Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rule the Second: Know Your Odds

Since I started on a poker theme, I might as well continue here.

In poker, you need to know your pot odds; you need to know what chances you have of succeeding with the hand you have. You need to know all the facts and figures to make the best decisions. Rule #1 was about knowing your market; rule #2 is about knowing the product and PROPERLY evaluating risk.

I know this isn’t revolutionary stuff. So let’s get down to some specifics in how to play this out. To start off, ask yourself this question. If "future you" were to appear before you today and say, you have four leagues that you’re about to draft, and I’ll give you two options. Option one, you come in 2nd through 6th in all your leagues. Or, in option two, you come in 1st in one league and dead last in all your other leagues. These are extremes, but knowing the answer to this or at least which side of the spectrum you lean to, is how you should start to evaluate risk.

I’m the second guy in this scenario. And luckily for you, a-mak’s more along the lines of the first, so if you lean that way, you have a solid option for advice right here on this blog. I like a little more risk in my risk analysis. Why? Because I want to win. There is a difference between 2nd and 12th, but it’s not as big a difference as between 1st and 2nd for me (when there’s no money involved). And when it comes to how I evaluate the market, that’s the key for me. When there’s not a significant cost of entry into any of your leagues (either monetarily or otherwise), and there’s not much difference between 2nd and last, high risk strategy is some of the best to take.

Put it this way. In the NCAA tournament, most years, you pick someone like Cornell or Northern Iowa to do how they’ve done, and you’ll lose. But if you’re entering a huge contest like ESPN or Y!, selecting something crazy like that gives you a huge advantage if it turns out right. It’s a way of separating yourself from the crowd. The one in every seven years that it does happen, you don’t have to get as many of the first day games because you’re one of the few people who don’t have Villanova and Kansas in your final four.

In your office pool, you never pick those types of games because the odds don’t make any sense. Everyone’s got Kansas in the final four, so just putting Ohio State in there (a more likely conclusion) would already give you that leg up. There would be no need to take a bigger risk.

I tend to act the same way when it comes to drafting. A lot of people will advise their readers to lower their risk; take the numbers that you know (as much as one can) will pan out. Get value here by taking someone at an unnecessarily discounted price. Never reach. Don’t pay for career years, don’t pay for saves, etc. All these strategies are about reducing risk, and if you have heartburn, it’s probably the way to go. But smartly attacking risk can pay off as well.

Just a few quick specifics that I like to do. I like to draft players on their “last chance.” Basically the fantasy community is about to give up on them despite their talent and despite their positioning due to 2 or 3 years of not living up to expectations. Sometimes they get discounted below what they’re actually providing because everyone has been expecting them to provide so much more that they’re frustrated. Two guys I like this year in that vein are Stephen Drew and Alex Gordon. Drew is fairly cheap, and Gordon’s injury has made him waiver worthy in a lot of leagues, but I’d keep my eye on him.

Another type is people coming off injury or otherwise shortened seasons. I love Carlos Gonzalez here. It’s a small sample size, but he has pedigree, he has results, and he has peripherals. He’s one of the main guys where I’ve gone against my “diversify your portfolio” decree for 2010.

I tend to fill up my squads with about a third of these guys. These guys who don’t have a track record of success, or they do, but they’ve stumbled for a year. In the same way that I don’t have zero #1 seeds making the final four, I don’t take all of these guys in a draft. It is still a bit about balance. Even if you lean one way or another on the risk spectrum scale.

-Trigga Play

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I liked him a lot better on Florida

You know who I'd like to clash with? Jay Bouwmeeter.

Mano a mano. Bare-knuckle style.

Sure he's got 60 or so pounds on me - and several inches, too - but with my immense amount of pint-up rage and his general ineptitude, foreseeing me savagely Brock Hammer Fisting this punk's face in and knocking him into oblivion suddenly becomes a not so unlikely scenario. Then I'll land 15 more shots when he's out cold.

Bouwmeester has performed underwhelmingly coming into the season as a consensus fifth-round pick. I landed him in the sixth round at pick 79 (R6 P4) in the Roto Arcade Blog League and felt he was tremendous value there. On a per-game scale, he's been outperformed by every pick in that round (Booth, Quick, Hiller, Stastny, Havlat, Burrows, Horton, Kunitz, Chris Mason, Roy, Scott Niedermayer, Bryzgalov, Selanne -- hell, even Boyes and he's endured the most disappointing season of his career).

He was drafted to anchor my blue line, just as he was acquired by Calgary to anchor theirs. I finished the draft with a very capable defense corps (Bouwmeester, Bieksa, McCabe, Jovanovski, Visnovsky). Alongside Dion Phaneuf, I had him for a 17-30-47-80-170 line; an exceptional tier 2 line for a defenseman. If you extrapolate his current numbers through 71 games, though, you get a putrid 3-26-29-54-133 stat line. That takes a backseat to Erik Johnson, Stephane Robidas, Ian White and James Wisniewski (James Wisniewski!) - all of whom were taken in the 10th round or later.

