From worst to first

Per Dan Beachler’s request, here is a “how I went from worst to first” post. I suppose technically I wasn’t worst last year, and by head-to-head record I wasn’t first in 2017 either. (I was first in points!) But hey, here we are.

I should preface this by pointing out what should already be obvious: there’s a ton of luck involved in fantasy sports. Even if you talk fantasy sports a lot, for example, you’re going to find that you won’t uncover all the answers.

I thought the team I assembled in 2016 would compete. Then, Miguel Cabrera (.340 wOBA in April/May) and Joey Votto (.276 wOBA in April/May) started painfully slow. They were supposed to be my offensive anchors. Tyson Ross, a 32.52 points per game starter in 2015, got hurt in his first start and missed the season. Carlos Carrasco, my best pitcher, missed all of May. Sonny Gray turned into a pumpkin. Alex Rodriguez had a .293 wOBA in April/May. Of the first seven guys I won at our inaugural auction, only Johnny Cueto was good or even useful through the season’s first six weeks or so.

All of that is blind, dumb luck. I don’t control injuries. I don’t control Votto, one of the best hitters of our generation, hitting like Jose Peraza for over a month.

I certainly left money on the table that first auction and probably relied too heavily on boring, useful bench types as starters. I legitimately thought a cheap Trevor Plouffe was an acceptable starting 3B option. I thought I could platoon the White Sox catchers last year, an idea that played out so poorly I may as well have just played the year without a catcher slot. But mostly, my team went bust in 2016 because of random stuff that could happen to anybody. Even if they’d all stayed healthy and produced early, I probably wouldn’t have been a great team. But because that stuff did happen, I decided in May to start reworking my team by trading Cabrera and Gray for picks and prospects. That was the first step in climbing out of the cellar and to the top…

Step 1: The Miguel Cabrera/Sonny Gray trade

Sending Miggy and Gray to the Preseason Double Stuffs for Cody Bellinger, Ian Happ, Brett Phillips, Jorge Soler, and draft capitol is really what ignited my team into 2017. Bellinger, as a rookie, hit at a 1.737 points per plate appearance clip for me at a $0 cost. That’s elite production. Again, I can’t control that Bellinger hit. But he did and it helped.

The one thing I will say is, I targeted prospects that I thought would debut in 2017. Because (a) my team sucked in 2016, so if they debut and their clock starts, that’s a ding in value; and (b) points now are better than points later. I’m not super interested in an 18-year-old prospect in Single A when there’s a comparable 22-year-old prospect on the cusp of the majors. In the case of this specific trade, the Double Stuffs happened to have a few near-MLB guys that fit the bill. And I love Ian Happ, so. Obviously, there’s no science involved. The Cubs could’ve promoted Happ last year. The Dodgers could’ve called Bellinger up in September. I can’t control that stuff either. But I do think it’s possible to hedge within reason and if your goal is to get better quickly, you won’t do it with teenagers unless you’re using them exclusively as trade currency.

Happ, Soler, and the draft pick acquired from the Double Stuffs — which I assumed would suck but became the second overall pick — didn’t score me a ton, really. I did have Happ in my lineup 25 times at 5.76 points per game, so that’s pretty good. But 25 starts isn’t swinging things much one way or another. But these pieces ended up helping later on.

My other big trade was swapping Cueto for JP Crawford, Aaron Judge, and a first round pick. More on Judge in the step below. But also, damn, I had and traded Judge. Frowny face.

I should note here also that not going full scale blow-up mode helped. Hanging onto Votto and Carrasco is as big a reason as any that my team got good. The offers I got for these players were, frankly, pitiful, so that made things easy. But I could have very easily dumped them for picks and lukewarm prospects and gone into auction with $350 or whatever. I’m glad I didn’t.

