RotoWire Partners

Charging the Mound: Erickson and Liss Talk Baseball

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
Subject: Re: Charging Trending
From: Jeff Erickson
Date: March 22, 2011 5:30 PM PDT
To: Christopher Liss

Hey Chris, we're starting to have most of our important drafts LABR and now Tout Wars are in the books and by the time you write your first response we'll have also completed Yahoo Friends & Family. I want to talk about some of the draft results we've seen so far. There's a number of guys that by the end of draft season tend to get bid up higher than you'd otherwise expect due to the hive-mind effect I believe exists in this industry. Sometimes it turns out that a guy can outperform even those expectations (Carlos Gonzalez comes to mind), but more often than not any sort of profit potential gets wiped out due to this effect (see also, Gordon Beckham or Brett Anderson in 2010). On the other hand, there are certain guys that plunge precipitously in the industry drafts. Here are some of the players that have been subject to those effects so far.

Trendy Players

Drew Stubbs My projections and rankings for Stubbs have put me on Stubbs Island, or so I once thought. Despite his high strikeout rate and variable lineup slot last season, he still managed to go 20-30, and finished with a huge second half. He's already been named the leadoff hitter for the Reds, hitting in front of Joey Votto. He could end up being a monster, even with a small fallback in power. When I put together the RotoWire 200, the idea is to rank the players roughly in the order of the value that they'd return, while accounting for positional and categorical scarcity, and not try to speculate on where you can get the player. So even though Stubbs comes in around 60-65 overall for me, usually that's a full 30-40 picks higher than where he'll go in many drafts, and maybe 80-100 over the average. Sure enough, his Mock Draft Central ADP is 156, but his "Expert Drafts" ADP there is 109, and his average pick on Yahoo is 83.0. In NL Tout Wars, Scott Wilderman paid $27 for him, which was the same price he paid for Jayson Werth and was $1 more than Jason Heyward, Andre Ethier, Colby Rasmus and Shane Victorino. It's not that this isn't proper, but I was hoping to grab him later in leagues and book a profit on him. Of course, after seeing these results, I reached for my guy in F&F at 5.1 pick number 57. He fit what I needed at the time a speed guy with some power potential, and he would not have lasted another 26 picks but I hate losing out on the profit potential.

Jordan Zimmermann Zimmermann was an interesting prospect before his Tommy John elbow surgery, and before the injury in 2009 he struck out over a batter per inning and had a FIP ERA that was a full run lower than his 4.63 actual ERA. I can understand why people are high on him, but I think his breakout is getting priced in before it happens. His MDC ADP is 178, but on Yahoo it's much higher at 227.8. He went for $12 in NL Tout, $13 in NL LABR. It's not an entirely unreasonable price, but there are many others I'd like to own before taking the plunge on him.

Edwin Encarnacion This is one player I thought I could get cheap at Tout Wars. After all, he's coming off of two miserable, injury-marred seasons and spent the offseason getting passed back and forth in a non-tender war between the Jays and A's, he's a terrible defender that doesn't have a position, and he's a pretty high risk to your batting average. Yet despite his flaws, his power is completely legit 21 homers in only 332 at-bats last year plus a 26-homer season under his belt in 2008. I bought him late in the RotoWire Staff Keeper League and hope to get him in F&F. But in AL Tout, there was a four-way bidding war on him, driving his price all the way up to $17, and Jason Collette, who got the pyrrhic victory for his services, said he would have gone at least another $2 on him.

Anti-Trendy Players

Michael Young Today's F&F draft was just the latest example of seeing a guy fall down the charts well below his default ranking. Even before his trade demand, I'd been in drafts where his stock has fallen considerably. This drop came despite the rumors he could end up in Colorado, playing second base no less. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in love with his game, but he usually hits 20 homers and often hits for high average, with a lot of at-bats. It's not as if this is a Scoresheet league where his defense or his lack of walks really penalizes us. He went 121st in today's draft, well below his ADP's or Yahoo's pre-set rankings.

