Category Archives: Fantasy Baseball

Six Tips For Picksix

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.

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Timing Is Everything, Francisco

Really, Francisco Liriano?

Early results show that I may have possibly been wrong about Francisco Liriano being worth dropping last week. But at the same time, I’m not entirely sure that I was. Here are the facts:

  • Liriano walked six guys during the no-hitter. That’s a lot.
  • Liriano struck out two guys. That’s not a lot.
  • Liriano threw the no-no against the White Sox, who are a bit terrible lately.
  • Liriano threw 123 pitches, when he’s already acting like he was injured.

In truth, I have much of the same confidence I did before that Liriano hasn’t “figured it out” and that he just got extraordinarily lucky against the Sox last night. I fully expect a piece on FanGraphs to go up within 24 hours to verify the science behind that assumption. Francisco faced 33 batters, and 25 of them put the bat on the ball. Talk about a nutty BABIP sample size.

And I just know that talking heads are going to say that this validates the Twins’ “pitch to contact” strategy. We’ll see how well that goes the next time around.

Still, I guess I should’ve waited a week before cutting bait on Liriano. But let’s be serious – even if he was on my roster, was there any way I was starting him last night? Probably not.

Congratulations, Francisco Liriano. By all accounts you’re a great guy, and well deserving of your success on May 3, 2011. But next time, let me know before I drop you in my fantasy league, ok? Would a text or something kill you?

*Footnote: Congratulations to the rest of the Minnesota Twins who played in the field during that game. I know many of the balls weren’t hit very hard, but when you talk about a no-no, it’s almost always decidedly a team effort. So, hats off to the defense.

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The 9th Cut Is The Deepest

So the Mets just ripped off an improbable six-game winning streak, but couldn’t hit Livan Hernandez enough to extend it last night. In truth, I was more distracted by (1) the NFL draft and (2) my new team in ottoneu’s high-variance picksix game.

Picksix was fun on the first day – as the goal is to choose six players, and see how many points they can score via FanGraphs’s linear weights system. You’ve got 120 bucks to choose your six, so strategy and matchups play a big role. Game gets rained out? You lose. Buster Posey sits instead of plays? You lose. So as much as anything, this game is about silly variances and luck. Which, of course, makes it more fun.

My team on the first day was a little Red Sox-heavy: I chose Josh Thole (C), Adrian Gonzalez (CI), Ben Zobrist (MI), Grady Sizemore (OF), Jon Lester (SP), and Brian Wilson (RP). Basically, I hit the jackpot on nearly every choice. While I would’ve done better if I’d swapped out Carlos Santana, Lance Berkman, and CC Sabathia, my team was good enough to put in a dominant showing, and before the last game of the night finished up, I had a cool 100+ points, and was sitting pretty in first place. There was one other player lurking (called Chok), and he still had Lance Berkman and Miguel Montero with one AB each to go.

Basically, all I needed to win, was for Lance Berkman NOT to hit his second home run of the game in the 9th inning.

Of course, he did, and I had to settle for 2nd place. Oh well.

At any rate, it was nice to have some immediate success in picksix, and I intend to keep playing it for a while, and we’ll see if it gets boring. But now I hate Lance Berkman for two reasons…the other being that he is/was blocking Mark Hamilton (a friend of a friend…of a friend) from getting more playing time in St. Louis.

Anyways, that’s partially what the title of this post is about – how Berkman wrecked my picksix in the ninth. But there’s another “ninth” topic I have to address: and that’s in my 4×4 ottoneu league.

Last week, I made three bad decisions, all related to my starting pitching:

  1. I sat Zach Britton against the Red Sox, worried that they’d hit him. I was wrong.
  2. I sat Bud Norris against the Cardinals, worried that they’d hit him. I was wrong.
  3. I played Francisco Liriano, assuming that he’d eventually fix what was bothering him. I was WAY wrong.

I plan on rectifying some of these mistakes over the rest of the year. For example, maybe over-considering matchups is dangerous with young starters like Britton and Norris, each of whom has seemed to make strides in the short start to this season. Norris’s control is improved, and Britton is proving he can get hitters out at the ML level. Unless either hits a serious cold streak (or pitches in Yankee Stadium), I’ll probably let them ride for the rest of the season.