Step 2: Acquiring good veterans from over-budget teams for picks and prospects at below market rates

I think this was more impactful to my team than Bellinger. Because I “tanked” the season, I was able to build up a solid minor league system and a nice cache of draft picks. But picks and prospects rarely score points. So in the off-season, when teams way over budget shopped quality veteran players, I cashed out some of those assets and bought. And because I’d sucked so badly that I had loaded up on picks and prospects, selling some didn’t mean leaving the cupboard bare.

I acquired a way overpriced Andrew McCutchen for Soler, Travis d’Arnaud, Billy Hamilton, and I think a second round pick. Cutch mostly bounced back in 2017 (1.438 PT/PA), thankfully. I couldn’t have controlled that either, but I’m comfortable betting on a player with an elite track record. It paid off. I think that’s the key to a quick rebuild. If you’ve got budget space, use it ahead of auction and buy low to lock in a guy you think can bounce back. I think budget space is worth much more pre-auction than during auction, when you’re left picking through the risky players no one wanted. I also think if your team sucks like mine did but you want to quickly improve, you need to gamble. You need to overpay a guy or two and hope for a return to form. Also, you won’t likely have an opportunity to buy a recently elite talent at auction. And if you do, there may only be one or two of those guys, so you’ll have competition.

I also bought Russell Martin for a second round pick. Martin’s another efficient, boring veteran player. But my catcher position was the worst in the league in 2016. Martin helped fixed that.

One other trade was working a three-way swap with The Foundation and Hustle Loyalty Respect that effectively landed me Neil Walker and the 16th overall pick for the 4th overall pick. HLR used the pick to take Blake Rutherford, who I think got hurt. I took Franklin Perez with the 16th pick. Today, I think Perez is more valuable than Rutherford, though to be fair, Rutherford got hurt. Even if Rutherford’s more valuable, they’re both top-100 guys. To me, any difference is negligible. But even if Rutherford hadn’t gotten hurt, there’s no chance he (or whichever other available prospect) was scoring at a 1.338 PT/PA clip like Walker did, and doing so right now. Points now > points later, and prospects are fickle, so the guy who goes 4th and the guy who goes 16th could very easily switch fortunes over a single season. At the time, I just felt like I was slightly downgrading a prospect in exchange for making a big upgrade to my current 2B spot, which was a big weakness in 2016.

Then I acquired Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre, who presumably had affordable prices because of their age and their team’s budget situation. Again, if you’ve got budget space, attacking the trade market is worth it. Beltre cost me Amed Rosario, an elite prospect, but that’s really where stacking prospects in 2016 helped. Having JP Crawford meant feeling more comfortable shipping out Rosario.

Of course, both those old dudes could’ve fallen apart. But my team was garbage in 2016. If they did fall apart, oh well, I’m in the cellar again in 2017 and then I just cut those guys and have the cap space back. But there weren’t hitters this good in the auction (granted at the time of the trades, the auction pool was a mystery), or at least players less risky. The highest paid hitters at auction were Adam Jones, Adrian Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Lorenzo Cain. There’s some hindsight present, of course, but I’m not sure pre-auction anyone would’ve honestly felt like any of those guys were better, more efficient hitters than Cruz or Beltre. If you’re cool with a multi-year rebuild, by all means, ignore trading for old dudes like this. But I think it’s prudent to do it if you want to try winning money instead of just sinking money into a multi-year plan.

I also traded Judge for Matt Holliday, and that proved very stupid. In Holliday, I saw a one-year rental with a Giancarlo Stanton-esque batted ball profile and a cheap ($10) salary. I ended up starting Holliday 57 times for 5.9 points per game, so while he didn’t go bonkers like Judge did, he did help the cause. And with regards to Judge, his 2017 season was something I don’t think anyone saw coming. I offered him to several teams and no one bit. I had to include Grant Holmes along with Judge to secure Holliday. So yeah, sometimes trading prospects for vets will backfire, but in general I think it’s a solid, less risky strategy. I’d be curious what Dan thought he was getting with Judge when he made this trade, especially since I know he’s an old guy lover as well.

