Articles by Carson Cistulli

A listing of all the articles written by Carson Cistulli for the RotoWire Blog.

Playing to the Rules

Looking over the draft order for the first couple rounds of Major League Baseball’s 2011 First-Year Player Draft — set to take place in early June — the observant reader will notice something peculiar. No, it’s not that the Pirates have the first-overall pick — for, really, what could be more predictable? Rather, it’s that, of the first 89 picks to be made, a full 12 of them (or 13.5|PERCENT|) belong to the Tampa Bay Rays.

That’s strange. One would expect, all things being equal, that each of the 30 MLB teams would have approximately 1/30 of all the picks in the draft, or about 3.3|PERCENT| each. But because of free-agent compensation, wherein teams are granted picks for losing valuable players to the open market, the Rays will soon find themselves with an embarrassment of prospect riches.

Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com explains how it happened:

Pick No. 32 is the Rays’ natural pick. But they’ll also select at No. 24 and No. 31. The 24th pick comes from the Red Sox for their signing of Carl Crawford and the 31st pick comes courtesy of the Yankees for Rafael Soriano.

That would be a big haul by itself. But that’s not even close to being it. The Rays will have seven picks in the supplemental first round, thanks to the three Type A free agents they lost: Crawford, Soriano and Grant Balfour (they don’t get the A’s first-round pick, because while it’s No. 18 now, it was in the top 15 before the Balfour signing). Tampa Bay also lost four Type B players: Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate, Chad Qualls and Brad Hawpe.

To cap it off, they’ll get the A’s pick in the second round as well as their own selection. That’s a dozen selections before the second round is over.

If you think that this is happening accidentally, you’re almost definitely thinking wrong. Rather, Tampa has actively cultivated situations where they could benefit from the departure of a free agent. As writer Jonah Keri notes zealously in his New York Times’ best-selling The Extra 2|PERCENT|, the Rays excel at exploiting market inefficiencies.

Put another way, we might say that the Rays’ front office is particularly adept at playing not just by, but also to, the rules. One could very well make a case against the current free-agent compensation system — in fact, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs did so compellingly last Novemeber — but so long as that system exists, smarter organizations like the Rays are sure to take advantage of whatever gains they can find.

"Playing to the rules" is a valuable concept for the fantasy owner to internalize. For, however much fantasy baseball resembles actual baseball, it is very much not the same thing. While fantasy games generally use real stats and players, each league has its own rules and regulations — and those rules present opportunities. The sooner an owner can come to terms with the fact that his league is its own universe, and not merely an extension of actual baseball, the sooner that owner will be competing for said league’s title.

Consider: I currently play in a dynasty-type league wherein each owner is able to retain any player under the age of 27 with absolutely no penalty. For every player 27 or over, however, that owner must surrender a pick in the following year’s preseason draft, starting with the first round. In other words, unless the player being kept is Albert Pujols, there’s almost zero incentive to keep anyone 27 or over.

This being the case, there’s also little incentive to retain even one player 27 or over heading into the offseason. As such, I’ve made a routine — in those seasons where I’m not right at the top of the standings — to pick up any and every player available under the age of 27. Because it’s a deep league, such a strategy will never net top prospects like the Nationals’ Bryce Harper or Angels’ Mike Trout, but there are enough late-blooming prospects and post-hype sleepers to make it worthwhile. Within the last month of the 2010 season, for example, I acquired pitchers Brandon Beachy, Ivan Nova, Esmil Rogers, and Mark Rogers. If those names look familiar, it’s because each of them is beginning the season in his respective team’s starting rotation.

One could easily level the criticism against this strategy that it doesn’t resemble the way real baseball business is conducted. No team would (or could, actually) just drop talented but older players like Bobby Abreu and Shane Victorino in favor of unproven talent like Brandon Allen or Cory Luebke. But what a perspective like that takes for granted that fantasy baseball ought to replicate actual baseball exactly. Should it? That’s a philosophical question outside the purview of the present article. What that criticism ignores is the joy of mastering a system for its own sake. Playing to what the rules are and not what they should be will elicit more fun (and more league titles) for an owner.