From 2005 through 2009 on the Florida Panthers, Bouwmeester was shockingly consistent. He averaged 12 goals and 29 assists for 41 points, 72 penalty minutes and 182 shots on goal, all while not missing a single game.

So what went wrong? Two factors contributed to his massively sub-standard 2009-2010 campaign. One, he signed a lucrative five-year contract averaging $6.6 million US annually. With that incentive pocketed entering the season he lost his motivation. Second, he was moved from a rebuilding team battling for the eighth seed in the East each season to a contending Western Conference powerhouse who were expected to duke it out with rivals Vancouver for the top spot in the Northwest. That's a lot of responsibility to shoulder in your first year. Though Miikka Kiprusoff has played magically comparable to his stellar 2005-2006 season - while forcing me to eat crow - the Flames only remain in contention for the final seed in the West.

So what do I think about his prospects going into 2010-2011 drafts? He's going to be undervalued. Probably going in the seventh or eighth round (similar to the dropoff Phaneuf experienced after a lackluster year last season) so he'll be affordable. For that price I'm definitely buying. That's a bargain. Still only 26 and loaded with a cannon of a shot, I fully expect Bouwmeester to rebound next year. Perhaps he'll never live up to that 55-point potential but to get a serviceable D1 in the eighth would be a steal.

Back to the Roto Arcade Blog League. We're down to 10 or 11 games remaining on the slate and, as it stands, he's entirely relievable. I claimed top spot this morning but it's the arduous Battle of the Streamers. The top 5 teams are all very much in this thing (and, as I proved in The Roto Arcade Pro-Am with my 15.5 points gained in the final two days of play capturing the title, anything can happen in roto. I've once lost a league because a guy streamed a pitcher on the last day; I didn't, and he made a jump in a pitching category).

Bouwmeester has one point in his last nine games and two in his last 13. In his past 13 games, he's a -10. Over the past month, his anemic 0 goal/1 assist/minus-7/4 PIM/1 PP/11 SOG line is forgettable. I can get better production via the wire and streaming.

Bieksa is another droppable option. But I'm looking at the schedule and the Canucks play back-to-back games on the 23rd and 24th against Edmonton and Anaheim, respectively. I need PIM and the Canucks rank fifth in PIM, the Anaheim Ducks fourth and the Edmonton Oilers 12th, which means I'm in pretty good shape to watch Bieksa tussle with a goon.

Can JB pull it together during the final 10 games when I need him the most? In terms of defensemen he's one of my favorite. Don't let 2009 be the year where you go from G.O.A.T. to goat, Bouwmeester.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Meticulously constructing a flawless draft strategy

It's what I've been doing for the last several hours (three and a half and counting). I generally reserve four to seven hours, seclude myself in an enclosed space (not encouraged if you're a claustrophobe), and tackle each of my drafts with a seamless thoroughness that would impress even the finest of linebackers.

This draft was different. And so you adapt.

I always keep a pad of paper around. A pad and a pen. I've tried making notes on my Sony laptop and the results were epically disastrous. Not encouraged.

First, I jot down the settings. You want to know your settings inside and out and play within them to your advantage. I think the most important thing to note is the number of teams in your league. You base your draft strategy entirely around this.

In a holds league, holds carry the same significance as saves. In NL leagues, you bite the bullet and jump the gun on established and capable closers.

The second step depends on if your draft order is determined prior to the draft or randomly decided 30 minutes before.

If it is predetermined and you know you're drafting at 7., write down all your picks. You'll have a rough idea of how the first few rounds are going to play out so go through the available players page and list all the guys who will presumably be unclaimed for each round. Contingency plans are encouraged. I list three or four guys at each tier, in order. To play it safe I give myself a 5-10 pick opening (like if you wanted to make a reach at that pick). Also you'll have the luxury of finding complementary pairings. Longoria and Crawford at the turn, for example.

If your draft randomly determines the order, write down each round as tiers. 1-12, 13-24, 25-36 ... then list all the hypothetical situations which intrigue you. You'll go into the draft with a vague sense of what you're going to accomplish. A step ahead of those who don't consider the endless outcomes of each round going into the draft.

Create a: Sleepers, Speculation and Under-ranked table. Go through the entire player pool at least twice filling out each heading. Mark down the players' O-Rank.

I also manually create a table featuring every pick of the draft highlighting where the turns of each rounds are (or, where "snaking" occurs). I number the picks. The exercise is a strong visual standout.

