executing a flawed strategy

warning: this is an incredibly long post. while i think it is interesting, it might only be interesting if you’re in my fantasy baseball league and want to learn more about my tendencies. i think it also is interesting if you have any kind of deep interest in fantasy baseball. if i were you, i’d read it. but it’s really long and you probably need to go watch tv. anyway, you’ve been warned.

on sunday ottoneu, the fantasy baseball league i’m in, held its 4th 5th (oops, thanks thad!) annual auction draft. i’ve mentioned ottoneu here and in various other places, but in case you aren’t caught up on it, let me finally, officially write up a primer on ottoneu.

about ottoneu

ottoneu (login upon request) was created in 2006 as an alternate to yahoo-style fantasy baseball games. there were two directions in which we (geoff, chad, and myself) feel we’ve improved upon traditional rotisserie fantasy baseball. first, our league uses different statistics from the standard 5×5 league, using instead statistics that we feel more accurately represent what major league teams need to win and lose games. this is not a big leap from what is out there, but i’m constantly surprised to find that not a lot of other fantasy players have taken a step towards different statistics. plenty of players use more advanced metrics to predict the standard 5×5 fare, but why not just use more advanced metrics? for the record, our metrics aren’t that advanced. we run a 4×4 scoring system with OBP, SLG, HR, and R on offense and ERA, WHIP, SLGA, and K for pitching, as well as hard upper and lower bounds on positional games and innings pitched. this is definitely the smaller of the two major differences.

the second difference, and what makes things quite interesting, is our roster construction. our teams each have 40-man rosters and a $400 salary cap. players are added to teams via a 2-day blind auction and during our once-a-year auction draft. this means every player in the league has a salary that is set by the open market, as all 12 owners have an opportunity to bid on every player. a lot follows from the salary cap system. first, the open competition for each player adds incredible amounts of strategy to auctions both before and during the season. instead of hoping your team is first in line, you need to constantly be considering your team’s budget and needs when new players become available. second, teams can make very interesting trades, because beyond trading players, teams can loan each other money. more on this in a second.

like i mentioned, there is a 40-man roster, which is much deeper than most fantasy baseball leagues. a typical league these days will be closer to half that number. with the 40-man roster, owners are given the luxury of both flexibility – platoons, depth at certain positions, etc – as well as a farm system. minor leaguers are one of the coolest part of having a deep roster dynasty league, because, much like as in real life, prospects can be a source of cheap, high-quality production for a team, which, given the salary cap, is incredibly valuable.

of course, prospects also let teams who are not doing well (like me last year) trade off some of their more expensive players in an effort to get young and cheap and rebuild for the next year. this sentence alone makes the ottoneu experience far superior to yahoo – instead of losing interest in july when your team is in 8th and there’s no one available on the waiver wire, you can build for the future. in baseball, for the vast majority of teams and owners and fans, nothing is more fun than the future.

there is one quirk rule that i have to point out, because it leads into my strategy for our just completed auction draft. when we started ottoneu, geoff was rightly concerned about competitive balance. basically, if a team somehow ended up with 20 superstars for very cheap, we wanted a way to redistribute those players to the rest of the league. now, this is something we’re moving away from, but the rules as of this year allowed 2 players from each team to be voted off and forced back to auction, with the team who originally held those players to get a $5 coupon on those players at auction. for example, i could bid $20 on a player and get him for $15 if it was the highest bidder and i held a coupon for him. going forward, we’re switching this rule to only allow one player to be voted off and for the coupon value to be $10, so only egregious situations would open back up to the league. i wouldn’t be surprised if in 2 years this rule was completely done away with.

ok, so that is how the league works and some of the basic strategy. i’m willing to write much, much more on the subject – just ask.

the draft

our auction draft was on sunday. my team was in an interesting position going in. i had decided 1 day after last year’s auction draft that i had done such a bad job that i needed to punt on all of 2009. this resulted in my trading off some high cost players, getting a ton of prospects, and barely being able to field a team during the season. my pitching has been strong ever since the league began, but my offense was quite bad, and i finished in 7th place and probably should have finished in 10th or 11th. i jettisoned a lot of junk in the offseason, though arguably not quite enough. i had 19 roster spots to fill and $177 to use, putting me in an average-ish situation, but in reality i only needed a few key starters shored up, and the rest of my roster could be filled out with marginal $1 players.

