Sunday, May 31, 2009

Depth Perception

A friend of mine recently said to me, “If you were in a deep league you could pick up Gordon Beckham and stash him on your bench, but I wouldn’t do it in a shallow league.” While I agreed with him at the time, I got to thinking about exactly how deep the league would have to be in order for this transaction to make sense. We have statistics for everything else; surely there is a statistic that measures exactly how deep my fantasy league is relative to other leagues.
How much more accurate would it have sounded if that same friend had said “In a mixed league that has a 65% League Depth or higher you could get away with stashing Gordon Beckham on your bench, but your league is only 45% deep.” That would be awesome, right? I thought so too, and those numbers above accurately represent a new statistic I’m referring to as League Depth Rating (LDR).

The vagueness surrounding how we discuss depth in regards to fantasy baseball leagues may seem somewhat arbitrary, but it often inhibits reasoned discussions from taking place. After all, nobody is going to seek advice on whether or not to drop Jose Reyes, but if the conversation turned to someone of lesser value, Melky Cabrera for instance, anyone giving advice would have to immediately comprehend the league depth in order to give a rational suggestion. Generally this means the league participant saying something along the lines of: “12 team mixed, 5x5 roto, 23 man rosters with one DL slot.” That is the absolute shortest description available to us now, but not only can we shorten it even further, we can make the new version even more informative than the current, longer version.

Let’s break down exactly how to calculate LDR. The first component is establishing a bottom, or 0%, for our scale. In all types of leagues, the bottom will be 150 players. This is based on a projected 10 team, 15 man rosters, and no DL slot league. Could there be a shallower league than this? Probably not in terms of total players, but supposing the answer is yes, the LDR would simply become a negative number.

On the high end of the scale, the deepest league will be a 15 team, 28 man roster, and two DL slot league. This equals 450 players. As discussed above, if a league is deeper than this the LDR would be over 100%. There are two reasons I want to stay at these numbers:

1. By limiting the player pool to a number inside of the top 500 ranked players, the possibilities still exist for us to easily quantify value based on depth. A pattern will develop in each individual league that will allow a fantasy manager to easily identify positional depth both preseason and in-season. Once you get outside of the top 500, projections become less accurate, thereby creating certain illusions of positional depth that may or may not exist.

2. If the formula is to work with both a mixed league and a league-only league, the two ends of the spectrum must be manageable, particularly the high end. In a league-only league, it would be virtually impossible to have a league deeper than 450 players. Especially when you consider that in an AL-only league, if you add up all nine positional starters (including DH), all five starters in each rotation, and four relievers from each team you would only be counting 252 players. That being said, the use of LDR in league-only leagues will be somewhat limited, as these leagues are already deep by definition.

Now that we have the bottom at 150, the top at 450, with a span of 300 in between, what do we do with these numbers? Let’s start by using an example. I’m in a mixed league that has 13 teams, 25 man rosters, and two DL slots. Add it up and this equals 351 players. To calculate the LDR of this league we take the number of players in the league (351), subtract the bottom (150), and then divide the new number by the span (300). The LDR of this league is 67%. Here again, the formula:

(Number of Players rostered in League – 150) / (300) = LDR

Now that we have established LDR in terms of how to define it, the real question becomes how can we use it to our advantage? If I know that my league has a 67% LDR, what does that tell me that my competitor may be unaware of? Individually, if you are prone to making your own preseason projections, you can use it to your advantage at least a couple of ways:

1. Pre-draft, if you eliminate positional scarcity when making your projections and go solely off the actual production, you can determine positional scarcity later on by counting up the number of players at each position inside the total of all players that will be drafted. Granted, we do this now to a degree, but the difference is I now know that if I have a few different leagues that I’m draft-prepping, I can quickly say to myself: “In this 38% LDR league, OF’s will be more scarce than 1B, but in this 59% LDR league, I can wait a little longer on OF and take an elite 1B early.”

2. Regardless of what type of league you are in, knowing how to project the production of first-year players and prospects is both extremely difficult and highly valuable. Predicting the unpredictable is often the difference between winning and losing in fantasy. Where the value of having LDR comes in is that you will be able to determine the amount of available roster space you can use for upside players. Back to the Beckham example, say you want to shelve a prospect like him on your bench, you will first need to know if you if you will need his value at some point. If Beckham is SS eligible, how many other SS’s are owned in your league? Beckham’s value will be high if the best available SS via the free agent pool is Tyler Greene. Conversely, his value will be low if Jason Bartlett is available. LDR, used properly, will work very well in conjunction with a statistic like Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). I see this tool as something along the lines of “Fantasy League-specific VORP”. Simply put, this all has to do with relative value. Obviously, LDR is not going to be a tool to help you determine the actual value of the player, with regards to their actual production, but knowing the relative value is just as important. There are a lot of methods already being utilized in this quest to determine relative value, and VORP is but one of them. LDR can be a new weapon in the fantasy manager’s arsenal.

