How to Lose at Fantasy Baseball Presents: We Won!

March 27, 2018 by Darren Clarke

February 2018 Scouting Notes-

Watching Miggy Cabrera at the plate this Spring, is it me or did the dude shrink? Like actually, physically, shrink? It’s kind of an Antonio Banderas phenomenon. One minute Banderas was the guy every woman was swooning over the next he appeared to have all the overwhelming masculinity usually associated with a cheerful, bespectacled, cobbler. Man Cabrera had a bad year, not Expendables 3 bad, but bad nonetheless. 

When we last left How to Lose at Fantasy Baseball prior to the 2017 baseball season I had suggested that the most dignified way to lose and the only way to really play fantasy baseball was to loosen your grip on the cold, hard, precision of objectivity and dig into your own, warm and flawed, subjective opinions. I urged you to embrace your bias, your big sloppy love for the home team and get out there and start finishing 5th, or 6th. But a funny thing happened to the team Jesse Seguin and I run in Scoresheet Fantasy Baseball in the wake of that article, we won.

Left, Miguel Cabrera, right, Jesse and I celebrating receiving our trophy at one of Thorold’s finer drinking establishments.

I like to think that some of our Fantasy team (known as the Duke Temples) success was attached to my furtive offseason scouting deep dives through my MLB.TV archives but it is likely much more about Jesse’s decision making skills and particularly, his ability to filter the mostly irreverent information I am providing him with leading up to our league’s draft.

February 2018 Scouting Notes-

The Story of Todd Frazier’s First AB as a Yankee at Yankee Stadium– Luis Castillo pitching for the Reds in a July game against the Yankees. I was actually watching the game to check out Jordan Montgomery but Castillo is the eye-popper. Struck out Judge on a 100 mph fastball. But I actually ran into the spectacular first at bat for Todd Frazier as a Yankee at home. The Yankees broadcast mentioned as Frazier stepped in with the bases loaded, “What a spot for Todd Frazier… (camera pans to the crowd) there’s his Dad on the right, Mom leaning forward, as he comes up to Frank Sinatra as he always does, that’s his walkup music… he’s got 500 to 600 people here from Toms River, New Jersey … (the count goes to 3-1)… You know Frazier is thinking big here, he wants to say hello to New York in impressive fashion… and the  3-1 pitch  hit sharply to short, there’s one, there’s two, and they’ve go the runner hung up, this might be a triple play… the run has scored…  (Gregorious) still not tagged out, he ran out of the base line… and it’s a triple play… he wanted to say hello to New York in  a big way, he hits into a Triple Play.”

In lieu of the championship win I thought it’d only be right to give something back to the world in the form of 15 Important Things to Know About Fantasy Baseball interspersed with more of my compelling scouting notes from this year. So let’s get started with the number one thing you need to know about Fantasy Baseball-

#1- Your Wife Doesn’t Care About Your Fantasy Baseball Team– And to keep this up to date, neither does your same sex spouse or your transgender neighbour. Based on my experience I would also add that while you may think you can cleverly work the topic of your fantasy baseball team into everyday conversation with an artful segue like, “This is kind of like my baseball pool…” You can’t. You really can’t. Understand this, nobody cares about your baseball pool but you.

#2- Beware of Late February Optimism- Beaten down by the unrelentingly, cold, reality that is February the promise of spring training kindles something dangerous inside all of us- hope. The very idea of hope and  warmth incites the kind of boundless optimism that has sportswriters across North America launching thousands of completely unrealistic baseball articles every spring to a fan base all too willing to believe them. All wounds have healed, all failings have been discovered, all lost velocity recovered, all promise about to bloom, all aging and fading about to be defied. But don’t believe it. Settle down and sober yourself up with some quality time sifting through some cold, hard, facts at the Baseball Reference site.

February 2018 Scouting Notes-

Dan Straily, Marlins

Numbers Say– FIP plays higher than his ERA. High K’s, high HR’s.