One thing I’m curious to see this off-season is if over budget teams continue selling their guys short to “get something instead of nothing,” or if teams feel more comfortable dumping to auction. Cruz was had for Dan Vogelbach and a first round pick. I liked Vogelbach as a prospect and obviously Team Hydra did too, but in retrospect, might those guys have figured out a way to keep Cruz’s bat? Or might they have been better sending him to auction and seeing if maybe they could buy him back cheaper? I’m not convinced giving teams discounts on good players is effective, even if the alternative is cutting and “getting nothing.”

Step 3: Not screwing up the auction

I notoriously left like $21 on the table at our first auction. But I also made some awful bids. Buying into A-Rod’s resurgence was dumb. I came away from auction with two 1B’s and  UT player, effectively destroying all my lineup flexibility.

I did a lot better, I think, with my buys in 2017, adding Jaime Garcia, Francisco Cervelli, Lucas Duda, Chris Owings, Ryan Zimmerman, and Charlie Morton.

Once again, luck played a role here. I didn’t expect almost 900 points from a $1 Zimmerman. I liked his batted ball profile, but come on. I also didn’t think Morton would be more than a back-end starter, and he ended up being my most consistent pitcher and a solid SP2. I didn’t even want him. It just ended up being the end of the auction, he was the last starting pitcher available, and I wasn’t leaving money on the table again. Owings filled multiple crucial positions for only $8. I overpaid for Cervelli at $17, but he was a nice compliment to Martin because, again, my catcher spot needed help.

The thing about the auction is, all the players are supremely risky. Teams will find ways to keep or trade “sure things.” And so if you rely too heavily on auction, you’re lending yourself to luck. If Morton and Garcia don’t give me quality starts, my auction stinks and my team suffers. But I started Morton 21 times at 30.43 points per start and Garcia 14 times at 24.04.

But hey, guess what? Matt Harvey, Drew Smyly, Jordan Zimmermann, Collin McHugh, Carlos Rodon, Felix Hernandez, Garrett Richards, Francisco Liriano, and Shelby Miller were all in the same auction. At the time, not sure how any of those guys were too different from Morton and Garcia. I got lucky the guys I won didn’t injure their arms. I got lucky my darts landed where they did. I mean, I wanted Liriano really bad and just screwed up my bid on auction day. Bullet dodged. Blind, dumb luck.

The lesson here, maybe, is to just give yourself fewer dart throws to botch. Acquire talent you have conviction about pre-auction rather than finding yourself in a spot where your money is going to Shelby Miller or Francisco Liriano, and you’re totally uninspired either way. Your mileage may vary, of course. Having a bunch of money at auction is fun, if nothing else.

Step 4: I love you, Giancarlo Stanton

As part of that Cabrera/Gray trade, I secured the second overall pick in last year’s draft. I took Nick Senzel. I like him a whole lot. But I love Giancarlo Stanton and his moonshot home runs. And so in mid-May, I landed Big G for Senzel, Blake Snell, and a future first round pick.

From May 11 forward, Stanton was the third-highest scoring hitter behind Votto and Charlie Blackmon. As much as I like Senzel, you simply have to trade guys like him for elite production now. It helps that Stanton finally stayed healthy, but even if he hadn’t, we all know what he does when he is. In our format, he is an elite fantasy producer on a rate basis. It was a no-brainer for me.

As for Snell, well, I like him still, but if I wanted to win this year I knew I couldn’t sit around waiting and hoping that he learns how to throw strikes and pitch deep into games. The downside to young pitchers is they sometimes are slow to put everything together. If next year Snell’s awesome and cheap, oh well. I’ll still be happy with several mammoth months of Giancarlo.

Step 5: Keep on buying stuff that helps

During the course of the season, once I saw that my team was pretty good, I just kept trying to add. In a series of deals, I sent prospects Corey Ray, Albert Abreu, Julio Urias, Happ, and Jake Faria off for the likes of Max Scherzer, Miggy, JA Happ, Jason Vargas, and Danny Salazar. All those moves did not pan out.

