March 25, 2010

Being ahead of the curve in a game theory -ategic sense is integral to building a successful team. However, also being ahead of the curve when it comes to a particular strategy having run its course is even more important toward maintaining excellence. A strategy is most effective when those employing it are in the minority. Today we will discuss a couple of common strategies that are in need of some tweaking, if not a complete makeover.

• Do not buy saves. Avoid closers. This has been the standard advice of my fellow pundits for the past several seasons. Many continue to espouse this. The reasoning is clear enough. Year after year, there is serious turnover at the closer position. Fewer than half of the relievers who earn their team's first save end up leading their squad in saves by year's end. Injury, ineffectiveness and trade result in the majority of closers being replaced each season. This avails many opportunities to acquire precious saves in season. Why allocate your limited draft or auction resources to acquire a commodity so readily available for cheaper in during the season?

I'll tell you why. It is a matter of Economics 101: Supply and Demand. The cost of a commodity is at its lowest when the supply is high and the demand is low. When we first started popularizing this concept, the supply of these in-season saves was plentiful while the demand was still limited. The result was an extremely efficient means of acquiring saves. But what has happened over the past few seasons? Speculating on closers has become as popular as speculating on Jennifer Aniston's latest love interest. Sorry, that's the best I can do, I'm a bit out of touch with pop culture. Anyway, the point is you and your fantasy baseball brethren have become extremely adept at identifying the next-in-line guys in the 30 major league bullpens. Heck, there are some web sites devoted specifically for just this purpose, let alone almost everyone else devoting at least a portion of their fantasy coverage towards bullpen pecking order.

The result is the supply of these in-season closers has dwindled as they are bring drafted onto the back end of rosters and littering reserve lists everywhere. In addition, the competition for the saves that slip through the cracks has increased. What happens when supply decreases and demand goes up? That's right, the cost rises. Acquiring saves during the season is no longer an efficient use of your post-draft resources. And this does not even take into account the failure rate of trying to properly identify the saves candidate or the ancillary damage some of these not-so-skilled relievers can do to your ratio stats.

For those that took Physics instead of Economics, you learned for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, the action of some bypassing saves in their draft or auction has led to a lower cost of in-season saves.

et us break the closers into three tiers: stud, stable and questionable. The studs have elite skills and no competition for the role, the stable have good skills with no competition while the questionable class are in danger of losing the gig via injury or poor performance. The place this will manifest greatest is in the middle tier of closers. There are always those that believe that it is most prudent to not only pay for saves, but to pay for the elite, more on this in a moment. Those looking for saves on the cheap will focus on the third class or even wait for waivers/free agency. So back to Economics and supply and demand; the supply of the middle tier is the same, but the demand is reduced. This reduction has led to a lowered cost of acquisition. This, my friends, is where you want to be looking for your saves. At least until everyone else catches on. But for now, target the likes of Jose Valverde, Francisco Cordero, Chad Qualls, Brian Wilson, Brian Fuentes, Mike Gonzalez, Leo Nunez and Carlos Marmol.

Before we move onto the next antiquated strategy, let us briefly touch on an underappreciated advantage of dipping into the upper echelon of closers. Other than the stability their elite skills provide, their stellar peripherals and the resultant ratios have a profound effect on your ratios. In brief, if you have Jonathan Papelbon or Mariano Rivera instead of Francisco Cordero or Jose Valverde, on the average, you will gain a point in ERA and WHIP, perhaps more. Another way to approach it is having a top closer allows you to downgrade one of your first four starting pitchers a level. For instance, if you normally carry starters you consider to be SP1, SP2, SP3 and SP4, you can instead draft SP2, SP2, SP3 and SP4 or SP1, SP2, SP4 and SP4, etc. Waiting an extra round or two in a draft or paying a little less in an auction allows you to fortify your hitting, which was likely weakened by investing in the premier closer in the first place.

• The next strategy to be discussed is so popular I probably do not even have to explain that ADP stands for average draft position. This is a tool that has become as commonplace as the cheat sheet itself. But here is the problem. Once upon a time, those armed with an ADP sheet were in the minority, and thus were in possession of some valuable information of which not everyone was aware. But now, everyone has the same information. This severely limits its utility. And for some, it has an adverse affect to the point it can even be a detriment.

