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Charging the Mound: Players We Loaded Up On

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-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 3:03am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging the Mound

Five of my six drafts are in the can, and my fantasy portfolio is nearly complete. It turns out I've got four players in three of my five leagues (Matt Wieters, Jeff Niemann, Alfonso Soriano and Homer Bailey). Keep in mind one of the leagues in NL Tout and one is AL LABR, so players are only available in a maximum of four leagues, and one is a keeper league, so there are players in it that I had no chance to buy. Of those four, Wieters was really the only one I targeted aggressively, though I do like Soriano and Bailey more than most. Niemann just seemed to come so cheap relative to his performance for 90 percent of the season (it wasn't until after he came back from an injury that he got lit up for about 20 runs in three starts).

Besides those four, I have 22 players in two or more leagues. I love having that kind of overlap because if Wieters and Homer Bailey do break out, I've got a good chance to contend in most if not all of my leagues. If instead I were to hedge across all six leagues, with little overlap, I'd be almost assured of contending out of pure luck because I'd have a stake in everyone who could possibly have a good year, but there'd be almost no chance that most or all of my teams would do well. Included among the players I have in two leagues are some of my staples: Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Alex Gordon, Rickie Weeks and Justin Upton and some new players I thought came at a discount like Trevor Cahill, Francisco Rodriguez, Scott Rolen and Gavin Floyd.

It's one thing to have a sense of players you like heading into draft season and quite another to find out who you liked for the price once you've assembled your teams. Quite often, it's not the same at all.

Are there certain players that disproportionately wind up on your teams? And all things being equal, do you re-up on a player or hedge by taking someone else? Finally, how do you deal with the rooting conflicts of owning players in one league that you're going against in other ones?

One other point I want to address is the notion of Volatility vs. Expected Return – essentially the question of whether you'd prefer to draft a player whose 50th percentile season is worth $20 and 90th worth 30 or one whose 50th is worth $15, but whose 90th is worth $40? At what point do you sacrifice projectable stats for upside?

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound
Date: March 29, 2011 5:01 PM PDT
To: Christopher Liss

I completely buy into the concept of owning a portfolio of players over multiple teams. That's one of the primary objectives of this whole enterprise – to identify guys we think will be able to outperform the public expectation, and then follow through on that process at the draft table. Sure, it's important to master the league's parameters and to find bargains, but the bare essence of this game is to find our guys and roster them. Assuming you go through the painstaking process of evaluating the whole player pool, why not re-double those efforts across multiple leagues?

I used to be more of a hedger, and it's certainly possible to do that given how wide the player pool is (as opposed to football or hoops), but for the reasons you stated, I don't hedge that often now. By that, I mean I'm not going to take both sides of a 50-50 battle (like Jacob McGee on one team and Kyle Farnsworth on the other), when I have the choice of both for the slot. Then you start getting into the problem of prioritizing leagues rather than trying to play them straight up. Of course some leagues end up being more important than others, more so if you have a financial stake or a long-standing membership in them. But I'd rather not have to try to manage my teams that way.

One exception to that concept is if I'm trying out a new strategy in one of my leagues. If that's the case, I'm frequently opening the door to rostering a particular player or type of player that I normally wouldn't own. In that case, I'll occasionally end up on the other side of that coin flip. I'm in 14 leagues this year, of various formats, so that opens the door to that type of experimentation. Ron Shandler from frequently does this with his AL Tout Wars teams – though he has better names for his plans (LIMA, Mayberry, etc ...).

Twelve of my 14 leagues have drafted already, and given the different formats I'm playing in (Scoresheet, Strat-o-matic, dynasty, redraft) I'm going to have some different priorities in rostering guys, but here are some of my common players:

Drew Stubbs – I've covered his merits frequently enough in this space, so let's just move on.

Alexi Casilla – I like to be able to get speed from my middle infielders, preferably from later/cheaper players, and Casilla perfectly fits this need. He qualifies at both second base and shortstop in most leagues and has a full-time starting gig at the beginning of the season for the first time in his career. Of course there's some risk he flops, but I believe in his speed.

Michael Brantley – Also fits the "late speed" meme, albeit from the outfield. In my AL auctions typically he and Peter Bourjos are the last two outfield stolen base choices out there, both in drafts and in auctions, but Brantley has been more affordable.

Randy Wolf – Wolf fits the "old and boring" pitcher type I spoke of last week, as guys that frequently fall. For a late buck, or even as a reserve pick in one NL only league, I'm pretty happy to end up with him. Not every $1 pitcher has to be a young guy that can blow up.