For those looking to expand the use of LDR more universally, the advantages are even more obvious. Fantasy advice columnists and bloggers are always looking for ways of dispensing information that is relative to everyone. They often fall short, though, and can only reach those managers in the most normalized league formats. Whether this problem is of their own making or simply an inherent flaw in the system, it is a problem that needs to be resolved. Take this article by The Hardball Times: If, instead of "last player drafted", they used the last player ownable at each position per every ten percentage points of LDR, they would be able to tell you the PRLP before you drafted. LDR is not going to completely fix these issues, but it could be a big first step.

The methodology currently in place to determine positional depth assumes an average player pool of 300 players or so. If you are in a very shallow or a very deep league, you would not be facing the same situations as those outlined by someone writing an article based on that number. Conventional wisdom tells us that the common shallow positions are generally 2B, 3B, and C. But in a shallow league, where you need a star at every position, the position of least depth is probably OF. This may seem obvious for the extremely shallow leagues, but where is the line? Think about all fantasy leagues as a big swimming pool for a second. You have a shallow end, a deep end, and in the middle there is a long ramp. The ramp is the area of concern here. Where is your league on that ramp? That’s what we can determine with LDR.

Example: Many of the 3rd-tier OF’s are going to be rated somewhere between 150 and 250 on the average mixed league player rater. This means, assuming three OF spots, one-third of the ownable OF’s in a ten-team mixed league will not be among the top 150 total players. Whereas, assuming one 2B spot per roster, nearly all of the ownable 2B will be ranked inside the top 150. In this league, if you decide to draft all of your outfielders before you take a second baseman, you would be justified in doing so.

As a fantasy baseball player, you want to be able to utilize all of the advice out there from columnists, bloggers, stat sites, etc. However, you also have to decide for yourself what information is relative to your league. Often, this is just a guess. Over the last few years, though, there have been many tools that have been developed that have taken the guesswork out of fantasy baseball. If this is the objective, then LDR will be another example of one of these tools.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The "Bad Boy" Nuggets?

If John Salley were a Lithuanian small forward I would have found a transcendent paradox. But he is not, and so all I’ve really found is a grouping of curious similarities. But these similarities, albeit imperfect, are quite profound.

Think back to 1988. Do you remember how great basketball was that year? Magic and Bird had taken the game to a level that Cousy and West could only have dreamed. A young player named Michael Jordan was beginning to forge his identity as the greatest player who ever lived, at the unfortunate expense of Craig Ehlo. And one of the greatest teams of all time was quietly coming of age.

The “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons of the 1988-89 season were known for tenacity and toughness, for playing as a complete unit and, most importantly, for getting under their opponents’ skin. If it wasn’t Bill Laimbeer throwing elbows, then it was Rick Mahorn grabbing a jersey, or Dennis Rodman flopping all over the court. The Pistons were the best at throwing their opponents off of their game. It took a very intelligent player to beat them, and in fact it ultimately would be Jordan, the most intelligent player of all time, who finally dethroned them.

The other night, as I watched the Denver Nuggets take on the L.A. Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, I was thinking about these Pistons of twenty years ago. The Nuggets are not only a very physical team; they are a very passionate team as well. Much like the Pistons, these Nuggets are led by their guard play, but rely on their size and depth to keep them in games that they otherwise would be out of.

As I was subconsciously weighing these similarities while watching Game Four the other night, one play in particular snapped my conscious into focus and suddenly it all made sense. Which play? I am, of course, referring to Dahntay Jones tripping Kobe Bryant as he drove to the basket. It was a dirty play by anyone’s standards, and while I’m not about to call it a great play, it certainly was a good play for the Nuggets at the time. They got a much needed emotional lift out of it, and at the same time it took a lot of energy from Bryant to hold back and NOT retaliate. It was a game-changer of the likes we haven’t seen in, well, twenty years.