Liriano, on the other hand, is the fourth-highest paid player on my roster, behind Pujols, Halladay, and Starlin Castro. Both he and Castro were overpays, yet one has paid off, and one hasn’t. I’ve already tinkered with my young ottoneu team quite a bit, having jettisoned relievers, cut overpays that certainly won’t help as the season goes on (Jack Cust, Tsuyoshi Nishioka), and find myself with a large deficit to make up, despite being in 6th place in my league.

In addition, my league doesn’t appear to be very trade-friendly, which hampers any ability to foist Liriano off on another team. I thought about it critically, and unless Liriano pitches like a Cy contender in the back half of the season, there’s no way I could keep a player like him in the offseason at a cost of $30. It just isn’t feasible with other contracts piling up.

So, instead of trying to wait him out, I went ahead and cut Francisco Liriano, incurring a $14 penalty for the rest of the season and opening up a roster spot. It’s definitely the biggest move of the season for me, but it does two things.

#1 – I now have a great deal more financial flexibility. I need a place-holder 2B for my team, and was working with a budget of about $4 before the cut. They guy I wanted to fill that slot was Michael Cuddyer, who has availability across the diamond, and will still be a valuable piece once Chase Utley comes back – but I couldn’t mortgage all my cap space to go get him or someone comparable. Now I can – and I have the roster space to snag him. Also, since many of the other teams in the league have virtually no cap space, if a trade opportunity presents itself, I can take back contracts or sweeten a deal with a loan. That’s big.

#2 – I can look towards 2012 with more confidence. My team is very prospect-heavy. If you count Dom Brown as a prospect (I do, still), nearly every non-starting position on my team is filled with a prospect: I’ve got seven hitters and six pitchers. Basically, I have a team with a ton of keeper value, and in ottoneu, ML players appreciate by $2 in the offseason, and MiLB players appreciate by $1. With the cut of Liriano, I’ll be saving $28 over the offseason, which gives me both room to deal with appreciation, as well as to target a free agent or two who will be loosened from the re-draft process. My real goal is to hopefully see a player like Jason Heyward, Ryan Braun, or Colby Rasmus get free, and then be able to use my financial pull to sign them away from a competitor to improve my outfield.

I can certainly see how some might say that dumping Liriano for virtually nothing is a bad move – especially when his value may be at its lowest. I hear that, and I do worry that I made the wrong decision. But in the end, I went with my gut (and my wallet), and right now I feel like this decision gave me a slightly better chance to win now. Especially considering that over the offseason I was unlikely to keep him at that price anyway. Despite this, I hope he recovers and pitches up to his usual standard of excellence this year – when he’s on, he’s a fun pitcher to watch.

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Early Season Ottoneu Update

Jenrry Mejia

Jenrry Mejia: Better Than Byrdak

I wanted to offer a couple of notes about my ottoneu team (team roster and information here), as it’s definitely very interesting to see how things have adjusted as the season has officially started.

The first thing that I noticed, is that there were a couple of players on my team where I could quickly identify that the contracts far outweighed their potential, especially given the constraints of the league. I wound up cutting two players very early, and though I still predict that they will be quite productive, I made back nine dollars of cap space for cutting them. Those two players were Jack Cust ($10) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka ($9). Also, the roster space could be used to pick up a couple of prospects.

I also dropped three $1 relievers – team mascot Tim Byrdak, Hisanori Takahashi, and Clay Hensley. Now, Byrdak and Takahashi I dropped because I felt like I upgraded. I took $1 flyers on Sean Marshall and Takashi Saito, two very, very effective relievers, and I felt it was enough of an upgrade to eat $2 on the Met and ex-Met. Hensley was another story – I wanted to carry a minimum of relievers, and I got lucky grabbing Jenrry Mejia for a single dollar, so Wilton Lopez, Tim Collins, or Hensley had to go. By the way, I totally picked right not dumping Tiny Tim Collins, he’s been awesome so far.

I also added a host of prospects to sit on the bench. I snagged Jose Iglesias (Red Sox SS-in-waiting), Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays 3B-in-waiting), Mike Montgomery (Royals ace-in-waiting), and Jordan Lyles (Astros flamethrower-in-waiting). Now, my roster is almost maxed out, and I only have about ten bucks remaining to use for the rest of the season. That’s not too bad of a deal, but my outfield is still thin. I’d love to be able to do something to beef up that part of my team. But my rotation makes me very, very happy, as I’ve added James Shields and Bud Norris to an already-fearsome five-man rotation.