Geovany Soto – The upset here was that I rostered Soto in Friends & Family, but then again, your other catcher target has been Wieters, who you ended up with. As far as I'm concerned, the only question mark with Soto is health – when healthy, his rate stats should make him the fifth or sixth best catcher in baseball, and he's typically costing less than that.

Addressing your final question, I think the natural tendency of the vast majority of fantasy players is to prefer the $15/$40 guy, and you'll see that reflected in draft results. But the disagreement comes in what really is a player's 50th percentile projection in the first place – witness the wide range of comments regarding your Michael Stanton pick in the F&F league, both here and especially in your blog entry breaking down your team. Determining that 50th percentile projection isn't as cut-and-dried as it might seem (and I'm not saying you're making it so), but the conflict in some eyes might be whether that guy is a 10/40 player or a 15/40 in the first place. That tug on the extra five dollars of projection matters. Of course, some are more concerned with a player's floor than his ceiling – and that's not necessarily wrong. I'd be more worried about that floor in a 12-team NL only league than a 10-team mixed, naturally. But let's take F&F – winning really is the only thing that matters – there's no cash on the line. Why not take more tilts at windmills, especially when you can find that $5-$10 50th percentile guy on the waiver wire all the time?

Lastly, you mentioned that there's a number of guys that you like but don't end up rostering. We're done drafting against each other. Who are the ones that got away?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 12:31am
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound

One guy I kept meaning to roster, but never got around to was Aroldis Chapman. I just missed him by one pick in my home league draft tonight as a reserve. I know he's just a set-up guy, and he got shelled in his last outing, but I'm disappointed not to have a guy with a 104 mph fastball on at least one of my six teams. I did get Dexter Fowler in my home league, who I had missed out on until then. And not that I was targeting him, but I got Ty Wigginton with the last pick in my draft (15-team mixed) as a MI, and I'm strangely excited about that. I also got Rick Porcello for the first time as my last starting pitcher.

I missed out completely on most of the star pitchers. No Halladay, Lincecum, King Felix, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, C.C. Sabathia or Josh Johnson. I did get Jon Lester in one league and Cole Hamels in another, but for the most part I went with third tier guys like Jeremy Hellickson, Brian Matusz, Michael Pineda and Floyd, and am fine with it.

Other players I wanted but missed out on were: Mark Teixeira, Matt Kemp, Ichiro, Mark Reynolds and Max Scherzer. It seemed like I was constantly one pick away, or filled up at those spots and in need of other positions.

My last point was more that a player's 50th percentile – whatever you think that is – might not matter as much as his 90th percentile, so long as his market value dictates that you have to draft him now or seriously risk not owning him. The market enforces the floor, and you need to concern yourself only with ceiling. The only mistakes you can make are (1) drafting a player in Round x who will be available in Round x+1; and (2) Not drafting a player with the highest 90th percentile numbers. If you don't make either mistake, I'd argue you'll typically optimize your chances for winning the league.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound
Date: March 30, 2011 5:59:06 PM PDT
To: Christopher Liss

I too missed out on Chapman everywhere – and I'll cop to wanting to own the breakout guys on my favorite team just a little bit more. If he explodes this year, it'll hurt just a little bit to not own him. But at the same time, I think the pool of breakout pitchers is so vast that if I miss out on one of them, there will be plenty others that I snag.

I've wanted to own Stephen Drew in a number of leagues. I'm a believer in his speed skills and manager, and how that could translate into more stolen bases this year. If there's a shortstop who could bridge the gap between the second tier (loosely consisting of Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter and Alexei Ramirez) and the third tier (Drew, Elvis Andrus, Starlin Castro, Rafael Furcal and Ian Desmond), I think it's Drew. But the market as a whole has priced him up, and I haven't yet come along for the ride. It looks like I'll get shut out of owning him, though if this abdominal strain turns out to be worse than initially advertised, I may end up getting saved from myself.

Stanton is another one that got away. I think I grabbed him in two or three magazine mock drafts and/or auctions – I know I got him in the RotoWire Mock Auction and I'm pretty sure I bought him in the Yahoo magazine auction, too – but since then his price has gone up or I've been shut out in keeper leagues.

Finally, you might be right about whether the 50th percentile projection matters or not, but clearly those that were arguing with your Stanton pick don't view drafts in that prism. Because I think that even Mike Salfino (the most vocal of your critics) can see your case for his 90th percentile, and we had confirmation from Derek Carty that you had a pretty good chance of not being able to snag Stanton with your fifth round pick, so we had a market established for him. Maybe it's a case that Mike (and others) were more fixated on his 20th percentile projection, but I tend to think there was a pretty firm disagreement from them that the market value was his 50th percentile value. And that's the crux of the argument whenever someone declares a pick a "reach" or a "bargain."