I decided it would be a fun exercise to break down each roster and see just how similar these two teams are. What I found out was that the resemblance is uncanny, so let’s just dive right in, starting with the starting point guards and finishing up with the key bench players:

Starting Point Guard
Pistons: Isiah Thomas
Nuggets: Chauncey Billups
The catalyst of their respective teams, both Thomas and Billups could take over a game if need be, but both also know that they need to spread the ball around in order to be a championship caliber team. In terms of competitiveness and talent, no starting point guard on a championship winning team had more of both than Thomas until Billups won the title with the 2004 Pistons.

Starting Two Guard
Pistons: Joe Dumars
Nuggets: J.R. Smith
This is where it kinda gets fuzzy. Whereas Dumars was arguably the 2nd-best player on the Pistons (and one of the all-time greats at that), that honor on the Nuggets belongs to Carmelo Anthony. But Smith is an obvious scoring option, capable of pouring in 30 points on any given night. So, while it’s a bit of a stretch, when we get to ‘Melo, we’ll see that it evens out.

Starting Forward
Pistons: Mark Aguirre
Nuggets: Carmelo Anthony
See, I told you it would even out. Aguirre was good, but on this team he was a little past his prime. I thought about using Adrian Dantley in this spot, and if you think about it, Dantley and Anthony are very similar: Natural scoring types with a selfish streak. Let’s hope that Anthony doesn’t miss out on a championship in the same way that Dantley did.

Starting Forward
Pistons: Bill Laimbeer
Nuggets: Kenyon Martin
Maybe Laimbeer was technically a center, but he definitely played more like a power forward. Martin, meanwhile, is a power forward who plays like a center. So, while Martin doesn’t have Laimbeer’s range, what he does have is a similar toughness on the court. These guys define how the game will be played down low for their respective teams.

Pistons: James Edwards
Nuggets: Nene
When the Pistons needed some consistency on offense, and their outside game was off, they would turn to Edwards and his exceptional field-goal percentage to keep them in games. Ditto for the Nuggets and Nene, These guys are the “cooler heads prevail” guys on teams of hot-heads.

Bench #1
Pistons: Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson
Nuggets: Anthony Carter
Apologies to the Microwave, Carter is the first guard off the bench for the Nuggets, but he is nowhere near the player that Johnson was. Johnson was one of the original NBA Sixth Men, and deserves a lot of the credit for both of the Pistons championships. Carter is a fine player, but he’s no Microwave.

Bench #2
Pistons: Dennis Rodman
Nuggets: Chris Andersen
Here’s a good example of my formula at work. I would define both of these guys as: Flamboyant, energetic, and stable forces off the bench that are critical to their team’s success. Both have rebounding ability and shot-blocking ability. Both come off the bench to provide much-needed defense when the opposition gets on a roll. Off the court, Rodman’s most interesting years were ahead of him at this point, while Andersen has put a lot behind him already.

Bench #3
Pistons: Rick Mahorn
Nuggets: Dahntay Jones
Ah, the coup d’├ętat of my analysis. These are the guys you bring in after Laimbeer/Rodman/Martin/Andersen haven’t been quite disconcerting enough for the opponent. Mahorn would make up for a lack of vertical play by literally bringing his man down to his level. Jones, meanwhile, will do anything and everything to get in the head of whoever he is guarding until they are completely thrown off their rhythm. Oh, and by the way, these guys are really fun to watch.

Bench #4
Pistons: John Salley
Nuggets: Linas Kleiza
And we have come full circle. Needless to say, these two guys have almost nothing in common. Salley was a good, not great, rebounder off the bench. Kleiza is a streaky shooter who can play big minutes when asked. But I would point out that if these two teams were completely similar, well, that would just be creepy.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

POTD: May 10th, 2009

First things first, Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there, including my own mother and also my beautiful wife. If I could write this post in pink, I would absolutely do it.

Now to the baseball knowledge. This edition of the Pickup of the Day is a rarety in that I have actually picked up this player in every applicable league I am in. I've been monitoring his progress in the minors, patiently biding my time until said organization finally brought him up, and today was the day. I am of course referring to the young and talented Mr...

Luke Hochevar, SP, Kansas City

Faced with having to place Joakim Soria on the disabled list with shoulder issues, the Royals are left with no other choice than to put Sir Sidney Ponson in the bullpen and call up Hochevar to take his spot in the rotation. To say that this move should have been made two weeks ago would be an all-time understatement. Hochevar has posted a 5-0 record in six starts for AAA Omaha with a 0.90 ERA. Not that long ago, he was a celebrated first round pick with just as much upside as Zack Grienke, if not more.

