September 1, 2015
Expert FAAB Review
Depending on how long you have been a Baseball Prospectus subscriber, welcome or welcome back to the Expert FAAB Review. Every week, I’m going to take a look at the players and the process behind the expert bidding in LABR mixed, Tout Wars NL, and Tout Wars AL. Bret Sayre and I participate in LABR mixed while I have a team in Tout Wars NL, so I will provide insights behind the reasoning on some the bids. Budgets in all three leagues start at $100 at the beginning of the season.
Tout Wars uses a Vickrey Auction system. A basic description of the Vickrey bidding system can be found here.
Random Quote of the Week: “Bananas in pajamas are coming down the stairs. Bananas in pajamas are coming down in pairs.” –Carey Blyton
It is September 1st (assuming you are reading this the day it was published), so it is safe to say we have reached the home stretch. In real baseball, this means counting down magic numbers, mulling over postseason roster decisions, and the appalling practice of awards chatter on social media. In fantasy baseball, the homestretch is generally represented by free agent pick-ups slowing down to a trickle, especially in redraft leagues like all of the expert leagues featured in this column. Next week should see a little more movement as most of the September roster expansion should be complete, but in mixed leagues most of these call ups are not the kind of players who will provide much of an impact.
Another factor that can determine how active or passive a league will be down the stretch is how close the standings are. With five weeks to go, this is what the picture looks like at the top in LABR Mixed:
Table 1: LABR Mixed 2015 Top Five, Through Games of Sunday, August 30th
Barring some kind of miracle finish, it looks like LABR is going to play out as a two-team race between my/Bret Sayre’s Baseball Prospectus entry and Fred Zinkie’s team (MLB.com). Zinkie hasn’t been in first place at the end of any standings period this season, but he also has been at 95 points or higher since Week 7 and after dipping down to 97 points at the end of Week 17 Zinkie has been climbing rapidly toward our BP squad.
If Zinkie makes me nervous, it is because he still has some ground to gain while our team is near its ceiling, and could lose some points in saves if Carson Smith truly is done as closer for the Mariners in 2015. Zinkie’s moves above are going to be among the last free agent pickups he is able to make this season, as he only has three dollars of FAAB remaining for 2015. His offense is very good, and it isn’t difficult to see him grabbing another point and a half in home runs and breaking the tie with Mike Podhorzer of Fangraphs in steals with Billy Hamilton on the shelf. Two batting average points are also realistically attainable for Zinkie. If he maximizes his realistic offensive gains, that would leave Zinkie with 122 points. The good news for our Baseball Prospectus team on offense is that our runs and home-runs leads look to be fairly safe from Zinkie catching us.
This leaves Zinkie needing another 5.5 points to tie our team. He certainly could pick those points up on the pitching side, but the strength of his offense has come at the cost of his pitching. Chris Sale is a great foundation, but after that Zinkie’s rotation is Jake Odorizzi, Chris Bassitt, Kris Medlen, and Colon. That certainly could work out for Zinkie, but it is a high-end risk/reward strategy that could also leave him losing points on the pitching side. Since he isn’t the frontrunner, Zinkie doesn’t have the luxury of leaving some of those pitchers out to protect his ratios while he hopes that wins work out for the best. Realistically, Zinkie needs to flip the wins point with our team to have a realistic chance of taking the overall lead for the first time this season.
As I have noted before in this space, we have been out of FAAB for some time now, so the roster we have is the roster we will do battle with in LABR barring a trade at the 11th hour. We picked up Joe Kelly weeks ago, held our noses after he had a terrible week on our active roster, and then stashed him on reserve. Kelly is surging of late, so we will use him this week for a wins play at home against the Phillies. With Smith done, it’s likely that we use two of Kelly, Anthony DeSclafani, and Jered Weaver on our active roster in an attempt to try and grab wins and hold off the teams below us. We have the ERA/WHIP cushion to make this play, and hopefully Kelly and DeSclafani will also provide enough strikeouts to possibly push us ahead of Zinkie and swing a point the other way.