Eyes say- Beard plays better than his soul patch. He doesn’t throw particularly hard for a guy who gets decent K’s. He has a compact, simple, homely, delivery. The only way that delivery is going to the prom is if it goes with its’ cousin. He kind of reminds me of Toby from The Office. Toby didn’t have a good circle change though. I think Straily is exactly what he has been the past two years. A slight notch above average.

#3- Beware of Highlight Videos- Take Byung-Ho Park… please. First, on this topic, let me tell you something important about life, something important about yourself- We are all pretty much morons. Our job is to kick, scratch and climb our way as many inches above being a moron as often as we can. And it’s not easy because the moron part of you wants to believe in spectacular things, magic bean things, generous Nigerian Princes things, home run hitters appearing out of thin air things. Which brings us back to Byung Ho Park.

The Twins signed Park out of the Korean league where he had been tearing up the KBO for some time. Coming into the 2016 draft he looked like a sexy pick. Trying to translate KBO numbers to a MLB  forecast though is a bit of a trick and accordingly most forecasts for Park seemed to have been borne more of the kind of ambiguous calculation normally attached to the world of Figure Skating judging than cold hard math. But there were highlight videos on Youtube. And here’s the thing you need to know going into most highlight video packages for hitters- They never get out. Everything they do is awesome. This leads the moron part of your brain to think, “This guy is going to hit 1.000 and slug 4.000!” He’s not or course but you wouldn’t know that by the highlight package. So don’t look at highlight videos, or, if you feel you must, at least splash cold water on your face when you are done and resume kicking, scratching, clawing, trying to get that inch above being a completely naive fool.

(Bonus Player Evaluation Info– Know Your Minor Leagues-  Let’s start with an important reminder of the significant difference in AAA leagues- The Pacific Coast League (PCL) versus the International League (IL). It’s a pretty simple equation- PCL=Inflated OPS and ERA. IL= More realistic numbers. Just being aware of the need to weigh AAA numbers differently can save you a lot of disappointment. If you are in deeper leagues also remember to cross reference the age to the level of play. A 24-year old having extreme success in A ball shouldn’t be viewed as impressively as a 19-year old at the same level having a slightly less spectacular season)

left, Byung Ho Park, right, Dan Straily a la soul patch

#4- Do Pick Colorado Hitters, Don’t Pick Colorado Pitchers- Colorado fans will tell you that Charlie Blackmon should be an MVP. But that’s just silly. Blackmon may be pure gold playing at a mile high but he’s pure pumpkin at sea level (Home OPS 1.239 away OPS  .784 in 2017, I mean, come on). But what Colorado does for him at home is enough to make him a guy to draft well ahead of where his real ability should place him. On the other hand the examples of guys who had significant, year over year, success pitching in Colorado is similar to the list of people who have significant, year over year, success sleeping on the top bunk of a bed on the damned moon. And there it is right there- Rockies fans will point to other parks that significantly impact player stats but none of them exaggerate abilities as extremely as Coors Field a ballpark which is to other stadiums what the damned moon is to other vacation destinations.  

February 2018 Scouting Notes- 

… Speaking of physical appearance Vlad Guerrero Jr. concerns me. When I first see Vlad I immediately think- That’s a scary body type. That’s a, walking behind a shopping cart full of 2 litre bottles of Diet Coke kind of body type. Vlad Jr. could be a really big boy. With a bat in his hands he really does look special but I doubt almost everything else about him on a ball field. And here’s the thing about the Blue Jays baseball blogsphere with their fan boy, puff pastry, imaginings trumpeting Vlad Jr. and Bichette as the future- If the Jays aren’t willing and/or able to meaningfully support the great nucleus of the present what the hell makes us think they will actually do that in the future?