I also stick to a strict plan. If I've got down that I'll start my pitcher run in the ninth because there's good value in that round, that's how I'll go about things. If I've got my sights set on taking a catcher in the 14th, that's where I'll target them. Experts say you shouldn't get married to a draft plan. I find that if I break away from a plan early - like drafting Mauer in the second - it throws my rhythm off and compromises my strategy. Playing it by ear, I'm not a fan.

Then construct a list of player injuries and keep notes.

If you're unclear about an injury or a player's status, search three or four alternative resources.

Going through the player pool, find where to extract positional value.

That's all I've got for now. Back to Hour Four of this endless cram session. Here's where the unpleasantness commences. Staying highly caffeinated: encouraged (one Red Bull, two sodas in).

As promised, introducing: Commenter Trigga Play

Who am I?

I don't have a particular fascination with 80's movies.

I don’t have an unhealthy obsession with Anne Hathaway or bacon.

I don’t write teen sex comedies.

I’m not severely convinced of my own greatness.

And I certainly don’t have several degrees in statistics.

So I ask myself, other than wanting to write, what do I have to offer? I like to think that what I might offer that departs from some of these sources is a little bit of everything. I know a little bit about sports. I know a little bit about poker. I know a little bit about investing. I know a little bit about philosophy. I’m a little things guy. I’ll probably never be a great slugger or flamethrower.

So you won't find lots of charts here. Or rankings, or pop culture references. And unless people really want to hear about The World, Time Indefinite, and/or Two for the Road, you probably won’t be hearing about my favorite movies.

You’ll find some strategy, some musings, and some predictions is all. And writing with amak means that you’ll definitely find some strong disagreements because we couldn’t be further from each other in terms of strategy.

To kick things off, I’m going to write up a little bit on my own personal rules for fantasy sports. And as I think of other important aspects to me, I’ll continue to detail those. But here’s the first of three that are the foundation of pretty much how I run everything.

These aren’t rules like wait on a catcher or draft 2 RBs in your first 3 rounds. They can’t simply be followed; they require input.

The first and foremost rule in every sport is know your table. Pitchers catalog years of hitting trends before they ever take the mound. Quarterbacks watch weeks of tape before squaring off with a defense. And professional poker players play thousands of hands in order to get the feel for hands and opponents, to turn statistics and strategy into instinct.

Why does every professional do this? Why should you go into an interview knowing the interviewer and the company? Why do we research products before we buy them? It’s obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do this. I mean not even in the slightest. Not even clicking the person’s profile to see whether or not abandoning leagues is a habit of theirs.

The more you know about your opponents the better. Get them talking on the message boards, in the draft. Send them e-mails detailing your opinions real or fake. Read their blogs. Doesn’t matter, get them talking. This is how you find value. Not by looking at You have to know the market you're in to know what’s overpriced and what isn’t. Think about people’s predilections and what they might mean. One Brewers fan might be willing to overpay for any Brewer while the next might overcompensate and not fairly evaluate any of them.

As NBC has taught us, the more you know, right? Time to look around the table with Spring about to be on our doorsteps. Do you know what the man to your left does with low pocket pairs? Does the woman across from you chase straights or flushes? Does your rival never even call under the gun?

And remember, no matter what he says; Gucci doesn’t love you.

(Ok, so there will be the occasional pop culture reference)

-Trigga Play

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Utility expense

I will be competing in at least eight leagues this season. I'm currently committed to six of them. So with the seventh, I decided to employ an unprecidented set-up, an unheard of and unique yet challenging experience: the 9 Util/9 P league.

In this format you're not married to the idea of position scarcity. In fact, you throw it out the proverbial window. Position scarcity has long since played a vital role in assessing players' values. You convert every position on a baseball diamond into a utility role and what you've got is flexibility and a whole lot of Mark DeRosas. You could own nine second basemen or the entire Mets outfield (including reserves) or presumably 67% of your roster could consist of Ramirezes.

Without position scarcity Dustin Pedroia looks remarkably mundane. Mauer looks enormously overvalued. And Aaron Hill ... well, he looks out of place as it stands regardless of scarcity. He doesn't deserve that ADP nor will he meet the outrageously high expectations he has on him coming into 2010. He can rake but 36 home runs is an outlier. Without question.

You can go about filling your roster in hundreds of ways, but it's imperative that you develop and stick to a strategy throughout the early parts of the draft and even into the core rounds.

Above all else, you have flexibility. You can skip the third base position entirely (arguably the most troublesome position to fill in years). You can get away with owning two starters (in the Commenters league two years ago I only drafted Justin Masterson and I can tell you that it didn't end well. I had to construct a rotation during the season collecting scraps as this was a 16-teamer).

In short, you have an infinite number of strategies available at your disposal. It breaks the game down to its basics, but at the same time, requires as much - if not more - preparation and research as your typical, standard draft.

I'll also be adding the work of a fellow commenter, Trigga Play, up on here. We've competed in some of the same leagues against Yahoo! experts and he's an insightful dude. So look out for that.