A Very Important Self-Exam

Most readers of this blog are familiar with Socrates’ declaration that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” What fewer people will know is that Socrates was speaking less in a general sense about life and more about fantasy baseball, specifically.

Yes, this is a fact. No, you shouldn’t look it up.

In any case, it’s true: beyond understanding the externals of the fantasy game, like league parameters, opponents’ tendencies and bargains, it’s important to consider matters internal, as well − that is, our own tendencies and biases as fantasy owners.

There are any number of questions an owner can ask oneself so as to reach a better sense of his or her fantasy strengths and weakness. Here are three examinations to get the reader started.

Examination: Are there players who appear on multiple teams for you? None at all, ever? If so, why?

It is, of course, not a bad thing in and of itself to have drafted the same player(s) for multiple teams. The real question to ask is why.

For example, having participated in four or five drafts now in leagues with varying formats, I find that I’ve taken Edinson Volquez in every one of them. Same goes for Josh Beckett and Jordan Zimmermann, in those instances when they haven’t been retained by other owners in keeper formats. In each case, these are pitchers I’ve identified as having great potential for success in 2011 relative to how opposing fantasy owners are valuing them. Volquez and Zimmermann both posted excellent peripheral numbers (strikeout, walk and ground-ball rates) after returning from injury last season. Beckett’s 5.78 earned run average in 127 2/3 innings last season belied peripherals that would have typically generated an E.R.A. of about 4.00.

On the other hand, if there are players you would never, ever, never, ever take, that also deserves attention. If it’s Jason Marquis, that’s one thing − on account of Marquis isn’t particularly great, I mean. But if you avoid Alex Rodriguez because you find him personally objectionable (say, you are a Red Sox fan) , then you’re seriously limiting the available player pool.

Examination: Do you draft straight from a sheet? Do you use a tier system of some kind? Do you go by “feel”?

People play fantasy baseball for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s to stay in touch with friends who live scattered over the country. Sometimes it’s to heap all manner of invective on those same friends. Sometimes it’s to make work go by faster.

If you’re really trying to win your league, however, it’s important to know thyself with regard to draft strategy. We can say, broadly, that a draft occurs in two phases: first, the preparation, and second, the draft itself. While the first of these can be carried out in leisurely fashion, drafts are generally timed and so require flexibility and quickness of thought. Accordingly, some dependable method for adjusting to the constantly changing market that is a league’s available player pool is required.

How best to do this? Far be it from me to be prescriptive about such a thing. “Trial and error” is probably the best answer; however, as I say, for best value, it’s important to adjust to the market that your league owners are creating spontaneously. Are players going for more than you had thought at the beginning of an auction? Hang back and wait to grab some deals. Is there a big gap between the best third baseman and the next one on the list? Pick him up.

Examination: How are your waiver-wire skills? How are they relative to your drafting skills? Your trading skills?

There are three basic ways to acquire talent in fantasy − via the draft, via trade, or via the waiver wire. (The fourth type, via spaceship, is generally only available in the most expensive of leagues). It’s important to evaluate how well you perform in each circumstance.

For example, historically, I’ve been prone to drafting players like Volquez and Zimmermann and Beckett too early in the draft, thus conceding any value they would have otherwise had. Recognizing that tendency, though, has helped me adjust accordingly and extract from such players the value they offer.

Waiver-wire adds are almost entirely a function of effort. If you play in a single league and care about it deeply, chances are you’re on sites like RotoWire, constantly updating player notes, waiting for an announcement about an injury to Closer X so as to pick up the Setup Man Y who’ll replace him. If you’re not willing to put in the effort, chances are you’ll suffer in this category.

Finally, there’s trading. Trading’s unique, of course, because it requires not only a knowledge of player value but also of a trading partner. Sometimes that’s a simple thing. Maybe your friend’s a big Royals fan and is willing to give you Albert Pujols in exchange for Jeff Francoeur. Frequently, things don’t work so tidily. Frequently, we must understand the psychology of our trading partners − and, frequently, if your friends are like mine, this is a frightening prospect.

Notes from Mock Draft Central

Mock Draft Central currently has data from 29 qualifying mock NBA drafts between 10/12/2010 and 10/26/2010.