Oh, and Ryan Hanigan hit two home runs in a single game for me. Winning. Right now, I’m #4 in my league – but small sample sizes and all that. Exciting season ahead.

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Ottoneu 4×4 – The Pitch

Tim Byrdak

Tim Byrdak: Team Mascot and Official LOOGY+

I’ve posted recently about my ottoneu fantasy baseball team, which is being run over at FanGraphs. Yes, that was a lot of links. Please, try to focus.

When I created my team, I knew that I’d need to maximize value in order to be competitive – ottoneu is a pay-for-play league, and if the players came to the game through FanGraphs, I had to assume that they are smarter than the average bear.

In my 4×4 league, I took a look at the pitching rules, because I always find pitching tough to project in fantasy. The rules are fairly simple – there are five slots for starters, and five slots for relievers. The statistics measured (equally) are: ERA, WHIP, HR/9, and K. Over the course of the season, your entire staff MUST pitch between 1250 and 1500 innings to get credit for your stats.

First, I considered the stats. Three of these are rate stats, and one is a counting stat (strikeouts). What does this tell me? It tells me that I need to manage quality over quanitity – while still hitting my innings limit. In effect, it is much more worthwhile to have a few really good pitchers than a bunch of mediocre ones…so long as I hit that innings limit.

If Roy Halladay pitches 200 innings, then he’s worth approximately 3 elite relievers. If he pitches 240 innings, then he’s worth closer to 4. Paying for good starting pitching is the way to go. Just make sure that they are strikeout pitchers – gotta get those Ks up.

If I could get really great relievers – players like Joakim Soria, Aroldis Chapman, or Neftali Feliz, it would make a difference in my final stats. But if I couldn’t find great ones, or I wanted to put my resources in different areas, then my best bet would be to avoid relievers that would hurt my rates. And since relievers are tough to project – if I couldn’t find a sure thing, maybe an average reliever isn’t worth any more than a poor one.

So what did I do? I bought five relievers for $5…spending as little of my budget as possible on these slots. My relief corps includes: Hisanori Takahashi, Tim Collins, Wilton Lopez, Tim Byrdak*, and Clay Hensley. And, depending on who starts hot, I plan on benching them most of the time.

*Currently my ottoneu team, despite offering a 40-man roster, only contains 2 Mets. Those Mets are Ike Davis (bench player behind Pujols and Daric Barton), and Tim Byrdak (relief pitcher and mascot).

To balance, I bought what I consider, a great rotation. It consists of: Roy Halladay, Francisco Liriano, Gio Gonzalez, Shaun Marcum, and Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez wasn’t quite up to the quality I wanted, but he’ll do. I plan on adding a sixth and seventh starter via free agency on the cheap, and those seven should project to get me into the innings limit I need on their own, even without my relievers. The relievers will take up space on my roster, which is all they need to do, except for when they come in to make up some innings. Of the relievers, Lopez and Collins right now look to be fixtures in the lineup – Collins for Ks, and Wilton Lopez for being brilliant at not walking people.

Especially considering that prices for major leaguers in ottoneu go up by $2 each year, there’s a good chance that none of these relievers will make next year’s team. And with how good many of my starters project to be – I should do very well in each of the rate stats and rack up a reasonable number of Ks.

Of course, this strategy is very risky – a run of bad luck, an injury, or a disaster season by my starters could blow the whole thing to hell – but it’s worth trying to find any possible advantage (any Extra 2%?) to win my league. And this strategy, one that probably only will work in the microcosm that is ottoneu, might be a good one to try.

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An Ottoneu Team

So, as much as I’m invested in the New York Mets, there’s another baseball team I’m nearly as fond of. It’s a fantasy baseball team I’m managing at FanGraphs. FanGraphs has introduced their own fantasy baseball product – it’s called “ottoneu”, and it’s awesome in how different it is from your standard ESPN/Yahoo/CBS Sports fantasy leagues.