#5- Go Ahead, Pick From Your Favourite Team- When I first started in baseball pools (back in the days where we kept track of stats by hand) you could tell who rooted for who in a draft room pretty quickly. Red Sox fans, Yankee fans, Jays fans, made themselves known if not by the clothes on their back (or on top of their head) then by their first five picks in the draft. You don’t see a whole lot of that anymore. Maybe it’s because those dudes lost a lot of pools and money over the years, or, well, no that’s it, the losing was the reason. But I miss those guys, those dreamers, those jersey sporting, propaganda swilling, son of a guns. Let’s bring impractical sentimentality back to Fantasy Sports, one last place finish at a time.

#6- Resist the Rankings/Be Flexible- Rankings, be it average draft position or generic Yahoo rankings for instance are a nice guide to have around when you are participating in a live draft but it’s real easy to start feeling subconsciously compelled to have to follow them. You don’t have to follow those rankings and you probably shouldn’t. If you love Nomar Mazara pick him when you want to. There’s nothing worse than finishing a draft and feeling like you just traced some rankings and never really made a pick yourself. There is significant change in terms of player results from season to season, so it’s all moving targets at play here. Aiming where you think the object will be as opposed to where it has been is the only way to find success. Flexibility of perspective, from the draft through the season is massively important, being limited by too rigid of a plan or guiding sensibility is the kind of thing that can take your season off the road as definitively (speaking of rigidity) as former Leaf GM Brian Burke’s proverbial 18-wheeler. Have a plan just don’t have too much of a plan (and, note to Brian Burke, tie your damned tie!).

February 2018 Scouting Notes-

Max Fried, Braves

Numbers say- Top 100 prospect again this year who has struggled mightily in the minors but was surprisingly okay-ish in the bigs last year. (Plus a solid 26 innings in Arizona Fall League) this offseason.

Eyes say- Big looping curve ball, good snapping fastball… Man, Matt Adams in left field really makes you appreciate how hard defence can be. It’s a nice fan experience actually. Keeps you calibrated on how talented the pros are. They should put me on the PGA tour for the same reason, just to remind people how special the pros are. But I am really warming up to Fried. There is a real ease to his fastball and he kind of gets it going as he loosens up. It is a sweet curve. I wonder if it is more beautiful to watch than effective but man it has some serious break. I like this guy a lot.

#7- The Art of the Deal, Parts I thru IV

Art of the Deal I- Be social, be shameless, be respectful- I’ve never been real great at trading. The good thing for me though is Jesse is fantastic at it. He’s social, he’s active, he’s engaged. Being active allows Jesse to cultivate the kind of possibilities needed to make necessary adjustments to our team on an ongoing basis. Having solid relationships is important for a lot of reasons but particularly in avoiding being limited in the ways you can improve your team when you need to. Know your trade etiquette. Don’t lecture people on why they should make a deal, follow through on your trades, be as transparent as reasonably possible.

Art of the Deal Part II- Calibrate Trades Based on Intrinsic Value, i.e. You don’t have extra anything- A frequent mistake I have made is lessening the value of assets that appeared redundant or excessive. This is also known as the, “Be cautious of throwing something in to get a deal done,” perspective. If, for example, you have two great second basemen, or a lot of very talented starting pitching, do not fall into the trap of viewing it as excess. Sure other managers may think that your wealth equates to a discount in terms of trading but there is absolutely no reason it should. Get the right return.

Unless of course…

Art of the Deal Part III- Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Fair Deal, Don’t Be Afraid to Overpay- We all know managers who are unwilling to participate in a deal that isn’t decisively in their favour. This a really limited perspective and I have to think it hurts them in the end. People become wary of dealing with you, you will limit your line of sight on deals that could possibly help you and you’re being a dick. Don’t be a dick. It always feels great to make a deal when the exchange is clearly in your favour but you need to have the ability to make fair deals and importantly recognize the times where overpaying makes sense. Value acquisition is one thing, value refinement another. One should lead to the other. Our Scoresheet team has a number of players that we acquired via overpayment- Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Altuve, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen hasn’t been a clear big win for us but the others certainly have. You have a limited amount of players who get the central at bats (or innings pitched) for your team refining the people that populate these roles defines your success.