While this doesn’t necessarily provide enough meaningful data to make definitive statements about changes in average draft position (ADP), there is something for which it’s useful — namely, to look at players with a great deal of range between their earliest and latest selections in mock drafts drafts. From this information, we can attempt to understand why owners might have such varying opinions about said players.

Below, you’ll find five players with considerable range between their earliest and latest draft places. I’ve determined "range" by subtracting a player’s earliest draft place from his latest, and then dividing the difference by said player’s ADP. This way we get not just a "raw" difference (i.e. the difference between earliest and latest) but also the size of that difference relative to how sought-after a player is. Which is to say, the difference between the fifth- and 20th-overall selections is more significant than the 140th and 155th. Furthermore, for those players who’ve gone undrafted in mock drafts, I’ve counted that as the 160th-overall pick.

After that, I’ve provided some of the white-hot commentary that has critics calling Carson Cistulli "one of the few people with the last name Cistulli we’ve ever heard of."

Blam:

Player: Amar’ e Stoudemire, New York
Earliest/Latest/Percent: 12/22/49.1|PERCENT|
White-Hot Commentary: Stoudemire’s 2009-10 season was his weakest, on a per-game basis, of the last four. Basketball Monster has him 22nd on a per-game basis — as compared to 19th, fourth, and 11th from the season that started in 2006-2008. Those three earlier seasons average out to about 11th overall, per-game. Which, that means even 12th could be a bargain this season. Does that mean one ought to ignore last season’s performance? Does that mean that one ought to be drafting Stoudemire in the first round, necessarily? No, and no. What it does mean, however, is that, if you’re the sort who’s going for Stoudemire early in the second round, you’re likely getting even value.

Player: Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Earliest/Latest/Percent: 25/33/25.5|PERCENT|
White-Hot Commentary: It isn’t shocking, per se — but, at the least, very surprising — that Duncan is only 34 years old. He’s been in the league, and one of its best players, for a long time now. Nor is the case much different even now: on a per-minute basis, he scored and rebounded in 2009-10 much has did before that. But his minutes have descreased on a per-game basis each of the last four years. Also, his blocks HAVE actually decresead on rate basis, down to 1.7 per 36 minutes ast year from his career average of 2.3. Now, with DaJuan Blair AND Tiago Splitter both capable of providing minutes as the four and five, Duncan is likely to be saved as much as possible for the playoffs. Err on the side of 33 — if not later.

Player: Kevin Love, Minnesota
Earliest/Latest/Percent: 49/60/19.4|PERCENT|
White-Hot Commentary: When you talk about Carson Cistulli, you’re talking about a guy who likes the hell out of Kevin Love. First, we have Love in 2009-10, establishing himself as one of the best rebounders in the entire NB of A. Next, we have Minnesota trading Al Jefferson to Utah in July, thus freeing up time at the four for Love. Then, we have Love tossing up trey-bombs, hitting 14-of-24 — or 1.8 per game — during the preseason. Seriously, over a quarter of his shots were three-point attempts. Just typing this, right now, makes me want Kevin Love on all my fantasy teams. Verdict: err towards 49th.

Player: Emeka Okafor, New Orleans
Earliest/Latest/Percent: 97/118/18.2|PERCENT|
White-Hot Commentary: Though it’s probably not on the list of best practices so far as fantasy strategy goes, it’s not unusual to develop a irrational fear of, or hatred for, certain players. Okafor is just such a player for this So-Called Expert. For what reason? No idea. Yet, it persists. As recently as 2006-07, Okafor was a top-50 player. Since then, his per-game rankings have done this: 87, 107, 131. Worse yet — and the reason for that last figure — is that the former Husky’s minutes dropped below 30 per game last season. All told, it appears as though quite a bit wil have to go right for Okafor in order for even a 118th-overall pick to be justified. Err on the side of late.

