There’s a new fantasy game over at FanGraphs‘s ottoneu fantasy baseball site, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’s called picksix, and it’s a high-variance game based on linear weights – where a new game starts every day. It is a lot of fun, very unpredictable, and takes very little time to play, so I highly recommend it.
I’d like to recommend Justin Merry’s article on picksix strategy over at RotoGraphs. He does a nice job of touching on some of the smart strategies – there’s not much he wrote that I’d disagree with. He also hedges a little by letting the reader know that, given where he’s at on the leaderboards, you should keep that in mind.
I, however, don’t have that problem. Because, as of today, I’m the all-time leader in picksix points.
(I love writing that. It means less than nothing, given how much of the game is luck and just showing up…not even to mention the teeny-tiny sample size that’s in play.)
Now, I’ve played every day, and I had a tremendous opening day (over 100 points, thanks Ben Zobrist!), but I’ve managed four top-10 finishes in 8 days, which is pretty great luck, if not great skill. However, I have tackled each day’s work with the same general strategy – albeit with a few minor adjustments as I’ve gone along.
Given that Justin’s very low on the leaderboard, I’m pretty high, and I agree with a lot of his strategies…I think you can tell that while there’s skill involved, it’s hardly an exact science to win at picksix. But, it takes very little time to play, and is fun. So, here are a few tips:
(1) Beware of Troy Tulowitzki!
There are two types of players I tend to ignore in picksix: extremely expensive position players are one of them. I avoid these players because it just isn’t worth it when working on a tight budget. I’m adding Tulo to the list because three days ago, he gave me a -4.0 day…which is about as bad a day as you can get in picksix for a position player. Tulo’s cost at the time was $53.75, nearly half the day’s budget. For that kind of money, I’d better be getting some cost certainty – but that’s the thing about picksix…certainty is not an option. You can pick a favorable matchup, a good park, all the right conditions, and a guy will still go 0-4, or worse, will get the day off. Instead of spending $50 on one guy, and needing to buy two $3 guys as well – I’d rather buy three $18 guys. The difference between the $18 and the $50 guys isn’t really that big.
(2) Beware of Tim Lincecum!
Lincecum is indicative of the same sort of thing – except it is even more pronounced when selecting a starting pitcher. Starters accrue 25% of the points they earn in linear weights – meaning that the difference between an unbelievably good game and an average one is diminished by a factor of 4. A magnificent 60 point gem turns into 15 points in your pocket, where a middling 30 point game gets the player 7.5 points – not a huge dropoff overall. When choosing starters – pick guys that don’t give up home runs and are likely to go deep into games, and you’ll be safe. K artists are ideal of course, but any guy who goes six and doesn’t give up a homer will win you the day…don’t pay a $30 premium because you’re a fan of Lincecum or Cliff Lee.
(3) Established closers are the way to go!
This may fly in the face of newly-formed picksix conventional wisdom, but I wholeheartedly believe that an established closer is a far better buy than a setup guy with similar peripherals. Why? Predictability.
You may not believe in bullpen roles, but they exist, and from what little I know about baseball, I see that managers want to run their closer out every 3 days or so. Oftentimes, it’s to put them in a save opportunity, but other times it is just so that they can “get their work in”. That’s fine. But I don’t think that managers are quite as careful with the other 5-7 guys in the bullpen. They’re not always treated the same way as the closer.
I almost always choose my RP as a closer who hasn’t pitched in at least a day (usually two or three), and has a firm hold on the closing spot. Guys like Craig Kimbrel, Heath Bell, Mariano Rivera, Brian Wilson – these are all guys that usually cost me about $8-14 bucks, but make me look like a genius when they come through with ten points. And if you’re getting better than half a point for every dollar you spend – you’re winning.
(Also, in most cases, managers make closers guys with high K rates. Chances are – if you’re the best strikeout option in the bullpen, you’re the closer. Gotta get those extra two points where you can.)
(4) Diversify your portfolio – but don’t go overboard!
I see other players in picksix find a matchup they like – for example the Yankees are playing a home game against the Tigers, and Phil Coke is starting. So a player starts Teixiera, Robby Cano, Russ Martin, Nick Swisher, and Mariano Rivera. Obviously, this is an overstatement – but I never pick more than two guys on the same team on a given day. There could be a rainout (a picksix killer), rough light in the batter’s box, a great day by a below-average pitcher…anything could happen. There’s so much variation in the day-to-day game of baseball, that putting all my eggs in one basket feels wrong. Best just to spread your team around, and hope for the best – but in the case of an extremely favorable matchup (say the one above), I wouldn’t be opposed to playing both Teixiera and Cano…if I had the budget for it.
(5) Beware of catchers!
More than any other position, catchers get “days off” that can’t be predicted 100% of the time. And in picksix, if you pick a player that sits instead of plays, you can probably wave bye-bye to winning that day. For me – if I’m going to invest any amount of money in a catcher, I try and check to see if the game is either the back end of a night-day doubleheader…or if the catcher has had a day off in the last two or three days. If there’s any strong indicator that the regular catcher won’t be playing – then I find someone else to spend my money on. It’s that simple. It’s no use having Buster Posey in your picksix lineup if he isn’t in the Giants lineup.
(6) Ballpark matters!
More than anything else – I like to use ballpark to help determine how to choose my lineup. This is a big one, given how much home runs affect a picksix game. Home runs are +13 points for hitters and -13 points for pitchers, so they rule picksix with an iron fist. As for me, I like to use THT’s Ultimate Home Run Factors in gauging how likely a park is to give up home runs, and I use that knowledge to my advantage when picking my roster.
One recent example is a choice to start Jason Vargas of the Mariners against the Texas Rangers yesterday. If this game were being played on neutral ground, or in Arlington, there is no way at all I would’ve made this choice. But, it wasn’t. It was being played at Safeco Field. Vargas is a left-handed pitcher, and Safeco is the perfect ballpark for him, it does a good job suppressing home runs when you’re a left-handed pitcher. When you add in the fact that, as a whole, pitchers tend to perform better when pitching at home – you get a matchup that becomes very favorable. I was able to choose Vargas, spend my money on other players, and was rewarded with a 9.6 point performance – perfectly acceptable for a $2 investment. I’m using Jon Niese today (at home, in Citi Field, against the Dodgers) hoping to do the same thing.
So that’s it. Six tips that have helped me – and they may or may not help you. Remember, so much of picksix is luck, and random variation. Play around and find a strategy that works for you.
Oh, I also like to find streak hitters, though this isn’t very scientific and I recommend it to no one. Guys like Lance Berkman and Grady Sizemore right now are terrific values – and they free up plenty of cash to spend on big hitters in other parts of the lineup.
If you’re at all interested in which team I’m playing on a given day, follow me on the picksix leaderboards (bgrosnick) or check out my Twitter (@bgrosnick), as I usually post my team before the start of every day. And if you’ve got any comments or criticisms of my strategy, don’t be afraid to share them…I’d really like to hear about it.