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Friday, October 25, 2013

Baseball Post Mortem - Expert League Championship Edition

With the World Series in full effect I thought I would put pen to paper (finger to keyboard?) for my annual post-season report on how the fantasy baseball season went for me.  More importantly, I want to explain my strategy going in and how it all worked out so this can be a help to all of you Brainiacs out there.

I scaled back to four leagues this year and it seemed to work.  I am in two expert leagues (one is AL-only), my friends league, and the 20-team semi-dynasty league.  I won two leagues and finished in eighth place in the other two, with the championships coming in my 12-team friends league and the AL-only experts league.  This is my first time winning either league, though I've been pretty close each year against my buddies and it is only year two in the experts league.

So, let me break down each and we'll see what happened.  I'd like to explain my strategy going in and
how it worked out.

Semi-Dynasty League:

First of all, the 20-team league.  Eighth isn't so bad, but it is definitely not so great either.  It's an auction league with ten keepers (no inflation), so with a thin draft pool my plan was to make a trade for a top-flight shortstop and then to spend heavily on a few of the top notch guys available.  I dealt Jason Heyward and Howie Kendrick for Jose Reyes and Ike Davis.  The dollar values made it a big apparent win for me, since a super-stud at a scarce position in a 20-team league is a big differentiator.  Replacing Heyward would be a lot easier than finding anything close to Reyes.  Reyes was out for about a 1/3 of the season, but I've got him again next year and I'm very happy about that.

That league also has quality starts in lieu of wins, which is something I wholeheartedly endorse.  However, the problem with that is that it is harder to speculate for saves since setup guys don't vulture the occasional win.  It's hard enough to get good closers in a 20-team league.  In a league like that, the "don't pay for saves" mantra isn't nearly as valid as in a 10 or 12 teamer.  I had Brandon League and Glen Perkins as $1 keepers and grabbed Ed Mujica early, so it worked out.  Where it didn't work is in the quality starts category.  I had Brandon Morrow for $1 and he flamed out big time.  My other guys didn't pan out either as I was hoping to scoop up good pitchers on bad teams since wins didn't matter.  It didn't work out for me and starting pitching has been my main weakness for each of the three years this league has been around.  I hit on Hyun-Jin Ryu and Homer Bailey and picked up Eric Stults and Dan Straily, so I did have what seemed to be a decent start.  Combined with Wei-Yin Chen and Tommy Milone, that shouldn't have been too bad for a 20-teamer.  Back to the drawing board, though.  Strikeouts and ERA were my big downfall.

You'd think a team with Chris Davis for $1, Jason Kipnis for $17, and a cheap Jose Reyes would do better than 8th.  Well, my $1 Chase Headley didn't look at all like 2012 and Miguel Montero and Michael Bourn failed in a big way as well.  Add that to a lack of SP's, and you get 8th place.  For next year I'm going to have to re-evaluate my strategy, though I'm honestly at a loss as to what to do differently.  Perhaps I just need to spend my money on better players.

Davis, Kipnis, Adrian Gonzalez, Perkins, Mujica, Ryu, Bailey, Headley, and Adam Lind are a pretty solid core to build around.  My last keeper is going to be between guys like Stults, Straily, Alex Avila, Luke Gergerson, and DJ LeMahieu.  (I've also got some injured guys stashed that were cheap off of the waiver wire - CC Sabathia, Corey Hart, and Cameron Maybin.)  I've got 17 or 18 legitimate options for the 10 keepers, all at really good auction prices.

Friends League

Okay, my friends league.  Really simple strategy here.  It is a 12-team auction league with four keepers.  Keepers have their salary bumped $5 per year, so sometimes higher priced guys get tossed back into the pool.  My keepers were: Edwin Encarnacion, Ian Desmond, Alex Gordon, and Gio Gonzalez.  My strategy was to pay as much as I had to pay to get Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano and then hope I had enough money left for some of my "plant a flag" players.

Guys I had planted a flag on and targeted in this draft (and got!) included: Chris Davis, Brett Gardner, Ike Davis, Marco Estrada, Matt Harvey, Glen Perkins, Greg Holland, Mike Minor, and Doug Fister.  Sure, I didn't hit a home run with all of those guys but I think we can safely put to bed the theory that in an auction you don't want to target specific players.  I'm all for organizing guys into tiers when you are in a snake draft, but in an auction you have some control on whether you are willing to over-spend for a guy you believe in.  If you are correct you have a huge profit.  For example, I wasn't going to be denied on Chris Davis or Matt Harvey in this league.  I "over-paid" for each of them at $8 apiece.  I won't be keeping Harvey next year due to the TJ surgery, but Davis at $13 looks pretty swell.

It's easy to see how I did so well in this one, but the central point about this league is that when you have a decent number of keepers in an auction you really need to go all out for the super-studs.  I spent $48 and $47 for Cabrera and Cano, respectively.  It doesn't look like too much anymore.

I should note that that strategy could be tempered by the quality of replacement players in your league.  In other words, in a 10 or 12 team league with a short bench you're likely to find decent replacements throughout the year, which makes the super-studs even that much more of a difference maker for you.  It may not seem to be logical, but the idea is that you shouldn't put your auction dollars into the middle-rounds type of players because your waiver wire will have options that are a half-step lower for free.  Better to heavily invest in the genuine superstars.  In a league like my 20-teamer you will find that the wire is barren most of the year so an auction strategy where you focus on the $8-$14 players is probably going to pay greater dividends for you.  Having that huge edge with the $60 player might not be as valuable to you as having a smaller but still sizable edge with five or six guys.