Player: Luis Scola, Houston
Earliest/Latest/Percent: 92/109/16.2|PERCENT|
White-Hot Commentary: Allow me to spit this completely true truth, America: Luis Scola is being undervalued this preseason. Yao Ming, whose absence — along with the trade of Carl Landry — gave Scola an opportunity to break out last season, will be limited to 24 minutes per game to begin this one and is unlikely to play much on the back side of back-to-backs. Moreover, Carl Landry is still gone. As such, Scola is very, very likley a top-100 player. Even if you’ve drafted already, feel very comfortable treating him as such in any trade offers.

Per-game rankings courtesy of Basketball Monster.

Preseason Notes or Something

Notes

Jerryd Bayless: Traded to Hornets. Bayless was traded from Portland to New Orleans Saturday for a conditional first-round pick. As for the fantasy ramifications, there aren’t a ton, really. Andre Miller is still starting in Portland; Chris Paul in New Orleans. Boo-yah.

Nick Collison: Three Weeks Away. The Oklahoman is reporting that Collison, who’s been dealing with a knee injury this preseason, won’t return to the team for at least three weeks. In the meantime, Serge Ibaka figures to benefit in terms of playing time.

Monta Ellis: Plays 53 Minutes in Preseason Game. I think maybe Kevin Payne fell asleep last night before this happened, so just an FYI for everyone: for some reason — no one actually knows why — Warrior coach Keith Smart allowed Monta Ellis to play all 53 minutes of Friday night’s preseason overtime loss to the Lakers.

Andre Iguodala: Wrist Situation? According to the Sixers’ official site, Iguodala sat out Saturday’s practice with a sprained right wrist and is scheduled to undergo an MRI to establish the severity of the injury. On the one hand, it’s likely the team is erring on the side of caution; on the other, the acronym "MRI" is a scary one. Should Iguodala fail to begin the preseason some combination of Evan Turner and Louis Williams would most likely benefit.

Jerry Stackhouse: Signs with Miami. This is very clearly an attempt to fill the void recently created by Mike Miller‘s injury. James Jones and Eddie House are also expected to step into larger roles in Miller’s absence. As to who — if any of them — will be rosterable for fantasy purposes, that remains to be answered.

Charlie Villanueva: Benchy Bench. The Detroit News is reporting that Austin Daye has won the starting power forward position for the Pistons, meaning that Villanueva will come off the bench to begin the season.

Preseason Notes

Super-Important News

Al Jefferson: Nothing Broke. X-rays were negative on Jefferson’s sore/bruised right index finger. There’s no word on his status for Friday’s preseason game, but this is good news.

Mike Miller: Thumb Down. Per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miller appears to have sustained a "serious" thumb injury at Wednesday’s practice. This comes after the swingman injured his ankle in Monday’s preseason game. There’s no word yet on the exact severity of the injury, but any sort of missed time for Miller would be unfortunate, as he was in a position to complement Miami’s Big Three. James Jones started at the two tonight and played 34 pedestrian minutes; Eddie House played 27 minutes.

Adam Morrison: Released by Washington. It’s not news-news, but notable at some level: the Wizards released Morrison on Thursday. He was last seen hanging out with Michael Olowokandi.

Troy Murphy: Back Soon. Murphy (back) is scheduled to return in the second or third game of the regular season. The best part about this news is that it was tweeted by someone named Al Iannazzone.

Martell Webster: Back Situation. According to the T-Wolves’ site, Webster had an MRI on his sore back and will get a second opinion from another doctor. Webster missed Tuesday’s preseason game with the injury and, though he called it minor, the words "second opinion" don’t inspire much confidence. Were Webster to miss time, Wes Johnson would probably benefit the most.

Notable Performances

Carlos Delfino, MIL (at CLE): 34:00 min, 10 pts (4-12 FG, 2-8 3 Pt), 4 reb, 5 ast, 1 stl. The line is less notable than the fact that he got the start and will begin the sesaon as the starter at the three.

Courtney Lee, HOU (at SAN): 25:34 min, 10 pts (5-10 FG, 0-1 3Pt), 2 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk. No big numbers here, but goog all-around production off the bench.

Kevin Martin, HOU (at SAN): 17:03 min, 21 pts (5-8 FG, 4-5 3Pt, 7-7 FT). He didn’t do much else — and he may not do much else during the regular season, but that line is molto efficiente, my friends.