I feel good about our chances, but LABR doesn’t look like the near-lock it did a few weeks ago. Zinkie has rallied and certainly has a chance to pass us if things go his way. One drawback to the large gap between Zinkie and the rest of the league is that he might be able to use his last three dollars in FAAB on three players with uncontested bids. Hopefully this isn’t the case, but it is something to be mindful of as the September call-ups will be available on the wire next Sunday.
Tout Wars NL
I picked up Gilmartin for De La Rosa to protect my rate stats. I need wins, but De La Rosa in Colorado against the Giants didn’t seem like the right play this week.
Entering last night’s action, here is the big picture in NL Tout Wars.
Cockcroft entered last week two points behind me (90-88) and for a brief moment at the beginning of the week was one point behind, 90-89. Then the wheels came off, and everything that could have gone wrong for Cockcroft went wrong. He lost 1.5 points in wins, and his rotation of Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto, Robbie Ray, Jimmy Nelson, Matt Wisler, Anthony DeSclafani, and Charlie Morton failed to pick up even one win for the week. I managed to pass him in wins, which is a two-point swing in the wrong direction that Cockcroft cannot afford. To win the league for the fourth year in a row, Cockcroft needs to maximize his wins points and probably take a point from me somewhere else. Homeruns is Cockcroft’s best bet; he is 15 behind me. This sounds like a lot, but works out to an average of three homeruns a week, which certainly is possible even if it isn’t probable. The other avenue for Cockcroft to jump up is in stolen bases, where he is six steals away from scooping up 3.5 points. The problem here is that his team has been moving in the wrong direction for weeks, and with Denard Span out for the season, a potential resource in this category is gone.
While the overall point shift looks great for me, my team has been anything but a juggernaut the last few weeks. From August 1 through August 30th, my team has only been the fourth best team in Tout Wars. If Tout Wars NL scored monthly the way Tout Wars X does, I would have had 66 points in the month of August. If there is a reason I’m still on top, it’s because none of my competitors had a big month either.
Table 3: Tout Wars NL, August 1-30
In a 12-team 5x5, 65 points is the equivalent of a “.500” performance. Using this crude measurement, a lot of teams played .500 ball or close to it over the last month. Wilderman blew the doors off in August, but all this did was push him from 10th place and 52 points overall four weeks ago to seventh place and 62 points entering Monday’s action. It has been a nice run, but Wilderman’s might not crack into the big clump of teams in the low 70s. Melnick had a terrible August, and this pushed his team from a fringe contender into virtual non-contention.
My team has been mediocre of late. A strong pitching month could have put the league out of reach, but instead of sitting right behind the clump of teams ahead of me in ERA, I lost a point to Guilfoyle in ERA and have to look nervously at McCaffrey in my rearview mirror in WHIP. I’d rather be 8.5 points up than 8.5 points down with five weeks to go, but there is still enough variability in each category that I can’t take anything for granted. If September mirrors August I should be fine, but if Cockcroft has a hot month down the stretch or if I completely stumble, that lead could evaporate quickly. It wouldn’t surprise me if I hold on to the overall point differential, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if Cockcroft moves back to within 3-4 points in a week’s time. The race is far from over.
Elias is a fringy option even for AL-only leagues. His walk rate is down in 2015 but his HR rate has spiked, leaving him with slightly lower fantasy value in 2015 than he had in 2014 in mono leagues. We are getting to the point of the season where the schedule matters, so when a starting pitcher is acquired I will look at his projected starts down the stretch.
One of the presumed benefits of using an AL West starter is the advantage of favorite AL West parks, but Elias won’t get to pitch in Anaheim or Oakland and will instead have to travel to Houston, Texas, and Kansas City. It’s a poor schedule, and even in AL-only I might simply pass. Chris Liss of Rotowire grabbed Elias. Liss has lost a little ground in ERA/WHIP of late, but with three teams sitting just one win behind him, Liss needs to protect himself in this category more than he needs to worry about his qualitative stats.
Hank Conger $3 ($6). Other bids: $2, $2. Player released: Alex Avila.
Joey Butler $1 ($14). Player reserved: Nolan Reimold.
I’m not in Tout Wars AL, so I can’t offer too many informed comments on the race in the league, but I can offer a glimpse at the standings entering this week:
Table 4: Tout Wars AL Only 2015 Top Four, Through Games of Sunday, August 30th