If you have a keeper team an easy way to overpay is by putting together a package of players that aren’t in your projected keeper list (but please, for everybody’s sake, don’t send out an email detailing your available players with the likes of Danny Espinosa and Ryan Goins on it… mind you, if you have both those guys there isn’t much hope for you anyways, so, never mind, carry on). During the regular season you would want to look at opportunities to turn peripheral player/pick values into greater central players/picks values.

February 2018 Scouting Notes- 

Jakob Junis, Royals

Rex Hudler says- (From the September nine broadcast of Junis’s start against the Twins)  “You know what though? I think it’s fun to watch this guy, he has good tempo he has confidence but also, I don’t want to use the word fun, I would use the word stoic. Look at his face, same expression all the time, I love that.”

Numbers say- I could not find the high degree of stoicism mentioned by Hudler documented anyplace but let’s just take it as a given and assume his stoicism rate (SR) is 17.4 We can then run that stoicism rate through the Adjusted ERA Based on Degree of Apparent Humourlessness (AERABODAH) which goes like this-> SR times ERA divided by 9, times by 9, divided by SR, equals AERABODAH. Meaning, Junis’s ERA of 4.30 would become a AERABODAH of 4.30.

Eyes say- I like him (as I say that Eduardo Escobar goes deep off a hanging changeup). He has a whack of pitches with some life on them but I see a hard ceiling for him. And if I had to guess I’d say we saw his ceiling last year.

Jake Junis prepares to deliver some serious seriousness, Rex Hudler looking all likeable.

Art of the Deal, Part IV- You are in no position to be offended. You are the owner of a Fantasy Baseball team, remember that, stay humble. There’s a certain inevitability to the one or two guys in your league who will make horrid offers to you and while getting offended is always an option I am suggesting that it might be more pragmatic to choose to explore and see if you might not be able to leverage that lack of realism to your advantage. Most inflammatory offers end up being indicative of an owner you can’t  make any kind of deal with however I have also found that you can from time to time work these guys for a real sweet deal.  Feel free to try to get as much as you can. Be shameless. Ask for their best player. Make counter offers that really, really, work for you, don’t be afraid to throw multiple offers around. Move those goal posts and maybe you can get one of these guys so turned around trying to track things down it will result in nothing but extra bases for you.

#8- Just because you change your perspective about a player doesn’t mean the player will change- Also known as the, just because you are drowning doesn’t mean everything you grab will turn into a life preserver, rule (or the, just because it’s 3 AM and you have struck out all night doesn’t mean that chick whispering in your ear is hot, reminder). Drunk on desperation a man can play tricks on himself when trying to fill a need. There’s probably a time and place for making a desperate deal but generally speaking that time is too late and that place is last.

February 2018 Scouting Notes-

Math and Twins Broadcasts– I don’t even know who said this or the particulars involved but essentially the question put forward during the game I am watching was, “Because of Buxton’s speed is a .310 on base percentage for him essentially the equivalent of a .325 on base percentage for a normal player?”

The answer is no. No it isn’t. At all. 

#9- Recognize IT when you see IT– When the Jays acquired J.A. Happ I was enraged. Seriously? J.A. Happ? But I was really, really, wrong. J.A. Happ had figured IT out and he figured IT out in the place pitchers are most likely to- Pittsburgh.

Pretty much all statistical forecasts are based on models crafted by large amounts of data distilled into expected norms. IT falls outside of that. Suddenly J.A. Happ can become an entirely different pitcher, suddenly Jose Bautista can become the best home run hitter in the league. Remember, likelihoods are never absolutes and the existence of outliers is absolute. Keep your eyes and your mind open and keep track of the organizations that seem to keep the most magic in stock. joseFebruary 2018 Scouting Notes-

Ben Lively, Phillies

Numbers say- That he is an overachiever. Fangraphs has a bunch of clever things to say about him but their forecasts are really bleak. My main concern is his minor league stats are of the type ordinarily associated with someone whose skillset is limited entirely to being deceptive. And that’s an edge that is usually quickly lost in the bigs.

