making moves

i got pretty good response on my previous post about my fantasy baseball league, so i thought i’d go ahead and let you all know how i followed up.

after examining my team, it was clear that i was starting pitcher-heavy, and lacking in the OF and MI spots. however, my lack of a bullpen kind of made it hard for me to really lose much on the starter side, i decided.

a side note – i think our league might have a weakness in that we don’t have saves as a stat, but we have an equal number of starter and reliever lineup slots, with no P flex slots available. i think this needs to be balanced better, because i think starters are more important than relievers. then again, major league teams carry 11-12 pitchers and usually 4 guys who make 30+ starts, so maybe i’m wrong in my thinking. i would like to get some feedback on that.

so geoff basically convinced me that completely ignoring relievers was dumb, but given the lack of quality relievers available after the draft, i felt stuck on that side of things – i can get some replacement level guys for a dollar here or there, but i wasn’t going to make strides there. so, despite my starting pitching depth, i didn’t want to give up too much on that side, but i still wanted to add a major bat to my offense.

thankfully, just in time, one of our owners decided he wasn’t going to compete this year. this was probably an accurate assessment. due to work constraints, he was unable to attend our auction draft, and his proxy wasn’t able to keep up with us at auction, just because he didn’t know the tendencies of each owner. this owner was thus stuck with a few very overpriced offensive pieces, but nothing in the way of depth or skill at most positions. so, he started his fire sale immediately after the auction draft. i think my firesale last season was sooner, and while it is annoying for other owners for one owner to quit right away, i can tell you from personal experience that it is way more annoying to have to go through an entire baseball season without competing in your fantasy baseball league.

the owner in question, jee hang, had aaron hill, a decent but grossly overpaid (at $30) 2B option. he asked me for justin smoak, a prized prospect out of the rangers farm system that i picked up in my dealings last year. i said no, and looked to other 2B options. but, i kept in mind that jee hang valued smoak, which provided a lot of help later on.

that night, i had dinner with jon. jon’s team had 3 excellent, excellent players at excellent values – roy halladay, chase utley, and kevin youkilis. through the whole dinner, i interjected our otherwise scintillating conversation with trade offers for chase utley. ok, the conversation wasn’t actually scintillating, which made it easier for me to make those trade offers. i knew jon wasn’t willing to make a trade for just prospects – he needed a proven player back, and with his lack of depth on the rotation, plus the fact that utley’s cost ($44) was pushing up against keepable, i thought we’d make a good match. we left each other with the thought of clayton kershaw plus justin smoak for utley left dangling.

the next day was a crazy, crazy day.

i emailed jon and asked him to give me a deadline to make the trade. i emailed jee hang around 10am, and i told him that justin smoak was going to be traded very soon, unless he objected, and that my new asking price was a starting pitcher, NOT aaron hill.

in very rapid succession, i got multiple emails from jee hang saying he was extremely busy but that he didn’t want me to give up smoak, and from jon telling me he’d trade me utley for kershaw and carlos santana. this worked out as well as i wanted, though giving up santana was pretty tough for me as an indians fan and collector of catching prospects.

around 11:15am, fedex showed up to my office. this is important, because we didn’t expect fedex to show up until later in the evening, and on the fedex truck was 4 tickets to the morning session of the first round of the ncaa tournament in san jose, which we had assumed would be wasted. of course, my phone wasn’t charged. while i greatly enjoyed seeing murray state nail a buzzer-beater against vandy, being offline for 5 hours in the middle of the day was far from ideal. at some point during the second game i told jon i’d agree to utley ($44) for kershaw ($26) and santana . now my goal was to replace kershaw’s performance in my rotation.

jee hang had a couple of interesting starting pitcher targets, cole hamels (who i expect to bounce back strong this year) and cliff lee. hamels was a bit expensive, so i told jee hang (again, during the ncaa games, just before my phone died) that i wanted cliff lee, and offered a package of lower-tiered prospects in addition to justin smoak. he countered with nolan reimold (currently my #4 or #5 OF, $5) and smoak ($4) for lee ($33). i quickly, quickly accepted. i think consensus around the league would be that jee hang could have gotten more for cliff lee at that price, but there was a feeling that pitching in our league generally was cheap, so lee might be overpriced compared to his peers.

and that is how i turned clayton kershaw, justin smoak, carlos santana, and nolan reimold into chase utley and cliff lee. in other words, how i turned smoak + santana + reimold into chase utley over the course of two days. with both utley and lee, i was trying to acquire targets that were off the radar of the rest of the league. it was imperative that i moved quickly and snagged both players before i could get outbid on either, and on this front i was successful. i’m not sure if i would have been outbid on utley, but numerous owners have made it clear to both me and jee hang that my snagging of lee was, by their estimations, a coup.

so march 18 was an unequivocal success. and yes, i’ll talk about something else soon.

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, 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.