AL-Only Experts League:

Alright, let's turn our attention to the AL-only experts league.  Tough competition in this one with some of the top writers in the business.  In fact, if you google "Fantasy Baseball Experts League" it's one of the first leagues to appear.  My strategy, as crazy as it sounds, was to lock up the stud middle infielders.  My rationale was that if I can grab Jose Reyes, Dustin Pedroia, and Jason Kipnis in an AL-only league that there wouldn't be much left at MI for anyone else.  And, honestly, I'm not really sure why I won this league beyond that simple approach.  I took Billy Butler fairly early and he didn't really pan out.  Same thing with Matt Wieters.  I took Mark Trumbo pretty early too, because I had to have some power and I guess I got about what I paid for even with the low average.

The other part of my strategy was to get cheap starting pitchers with significant home/road splits and work them in and out depending on where they were pitching. 

I also wanted to lock in a full set of dependable OF's... more on that in a second.

My successes in this league included waiting forever on 3B and getting "stuck" with Manny Machado.  A similar sort of thing happened when I waited on SP and got Anibal Sanchez.  I also lucked into Daniel Nava off of the waiver wire, which is no small thing in an 'only' league with five starting OF slots.  I took five guys pretty early, but Nick Markakis and Michael Saunders weren't going to carry me.  (The others were Trumbo, Gardner, and Josh Willingham... I over-spent for all of them.)

I also took Glen Perkins in this league.  He worked out well for me across the board...  I think I had him in every single league, which turned out to be a great choice for as cheaply as he went.

I didn't follow my SP strategy very much, by the way.  I found that I needed the innings, and Derek Holland pitched okay at home and A.J. Griffin was okay on the road.  Wei-Yin Chen was solid when not injured and I jettisoned Jason Hammel really quickly, so I managed the staff as the season went on.  There was a lot of tweaking in my pitching staff... I felt like I was scrambling all year and managed to pull the right levers with guys like Garrett Richards and Miguel Gonzalez. 

Also, I steadfastly stuck with Joaquin Benoit all season long and it paid off.  I managed to get 60 saves from Perkins and Benoit, which is a lot in an AL-only league.  As good as Benoit's stats look now there was a ton of headwind against him keeping that job.  It went on all season, but I stuck to my guns knowing that Leyland wouldn't find a better option.  It worked.

So, that's it...  Those last few things were items that I believe could be equalled by every other team in the league.  Some ups, some downs.  Some things that worked mixed with a few failures.  It is my belief that I won this experts league mainly due to my middle infield strategy.  I hit on a few guys like Machado, Sanchez, Holland, and Benoit but I also over-invested in guys like Wieters, Butler, Markakis, Willingham, and Saunders.  Those things can happen to any team, but I really think that the competitive advantage I gave myself at three scarce positions (even though Reyes wasn't available for a big chunk of the year... There was some real nail-biting there) was the difference.  I waited on SP but was able to find serviceable guys while my competitors were hoping that Ryan Flaherty would do something good for them at MI.  I do think that was the difference.

Mixed Experts League

In my other expert league I didn't have as much strategy, unfortunately.  I was hoping to take the best player available without reaching on starting pitchers.  That, and it is a two-catcher league so I thought I should over-pay early to lock in two solid studs since there are so few reliable catchers.  I mean, in 2013 we know exactly what we are going to get with Miguel Montero, right?  And, Matt Wieters is a lock for at least .245 and 24 home runs, with a pretty high ceiling to boot.  So, yeah, I went with those guys in rounds four and seven.  Looking back, I definitely over-valued catchers even though I still think that my logic was sound.  In a league where 24 catchers will start every day and in a world where there is a clear delineation between the top six or seven options and the rest of the scrubs, it seemed obvious to over-pay for two of the quality options.  This really is not that dissimilar to my middle infield strategy in AL-Only.  Find the scarce resource, stock up, and deny your competition access to that position.  It seemed logical then, and still does now.  It's just a shame that my catchers in this league weren't actually two of the top seven guys.

A lot of my picks panned out, though I wish I had gotten a bit more from Joey Votto and more games played from Reyes.  I also needed more innings from David Price.  More value from Pablo Sandoval, Gardner, and Dexter Fowler would have also been good, but those guys didn't kill me.  Chris Davis was a great pick, Jason Kipnis worked out very well, Alejandro de Aza was great value, and Chase Utley worked well too.  I also scored on Glen Perkins (again) and with Alexei Ramirez in the last round. (The last round!)

It's just when I missed, I missed hard.  Ian Kennedy was supposed to be a great value pick as late as I got him.  Not even close.  Josh Reddick was a disaster too.  I thought I could have Price and Kennedy anchor my staff and fill in with other guys, and that failed too.  In fact, the pitching was terrible - 10th place out of 12.  (I needed more innings from Price.  Like about 750.)

The hitting was great, though - 3rd place out of 12.  You'd think that 3rd in hitting and 10th in pitching would get you better than 8th place overall, but c'est la vie.  It does go to show that you have to have an integrated strategy throughout.  My thinking was that Price in the 3rd round would anchor my staff, but it wasn't enough and he didn't pitch enough innings to be a super-stud anchor anyway.

But, overall I'll gladly take two 1st place finishes along with the two teams in 8th.  It was a successful season and we learned a lot.  I hope you had fun with it as well and learned a few things along the way, too.  I'm already looking forward to next year, especially in those keeper leagues.