Hochevar's first start will be Tuesday in Oakland. I would pick him up and start him immediately. That being said, I would assume that his hold on this spot in the rotation will be based solely on performance. As long as he is effective, he should be good to go for the rest of the year. For more info, check out

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Top Ten List: First Month Slumps

The first month of the baseball season has brought quite a few interesting surprises. The St. Louis Cardinals dominated, the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t shown up yet, Emilio Bonifacio used up some of his fifteen minutes, and Yankee Stadium got more media coverage than the entire Royals’ organization. And the Royals aren’t even that bad.
There are a lot of teams that are bad, though. More specifically there are players that have been bad for them. I love top ten lists, so I figured why not break this down Letterman style? I’ve included some buying/selling advice for each player as well.
Here now, in descending order, April’s top tankers:

10. Lance Berkman
Do you remember how great Berkman was the first two months of 2008? Well, this April he hit .165 with five homers, 17 BB’s and 22 K’s. He’s slowly morphing into a “three true outcomes” type of guy (April TTO%: 56%). This is so unlike last year that I’ve taken to calling him bizzaro-Berkman, but the bottom line is that I do expect him to get his BA up, but I don’t expect to see any of the speed that he showed early last season. Cautious buy low

9. Russell Martin
Martin hit .205/10/0/11/0 in April, bad numbers even for a catcher. But, in Martin’s defense, he appears to be doing a great job handling the young Dodger pitching staff. Joe Torre has gone out of his way to explain that Martin is just pressing a bit too hard right now. This seems like a clear example of a player trying to make too big of a difference too early in the season. I expect him to be fine. Strong buy low

8. Brad Lidge
Yeah, Lidge is a little dinged up, which is different than slumping, but he got through most of April healthy and hasn’t had to go on the DL yet, so I think I can safely say he’s in a slump. If you look at his numbers, they aren’t good: He’s 0-1 with a 7.27 ERA and a 1.95 WHIP. But, in reality, he only has one blown save, and only two bad outings altogether. He just hasn’t had enough good outings yet to offset the bad ones. Like I said, he’s been fighting knee issues as well, so I’m not ready to say that he will be great the rest of the year or anything. I do expect him to be better than he has been, but not enough to recommend him. Don't buy

7. Matt Holliday
Saw this coming? Yeah, me too. Coors to Oaktown is a long, lonely trip. Holliday had four HR’s in April ’08, this year he hit one, on the last day of the month no less. That’s not that significant, though. But this is: last year in April- 5 steals, this year- none. Not one. We are looking at a guy who went 25/28 last year, and now it looks like he may be 20/10. That’s a huge drop-off. That being said, an impatient Holliday owner may be looking to dump him for 50 cents on the dollar, in which case he isn’t a bad speculative play. Buy low for cheap

6. Josh Beckett
What is going on with this guy? Great start to the season, followed by a mediocre outing, and then progressively worse from there. He was also suspended for five games for throwing at Bobby Abreu’s head, but that shouldn’t have affected his performance unless it was more a mental affectation. So now he stands at 2-2 with a 7.22 ERA, 31 K’s, and a 1.81 WHIP. Last year at the end of April he had similar stats in every category other than ERA, which was much lower at 4.10. He didn’t exactly pick up any steam as the year went on last year. He finished 12-10, 4.03 ERA, and 172 K’s, but his WHIP was great at 1.19. Beckett is really hit-or-miss, and although I would like to tell you to buy him, nobody is going to let him go for fair market value simply because of name recognition. Buy low if you can

5. Ricky Nolasco
Florida is off to a great start. As they are wont to do every few years, they look like they may be ready to contend with a very young team. But, what is the most surprising part of this Fish story? They are doing it without one of their best young starters contributing much of anything. Nolasco had a remarkable year in 2008, earning 15 wins, with 186 K’s, a 3.52 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. Last year opponents hit .239 against him. So far this year they are hitting .327. He has one win and his ERA is almost seven. All of this would be very alarming if he hadn’t done the same exact thing last April. He did, though, he had a horrible April in ’08, and he may very well have a horrible April in ’10 too, but he’ll be fine every month in between. Very strong buy low

