Unmentioned Crimes

The Indians’ mascot is offensive.

His name is Chief Wahoo, as if that matters. A red-faced grinning caricature of a human with a single feather behind his head in case you were wondering who precisely they were trying to offend.

It’s easy to look at Chief Wahoo and get mad. It’s easy to write Twitter rants or blog posts or both denouncing this hilariously offensive representation of pre-European American civilization. You’re certainly not wrong, but to me it misses the damn point.

I’m a huge Indians fan, but I’m also Indian. Indian from India, not a made-up word for some brown people a genocidal maniac found in 1492 (lol dots not feathers, good one Robin Williams). While it is easy to rail against this comically dumb grinning red face, the actual disease is the team name. Yelling about Chief Wahoo is fine and easy, but when he’s gone you’re left with a team named after a generic term white people gave people who have brown skin, but not quite dark enough brown skin to call black. That is more offensive to me than a dumb cartoon face.

“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

Let’s Go Tribe

We moved to Cleveland in the summer of 1997. My family had spent the last 8 years in San Antonio, so my relationship with baseball was almost non-existent. Occasionally I’d catch a Braves game or Cubs game on cable, but for me, the sport of summer (and fall and winter and spring) was basketball. Being born in Chicago, I rooted for the Cubs, but only because they always seemed like a fun team to like. Good, but not too good. Ryne Sandberg. Andre Dawson. On TV more than most teams. Weird TV personalties. And so forth. I had a Cubs hat and I’m pretty sure there’s a picture somewhere of me dressed up as a Cubs player for Halloween when I was 8 or 9. I gave no damns one way or another about a goat, though. I didn’t live or die by their wins and losses. That was reserved for Tennessee football and Spurs basketball.

But then I moved to Cleveland in 1997 and began to understand that while basketball may be more entertaining and football might capture America’s short attention span, baseball is the sport that feeds your soul. I spent the summer not knowing anyone, (badly) shooting baskets in my driveway during the day and watching the Indians from time to time at night. I lived in the same town as a baseball team in the summer and they were on every night! I had never experienced this growing up – a team and a sport that was available to you every day.

Baseball fits life. Every day is the same but slightly different. Some days become magical. Others become regrettable. Every once in a while you get a bunch more good days than bad and all of a sudden it’s October.

I wasn’t a fan of the Cleveland Indians in 1997, but I watched, and then school started, and it became clear I should be watching, so I watched more. I watched a team that I guess wasn’t as good as the team two years prior make it to the World Series. I saw the error and Jose fuckin’ Mesa and Edgar fuckin’ Renteria and the Marlins celebrating.

The following season, my friend Chad demanded that I take some unused Indians tickets and go with him to a seemingly unremarkable game between the Tribe and the Rays. It was May and I wasn’t ready to care about the Indians again yet. It turned into the best baseball game I’ve ever seen live, an entire master class on mid-90’s John Hart-built Cleveland Indians baseball in one spring night that was in turn average, regrettable, and then magical.

I’ve followed the Tribe since that day. High school summers consisted of going to the games or watching the games in one of my friends’ basement. In 2001, my college roommate Thad, a Mariners fan, and I were not on speaking terms for ALDS week, despite my low expectations and his historically good team. The next year the Tribe traded Bartolo Colon for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and Grady Sizemore, a trade that showed me and Geoff and Chad how much better fantasy sports could and should be. In 2007, I went to the Midges Game and I watched in my apartment in Boston as Kenny Lofton got held at third base at Fenway.

Now it is 2016 and I run a fantasy sports company I founded in large part thanks to that baseball game in 1998 and that trade in 2002. I met the danged Indians GM. I’m still close with my friends who taught me about baseball, Cleveland fandom, and life. There were some average days, a bunch of regrettable days, and even more magical days. All of a sudden it’s October and the Indians are back in the World Series.

ottoneu, Round 2

I’m going back to working on ottoneu full-time. May 15th will be my last day at Vox Media.

I started working at Vox Media in October 2011. I’ve learned a tremendous amount there and was able to make a significant impact on the teams I worked on and the overall company. It has been a great place to work.