Bobby Abreu Sure, there's a chance last year's batting average drop is for real, and he falls off the cliff, but I kind of liken him to Derek Jeter, in that there's a pretty reasonable chance of a rebound for a player that's reliably at least a 15-homer, 20-stolen base guy. It's not as if he'll bust out and have a career-year, but often the so-called declining veterans provide real value. He was taken 127th overall in the F&F draft, which is around his regular MDC ADP, but higher than his "experts" ADP.

Aubrey Huff The presumption here is Huff had a career year and will regress to the mean. That might be true, but what is the mean? His 2009 season seems to me to be well below his mean, and when I see where he's been getting drafted, that's what a large percentage of the crowd perceives as his likely result rather than his floor. I'd rather take him than Ike Davis or Gaby Sanchez, to name two at his position that have regularly gone before him or been auctioned off for more.

Any Starting Pitcher over the age of 32 We all love to stock up on pitchers like Zimmermann, Brian Matusz, Brett Anderson and Jeremy Hellickson, and for good reason, but pitchers often peak later in terms of their overall results and can sustain that peak later into their careers. They often have their velocity peak right as they are reaching the major leagues, and thus have to adjust to pitching a little differently against major league hitters after their top-velocity is gone. So while we're looking for breakout pitchers in the middle rounds of the draft, we'll often overlook the steady but older pitcher, like Ryan Dempster or Ted Lilly.

Who are some of the trendier players you've seen in your drafts so far, and who has fallen in those same drafts? Can we profit from these trendy and anti-trendy guys? Or is it likely that we'll see different trends in our home league drafts?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 12:22am
Subject: Re: Charging Trending

I think some of the trendiness of players is due to groupthink, but also some is probably due to everyone getting up to speed on certain guys as we research for our drafts. For example, I was in ">AL LABR and researched the American League in depth for it. But I sat next to Dalton Del Don for NL LABR and was shocked to see Derek Carty buy Mike Stanton for $27, just $2 less than what Justin Upton went for. After all, wasn't he just a high strikeout 21-year old in a pitcher's park who could easily regress from last year and get sent down? Maybe. But as NL Tout came around last week, and I gave Stanton a closer look, I noticed he'd hit 21 homers in just 192 Double-A at-bats before getting called up last year and hitting 22 homers in 359 major-league at-bats. And that his work ethic is apparently off the charts, that he might have more raw power than anyone in baseball and that he had a big September/October. While I didn't buy him at Tout (where he went for $24), I did roll the dice on him in the 4th round today. Bottom line, after doing more research, I wanted to own some shares, and was willing to pay retail for them.

There's a quote from a famous investor from the 1920's I don't remember exactly, but it's something about how he got rich by never buying at the absolute low or selling at the absolute high. In other words, it's okay to buy on the way up, and sell before the peak. Or put differently, just because you didn't get in at the absolute bottom, it would be foolish not to get in at all. Stanton was the guy I preferred to take at that time, and since Carty was in this draft, and picking twice before I went again, I thought I might not get another crack at Stanton. I don't see it with Zimmerman or Encarnacion, but maybe I haven't looked closely enough. Stubbs seemed about right given his power/speed combo, lineup and park.

As for the anti-trendy players, sometimes they can be good values. I like to buy the Scott Rolens and Lance Berkmans in deeper formats, but in a 14-team mixed league, I'll usually roll the dice on younger guys. I did draft A-Rod with the eighth overall pick, tabbed Rafael Furcal as my starting shortstop, made Josh Beckett my second starter and got Alfonso Soriano in the 14th round, but for the most part I went with younger players, and they tend to be more trendy.

Is there anyone else whose price tag has gone up the last couple weeks? I just found out I pick 13th in my home league draft next week, and I'm almost sure I won't get A-Rod. He's lean and mean this spring and says he feels great. An inner-cicle Hall of Famer is still a monster at age 35 as long as he's healthy. I think Rickie Weeks is going higher lately, too. Maybe it's because Chase Utley's hurt, and high-end options at second are thinner, or maybe people are realizing that this one-time injury risk played 160 games last year. Either way he was just $20 in LABR, and I had to go $24 to get him at Tout. And he went at 3.9 today.