For the handful not familiar with an ADP report, it is a compilation of a bunch of drafts, averaging the position each player was selected. The idea is the user can now get a feel for when certain players will be selected, so they know how many rounds they can wait to maximize their profit. For example, say there is a player you rank with fifth round value, but his ADP is the ninth round. Chances are, you can pass on him in rounds 5 and 6 and take him in 7 or 8, realizing some serious profit. But what if everyone knows the ADP is ninth round and you are not the only one that has a man-crush on this player? How long can you now afford to wait? Sure, you can take him in round 6 and still get some value, but you sure better be right and everyone else wrong with respect to his fifth round value.

The primary pratfall of ADP is users have become overly reliant upon it as a means to direct or dictate their draft as opposed to a tool to guide or assist their draft. You literally start playing mind games with yourself, focusing too much on what you think others will do as opposed to concentrating on what you want to do. Sure, part of the drafting dynamic is reading your opponents with respect to what direction you think they will proceed and weaving your own plan betwixt that. But thinking too much about what others will do and not spending more time on your own team and its needs will detract from your ability to assemble the maximal squad.

Another handicap of using an ADP is sometimes you question your own hard work and research and take a player because the herd that generated that ranking thinks differently about the player. And on occasion, the opposite is true and you downgrade someone because the masses are not as bullish on him as you are.

Basically, what happens is you start drafting based on how other people think as opposed to how you think.

We have not even broached the reliability of the ADP. Who knows how closely the parameters of the mocks that generally fuel the ADP resemble your league? Plus you have no idea how seriously the participants took the drafts, let alone how many of those picks were auto-generated as people quit mid-draft. Not to mention something likely happened in terms of a player injury or change of role to affect some of the data. And if you think if you are using an ADP specifically tailored to your league's format you are safe, think again. You have no clue with respect to the agenda's and strategies of those doing the mock drafts comprising the ADP. So now not only are you basing decisions on how you perceive others think, but information on which you decide is tainted.

And finally, here is a phenomena resulting from what I call the information pyramid. An ADP can turn into the fantasy baseball version of the old telephone game. You know, you whisper something into someone's ear, that person whispers it to someone else, etc. and the last person then says aloud what they were whispered. Undoubtedly, the original phrase has been twisted into something usually comical. When the top of the information pyramid consisting of my fellow fantasy analysts first start producing early rankings and doing early mocks, an early ADP is generated. Perhaps we all see something positive about a player and have him ranked higher than would be expected based on last season's numbers.

A good example from this season is Brett Anderson of the Athletics. There are several reasons to believe he will improve from last year's performance. As part of our information, we discuss the reasoning behind the surprisingly high ranking. The end of winter approaches and the Super Bowl is played and more attention is turned to baseball. The next wave of information disseminators do their thing, see a bunch of us like Brett Anderson and put him on their proverbial sleeper lists. And accordingly, his ADP improves. The bottom of the information pyramid, those who frequent message forums and spend their time between the Super Bowl and the Final Four doing mock drafts see that Brett Anderson is a popular sleeper and his ADP gets even better. Now it is time for your draft and a player that was originally valued at say the 12th or 13th round now suddenly has an ADP of eighth or ninth round. Undoubtedly, someone in your draft wants to say "look at me, I know Anderson is going to be good" and drafts him in the seventh. You do not want to be the "look at me guy."

In a nutshell, what often happens is someone does something contrary to the ADP, which sets off a ripple effect. Runs of players are taken contrary to their ADP. If you are overly reliant upon the ADP to map out your plan, panic sets in as the picks are not even close to going "chalk". If your focus is on the player pool in a global sense, looking at values relative to each other and not to their perceived ADP, you will be much better prepared to adjust and take advantage of the situation.

Does this mean the ADP is completely useless? Not at all. Perhaps the best use is as a means of checking your own rankings. Compare the ADP to yours and look for outliers, good or bad. Then spend some extra time analyzing that player to see if you missed something. If you use tiers to draft, you can ignore the actual ADP of the players but use the report to help learn how most value players relative to each other. Knowing these values in a relative sense is integral to timing your picks to maximize value. Assuming you know them in an absolute sense is a recipe for disaster.

So to sum up the ADP discussion, while it is a decent tool to approximate how your league-mates may value a player, it is just that, one of many tools in your arsenal. Trust your rankings and instincts. Don't worry that you will be chastised for taking a player too early based on the ADP or mocked for not taking a player at value based on his ADP. As suggested, it is necessary to read your opponents in order to best assemble your championship squad, but being overly reliant upon an ADP wrought with flaws is more harmful than it is beneficial.

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