RotoWire Partners

Charging the Mound: Liss and Erickson 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-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 10:28 pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

I'm starting to regret being in eight leagues again, nine if you count our scoresheet league, but I don't do much for that. This week, I botched a LABR bid (I guess I was supposed to have a drop for every add, unlike Tout Wars where you get the guy and have to find someone to drop before the week starts) so Buxton is in my OF again rather than some active scrub, I picked up David Murphy for Avisail Garcia in my home league, but accidentally left Murphy on the bench and Josh Hamilton in my lineup, and in Tout I made the boneheaded decision to leave Drew Pomeranz (in the event Scott Kazmir missed a start) in my lineup instead of Roenis Elias who dominated the Rangers already and faces the Marlins later this week. The latter move wasn't an accident, but it was a bad decision made in haste and one I might not have made were Tout my only league, or say one of three or four leagues. Most of my energy is going toward the NFBC Main Event league, and what's left over goes mainly to the online version. AL LABR and Tout are low maintenance enough that you can skate by without doing a whole lot, but ideally you want to be pursuing trades and in Tout keeping track of minor league developments and seeing which players are available.

What I'm starting to realize is to do NFBC properly, you can't throw in a couple bids and hope for the best. You have to be up on a lot of players in the free agent pool - who they're facing the next couple weeks and in what parks, whether they have a series at Coors Field over the weekend, whether the Rockies are starting lefties or righties that weekend, what their platoon splits are, etc. There are 420 people in the contest, and my guess is at least 250 of them are serious players. We talked about the distinction between season-long and daily games, but the NFBC is almost a blend of the two given how focused you need to be on both the long and short term to win the whole thing.

I think next year I'll do the FSTA draft, but co-draft it and/or tab an intern to do the moves. Schuler does most of our weekly Staff Keeper League work, so I'd be down to six. But even then, that's more than I'd like on a Sunday. My problem is I'm down to only very good leagues. I wouldn't quit Tout or LABR or the Yahoo! Friends and Family League, and that leaves NFBC (no chance with all that money involved) and my home league. I could quit my home league, but I won't. It's relatively low maintenance, and despite some bizarre rules (no utility, no WHIP, free agents every two weeks), it's still enjoyable. Plus first place is about $2100, and while I'm not as big a favorite as I once was - people have wised up - I still have a positive expected return.

How many leagues are you in? Do you feel you're spread too thin, and it's causing some unforced errors? How many hours a week would it take to manage your teams optimally?

A couple other thoughts before I turn this over to you:

The closer carnage is unreal this year, and maybe instead of Mariano Rivera having a ridiculous farewell tour, this is the real tribute to his career now that he's finally retired. Consider who was slated to start the year in the role - Casey Janssen, Jim Henderson, Bobby Parnell, David Robertson, Jim Johnson, Aroldis Chapman, Nate Jones and Jose Veras - have either lost the job or been hurt, and the others who still have jobs but are pitching horribly - Joe Nathan, Ernesto Frieri, John Axford, Trevor Rosenthal, Joakim Soria and Matt Lindstrom. Plus, two elite closers - Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara are now complaining of shoulder problems. Middle-of-the-road options like Steve Cishek and Grant Balfour now appear to be among the safest bets because so many guys ahead of them have fallen apart. But we're only two weeks into the season. Is this going to stabilize or did Rivera take all of the stability with him into retirement?

Similarly can we trust any starting pitchers? Clayton Kershaw will be out a month, Cliff Lee and Stephen Strasburg look shaky early on, Justin Verlander's been pitching to contact and is coming off a down year, Alex Cobb after a great start is now out six weeks, Mat Latos and Taijuan Walker just had setbacks in their rehab, and a few players like Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Jarrod Parker and Matt Moore are already done for the year. Sure Jose Fernandez, Felix Hernandez and Yu Darvish look great now, but if one of them gets shelled in his next outing, how much confidence do you have to write it off as a fluke rather than worrying it's the result of an injury?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 5:40 pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging

You're absolutely right - it's so difficult to do this right when you have a bunch of leagues. Just think if we didn't work in fantasy sports for a living! I play in 12 leagues (which, ahem, is up from last year, and against my vow to pare down), plus four Scoresheet Leagues and a Strat-o-matic league. Add in the time that daily fantasy baseball takes, and you've got a recipe for easy errors.

And so it happens. Today, I was out of pocket this morning until 10:00, so of course there were two games that started at 9:35, and of course both teams had players in my daily moves leagues that I messed up. Desmond Jennings got rained out yesterday, so he was on my bench in Y!F&F, and I didn't get a chance to get him active in time. I also have Neil Walker, who was active, but in a UT spot rather than a MI, and that messed up my positional flexibility in another league - if anyone knows a commish service where you can change the position of a player that's already started his game, but not whether he's active or reserved, please let me know, as it's an underrated aspect of managing your daily roster. A week ago on Monday I messed up one of my weekly lineups thanks to there being a handful of day games, and naturally that player that was accidentally benched had a big week while my left-in player did nothing.