4. B.J. Upton
There are slumps, and then there are SLUMPS. Just ask Adrian Beltre. Or, you could just ask Upton at this point, because he is going through one of the worst months I have ever seen a top 50 fantasy player ever go through. Let’s break it down. He wasn’t ready until the second week of the season because of off-season shoulder surgery. After coming back for one week and hitting .200, he strains a quad, misses a couple games, comes back, hits no home runs, and drops his BA to .177. On the upside he has 5 steals. On the downside he has two two-steal games, which means he only has a steal in three games. To put it simply, if he can’t hit for power and he may or may not be healthy enough to steal bases, then he is no better than David Dellucci to me. (Apologies to David Dellucci, first name that popped in my head, seriously) I’m not ready to completely give up on him, but it wouldn’t shock me if he was a fantasy dud all season long, either through injuries or bad performance. Don't buy

3. David Ortiz
Ortiz hit .230 in April; Not good, but not awful. But what is awful is that he seems to have lost his home run swing. He has NONE, no homers all year. This, while not completely unexpected, is very bad news to a specific sect of fantasy baseball players: Those who took a chance on Papi at a reasonable draft price assuming that he had something left. Turns out, he may not. He also takes up a valuable utility slot on a fantasy roster. Everyone who owns this guy right now is worried about him. If you think he has the ability to turn it around, this is a guy that is there for the taking. Cautiously pessimistic buy low

2. CC Sabathia
We all know that Sabathia is a slow starter. He had a bad April last year, and has a career April ERA of 4.51. This April it was 4.73. Last year he was struggling until he was traded in June to Milwaukee, where he was virtually unhittable the rest of the way. I want to make two very strong points here, though. 1: He won’t have the luxury of a change of scenery or a change of pace this year, the pressure will be intense and constant. 2: He was one of the first two pitchers off the board in a lot of fantasy leagues this year. When a pitcher is taken that early, their owner does not expect him to struggle for an entire month. That being said… Buy buy buy if you can

1. Mark Teixeira
Big Tex has the burden of being the only corner infielder for the Bombers that is expected to also produce at the plate. Without A-Rod in the lineup as of yet, the Yankees were hoping that Teixeira would be able to live up to expectations early and often in the Big Apple. He has not. He hit a Mendoza-like .200 for April, with 3 HR’s and 10 RBI’s, which would be more similar to Kevin Maas than Lou Gehrig. It seems like a run-of-the-mill slump type of situation, but when you are a Yankee and you are getting paid that much money, the pressure can build exponentially. I think a season-long slump, while not likely, is definitely in play at this point. He should be fine as soon as A-Rod is back and is taking the entire media spotlight again. Teixeira owners should be careful right now. He’s the kind of guy that explodes as soon as you trade him. Buy low if you can. Do not sell low.

It’s interesting that subconsciously I wanted Tex and CC to be 1-2 on that list. I think it boils down to the fact that I believe in the pressure of living up to a huge free agent contract. We’ve seen it with players like J.D. Drew, Richie Sexson, Mo Vaughn, Ken Griffey, Jr., Gary Matthews, Jr., the aforementioned Adrian Beltre, and an entire staff of Yankee pitchers including Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano. I wouldn’t start panicking on these guys yet, but definitely keep up to date with all of your information.

Some Honorable Mention slumpees:
Jimmy Rollins, Alexei Ramirez, Geovany Soto, Troy Tulowitzki, Magglio Ordonez, J.J. Hardy, Derrek Lee, Lastings Milledge, Chris Ianetta, Jake Peavy, Cole Hamels, Francisco Liriano, Cliff Lee, Ryan Dempster

AWOL? I Think Not

Sure, I haven't wrote anything in a couple weeks, but there is a very good reason. I've become a basketball fan again. My love for basketball goes back to being a wide-eyed six year old mezmerized by Bird, Magic, Dr. J., Bill Laimbeer, Robert Parrish, and Danny Ainge, just to name a few. Basketball in the '80's was absolutey amazing. It was good in the '90's too, mostly because of Jordan, but he wasn't the only one who was fun to watch. I was actually a huge basketball fan right up until the brawl between the Pistons and Pacers at the Palace in 2004. My attention for the game was already waning at that point, as I refused to root for the Starbury's and Stevie Franchise's of the world. But the brawl put me over the top. So, up until a couple of weeks ago, I gave it up. And then this amazing thing happened. Bulls/Celtics, first round, 2009, and my five year hiatus is over. Here's a quick video of that series, and then another video of the series that it most reminds me of:

I've also submitted an entry into Baseball Prospectus' BP Idol blogger contest. So look for that, as I'm sure I will be among the top 10 picked out of the 800 or so entries they recieved. Yes, that is sarcasm. But, here's to hoping.