How To Win In Fantasy Sports
I was reading Larry Schechter's "Winning Fantasy Baseball" book, wherein he identifies the underpinnings of his uncanny run of expert and high-stakes league success. He writes:
The real keys to my success have always been my auction and draft strategy as well as in-season management. I doubt I've ever won a league primary because I had a better set of player dollar values than everyone else.
We had Dalton Del Don on the radio a few weeks ago, and I asked him how he'd done so well in fantasy football leagues in recent years (this year nine of his 10 teams made the playoffs), and he said it was more his approach to the draft/auction than having any special insight into the players. Peter Schoenke made the playoffs in 10 of his 12 leagues this year, and before the season, he had been advocating going WR-WR in the first two rounds, something that's panned out far better than going with RBs early this year.
Perhaps then it's more reliable to find an edge in draft strategy than it is in player projection, especially now that people have access to a variety of well-thought-out projections, ADP lists and cheat sheets.
Because any strategy can win given the right players, there are likely many lower-probability strategies that have won and with which people are sticking on that basis. If you find a higher-probability strategy, for example, possibly Schoenke's WR-WR one based on a lower early-pick bust rate, you'll have a better chance of winning, despite using a roughly similar by-position cheat sheet as everyone else.
Of course, patterns in football (and other sports) change. In 2011, the top-five quarterbacks were monsters. In 2012, it paid to fade them. This year, it's in-between. Ten years ago, it was worth spending huge auction dollars on Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson or Priest Holmes because even though as RBs their chances of busting were high, their healthy upsides were massive. This year, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy have been great, but nowhere near Alexander/Tomlinson/Holmes. And they came with just as much risk.
To win consistently then, one cannot simply "always wait on quarterbacks" or "always go WR-WR in the first two rounds." The strategic edge doesn't come from the specific recipe to follow but the ability to find the faulty assumptions underlying prevailing conventional wisdom. If top running backs were priced like they might score 25-plus touchdowns but none were likely to eclipse 20, then snagging two among an historically good crop of top-six receivers makes little sense. But if those receivers move into the first round next year, that loophole will have closed, and you'll have to look elsewhere. I'd love to hear specific suggestions in the comments about what to do in that case.
Those Yahoo! Bots Are Harsh
Here's the write-up of my playoff loss to DDD in the Y! Friends and Family League:
Playoffs: Y! - Del Don Punishes RotoWire_Liss
Y! - Del Don got the highest score this week from LeSean McCoy (38.85), dismantling RotoWire_Liss 172.38 - 105.24. The playoff win was memorable, with the 67.14-point margin of victory being the fifth-highest recorded in the league this season. This is a repeat performance for Y! - Del Don over RotoWire_Liss, after a 135.97 - 113.01 win in Week 5. To make matters worse, RotoWire_Liss got zero points from Alex Henery. RotoWire_Liss ended the regular season in sixth place with a record of 7-6. Perhaps benefiting from some good fortune, they ranked just 12th in the league in scoring average at 110.51 points per game. This postseason, RotoWire_Liss was bounced early, losing in their only playoff game.
Seriously, if that were was a person, he'd want to steer clear of me at the next FSTA event in Vegas. As if I'm to blame because my kicker wasn't used in a 34-20 blizzard?
Jason Garrett is Even Worse Than We Thought
When you routinely criticize a player or coach, it's easy to fall into a kind of confirmation bias where you see only the negative and block out the positive. You cease to notice when he does the right thing or makes a good play and only see those boneheaded decisions in line with your prior image of him. So while I've piled on Jason Garrett for two seasons now, I secretly assumed I was probably exaggerating how bad he really was. Until during the Monday night game against the Bears down 13 in the third quarter, he punted on 4th-and-4 in Bears territory. After which the Bears got the ball near their own 10 and drove down for a game-sealing touchdown.
When Dallas got the ball back, they drove to roughly the same place on the field where they'd punted earlier, and got to 4th-and-9. Now down 21 at the end of the third quarter, the Cowboys had to go for it - even Garrett knew that. After Tony Romo inexplicably threw the ball away in the face of the blitz (why not throw it up for grabs on fourth down?), ESPN's Mike Tirico said something stunning: This was the first time all year the Cowboys had gone for it on fourth down. It took Garrett more than 13 and a half weeks to take that risk. Then Tirico added it was the latest in history a team had gone without attempting a fourth down conversion.
So even Among NFL coaches incentivized to do the cowardly thing rather than the mathematically correct one, Garrett is an historical outlier.