my important keepers were 2 very good starting pitchers (sabathia, kershaw), 2 OFs i picked up from geoff in the offseason and i am betting on bounce-backs from (granderson, jay bruce) and a solid 2B (dan uggla). my first priority was getting back my voted off players, jon lester and andre ethier. i felt that lester pushed my rotation from good to excellent on his own, and ethier pushes my OF from risky to a possible strength. given the $5 coupons, i was guaranteed to get these guys at a ‘value’ price, so i just had to hope that they didn’t get pushed up too much by other owners (perhaps an overzealous dodgers fan? thankfully we have no red sox fans in our league). i budgeted $28 for ethier (he was at $11 before being voted off) and $28 for lester ($21 before being voted off, i think). so, that’s $56 of my $177 gone.

my second priority was a solid bat at first base. i’ve learned that having a james loney at first just won’t fly – there’s too much power at the position, and i put myself in a terrible disadvantage by not getting a piece of that power. you can’t make it up in other places. so i budgeted $45 for a 1B and hoped i’d get someone in the 3rd tier (first being pujols, second being fielder+miguel cabrera+ryan howard).

third priority was a catcher. i like to punt the position, and there was a decent crop of catchers at auction. i was hoping $10 would net me a couple of decent catchers, nothing too exciting, but some good depth and passable obp.

my fourth priority was a middle infielder. i had to keep this a low priority because the damn position does not have any depth right now. but we have a 2B, SS, and MI position to fill, and i was running with dan uggla and … clint barmes. so i had to do something here. i budgeted $10 here and hoped i got lucky.

finally, with P5, or essentially 0 priority, i threw $30 at the remaining rotation+pen. i have ted lilly, porcello, niemann, and joba around, so i think most of this money would probably go at whatever relief guys i could find. technically i had $25 more to play with, but you have to give yourself some wiggle room, and i also knew i had to fill out the rest of my roster

the results

so, instead of stepping through everything that occurred in the auction (because that is both pointless and long, and this post has enough of each right now), let me tell you the results of each priority:

priority 1 was a rousing success. i spent $24 on ethier and $24 on lester, so i saved $8 here and turned my rotation into elite and my OF into solid using the one built-in advantage i had at auction.

priority 2 was a win, i think, but i could easily be wrong. i paid $37 for carlos pena, who is good but one step down from what i wanted.

a side note – according to lastplayerpicked.com, i am 3 for 3 on overpaying for guys right now. this is just how i roll i guess.

priority 3 was a reach, in which i grabbed geovany soto for $17. this is too much money for geovany soto. lastplayerpicked has him worth $18, but the projections LPP uses are a bit optimistic on him. furthermore, i didn’t want to spend this much money at catcher, i wanted to punt catcher. the true test of seeing if this was a failure or not will come out in the season, i think. if soto does what he is capable of doing, my offense becomes pretty good. otherwise, i’m in the same situation as last year.

now for priority 4 and 5, where things get zany. i had $10 for a middle infielder, i had some money for other pitchers, maybe some decent relievers, whatever. i ended up with… ubaldo jiminez. as my 4th starter (above lilly, below lester). what? i don’t need another pitcher. i don’t need to be paying $29 to ubaldo jiminez when i have a cheaper lester, sabathia, and kershaw. and $29 is overpaying a bit. and yet, here we are. i’d call this a success if i can trade a pitcher for a middle infielder. otherwise, i have too many goddamn pitchers and their value really starts decreasing on my team – the number of points any one of my top 4 earn me over the rest of my staff is quite small. and the salary going to pitchers is quite large. not good.

and instead of getting any relievers, i ended up snagging chipper jones and vladimir guerrero. these are my x-factors – two aging guys who project favorably. if they come back strong from weak 2009 outings, my offense becomes quite good. but now i’m asking for soto, chipper, and vlad to all come back strong. stranger things have happened, but not many. and i’m kind of ok with grabbing chipper, because andy laroche at 3B was looking like less and less of a good option.

the rest of my money was spread out amongst various middle infielders (including rafael furcal) and a couple of relievers. looking at my priorities going in, i did a pretty good job – i retained the two guys who were voted off my team, i added a good first baseman, and i took an ok risk at catcher. however, getting ubaldo instead of a decent MI option is looking more and more like a big mistake, especially now that i’m finally starting to realize who clint barmes actually is. i also have entirely too many risks on my team – it’s fine to look at chipper and say “oh he’ll bounce back” and then look at soto and think the same thing and then look at vlad and think the same thing… but when you’re adding those 3 guys to jay bruce and curtis granderson (two more guys i am hoping will bounce back) and andre ethier and dan uggla (who could both regress), all of a sudden your offense doesn’t look super solid.

my strategy was flawed in that i found too many risks acceptable and targeted too many risky players. my execution was flawed because i ended up with ubaldo jiminez. however, if i can move a pitcher for a solid positional player and get a little lucky, my team will be right in it in september/october. and you have to be a little lucky to win a league like ottoneu.

