduction about the great unknown, those players we can't forecast who get called up later in the year when players go down and that will very much be a factor here.  I'm expecting Detroit's rotation to greatly disappoint compared to widely-held expectations.

American League West

1. Texas
2. Los Angeles
3. Oakland
4. Seattle

Yes, I considered Seattle's pitching and defense and I'm not picking them last to be a contrarian.  I think they're going to have great difficulty scoring runs and will be among the lowest-scoring teams in the majors.  I believe this is only the second time ever that I have picked Texas to win the division but it was very close and I could see a battle between the Rangers and Angels going right down to the final days of the season.

National League East

1. Philadelphia
2. Atlanta
3. Florida
4. New York
5. Washington

The gap between Atlanta and Florida is quite wide here and the Phillies remain the class of the league.  In fact, they are arguably an even better team than last year.

National League Central

1. St. Louis
2. Chicago
3. Milwaukee
4. Cincinnati
5. Houston
6. Pittsburgh

I won't be surprised it the Cardinals and Cubs are fighting it out in this division until late in the season with Milwaukee looking in from a slight distance.  I doubt the projected order in the bottom half here will be perceived as even remotely contentious.

National League West

1. Arizona
2. Colorado (projected Wild Card team)
3. San Francisco
4. Los Angeles
5. San Diego

If I'm right about this one, it will be because Arizona delivers what I think is going to be a surprisingly good offense and at least average pitching.  The Dodgers slide well back here because, like with the Mariners in the American League, I don't believe they have the run production ability to match the pitching staff and while there are unquestionably a few stars here, it's the overall offensive output that I'm questioning.


In short, I'm projecting disappointing seasons from the Tigers, Mariners and Dodgers with Arizona being the surprisingly good team of the 2010 season.  I never try to guess award winners but if we're looking at how the post-season shapes up, I expect it to be a Boston - Philadelphia World Series with Boston emerging as the best team of 2010, the Yankees (projected Wild Card winners in the AL) second and Philadelphia third.

I wish everyone an enjoyable opening day and, for those who are celebrating it this weekend, a Happy Easter. - DL

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Asymmetrical Auction Strategy II: Keepers

The other day, I blogged about a theoretical strategy designed to achieve the 78% discount target in fantasy auctions. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of readers who instantly grasped the concept despite my admitted difficulty at summarizing the idea. An instant theme emerged, though, where many readers wondered how to apply it to their keeper leagues. In fact, I think keeper leagues would work well with the strategy but the emails so far caused me to want to clarify and amend my comments of the other day.

Returning to the chart I published (if you missed the concept or want to refer to the chart, we encourage you to read the full article here), we have 34 different blocks, each representing $10 of the total goal of achieving about $340 in total projected value by spending only $260, both by the end of the auction process. The top blocks, the ones we would expect to use on superstars early in the auction, enable us to deliberately overbid for such players with an eye on picking up bargains later.

But suppose you have some great keepers and you want to account for them in your strategy, as you should? Well, there's no rule that you have to achieve these blocks in sequential order. For example, if you refer to the chart we published in part one, you'll see various discount amounts for each stage. Let's say that you have a projected $20 value keeper reserved at only $10. That means that you already succeeded at picking up an undervalued player that saved you about $10 so you can look in the chart and find two blocks (because you've got $20 in projected value) that add up to $10 in savings, such as blocks 290 and 310, which together happen to add up to a target of savings of $10.

So, you cross those two lines out, already content in the knowledge that you've got a $10 savings and $20 projected value achieved in the bottom part of the goal chart. You can do this for every keeper or your entire keeper list at once as there's enough of a scale that you should have little trouble finding a match. Have a $30 player for $18? Well, then you want to cross off three blocks (it's important to remember that each $10 in projected value achieved means another block needs to be removed) that happen to add up to $12 in savings. In this case, we could cross out blocks 230, 240 and 250, which add up to approximately $12 in savings and $30 worth of block value.

The blocks don't even need to be adjacent in the chart, either. For example, let's say you have a $20 player who only is costing you $13 on your keeper list. You could cross off blocks 190 and 240, which add up to $20 of target value (two blocks) and a target savings of about $7.

One other clarification I want to make about the idea is that you don't necessarily have to carry down savings during the auction to the first available remaining block, as I described in part one. You can instead easily distribute that savings among several remaining blocks to distribute your remaining overbidding money among several players or remaining stages of the auction. As long as you put the savings so far somewhere in your remaining chart, preferably earlier than later, by the time you finish the process you will have achieved the target value for the auction.