What's amazing to me is that the NFBC is comprised of so many serious players that play in a bunch of NFBC contests - in many cases, more than 10 leagues between their Main Event, Auction, Online Championship and Primetime leagues, let alone the Draft Champions that have lineups but no FAABs. They manage these well, and still find time to do their day jobs. Did they drop their home leagues and other contests? Or are they superior at managing their time? Due they actually have families? If we have a hard time staying on top of all our leagues, how do they do it? Maybe it's *because* they don't have to write and talk about their leagues.

I bookmark all of my leagues in one folder, and I open all of them up in tabs. I check each league each morning when I first settle down for work, which is typically 20-30 minutes before we do the show. I didn't do that today, though, because I had to take the kids to school and was volunteering there for two hours. Guess I have to get up earlier on Wednesdays, or stop playing in leagues with daily moves. But we all know that the latter isn't happening.

I'm starting to think I need to keep a running spreadsheet to log all of my free agent ideas for my leagues. Maybe that way I can keep better track of where someone is available whenever I get an idea on a player. For instance, when Jose Valverde let the rockets red glare against Arizona today, I scrambled to pick up Carlos Torres in F&F (and I already own Gonzalez Germen there) - but maybe I need to add an entry every time there's an event like that in the spreadsheet to remind myself to check on those players in my weekly pickup leagues, rather than have to do it all at once on Sunday in my five leagues that have free agent moves there. That way the prep work is done in advance, so I can be proactive rather than reactive. But to do that right requires a ton of daily maintenance, lest you have a lot of stale data. Still, it's a worthy experiment.

I would like to crowd-source it a little bit, and use our readers and listeners as a resource - if you're in multiple leagues, how do you coordinate all of the related activity? What's been your biggest time-saver? For those with excel shortcuts, don't be stingy with that information.

All in all, I probably spend 25 hours a week on my leagues - that's just an estimate. Each league has its ebbs and flows in terms of time spent, depending on whether I have a tough free agent decision, or need to work a trade. Maybe it's more, maybe less - I'm guessing roughly two hours per team per week.

Even Kenley Jansen, who I *still* am trying to find a way to buy low, is off to a rough start. I agree with Jensen Lewis in suggesting that the hooks from managers are coming way too quickly. It seems surreal that we're in a low run scoring environment, yet so many closers are struggling. I can't resolve that disconnect. My guess is that it has to stabilize, but maybe that's wishcasting, or a reflex because I don't really know why they've been so bad to begin with.

It's funny how much our "invest in aces" model has flipped on us, but then again, how many of them are hard throwers that are just battling typical early season woes? The injuries seem stark, but I can't really identify an overarching trend yet. We lost so many starters in spring training that it made the push to get aces early even more of an imperative in our late drafts, as we saw the aces fly off the board in our respective NFBC drafts. I don't think that the Darvish, Fernandez and Wainwright owners regret their decisions, but maybe a few others do. If Scherzer gets bombed in his next outing, unless there's a big drop in his velocity or something like that, I'm confident I'll write it off as a fluke.

Let me ask you about two players that caught my attention in the last 24 hours. George Springer already has gotten the call by the Astros - good of them not to worry about Super Two status, as he's clearly killing it at Triple-A. What do you expect from him this year? Which big-time prospect next gets the call - Gregory Polanco? The other player I wanted to acknowledge was Devin Mesoraco - I think they should put him in at 4th or 5th in the batting order right now. I know they'll start to hit better at home when the weather warms up, but runs are so hard for them to come by right now - get your best hitters closer together, I say.

Anyone else catch your eye in the last 24 hours?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 9:45pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging

Wow - 25 hours per week? I probably spend 10, and that's too much given the other things going on in my life. On Sunday I spent about four or five hours making moves, and that was after setting them up quickly for an hour on Friday night. It was a beautiful day, and I was sitting in my office feeling like my life was wasting away. If I win the $125K that would be fantastic - and the research also informs my baseball and fantasy knowledge generally - but it seemed crazy to be stuck indoors all day on a supposed off day just trying to handicap match-ups and park effects for some marginal 15-team league pitchers. Even worse, my decision was bad - I dropped Dillon Gee for Josh Collmenter, and the former pitched a seven innings of shutout ball while the later lasted only four innings against the Mets and gets the Dodgers later in the week. Actually, I was going to sit Gee in Arizona anyway, so I would have been just as bitter with him on my bench. (I also had Wily Peralta on my bench yesterday). Hopefully, Gee gets shelled in the first outing I would have used him, and I'll feel better about it.