Eyes say- He likes his shirts tight and his tattoos out there for the world to see. I’m not exactly sure why I don’t like tattoos, tight shirts and beards but I’ve decided to stick with it. Best case scenario here is a Josh Tomlin-esque type starter but I doubt it.

#10- Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em- This being probably the most important part of being successful at Fantasy sports makes it easily the most difficult talent to master. Knowing when to pick somebody up and when to cut somebody loose, when to stash a guy on the bench and when to put him back in the lineup is a high end skillset. It’s a knowledge thing, it’s a perspective thing, it’s a feel thing. Good luck with it. Experience is really the best teacher here, all I can tell you for sure is that most of the worst drops and best pickups happen in April.

#11- When in Doubt, Take Upside-  Looking for an in-season pickup last year there was little out there to help us in the present and little that suggested much promise in the future. But Matt Olson was out there. Matt Olson was a moderately sexy prospect a few years back before he somewhat stagnated in the minors. I recommended him first because he was a big dude who had had some success in the minors while showing solid plate discipline but also because the A’s were in exactly the kind of non-competitive space that often leads to teams flipping veterans and giving 23-24 year old prospects a shot. We won the lottery with that pickup as Olson got called up to Oakland soon after we picked him up and after a lukewarm start went on to hit the holy bejeezus out of the ball for a stunning .259/.352/.651 stat line over 200+ at bats.

February 2018 Scouting Notes-

Happiness is… being an A.J. Griffin 67 mph curveball- I imagine it must be a nice change for the baseball. None of the stress of significant force and velocity, just some nice easy spins as you float languidly up to the plate coated in summer sunlight. Suddenly the baseball has some time to drink in its’ surroundings: the golden green expanse of the outfield, the buzz of the fans, the plaintive cry of the peanut vendors and beers salesman. Perhaps the ball contemplates fate and circumstance, time, infinity, space, mortality, maybe Jim Morrison’s last days, maybe Jim Henson’s last days… who knows? That ball has nothing but time before finally, sharply, breaking down into the loving embrace of the catchers mitt (or perhaps more tragically, being ripped by the hard reality of a fast moving baseball bat).

#12- Beware of WAR/Advanced Stats- Like any good new idea WAR (Wins Above Replacement) can be overused by people posing as the kind of sexy intellectuals that history has shown time and time again the average person detests. Further, while WAR attempts to capture the complete output of a player on the field, Fantasy leagues, even the more in depth ones, rarely do. Using WAR in a Yahoo fantasy pool for instance is kind of like bringing a knife to a gun fight but more like bringing a cloud to a water balloon fight. So stick with the tried and true stats, which, truth be told, run generally closer to the decisive outcomes in a game and provide greater clarity when surveying stats year to year. Start with the simple and move out from there.

Which brings us to…

#13- Do Use Advanced Stats- They are too good to pass up. Use them but in an engaged, critical, manner. BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) can allow for you to spot anomolies, players tapping into and out of bad/good luck, and is particularly useful when limited to analyzing an individual player’s yearly fluctuations. A little luck either way can make a profound difference on end of year stats so it’s good to be aware of. For pitcher stats if you see a drop in the strike outs per nine check the average velocity on Fangraphs, check the trend on missing bats and for sudden changes to the success rate of different pitches. Remember, these stats were born of challenging critical inquisition and require that level of engagement to be fully appreciated. Also remember that the world of stats is a dead world. It tells you only where things have been not necessarily where they will be.

It should also be noted that no stat is an absolute. Take exit velocity. A look at the leaderboard for average exit velocity in 2017 lists most of the game’s great hitters but it also lists Chris Carter.

February 2018 Scouting Notes-

Jake Odorizzi, Twins

Numbers say- Walked a lot more guys this past season and gave up 30 home runs. Fangraphs projections give him a real rough ride. 