But I'm not sure how much you can use something like that in your leagues. It's a rare case when you know exactly whether to take Player A or Player B on the assumption that the other one will be there on the way back 10 picks later no matter how much ADP research you do. Usually, it's more a matter of how your fellow owners' rosters are constructed, or whether they have pet players. For example, I knew I wasn't getting Jay Bruce in Round 4 with Dalton Del Don picking second in the round and went with Stanton instead. But most of the time, I have no idea who's going to take which player.

-----Original Message-----
Subject: Re: Charging Trending
From: Jeff Erickson
Date: March 23, 2011 5:53:02 PM PDT
To: Christopher Liss

I had no idea how appropriate this topic would be, but your pick of Stanton has set off a firestorm of comments on our blog. I'll reiterate here what I've said elsewhere about that pick and the concept of reaching generally "playing it safe early, taking risks late" is the new "buy low, sell high." Sometimes you have to reach, even when the industry has driven up the price on a given player.

Unfortunately, the best way to use the trendiness factor is to force yourself to reach on your guys. As you used the information on Stanton, and I did with Stubbs, we can calculate the likelihood that a guy we're high on is going to be available the next time our pick comes around, and if not, whether it's worth it to reach. I guess it pushes us to be more "genius" drafters rather than "agnostic" ones. But that's the nature of a snake draft as opposed to an auction, isn't it?

Another area where prices have gone up are players that have "won" job battles, specifically closers. Compare the cost of getting Matt Thornton 10 days ago to the cost of getting him today. He's always had good skills, but now he definitely has the job. He's getting priced in as a top-10 closer in most leagues, including F&F, where he was the ninth closer taken at 8.11. Again, that may not be improper, but he's more expensive.

I have a couple of those anti-trendy guys on my roster, too. Jason Bay, who I think you drafted in NL Tout, went to me at the end of the 10th round. Derrek Lee, who's a big injury mess right now, went at 16.14 which is why I backed him up with both Matt LaPorta immediately and Brandon Belt later on as a speculative pick. Both of those guys hovered for a long time in my default rankings and in the Yahoo draft tool. I'm not in love with them, but they should be useful.

-----Original Message-----
Subject: Re: Charging Trending
From: Christopher Liss
Date: March 23, 2011 6:33:02 PM PDT
To: Jeff Erickson

Wouldn't it be great if we could just get every huge ceiling player at his public league ADP? Even in my home league you can't do that these days, and so you have to aggressive. Think of it this way: every draft slot has a dollar value. The seventh pick of the fourth round of a 14-team league (49th overall) is probably about $25. The problem you have as a drafter is that you must spend $25. Let's say you think Stanton is worth $27, but that he'd go for $22 on the open market. In that case Stanton is both a good pick AND a reach. It's a reach because you could have got him had you drafted in the $23 slot 12 picks later, but it's a good pick because in your opinion he's worth more than your slot.

The mistake people make is getting a player they think is worth $26 and the market thinks is worth $27 in the $25 slot over Stanton. In that case, you made a reasonable pick, and certainly didn't reach, but you also allowed the market to bully you off the player you believed had the most value. The ADP or market is simply what that player's gone for in the past. Usually when people rip me for making a certain pick, they'll just yell about how much of a reach I made. What they're really saying is that I deviated badly from ADP. I picked out of turn. A good critique of my pick would be making the case that my valuation (which is all that's important because it's my team) is wrong. If my valuation is right, it doesn't matter how out of turn I went unless that player would have been available in the next round. So long as that's not the case, the only critique you can make about my pick is that my valuation was wrong. And yelling "reach" isn't that. You have to attack the basis for my valuation. Which is harder to do because I didn't come upon it without a fair amount of research, experience and deliberation.