Ramon Sessions, CLE (vs. MIL): 37:02 min, 26 pts (10-19 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 6-6 FT), 3 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl. Maurice Williams was out tending to a personal matter. Sessions was tending to a matter, too — specfically, the matter of making buckets.

At the half|STAR|: Dorell Wright, GS (at LAL): 22:02 min, 9 pts (3-6 FG, 1-2 3Pt, 2-2 FT), 4 reb, 4 ast.

|STAR|Carson Cistulli’s gotta get some shut-eye, America. 

Preseason Notes

Super-Important News

Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass: More Minutes, Possibly. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said Monday that both Anderson and Bass will be part of the Magic’s rotation at the beginning of the season. This is interesting news: both players could be potentially valuable with minutes. Anderson, in particular, owing to his ability to hit threes AND block shots, could have value in the Channing Frye mold.

Rodrigue Beaubois: Will Miss Beginning of Regular Season. Beaubois (foot) remains in a walking boot and will miss the beginning of the regular season. Though we haven’t confirmed it with the Guadeloupe native, this apparently has nothing to do with the widespread strikes currently unfolding in France.

Shaun Livingston: Maybe Healthier. Livingston, who’s been resting recently with fluid in his surgically repaired left knee, did some work in practice Tuesday but did not participate in any contact drills. The general sense is that coach Larry Brown and the Bobcats are being particularly cautious, but that doesn’t make Livingston and less of a fantasy risk.

Corey Maggette: Will Miss Opener with Ankle Thing. Maggette, still recovering from surgery on something called his "peroneal tendons," acknowledged Tuesday that he isn’t close to being ready to play and may miss the start of the regular season. From his mouth: "Right now, it’s not even 80 percent. I’m still going half-speed; I can’t go full throttle yet." What this means is, is Carlos Delfino will begin the season as the Bucks’ starting small forward.

John Salmons: Practices for First Time. Salmons, who’s been dealing with a sprained right knee, practiced Tuesday for the first time since camp opened. Despite the layoff, coach Scott Skiles expects the shooting guard to be fine for the beginning of the season.

Notable Performances

Arron Afflalo, DEN (vs OKC): 38:51 min, 22 pts (7-11 FG, 1-3 3Pts, 7-7 FT). Arron Afflalo isn’t messing around, people. 

Toney Douglas, NY (vs. NJ): 29:40 min, 24 pts (7-12 FG, 3-6 3Pt, 7-8 FT), 6 stl. That makes two consecutive strong performances from Douglas.  

Jordan Farmar, NJ (at NY): 28:08 min, 21 pts (7-16 FG, 5-9 3Pt, 2-2 FT), 7 reb, 5 ast, 3 stl. Farmar’s not projected to have a significant role with the Nets, but that’s a crazy line.

Paul George, IND (at MIN): 26:04 min, 17 pts (6-11 FG, 5-9 3Pt, 0-2 FT), 5 reb. Coach Jim O’Brien has indicated that George will be part of the Pacer rotation.

Roy Hibbert, IND (at MIN): 36:22 min, 27 pts (10-19 FG, 7-10 FT), 16 reb, 6 ast. Booyakasha, is about all you can see as far as that goes.

J.J. Hickson, CHI (vs. PHI): 32:15 min, 22 pts (11-16 FG, 0-1 3Pt), 11 reb. Our man Chris Liss is on record as saying Hickson is "going to be a beast." Of course, he’s said that about, like, 30|PERCENT| of the NBA so far.

Kirk Hinrich, WAS (at DET): 28:15 min, 17 pts (6-11 FG, 4-6 3Pt, 1-2 FT), 4 reb, 2 ast, 3 stl. Most fantasy owners probably have an idea about Hinrich’s skillset. What’s less clear is his role with the Wizards. Tonight, with Gilbert Arenas out, it was as a two guard. He’s also played quite a few minutes at the three.

Notes from Mock Draft Central

Mock Draft Central currently has data from 32 qualifying NBA-type mock drafts between 10/04/2010 and 10/18/2010.

While this doesn’t necessarily provide enough meaningful data to make definitive statements about changes in average draft position (ADP), there is something for which it’s useful — namely, to look at players with a great deal of range between their earliest and latest selections. From this information, we can attempt to understand why owners might have such varying opinions about said players.