i’d be really interested to see how you think i did. i’m worried that i might have been too fixated on getting back guys that were voted off (though i can’t be too upset given the price i got them at). also, for the record, here are the LPP settings i used. they were really good for offensive players, as i had a really good feel for some of the other owners in our auction. pitching simply doesn’t work because there’s no way of telling the site that we have a lower bound for IP, which skews the site a bit in favor of relievers. (note: there’s a serious, serious chance that i totally undervalue relievers.)

according to wordpress, i’ve crossed over the 2000 word limit, which may or may not include links. either way, i wrote a whole f’n lot on ottoneu, and i will probably write a lot more this season. this, more than anything else, speaks to how freaking sweet my fantasy baseball league is.

12 thoughts on “executing a flawed strategy”

  1. Great post – and I can sum up what I think is a pretty big success (assuming you trade a pitcher for strong MI) for the non-participants in the league by saying you somehow got me to pay $21 for Kelly Johnson. Cause as you told me, the success of a draft isn’t just what you spend on your own team, but what you make others spend. Victory, you.

  2. Wasn’t this our 5th annual draft? It’s Year 5 of the league. Maybe I don’t know how annuals work.

    The problem (which is actually a major success) of the auction is that everyone has different strategies and value systems, even if they use similar projections. So the strategy you enter the auction with never works and must be adapted on the fly because the other members of the league don’t behave as you would predict.

    I also had a 5-part game plan, with much more financial freedom:
    1) Tim Lincecum
    2) Evan Longoria
    3) Awesome 1B (Fielder/Cabrera/Pena)
    4) Awesome OF (Braun/Holliday/Bay)
    5) Re-sign one of my coupon guys.

    Lincecum and Longoria both went for more than I expected, and Braun, Fielder, and Cabrera for a lot more than I expected. And I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger on Pena when he got auctioned because he went so early.

    Instead, I slightly overpaid for Holliday, re-signed both Adam Jones and Jason Kubel, ended up with Lance Berkman somehow, upgraded at catcher with Brian McCann instead of at 3B, and bought Chris Carpenter and Josh Johnson for $5 more than Lincecum cost.

    I think my team ultimately ended up with about the same level of offense that I was shooting for and better pitching depth.

  3. thad also brings up a good point – while i did reach a bit on pena price-wise, the price of fielder/cabrera (and braun for that matter) made the $37 i spent on pena look slightly better in retrospect. and like thad said, i got pena really early, which in this case worked to my advantage.

  4. good work! fantasy baseball auction recaps are so much better than fucking poker recaps. even if theyre the same thing.

    i think i give myself a b-/c+ overall. i came in planning to spend about $160 on 4 big-time guys, at least 3 of those on offense. i had big holes at 3B, MI, and 2 OF spots, and secondary holes at 1B/UTIL and SP.

    so i started out with wright, howard, and bay for a combined $117 in the first 20 picks – perfect, could not ask for a better start.

    for the next 90 mins i didn’t win a guy, which was ok as i thought i could get some good value later on. when that guy – javy vazquez – came… i just let chad take him. i had more than enough cap room, and he would have been perfect for my team. but i had been sitting on my hands for so long that i just had lost that aggressiveness that you need in an auction draft against 11 other guys.

    after that the wheels came off for the next hour. first, i wanted to show aggressiveness on harden so i came out strong with a $10 bid (hoping someone would bid $11 – my max for him) and no one matched. then i somehow wound up with both tejada and polanco, which i guess is an ok MI platoon (and less expensive than kelly johnson!) but not at all what i had wanted. and then i won papelbon for some reason because im addicted to closers.

    after that i was able to calm down a bit and am quite happy with my last 10 picks. but i have no idea what the hell i was doing from 3:23 to 4:41 EDT on sunday.

  5. In my opinion this was the best auction draft we’ve had to date. Outside of my continuous internet connection fail, this draft was (at least in my recollection) the fastest and smoothest auction that I’ve been a part of.

    Perhaps it’s too early for me to declare this auction a success for my team, but given my results/participation level from last year, I think I managed to at least step in the right direction. I think this was my best auction performance so far.

    I gotta say I didn’t expect Mauer to go for less than $50 (Mauer + Pujols = yay), but then when I also nabbed Victor for only $17 I was pretty pleased. If I don’t compete this year I think I at least have some of the better trade chips.

    Though I did manage to get some quality value at the top of my rotation (Peavy + Wainwright for $52 total), once again I will depend on Liriano to come through as I have zero depth.

    My OF sucks, and I overpaid for a couple guys there out of need/panic, but I’m hoping my MI value guys can over-perform to balance that out.