I'm okay with excel, but not good enough to set up the system I need where the MLB schedule, average runs scored, team OPS, etc. are plugged in along with park effects, and the NFBC player-pool feeds into that, and I can see where my optimal choices are both lineup-wise and free-agent-wise. While the process of researching for your season-long drafts can be tedious, too, once you've gotten your cheat sheets and projections in order, your draft or auction becomes an enjoyable challenge - a way to test yourself and apply your skills. Once the season starts, watching the games and seeing your picks perform is great too. But the never-ending maintenance high-level play now requires? It's enjoyable only up to a point. I'd say that point is reached after 3-4 leagues and 5-7 hours of obsessive attention per week. I also own too many players. If Strasburg does well, great I have him in YF&F. He gets shelled, great, I don't have him anywhere else, and all those who got him in NFBC are suffering. Unless I have someone everywhere, I'm always ambivalent about the result.

I have Springer in YF&F, and I nearly cut him a couple times. Glad I didn't. I think he'll go 20-20 this year, and everything else (runs, RBI, avg.) will make or break his value. I have a feeling Kershaw will still be a monster this year once he comes back, and most of the aces will actually hold up. I'm noticing Cliff Lee has 12 Ks so far tonight (I realize it's the Braves, and he gave up 11 hits, but still), and I think Strasburg will probably be okay too. It's just that early in the year, it's a lot harder to be patient with pitchers than hitters as the latter often struggle as a precursor to missing time with arm injuries while the former's slumps you can usually chalk up to variance.

I also like Mesoraco. In the RotoWire Staff Keeper League, I bowed out of the bidding for Jonathan Lucroy who went for 30-plus (I think to you) and later Matt Wieters who went for the same, instead spending money elsewhere and hoping to get lower-level catchers cheap. Well, it turns out I had to pay $16 each for Miguel Montero and Mesoraco, and I initially regretted not going the extra buck on the premium guys. Mesoraco's making me feel a lot better about that early on. Crazy thing is we could have kept him for $3, but had so many other keepers and thought we'd get him for $8 or $9 if we went in that direction.

The Pirates offense is terrible right now, but the problem is Andrew McCutchen among others, and actually Travis Snider has been good. So I'm not sure calling up Polanco solves very much, and it also accelerates his clock. Of course, with teams signing players to long-term deals ahead of time now, maybe the Super-2 deadline isn't as big a deal as it used to be. I actually think Jonathan Singleton might be the next guy called up - he's raking, the Astros have no one blocking him, and they've already made the move with Springer. Of course, Archie Bradley might be the Diamondbacks best starter, though that team's in trouble on several levels (Really, Mark Trumbo for Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton?). And if a Cardinals' outfielder or Matt Adams gets hurt, pretty sure there will be a mad scramble for Oscar Tavares.

I know it's early, but what's jumped out at me are some of the teams that aren't playing to type. For example, the Twins have scored 70 runs, while the Tigers have scored 40. (The Twins have played only one more game). The Mariners have scored 53 runs in 13 games, while the Rangers have scored 51 in 14. Meanwhile, the Marlins have scored 73 runs in 15 games, while the Cardinals have scored 58. I'm sure most of these situations will regress toward preseason expectations, but probably not entirely, and while we're waiting for the adjustment, its makes for tougher decisions for streaming pitchers. At least the Astros have cooperated (40 runs in 14 games), but with Springer and soon Singleton likely up, that too might change.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 2:23 pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging

Eh, maybe that's a wild overestimation. I've never really paused to think how long I spend on each team/league. I'm factoring in all the time I'm checking live boxscores and the like, too. It helps some that I work Sundays, and that managing teams is part of my job description.

But you should at least enjoy that great patio area you've got - your WiFi is strong enough, right? Oh wait, you have Time Warner - nevermind (or, alternately, go ahead and rant on them - they deserve it).

Maybe Excel isn't the right tool, but what I'd like to do is have one function that I can input all my teams once, then whenever a player catches my eye I can enter him in one central location, and then see how that fits all of my teams. It would be a pivot table writ large, basically. I'll have to do some fiddling around.

I'm going to jump to your last point, because it's really interesting to me. The thing about these small sample outliers is that you have to micro-analyze a little to see if it's signal or noise, and the one that jumped at me was the Mariners. They scored 26 runs in their first three games against the Angels' woeful pitching staff, and 27 runs in their next 10 games. You can't just throw out those first three games, but I'm skeptical they're all that much better than last year. But I know that really wasn't your point - it was more to illustrate how bad the Rangers' offense has been so far. Losing Beltre and Profar really throws off that lineup, Fielder has been a disappointment, and J.P. Arencibia has managed to be a bigger bust than even his lowly standards could portend. Who knew that Geovany Soto would be so greatly missed?

The Cubs could be the best stream of them all, at least until they start their wave of prospects. But I get the feeling they'll wait longer than anyone for these super prospects, so unless Wrigley has one of those crazy wind-blowing-out seasons, they are going to be this year's hot item to stream-against. Plus, you get to have a good chance of run support against them with that awful bullpen of theirs.