The first time around, I only gave myself 11 months of working on my own business full-time. ottoneu has grown, and I need to see if I can make it better. My immediate plan is to launch a dynasty football game in early-to-mid-July and then revisit daily fantasy sports contests. This might be wildly successful and become my last job, but it also might be a waypoint to the rest of my career. One thing is for sure – I will be able to say I tried.

knowing too much (a pep talk)

since last year, i’ve been kicking around extending ottoneu into the realm of football. football, where fantasy companies not only survive but thrive. football, where the audience is 10x more and the schedule is structured in a way that participants don’t get bored of the season. football, where ottoneu’s format would be a game-changer.

however, it is becoming apparent that i know too much, from a development perspective. just enough to be completely paralyzed by development design decisions, technology choices, etc. i still haven’t solidly decided on PHP as my language (Ruby is having some appeal), and i definitely haven’t decided if i want a framework or to roll my own. what orm to use is another annoying problem, and how to use the orm properly on top of that.

why am i so debilitated when i can still rip off things like this in a weekend and maintain ottoneu reasonably well? the problem is that i think too much and i don’t just start building. once you start building stuff, you have to build more things to make sure that first bit works, and eventually momentum takes you to the finish line, or somewhere near there. that is how i built ottoneu baseball. it is a structureless, orm-less mess, the worst kind of PHP code soup people refer to when talking about the ills of the language, but two things: 1) it works and 2) see 1.

so, i don’t know how to proceed. i’ve given myself time to just start building, but i end up screwing around and playing video games or doing some other manner of procrastination. i’ve taken up more responsibility at work now, so that means less hours for my own projects. and whenever i just take the tact i mentioned above, i end up getting stuck on “does this function belong here or here? is this the most elegant solution?” because i want to not make the same mistakes i made when building ottoneu baseball.

but maybe the end point is this: ottoneu baseball might be a huge piece of shit application, but oh man does it work and do people play the crap out of it right now every single day. oh man do people tweet about it and email me questions and tell me how much they love it. so who cares if the underlying code isn’t great. i’ve learned enough to make somewhat cleaner code this time. i just need to get that momentum.

answering implied questions

ottoneu Pick Six launched on april 28. as of writing this, 4789 entries have been made by 505 users, and 201 entries have been made so far for today. these are pretty good numbers, and especially rewarding because i made my first check-in to the project on april 12.

202 entries

for some background, Pick Six is a daily fantasy baseball game. there are six positions to fill – catcher, corner infield (1st or 3rd base), middle infield (2nd base or shortstop), outfield, starting pitcher, and relief pitcher. you get a budget of $120 which you can’t go over, and every player is assigned a value. fill out your lineup, stay under budget, and your players get (or lose) points based on their production on the day. there are some more nuances, but that’s the basic overview – $120, 6 positions, fill all your positions without going over budget, unlock achievements and beat your friends.

207 entries

Pick Six was a pretty quick, iterative process. the initial launch had an all-time leaderboard and the ability to pick your team. i quickly added more information around the player selection process (opposing pitcher, batter and pitcher handedness, etc). it became clear however that focusing on the all-time leaderboard was preventing new users from playing, so i changed all the leaderboards to focus on smaller time segments first (daily, then weekly, then all-time).

still 207 entries

the other big portion of feedback has been around the social interactions of the game. i started by adding the ability to follow other users, so you can build your own personal leaderboard. while this has been good, it hasn’t been great – users still can’t communicate with each other on the site, and it’s not quite satisfying enough to beat your friends. not just yet, at least.

208 entries

achievements have been another fun thing for people to look at, and feedback led directly to a few of the more clever achievements, such as the rays achievement (spend $80 or less and win the day) and the mariners achievement (spend $110+ and come in last place). while i don’t want the number of achievements to get overwhelming, i think there is still some room to add some interesting achievements to both encourage users to accomplish certain tasks and to reward users for completing otherwise monotonous tasks.

still 208 entries

i would say 80% of what i’ve added since launch has been at the suggestion of users or at least reinforced by users. followers and achievements were kicking around in my head before, but clarity on how to implement these features came directly from feedback. something as subtle as changing around what leaderboards are emphasized wouldn’t have been on my radar had it not been for user feedback. so, i’ll say what everyone else in the startup world says, which is “listen to your users”.