Below, you’ll find five players with considerable range between their earliest and latest draft places. I’ve determined "range" by subtracting a player’s earliest draft place from his latest, and then dividing the difference by said player’s ADP. This way we get not just a "raw" difference (i.e. the difference between earliest and latest) but also the size of that difference relative to how sought-after a player is. Which is to say, the difference between the fifth- and 20th-overall selections is more significant than the 140th and 155th. Furthermore, for those players who’ve gone undrafted in mock drafts, I’ve counted that as the 160th-overall pick.

After that, I’ve provided some of the white-hot commentary that America has come to expect from Carson "Ahead of His Time" Cistulli.

Blam:

Player: Boris Diaw, Charlotte
Earliest/Latest/Percent: 89/142/57.4|PERCENT|
White-Hot Commentary: Boris Diaw has a little bit of a Mike Miller thing going on, in that he contributes enough in so many categories that doesn’t need to score to be useful. The problem for 2010-11, however, will be playing time. Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace are going to — in the parlance of our forefathers — are going to "get theirs." And then there’s the presence of Tyrus Thomas to worry about. All told, I’m thinking he’s not a top-100 pick currently.

Player: Antawn Jamison, Cleveland
Earliest/Latest/Percent: 38/56/45.4|PERCENT|
White-Hot Commentary: One thing to say about Jamison is that he’s always gonna be more valuable in nine-category leagues, on account of he doesn’t so much turn the ball over relative to how much he scores. So that’s one thing. Of course, what owners don’t know right now is what sort of role Jamison will take with the post-LeBron Cavs. Me? I’d pick him closer to 38 than 56. He scores, he rebounds, he’ll play big minutes. His free-throw percentage last season (64.7|PERCENT|) was junky, but is also almost 10|PERCENT| lower than his career mark.

Player: Roy Hibbert, Indiana
Earliest/Latest/Percent: 88/145/43.7|PERCENT|
White-Hot Commentary: Hibbert averaged 14.4 minutes per game in the 2008-09 season; last year, that number jumpted to 25.1 minutes. That was enough to make him a rosterable player, as his block numbers (1.6 per game) were considerably above average. This year, he’s almost sure to play at least 30 minutes per game. If I might be perfectly honest with you — and I think we’ve reached that point in our relationship, reader — I actually probably value Hibbert as better than 88th overall. Not much better, but better.

Player: Al Jefferson, Utah
Earliest/Latest/Percent: 25/37/35.5|PERCENT|
White-Hot Commentary: Twelve spots is actually kinda alot in this area of the draft — in this case, the difference between the very beginning of the third, versus the fourth, round. So which is Jefferson? Well, here’s one thing to consider: his per-game values for the three seasons before last year went like this (starting with 2006-07): 53, 39, 14. Last year, he regressed to this 2006-07 ranking, but he was also recovering from knee surgery. If forced to choose, I’d say that — with the combination of steady minutes (say 35 or so per game) and the positive influence of Deron Williams and Utah’s generally fluid passing game — I’d say Jefferson finishes closer to 25th overall this season.

Player: Ben Gordon, Detroit
Earliest/Latest/Percent: 91/124/35.0|PERCENT|
White-Hot Commentary: If, for some weird reason, someone came up to me and was all, "I need a three-pointer hit right now," I’d probably suggest that Ben Gordon take said three-pointer. I mean, there are other guys I’d consider, too — Jason Kapono, Ray Allen, Stephen Curry — but Gordon and his 40.4|PERCENT| career three-point mark would definitely be on the list. Nor is Gordon merely an accurate shooter; he can score in volume, as well. The problem with Gordon — the present incarnation of Gordon — is two-fold. For one, his defense (and lack thereof) will always probably limit his playing time. For two, there are like seventy wing players currently on Detroit’s payroll. Will Bynum, Austin Daye, Richard Hamilton, Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, and Rodney Stuckey are all looking for minutes, too. As a result, Gordon’s unlikely to average much more than 30 minutes per game, relegating him to something more like a 120th- or 130th-type pick.