    All in all, I thought it was a fun, well run auction and I even got to bid up Horwitz/Sugarman a few times successfully and even get Niv to emoquit nominations. Teehee.

  6. For the record, my goddamn c key was broken and that was frustrating me more than anything else. But yeah, you didn’t help the situation, jerk.

  7. Without going into as much detail as Geoff, my entire draft strategy was predicated on buying back my coupon guys (McCann and Verlander) for what I thought were reasonable prices ($20 for McCann post coupon and $30 for Verlander post-coupon). To be honest, I didn’t think anyone would bid over those prices without the coupons, but I was clearly wrong. With all due respect to Thad and Horwitz, I think they both overpaid significantly for those guys, particularly 42 on Verlander.

    Having lost out on both of those guys, I had to make some changes to my strategy. I had intended to spend on 2 SP and 2 bats (1B or OF to serve as Util and MI) but ended up being priced out of every MI I was interested in, winding up with Akinori Iwamura and Ryan Theriot as a platoon, which just won’t do. I ended up overspending on my 1B and OF players, getting both Dunn and Manny, and the result was that I did not get the OF depth I had hoped for, making it a bit more difficult on me to trade an OF, which I probably need to do.

    At the same time, the lack of available pitching hurt a lot after I lost Verlander. I appreciate the generosity, Geoff, and I am quite happy with Javy, but the Webb-Burnett-Kazmir trio in me 3-5 slots (behind Billingsley and Javy) is pretty high risk.

    If a) Webb comes back healthy by May, b) Kazmir finds his form again, c) Burnett gets some luck and keeps his ERA and WHIP down to match his K numbers, or d) an unexpected starter makes the leap for me (Rondon? Masterson? Erbe? Alderson? Young?) I might be able to piece together a competitive rotation. My offense should play just fine (particularly if I can fill MI) but I am not sure I have the bullets to trade for a MI and a SP or two, and I am not sure I can win without filling both those holes.

  8. Odd draft. I really like my team, but that was by far more due to the pieces I had in place before the draft, then the draft itself. I’m actually pretty unhappy with the way the draft turned out, though I did accomplish my easily met “goals”.

    My goas were to (1) pick up 2 stud pitchers, (2) a stud 1B, (3) a stud bat… somewhere. I gave myself about $160 to solve this problem. Not exactly the toughest of tasks. Against all odds (and with two coupons), I managed to get my guys. But, in hindsight, the starting pitching was a couple of bucks less than I thought it would be – I expected guys like Lester, Wainwright, and Verlander to go for a little more than they did – but when I picked up Santana (before those other guys came up), I didn’t really get a discount.

    Having overestimated what people would spend on pitching, I underestimated what they would spend on big bats. Which meant that my 1B pickup (Mark Reynolds) isn’t as good as Fielder and friends.

    Since I spent under my $160 allocation, I had extra money. But there were no really good bats by then. So instead of picking up another $40 superstar, I wound up with Hawpe ($25) and Chris Davis ($12). They’re both improvements over what I had, but maybe not enough of one considering the $37 I spent on them.

    If lack of holes will win you the title, then I’m in great shape. (Well, except for backup catcher. But I figure I have all season to find someone who can play a decent 40 games for me). But I can see plenty of scenarios where someone elses superstars, plus a few lucky performances, outperform my team of “pretty good” at every position.

  9. Just like everyone else, a big part of my plan was to get back the guys that were voted off my team (Josh Johnson and Aaron Hill). I figured there was a chance I would lose Johnson, since I was only prepared to spend about $25 on him, and he ended up going for well over $30. I was able to keep several other good SPs (Felix, Wandy, and Nolasco) and I wasn’t too worried about losing him. However, I didn’t think there was any way Hill would go for more than $25 (which would be $20 after the coupon), but Jee Hang’s proxy bidder went absolutely insane and bid him up to $30, which was far too much. I loved Hill last year because I had him for $4 and he hit 36 homers, but I doubt he will hit that many again, and he is not worth even close to $30. So I had to find some good MIs during the auction, and I think I did ok with the Hudson/Scott Sizemore combo.

    The rest of my strategy was to get A-Rod back (which I was able to do for a relatively reasonable $53) and to get 2 or 3 big-hitting OFs. I think I probably overpaid for Quentin at $30, but if he’s healthy, he could have a monster season (like he did in 2008). I also got Pence for $27, which I think was a good deal. Everyone said I was on “tilt” because his name came up immediately after I lost Hill, but Pence was one of the OFs I intended to try to get. I was also able to get Delmon Young for a very good price, and he is a potential sleeper because everyone has already written him off as a bust. If he stinks, then I only wasted $7, but he could be very good.

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