210 entries

but how do you find out what your users want? this is really the interesting question to me. aaron has been encouraging me to do more user surveys and a/b testing, so users can show me what they want via their browser. while i cannot argue with those methods at all, they both seem a bit… dry to me. my approach has been slightly different – i’ve made myself available, via twitter, email, fangraphs chats, and any other method i can imagine. by virtue of making myself available, users reach out to me when they have issues or new ideas on their own. i remember a long time ago reading that for every 1 person who bothers to leave a comment or emails you or whatever, there are probably 10+ more users who would agree with that person but just didn’t email you. the ratio might even be higher now. so, if 2-3 people agree on a way to move forward, odds are that your user base is going to be pretty happy with you when you implement the new feature.

still 210 entries

the other thing to remember is that users don’t always know what they want. this is why responses to open-ended questions in surveys should be taken with a grain of salt, i think. you’ll get some gems, but you’ll also get a lot of people who haven’t really given thought to your product on the same level you are thinking about your product. you can’t blame users for that, it’s pretty understandable behavior. however, sometimes you’re going to (as aaron just told me in an email) go with your gut rather than listen 100% to your users. it’s a fun balance, i guess. except it isn’t that fun sometimes.

212 entries

after 750+ words about everything and nothing, i think its time to go make Pick Six more social. after all, it is what my users (who have thought about it enough) (think they) want, kind of.

10 days in

i’m 10 days in to the great experiment i announced 19 days ago. i’m no longer an AT&Ti employee, but instead founder and ceo of ottoneu, inc. i have a shared office and a laptop – that’s it. as i was telling people i saw over the weekend, i’m up here on this tightrope way above everything without any net and apparently all i’ve ever wanted to do with my life is walk a tightrope.

it’s exciting and terrifying and somewhat convoluted.

so i’m probably going to write about my development/start-up stuff over at about90feet for the near term, which again leaves me a gap in what i should write about over here. right now, i’m spending about 90% of my time coding and 10% of my time screwing around, and that 90% fully belongs at a90f according to its mission statement. keep an eye out over there for now, and i’ll be back shortly.

does carlos pena suck?

i know, i know, more baseball. but one of the big acquisitions in my fantasy draft this year was carlos pena, the first baseman for the tampa bay rays. i argued back in march:

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).

and here’s what i wrote about carlos pena at the time:

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.

well, so far, i’ve been wrong. carlos pena is hitting .184 with an OBP of .298 and SLG .331. 5 home runs, 19 runs scored. excuse my language, but he’s been pretty fucking brutal.

now a lot of other moves i made have worked out. my pitching has started slow but is doing well enough, and my offense, despite the deadweight at 1st, has been doing great, anchored by the extra power out of my pair of 2Bs, dan uggla and chase utley. as of right now i’m in 2nd place, 3.5 points out of first, but as recently as last week i was in 1st. however, players are starting to move (including a trade i just made that i’ll have to write about in another post), and i need to make a decision on first base. i have a couple of interesting guys who i can consider moving to a team out of contention in order to replace pena, but the only reason to consider doing that is if i truly don’t believe pena will rebound. so, let’s look a bit deeper into his 2010.

fangraphs is the first (and sometimes only) stop when trying to evaluate players a bit further. looking at pena’s page there, you’ll see his BABIP is .220, which is low and somewhat unlucky. however, the real problem seems to be his GB/FB ratio, which has jumped to .98 from being .54 last year and .63 the year before that. this is partially due to a lack of line drives (12.6% as opposed to 17-18% the last 3 years), but his GB% has just skyrocketed so far this year. it’s really dragging down every other part of his line, because his K rate has dropped(!) and his BB rate is only slightly down. so why has the GB% jumped?

well, here come the fun pictures:
Carlos Pena 2009

the first picture is carlos pena’s pitches seen in 2009, and the second one is 2010 to this point. blue indicates balls, red indicates strikes, purple indicates swinging strikes, and green indicates a ball put into play. right now, it looks to me like pitchers have a really good approach when pena’s at the plate. the number of pitches on the outer half of the plate have decreased significantly, as well as the pitches in the upper half of the plate – everything is down and in, down and in. however, pena is also not punishing mistakes – there is far less green and far too much red on the second image. this could be because he’s generally trying to change his approach to adjust to the slump and see more pitches, but it seems to me that pena needs to adjust to how pitchers have adjusted to him – go down and get pitches in the lower half of the zone and punish the mistakes he has seen.

