Tuesday, April 14, 2009

RIP Mark Fidrych

The Red Sox AA affiliate played in my hometown (Bristol, CT) for a few years in the early 80s before moving to New Britain, and a bunch of prominent future Red Sox (Wade Boggs, Oil Can Boyd, Marty Barrett, Bob Stanley, etc.) played for the team for at least a short time. When I was a kid, they used to put on a charity softball game in town where former major leaguers would play personalities from ESPN (since it was in town) and other media outlets. The field where the game was held, and where I would later play high school ball, was this neat old field built near the beginning of the century. As a result, you were fairly close to the field and got to talk to all the players.

One year, when I was about 10 or 11, a family friend was asked to be the honorary third base coach. Knowing that I was a big baseball fan, he worked it out so that we could walk on the field before the game, watch the guys getting ready, and meet a bunch of the players. It was great; some of the players (Luis Tiant, Ozzie Virgil and Bob Stanley) were incredibly nice, and some others (Jim Rice and Bill Buckner) were rude or dismissive.

One person who stuck out especially though was Mark Fidrych. He stopped warming up and talked to my mom and I for about 10 minutes. He was impressed that I knew so much about his career (I was a bit of a baseball nerd even at that age), and he talked about being in the majors, making the All-Star team, and how lucky he was to be a major leaguer for even a short time. For a kid like me, getting to talk with a former big leaguer was a dream, and I was walking on air the rest of the day.

In talking to sportswriters and other people inside baseball in the years following that encounter, I found out that it really wasn't out of the ordinary. Fidrych was an incredibly kind person, and someone who realized how lucky he was to play in the majors.

So it was that I was sad to hear that Mark passed away yesterday after an apparent accident at his farm. It's a tragic loss, as he leaves behind a wife and a daughter. It's also tragic because the world lost a kind person far too soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Anatomy of a Drinking Draft

So on Saturday, we had our 10-man live draft with my good buddies from home. It's a 5-player keeper league, where each keeper replaces a pick in rounds 1 through 5 - it's normal 5x5 but with OBP instead of BA (because we're progressive like that). Last season, I went into freefall late in the year as my pitching staff became decimated and injuries to key players (hi Ian Kinsler!) took their toll on my non-core stats.

An interesting thing happened - Lance Berkman didn't play a single game in the OF last season, forcing me into a situation where I had Berkman, Fielder and Howard all competing for 2 spots (1B and UTIL). Normally I would be apoplectic about being locked into my UTIL slot so early, but I genuinely feel all three are top-20 talents. In an effort to get younger, I made a trade, sending Howard (less valuable than usual in this league because it ends earlier and usually Howard's end-of-season tear coincides with his team sitting at home watching the playoffs) for BJ Upton (giving me much-needed youth and athleticism, insanely important in a keeper league). This made my five keepers David Wright, Lance Berkman, Ian Kinsler, Prince Fielder and BJ Upton - a very good collection of talent (all rated inside the top 35, with four potential top-20 guys) but not even close to the best in the league at this point, so I'd have to make up some ground in the draft:

Rim Job Larry
Berkman Lance 1B K
Fielder Prince 1B K
Wright David 3B K
Kinsler Ian 2B K
Upton B.J. OF K
McCann Brian C 6
Young Chris OF 7
Dunn Adam OF 8
Vazquez Javier P 9
Lowe Derek P 10
Myers Brett P 11
Tulowitzki Troy SS 12
Santana Ervin P 13
Fuentes Brian P 14
Danks John P 15
Street Huston P 16
Carpent Chris P 17
Drew J.D. OF 18
Duchscherer Justin P 19
Johnson Kelly 2B 20
Dukes Elijah OF 21

I selected 4th, and Dan Haren and Jake Peavy were off the board before it got to me. At this point, I made a snap decision - with basically every top-tier starter off the board, I would try to use a modified version of the old auction-draft move of piling 80% of your resources into position players, then filling your staff with high-K/low-WHIP guys, often using multiple relievers, even middle relievers. With our league having 3 SP slots and no mid-week changes, I wouldn't necessarily be able to run it to its fullest effect - I'd still need something for wins, and with a 10-team league, Ks from starters are still huge since the pool is deep.

Either way, I took the plunge, picking for value at 54 with the best catcher available (since I figured ESPN's hype would make Weiters/Ianetta/etc. overhyped; I was wrong) and possibly the best player available. I then capitalized on undervalued resources to fill my OF slots (OF is startlingly shallow this year, even in 10-team leagues) with Young and Dunn, who I likely should have selected in the reverse order, but since it was on the wheel no one cares.

Now that I had my position players solidly filled (and with what might be the best position-player lineup I've ever had in fantasy baseball), I started on the pitching. Vasquez is an obvious choice, in hopes that moving to the easier league and out of US Cellular knocks down the gopher balls while increasing K:BB ratio slightly, although he's still been valuable for years, while Myers fits exactly the role we're looking for while giving a good shot at Ws on a solid second-place team. Lowe goes exactly against the grain of the high-K lineup, but the value was way too solid at that position, and his WHIP plus ERA should still help. Tulo was the only non-garbage SS left (and was likely a steal), Drew shouldn't go that low even with his injury history, while Carpenter would have never made it back to me and thus forced my hand. I grabbed Dukes on a flier, knowing that I could DL Upton and add Jason Motte to get another reliever into the starting lineup.