Basically, ottoneu leagues are keeper leagues with extremely deep rosters – meaning that the leagues carry over from year to year. These leagues are designed to mimic closely what it’s like to be a real GM – planning for the present as well as the future with a large, deep player pool. It’s a rotisserie-styled league (chicken), but uses a mix of traditional fantasy stats and more sabermetrically-inclined stats.

My team is called Niese Guys Finish Last. Which is part of the time-honored tradition of using player name puns as part of a fantasy team name. And yes, I know it’s not the proper pronunciation. That’s kind of the point.

At the risk of sounding, well, less than humble…I’m a pretty good fantasy baseball player. I win leagues fairly often. Last year, I won almost half my leagues, and came in 2nd in two others. So this should be a nice challenge. So, there’s a 40-man roster, which I haven’t managed to fill yet, even though our draft is over. Oh, and we’re given $400 in fake money to buy our players from a shared pool.

Anyways – a link to my ottoneu team can be found here if you’re interested.

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Fantasy Baseball Rankings – Catchers

Josh Thole

Josh Thole: Catcher #18?

So, in addition to enjoying real baseball, I also play a little fantasy baseball. In an attempt to take a more objective look at how to draft, I went ahead and drew out a plan to rank each position. I’ll be sharing those rankings here, just in case any of my (four, I think) readers are interested.

Oh, and as for methodology – the baseline that I used were Baseball Prospectus’s “deadly accurate” PECOTA projections. While BP isn’t necessarily regarded as highly as it used to be, it is a worthwhile baseline for me. From here, I looked at the core 5×5 stats, and ranked them objectively. From there, I adjusted players up and down subjectively based on other projections, playing time considerations, and other factors. I also did a little normalizing of the statistics based on PA – though I had to be careful with this.

Without any further ado – the list. Comments included as necessary.

  1. Joe Mauer – If he stays healthy, both the safest and best option. High average buoys other good numbers.
  2. Brian McCann – The model of consistency.
  3. Victor Martinez – Last of the top-tier catchers. Being full-time DH is a big help to his stock this year.
  4. Carlos Santana – Top of the second tier. Just have to see him stay healthy and consistent. May top the list next year.
  5. Buster Posey – 1B eligibility adds flexibility, also offers one of the best averages in Cs.
  6. JP Arenciba – Given his PECOTA projections, one of the top three Cs. Gotta see ML production, but still, very shocking.
  7. Geovany Soto – Still a little wary of him given his disappointing ’09 season. Still, two outta three ain’t bad (Meat Loaf!).
  8. Jesus Montero – If he gets the playing time, he’ll be truly excellent. You could draft him and hope for an injury, and that’s like hitting the lottery. End of Tier 2.
  9. Kurt Suzuki – So solid, Kurt makes a fine pick if you wait until the end of the draft. Not excellent at any one thing.
  10. Matt Wieters – Still has some room to improve, but expectations have come back down to earth. Still, a first-string fantasy catcher.
  11. Mike Napoli – Playing time is the thing here. If he gets 400-500 PA, he’s very valuable, provided you can balance out his average.
  12. Jorge Posada – If he stays healthy as a full-time DH, he could be very valuable, depending on how the stick holds up. Love the lineup.
  13. Yadier Molina – So much value from the way he’s used. Gets tons of PA, and has some good lineup help.
  14. John Buck – Power, and a couple RBI to go with it, but value probably depends on his lineup spot.
  15. Russell Martin – If he plays even a little like ’07 Russ Martin, a great value. Plus, the only catcher projected to offer double-digit steals.
  16. AJ Pierzynski – Yawn. Same thing, every year.
  17. Jonathan Lucroy – Projects almost exactly like AJ. Very, very surprising. I can’t imagine anyone is taking him.
  18. Josh Thole – Love that average, and he should get the playing time, but needs more HR to move up the list.
  19. Miguel Montero – Another shocker, his projections do not seem to match perception.
  20. Adam Moore – If Olivo stays banged up, Moore should get the playing time. Hopefully his production matches his projections.

The biggest surprise, for me, was that Chris Ianetta didn’t make the list. His projections weren’t anything special – and the average projects to be very poor, which meant that players like Thole, Lucroy, and Moore all placed above him. That’s a red flag, and I’ll continue to avoid him in normal 5×5 drafts.

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