going back to fangraphs, it’s clear that not a lot has changed about pena’s plate discipline. he is swinging at a few more pitches outside the zone, but his overall contact% is actually higher than in year’s past. so while i can sit here and argue that his approach might need help, it seems much more likely that in reality, this is a bit of statistical noise from 39 games and 160 PA, and by the end of the season, we probably won’t remember the difficult beginning.

update a few things have changed as i was writing this post. first, i’m now in first place by 1.5 points with 80 points in the league. second, carlos pena hit a home run. but hey, i’m just working my way back into this blog game, so some rust is to be expected.

the day before opening night

in my last post, geoff made a comment that i believe deserves a response. he wrote:

in your last paragraph you implicitly assume that kershaw = lee. do you believe that is true? kershaw seems to be younger, less expensive, and arguably better overall (better in ks and slg, even in era, worse in whip).

even if they are a wash, is turning smoak, santana and reimold into utley a coup? i like utley a whole lot (think he’s the 3rd best hitter in the league) but that is quite a bit to give up – its a very win-now deal. obviously if things dont go well you can try to flip utley again as we move along into the season, but do you expect you’d be able to get that much back for him?

no doubt your team is better off this year as a result of these deals on net. so i guess im trying to figure out the merits of looking at your roster post-draft and immediately deciding to either go for it all or sell it all off versus taking a more wait-and-see approach as the season progresses. i certainly fall more on the cautious side, but the past two years you seem to have gone with the aggressive strategy.

i think geoff’s overarching point was that i was implying a whole hell of a lot in my previous post, and i think he was right. so let me step through each of his comments and then address it as a whole, to better share my thinking on how to build an ottoneu dynasty team.

first off, he points out that i imply that kershaw = lee. his criticisms against that assumption are valid – kershaw is $7 less, he strikes out more batters, he still has tremendous amounts of upside since he’s 22, etc. kershaw is, for the purposes of long-term thinking, unequivocally better than cliff lee. however, i think cliff lee is not a terrible deal at $33, and i think what i gain back in cliff lee gets me, conservatively, 3/4 of the way back towards what i lost in clayton kershaw. the jump i made was that i can eat that 1/4 drop in a starter, because i have other good starters in my rotation. and what i got back – chase utley – more than makes up for that drop.

this brings me to the second point geoff made, of how i gave up 2 top 20 prospects, including a top 5 prospect in carlos santana, as well as a young, cheap OF in making these trades. i gained back 2 established stars with no upside and borderline keeper status for 3 surefire keepers and nolan reimold, who could be a keeper as well. both the prospects i gave up are major-league ready – santana should be up with the tribe this summer, and justin smoak is probably the starting first baseman for the texas rangers in 2011. and of course, clayton kershaw is clayton kershaw.

i agree, this was an aggressive set of moves to make before the season even started. i don’t know how my risks (see executing a flawed strategy) are going to pan out yet, and if they all somehow go well, i might not have needed to give up what i gave up. and if they all go badly, utley might not be enough to turn it around. i understand that, but there are two things to consider:

  1. jee hang started his firesale. a team was going to end up with the big names off his team. he helped make the decision to be aggressive pre-season.
  2. all it takes is one league win in 6 years to pay for entry fees. in other words, if i ever have the slightest chance to finish in the top 3, i have to jump on it as aggressively as possible.

my first point is simple – if i didn’t get cliff lee, allan might have gotten cliff lee. or geoff, or chad, or parker, or sugarman, or any other owner. and in order to pry utley from jon’s hands, knowing full well that jon wasn’t planning on moving him until mid-june at the earliest, i knew i’d have to catch his attention. clayton kershaw catches one’s attention, and cliff lee makes it bearable to part with clayton kershaw, with the added bonus of stopping another team with a strong staff from improving it with cliff lee.

and my second point is the whole point. its great to build a team organically with prospects that you stick with for 3 years until they pan out and give you above-average production at below-average prices for 6 years. but, it’s even better to seize your opportunities. because who knows – maybe justin smoak and carlos santana don’t pan out, maybe nolan reimold doesn’t ever become a top-tier OF, and maybe clayton kershaw never tops the year he had last year. prospects are a whole lot of fun, and finally getting to play them is one of the most exciting things about ottoneu, but the only thing that is more exciting is caring about at-bats in late september and walking away with 6 times what you put in.