Overall, I'm pretty damn happy with the draft - it's yet another all-offense/questionable-pitching RC team, but that's been my MO for years, and I'll just have to run waiver-wire games to keep the staff solid (or ditch SP for the Royce Rings of 2009; which I'm fine with).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Auction Draft: Teams Breakdown

First off, this is amazing - absolutely ridiculously funny. Hat-tip to HighHeat on SoSH for this. Sick.

Here's how each team wound up in the auction team draft:

Milwaukee $3.75
Yankees $8.50
Oakland $3.50
St. Louis $2.75
San Diego $1.50

Cubs $8.25
Colorado $1
NY Mets $8

White Sox $5.50
Reds $3.25
Florida $2
LAA $8
Toronto $1.25

Atlanta $3
Baltimore $1.75
Cleveland $7.50
LAD $7.50
Seattle $2

Arizona $4.25
Detroit $3.25
KC $3
SF $1.50
Tampa Bay $8

Boston $8.25
Houston $1.75
Minnesota $3.75
Philly $4.25
Texas $2

If the season plays out exactly according to the PECOTA predictions, my team's wins alone will be worth $51, with at least another $20 in playoff earnings and assorted bonuses based on division leads at the milemarker points - can't complain about that. At least not until the first major injury to the Yankees - and let's be honest, I'm freerolling the AL East with this setup. Life is good.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

On Balancing Ranges in an Auction-like Nerd Setting

Clearly, two of my favorite things, poker and baseball, have shockingly little in common. However, poker has informed much of my fantasy baseball gambling, including what I consider to be an epic draft from yesterday. We went back-to-back with our live draft, which I will outline a bit tomorrow (because I'm insanely hung over) - the concept is deviously simple: six men, drafting every team in baseball auction-style (arbitrary $20 action value; increments of $0.25), with each win for your teams worth $0.50 from each of the other five players, plus $7.50 paid to each of the division leaders after the first 2 months, second 2 months, and end-of-season. Depending on how you draft, costs can spiral somewhat rapidly - something like 35% of the trials result in at least one player losing $100. It's not "large potatoes" by any stretch of Dan Quayle's imagination - I'm simply pointing out that the fiddy-cent increment is kind of a red herring.

I used Baseball Prospectus's projected standings (PECOTA-enhanced); in terms of recent performance, they are by far the most predictive, although I did sprinkle with a hearty dose of common sense. Because I'm a massive, massive nerd, I needed a way to properly set valuation of teams in such an environment - I knew from last year that the 'best' teams would go for something in the range of $8 to $9, but also knew that $9 was the max anyone would pay. In order to jigger some valuation out of the deal, I figured that the worst team (Pittsburgh) would be 'worth' $1 and the best team (Yankees, at 99 wins - I know, fucking kill me) would be 'worth' $9. I then set up a spreadsheet to set the 'baseline' values and determine what each team should be worth between those two extremes. It turns out, since all teams need to be picked, an 81-81 team (such as, oh, the Angels) is worth about $4.40 or so - not surprising, but indicative of the odd valuation that a limited money environment forces.

I knew that I would have to overpay for a top team - my goal going in was to maximize EV, even at the expense of my best-case scenario (note: this is exactly the opposite of how I filled out my NCAA brackets; fuck my life). I figured if I could get one guaranteed 90+ win team, one other potential division winner, and two .500-level teams, my guaranteed 'shitter' 5th team would be successfully offset, and I'd be freerolling the division championship or wildcard scenarios. I was willing to pay out the ass for one great team, look for value in underrated teams in shitty divisions, and wouldn't worry too much about my last team unless I could get lucky (foreshadowing: I did not get lucky) - plus, I wanted to nominate secretly-shitty teams like the Angels, Astros and Marlins to bleed out dollars so I could dominate the late rounds.

The first team nominated was, of course, the New York Yankees, the probable best team in baseball (again, fuck me). I started the bidding at $5, effectively announcing that I wanted to be the proud new owner of the worst team since the SS. This was by far the weakness in my "system" since I set an arbitrary price for the team - however, I got the Yankees at $8.50, an amount that should be profitable unless I do something catastrophic the rest of the way. Luckily, I did not Thurmon Munson the rest of the draft.

The Angels were, predictably, massively overrated - although their division is TURRRR-BULL like Chuck Barkley's blowjob story, they're simply not a great value compared to the Yankees, even though they went for exactly the same price ($8.50). We were drafting with Cubs fans, so even though I love the Cubs in this kind of scenario, I wasn't willing to pay the $9 it would take (note: I also couldn't).

I did acquire the 'mediocre' fillers at reasonable prices - I got the Brewers and the Cardinals for $3.50 and $2.75, which are massively undervalued resources, and even give me a little bit of division-winner upside. I was able to leverage the low amount of remaining dollars into the A's at $4 too, giving me the second probable division winner to fill out my plan. I got stuck in a late-game bidding scenario where everyone could outbid me, so I wound up with the second-to-last of the shitty teams, with the Padres - make no mistake, the Pads are terrible, but hopefully the craptacular NL West can at least propel everyone to equivalent mediocrity. Still though, it looks like I should be +EV on the whole, with some upside to win serious money. Nobody's other picks really inspire any fear - I'll post each of the teams as soon as I get the spreadsheet. Good times.

Wait until tomorrow, when I'll compare the great success of this auction with the total misguided nightmare of the actual fantasy draft . . . note to self: draft a pitcher someday. God.