Reunited on my team, I slotted Miggy into my lineup 31 times and he scored at a 2.61 point per game rate. That’s abysmal. Despite his highest hard hit rate since 2014 and the best line drive rate of his career, Miggy gave me nothing. He performed worse than any random bench player I already had, in fact. In Urias, I paid little. But I felt like I had to take the gamble. I expect Miggy to get his back right this off-season and return to an elite level in 2018. He reminds me a whole heck of a lot like McCutchen last year. His price seems way too high (he’ll get a raise to $75), but how can you easily bet against one of the best hitters the game has seen in the last decade plus? Like, would you really rather two $35 lottery tickets at auction (in the 2017 auction, Adrian Gonzalez + Carlos Rodon = $76) than one player a single injury-hampered season removed from being an elite hitter?

Meanwhile, Happ was a fantastic addition for me, scoring 28.04 points a game in 14 starts. I started Salazar seven times for more than 30 points per start. Scherzer didn’t do much for me in the playoffs, but in total, he logged six starts at 32.67 a pop. Net total, these were good, albeit short-term, trades for my team. Corey Ray wasn’t scoring me 392.5 points like Happ did. Albert Abreu didn’t drop a 65 point start on my roster like Salazar.

Again though, these trades could look brutal in just a few months. What if Scherzer gets hurt? What if Urias overcomes his injury? What if Ray ascends and JA Happ grows old quick? I don’t know. But I think if you’re in a spot to seize a chance to win now, you need to be okay with these types of calculated risks.

The other thing to note is that the in-season trades didn’t necessarily have a ton to do with going worst to first. The Stanton trade, sure. The other trades just bolstered a team that had been mostly assembled in the off-season.

In closing…

I think the biggest reason my team got it’s shit together so quickly was simply putting in the work to do it. When a good player became available, I asked for a price tag. When I saw a team was way over their budget, I inquired about expensive players with good track records. I wasn’t too worried about riskiness because well, my team was a dumpster fire. Getting worse than bad isn’t much of a risk. Staying worse, and paying into a league to not even try to fight for wins now, seems way riskier to me. I placed the highest value on today and worried less about if the prospect I’m sending away will be a fantasy monster in 2021 (or in Judge’s case, 2017) or if all the old guys will decide to retire simultaneously.

Clearly, there’s a strategy to this game. If there wasn’t, we probably wouldn’t play. What’d be the point?

But ultimately you only control so much. I think the only way to really approach things is to give yourself the best hand possible and hope for the best. In hold ’em poker, a 2/7 will beat a K/K, for example, some of the time. But the odds say more often than not, the stronger hand will prevail. So I just tried to do stuff that I thought made my hand stronger, then accepted all the luck I could get.

Trade: We Talk Fantasy Sports| Capital City Income

Capital City Income trades away
Happ, Ian ($0 prospect)
Faria, Jake ($0 prospect)
2018 Draft Pick, Round 1 (The Foundation)
Owings, Chris ($8)

We Talk Fantasy Sports trades away
Scherzer, Max ($88)
2018 Draft Pick, Round 3 (Hustle Loyalty Respect)

$10 Auction Dollars 2018

 

 

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Controversy

 

A bitter angry source (not really but maybe kinda) who will remain nameless (but hint: there is a vowel in his first name) has come forward saying he had a deal agreed to for Max Scherzer but this one was accepted instead. I had a chance to review the package ( ͡º ͜ʖ ͡º) from my source and I think it’s relatively on par with the one Bailey offered. The centerpiece in that deal I believe has more upside than anyone acquired here, but was also considerably more unproven.