Eyes say- I’m watching a game at Tropicana Field which has of course lead me to fall into a deep depression making me question the point of everything. Why care about anything? Why try at anything? Why get the hell out of bed? I mean, what hope is there for a species that would create Tropicana Field? Given my sudden, dome inspired, bit of despondency I’m probably not in a great spot to evaluate a guy without an eye popping pitch, but I like him. His fastball is sneaky, his offspeed stuff is tough and he’s moving to another decent park to pitch in with Minny. 

#14- Don’t Out-Clever Yourself- Dave Roberts lost a World Series last year trying to be clever with his pitching staff (or not being clever enough, it was hard to tell to be honest), The Blue Jays lost a season with a great core due to trying to be too clever with, “value signings.” Being clever can kill you.

I remember saying to a guy I managed once, “If I ask you for a glass of water you bring me back a synchronized swimming team… and I really just need a glass of water.” Don’t pass by the right thing to do simply because it isn’t clever enough for you. Pick your spots to be clever or else you’ll end up signing Kendrys Morales and Jose Bautista instead of Edwin Encarnacion or with Yu Darvish tossing meatballs, losing you Game Seven of the World Series while Clayton Kershaw warms up in the bullpen.

#15- Win and Lose Gracefully- If you can’t do it here where can you do it? It’s Fantasy Baseball, a great opportunity to at least pretend/practice being a decent, mature, person. So win or lose do it right. And, if you are in a rotisserie league, where the scoring is relative all teams, play it all the way to the end.

February 2018 Scouting Notes-

Francis Martes, Astros

Numbers Say- Big prospect coming into last year and then really struggled with Houston and in AAA (PCL). From Fangraphs, “Francis Martes throws hard but batters seem to hit him harder. The rest he walks..” (Fangraphs can be such jerks)

Eyes say- Watching a July 1st game vs the Yankees. First note, his socks don’t match. The one sock is like a clown sock as if he suspects a bull might be unleashed on the field at any time and he wants to have the proper attire on to distract the bull before jumping into a barrel. Well wait. Everybody has non-matching socks. Independence Day. One sock stars, one sock stripes. Okay. Got it. Any-ways… Martes kind of looks like Luis Tiant (inclusive of a bit of a twist in his delivery) or Fernando Rodney. He looks rough to start the game but as he loosens up he shows a lot more. He was a few quality offspeed pitches and the fastball starts climbing up above 95. The 2018 Astros rotation overflows with guys so I don’t think he will get a shot soon. Nice late pick though. 

Robert Gsellman, Mets

Fox say- FOX broadcasters start the game with a long conversation about Mets starters hair, complete with the camera focusing on Syndergaard and the one announcer commenting, “There’s Syndergaard, he has beautiful hair.” Gsellman has a lot of hair, it isn’t beautiful though. He’s got 70s rock-band-bus-driver-who-can-hook-you-up-with-whatever-you-need-(but-may-also-stab-you-in-the-middle-of-the night)-hair.

Eyes say- Here’s my scouting report from last year- Gsellman needs to cut his fucking hair… but, he is a good pitcher… he doesn’t have electric stuff but he has a good fastball that darts away and down and his sinker is heavy and hard… his slider is killer… minor league numbers aren’t great but he was playing above level most of the time and in the PCL. He apparently gained a few ticks on the fastball… 23, 6’4″ I think he’s a good pitcher whose stuff appears to be matching his bodies possibilities…

Left to right- Cole Hamels, Robert Gsellman (and his hair), Francis Martes

Cole Hamels, Rangers

Numbers say– K’s per 9 took big hit last year down to 6.4. The Fangraph projections are harsh though they temper that by noting he may have been hurt last season (though his velocity was not significantly down).

Eyes say- Two memories of Cole Hamels, 1) The first time I saw him was in a start early in his rookie season and I immediately picked him up. He just screamed “special” from the get go. 2) A couple years ago I was rushing through evaluating some pitchers and after hours of watching guys pitch it was becoming a blur of sameness, then I saw Hamels and I finally saw a guy pitching. Hamels moves the ball around and changes speeds brilliantly. I love Cole Hamels. I believe he’ll be back this season.