Week 14 Observations
• There were 90 touchdowns scored on Sunday, breaking the previous one-day record of 87. When you include the Thursday and Monday night games, it was the most points ever scored in an NFL weekend.
The bad weather didn't hurt on that front, with teams going for it rather than kicking field-goals, and defenses slipping around while chasing LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Ross and Cordarrelle Patterson. But the weather did hurt certain players like Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Nick Foles. The bottom line - while touchdowns were up, field goals were down, and there were fewer crisp passing TDs in the bad weather stadiums even if overall scoring totals were at record highs.
• Favorites went 13-1 straight up on Sunday, the only loss being the Steelers. Overall they went 14-2 on the week with the Texans being the other. (Had Antonio Brown - more on that below - not stepped out of bounds, they would have gone 14-0 Sunday and 15-1 overall).
• The Giants were unwatchable, and so for the first time in several years, I actually didn't watch much of the game. The offense hasn't looked crisp since the second half of Week 1 against the Cowboys. When a Twitter follower invited me to dump the Giants for the Cowboys, I told him that was Plan C. Plan A was stick with the Giants, Plan B was kill myself.
• If that was the best the 49ers could do at home, they have no chance in Seattle. It's too bad Aaron Rodgers might not return. While Seattle is technically undefeated at home the last two years, it was Rodgers who actually beat them but for an insane call by the replacement refs. The only team that looks capable of beating the Seahawks in Seattle is the Saints in New Orleans. But I don't think we'll see that match-up, barring a change in the laws of physics.
• The No. 1 players (arguably) at three key positions, Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson and Rob Gronkowski caused a lot of people to get knocked out of their playoffs. You have to feel pretty fortunate if you have Johnson and a first-round bye.
• The Broncos got touchdowns for Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. Who says there isn't enough to go around?
• Seeing Andrew Luck blow up against the Bengals on the road makes you wonder what would happen if Luck played in Marc Trestman's offense rather than Pep Hamilton's. Good quarterbacks need to sling the ball down the field and if receivers get hurt, you find new ones who can give the QB a chance. Da'Rick Rodgers was freely available, and it's bizarre Indy waited until the team was down three scores in Cincinnati to open things up. Forget about a power running game, forget about time of possession. Just turn Luck loose and get out of the way.
• Andy Dalton had a good game and has good match-ups down the stretch (@PIT, vs. MIN), but I wouldn't start him unless I were backed into a corner. Gio Bernard is already one of the top-10 real-life backs in the league, maybe top-five.
• For a good visual of how crazy the Vikings-Ravens finish was, click here.
• Matt Ryan had a disappointing day against a beatable Packers defense. Roddy White saw 10 targets and caught eight, but it was mostly short stuff. They get the Redskins at home next week, so Ryan will still merit consideration.
• This is baseball-related but if anyone wants to see an example of sports journalism done right, click here for a devastating takedown of the Seattle Mariners front office, that uses real sources willing to go on the record. Interestingly, one of the sources, Tony Blengino, used to run RotoWire's minor-league coverage.
• I've seen others (including @markstopa) mention this, but it really is crazy the Steelers lost due to Antonio Brown accidentally stepping on the sideline one week after Mike Tomlin stepped onto the field to distract Jacoby Jones. Karma usually works mysteriously and subtly, not obviously and heavy-handedly like that. Of course, had Brown not stepped out of bounds, the league would have had to investigate whether there was a forward lateral on the play, but it might well have been too close to call, and you wonder if the refs would have had the stones to overturn it in Pittsburgh. Now that it doesn't matter, it's possible the league rules on it and costs Antonio Brown owners some yards, something that could swing some playoff match-ups.
• The Texans-Jaguars game was actually close, but it was poorly played, and the penalties made it unbearable to watch. Houston actually set a record with 177 penalty yards. You combine that with the Cialis commercials, and you have a recipe for armed revolt.
• Given Toby Gerhart's performance, maybe Adrian Peterson is just a system back.
• Who's had a more trying year, Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez?
• How is it possible Dez Bryant saw two targets in a 49-17 loss to the Saints and four targets in a 45-28 loss to the Cowboys? Aren't these the games your star receiver is supposed to rack up the garbage-time production?
• Nick Foles, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Michael Vick and Philip Rivers all have higher YPA marks than Peyton Manning's 8.39. But Manning is on pace for 55 TDs (Tom Brady's record is 50) and 5,566 yards (Drew Brees' record is 5,476).
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