 

Hustle’s EXTRA ULTRA TOXIC $.02

 

I guess we should really look at this trade through WTFS’ eye. For Bailey? He’s getting one of the 3 best pitchers in the game. He’s losing 2b depth, but for this year at least he has Neil Walker, Howie Kendrick, or Marwin Gonzalez who could slot in there. I think worst case scenario he’s averaging maybe .5-1 ppg less from his 2b spot for the rest of this season, but probably not. The value Max will give to his team more than makes up for it. Additionally his team looks like a monster for next year It’s a big win for CCI.   Not sure if the market might have cooled because Max slept on his neck poorly one night, but it might have. Ultimately, can you really trust a guy with different colored eyes?

 

Per Keith, WTFS has 423 next to spend next year and that’s before dumping Buxton (BREAKING NEWS) and Upton resulting in an additional $90. That alone pays for Scherzer IN FULL with decent money left over. You’re not going to get someone as good as Scherzer in auction with the 130 or whatever they will have, so why not just keep him? Additionally looking at WTFS rotation next year we see Faria, Moore, and Kennedy. There is no way getting around the fact that this is bad. You can add some pieces in auction, but it’s a gamble thinking you’re going to walk away with more than 1 quality SP all year from auction. For those that have gotten 2 or more this year, kudos… I think you’re in the minority…. And I am not one of you.

 

Looking at the assets. The headliner is Ian Happ who is cost controlled for another 6 seasons. Currently averaging 5.56 ppg (I really should do points per pa like Bailey does, but haven’t figured that out yet). I like Ian Happ a good amount and he certainly seems like a long term keeper for WTFS, but if his upside isn’t being an elite guy, then I don’t like this as a headline piece. Furthermore, one of the most attractive parts of Ian Happ is that he will only cost $1 next season. A $1 and 5.5 ppg or even 6ppg 2b for $1… rookie on the Cubs?… SIGN ME UP! But when you have over $100 cap space and you’re giving up $10 to do it, the $1 deal is considerably less valuable. You might as well think of Ian Happ as $11 next year, which is still a great price for current pace. Faria is nice but I think is clearly overachieving, his LOB % is still over 80%, FIP 3.8, XFIP 4.5. He is potentially a decent starter to keep for a few years. Chris Owings is $10 next year and is averaging 4.7 ppg this year. He’s probably a keeper? Unexciting but useful. I like draft picks, but best case scenario you’re getting a back end top 100 guy here with this pick.

 

I guess I don’t love this package. I’m not sure the tipping point is the $10 or not, but it might be. If the plan is to compete for next season, I think this trade is a lose for WTFS barring Scherzer’s performance and health. A pitcher can lose it at any point and quick or get hurt, as we saw with Thor earlier this year.

 

There are a lot of mid range good cost pieces coming back to Keith here, but nothing really game changing. Nothing that’s really going to compete with a core of elite talent like Scherzer, Mccutchen, Stanton, Carrasco, Bellinger, and Denard Span….supplemented with useful good cost pieces. Other top teams based on point scored are similarly built.

 

Auction budget doesn’t guarantee you much, Squids had overwhelmingly the most of it last auction and wasted $70 on Richards and Harvey. $70 alone was more than double some teams had to spend this last auction and they have done almost nothing for Squids. Looking at Squids Auction he hit on a $42 Keuchel, but that’s not a super value going forward. He also had plenty of other wasted picks like $18 on Alex Gordon and $23 on Shelby Miller. For the record, my auction was probably worse than his… I just had less money so I’m focusing on the guy who had the most.

I spent about the same amount on Smyly and Rodon.  Rodon has had maybe 1 ok game in my lineup along with a -42…. And when you combine those two scores for negative whatever… it’s still more than the 0 Smyly has given me.

 

This is a long way of me saying….expensive priced players like Scherzer are good for your team if they are good. Cap space is considerably overrated. David Price is going to be in the auction, but there are going to be quite a few teams that can drop more than $50 on a player if they want, and there aren’t going to be many players (if any) who you will feel great about paying $50 for. I know this won’t happen, but if you’re a team that’s out of it, it’s not the worst idea to deal some prospects for a proven $20-50 guy who you want to keep next year.

There are quite a few teams already where I am comfortable writing off their 2018 chances of a championship. Anything is possible as Kevin Garnett once said (you could be 1st place in august with 10th most points in August), but it’s going to be an incredibly difficult task. Multiple teams building for 2020 isn’t wise because well, multiple teams are doing it. Additionally, the top teams aren’t going to start sucking. Many of them have better farm systems than the teams who actually need them.

Ultimately I don’t like this trade for Keith because he has a ton of cap space and his pitching for next year looks in trouble. If the plan is to build long term and tap out for 2018, I might have opted for more upside.  The ways this does work out for Keith is

 

  • Scherzer has a lengthy injury
  • He becomes not an Ace. At 33 years old, it’s not crazy and Scherzer likely doesn’t have more than a couple years of this level left.
  • Faria stays this good and Happ improves.

 

So, I think this trade could work out for Keith, I just don’t love the probability of it.

Like the referees told UNC after Chris Webber called a timeout with no timeouts left. “Enjoy the Turnover”.

2016 Auction Review – Senior Squids

Senior Squids

squids

After taking a beating for making a trade with super trader Dusty, Squids came out hard and furious and drafted pretty well. It’s clear that this team has serious potential, but there’s a few question marks. Is Randal Grichuk really worth $35? At least two people thought so. Was Shelby Miller good last year or lucky?

Hitters – Not quite

There is nobody in this line up for the Senior Squids that week in week out is reliably going to carry you. This line up is not that different that Capital City that we saw earlier, except it is missing the Votto/Miggy connection. Great at the catching position, and I like Joe Panik and Kyle Seager. Obviously I love Brad Miller, but prefer him to not be forced to slot at short stop. The outfield is alright, but is Grichuk a top 5 outfielder? Between the eight outfielders, he should be able to stream a solid 3-man outfield, but even their ceiling isn’t terribly high. Justin Bour at first base could be solid, or was last year as good as it gets?

Pitchers – Great

This was one of the harder ones to classify. It’s on the bubble of Very Good and Great. Corey Kluber and Zack Greinke are amazing. Tier one for starting pitchers is probably truly two sub tiers, the unreal good guys and the other good guys relative to the entire pool. Kluber and Greinke are elite. Shelby Miller got chastised for getting traded to Arizona for a king’s ransom, but in fantasy not much has changed. It is not hard to imagine that out of Jaime Garcia, Scott Kazmir, Clay Bucholz, Wade Miller and Home Bailey that you can string four comfortable starts out of the group weekly. Likely two of those guys end up being traded for more hitting. Also for the first time during this review exercise, the bullpen here is great. Wade Davis and David Robertson are primed to be great. While that can change in a week, it is hard to argue with the values he spent and assumed to receive here.

Depth – Great

I like the rotation depth a lot. I like the outfield depth that all suffices to cover both utility spots just fine. Brock Holt and Brad Miller can play so many positions. None of his starting hitters are good enough to sink this team if they get hurt, and he already has built in serviceable starters at every position. Although replacing Kyle Seager would hurt the most, and not just because I’m a Mariners fan.

Why 2016 would be bad… 

Well, while the Squids could theoretically afford to lose both Greinke and Kluber to some scary injury and survive, the back end of the rotation is presumed to be good enough. However, the line up just is not. He needs the 100 points a week from those two aces each week. Even then, the ceiling for this team’s scoring just seems destined to be too low.

Why 2016 would be good… 

Things are great for the Senior Squids if Kluber and Greinke pitch themselves into Cy Young conversations in their respective league’s again this year. The rest of the starters shake out in some good way. Perhaps there’s a hitter here that breaks out and jumps into the top 5 of their position that I’m just not seeing. Mark Trumbo reclaims some of his sheen in Baltimore? There’s lots of options here for things to go good, and that’s a good thing.