Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sometimes Everybody Plays the Waiver Wire Fool

A Visit to the Mound

Baseball fans over-analyzing an over-analyzed game
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No pressure, I've already dropped you from my 5x5 Standard Mixed League.
A Visit to the Mound is regularly updated series of emails touching on a wide range of baseball subjects. 


So trending back to fantasy baseball- let's talk about early season reactionaries.  Every league has a guy who sprints to the waiver wire after a guy like Alejandro De Aza hits 2 bombs on opening day.  In the 2 leagues we're in we've already seen the likes of Jason Grilli, Jared Cosart and Stephen Vogt picked up after one day of games played.  One day. Now, no fantasy sports player can get overly critical of this move. Sometimes everybody players the waiver wire fool, no exception to the rule.  That said, what is, if any, the right approach to early season reactions?  To use a personal example I picked up Chris Davis about 3 days before the 2013 season started simply because he was still there, he then went on to hit 50 bombs. I also was lucky enough to grab Edwin Encarnacion in his breakout season.  However, for every Edwin, there is a Jack Cust.  This is particularly detrimental in leagues that limit transactions. In a fantasy hockey league I gambled on picking up San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Skalock in the first week of the season.  he was eventually relegated to back up duties and late in the season when I had a hunch on Andrew Hammond, affectionately known as "The Hamburgler", I was unable to pick him up as I had hit my transaction limits.  he went on to set an NHL record for consecutive wins for a goalie in his first starts, and vaulted the Ottawa Senators into playoff contention. And the guy who got Hammond?  Won the league.

So a few questions arise- how do you gauge who to pick up and how long do you wait?  Do you go with the "dance with the girl that brung ya" philosophy early on and see how your team takes shape, or do you approach your team as a moldable work in progress than can only be perfected by tinkering? Fantasy baseball and fantasy hockey offer long seasons, generally deep free agent pools and multiple stat categories from which to pull. Fantasy football is more random and determined by the draft.  Ask Fantasy Football owners who lost Tom Brady week 1 of 2008 how that went.  Though of course there are exceptions.  Anyone who grabbed CJ Anderson likely went into the playoffs.  

Uncle Bones

Ah yes, the early season fantasy gold rush. Forever immortalized by the waiver wire movement of one Emilo Bonifacio. In my opinion there are really 3 different types of waiver wire moves:

1. The Hot Name: This is EMILO's!!! wheel house. This a move that happens at 11:00 at night on Opening Day. Now at first blush I get the enthusiasm. Opening Day is great. You've invested months thinking about baseball and weeks pondering the fantasy baseball roster you've built only to have it all come to a head on one single day. Except, that the baseball season is only .006 % over. That's it. One game represents less than one percentage point of the entire season. So just because Alejandro De Aza hits 2 HR's or EMILO!!! hits 2 triples or Kyle Kendrick's lifeless corpse wasn't dumped into Lake Michigan doesn't mean that you fly to the waiver wire for the next big thing. It's a long season, and like you pointed out this approach can quickly burn up your waiver budget. Especially when you consider that most of these players will be back on the waiver wire by the end of April.

2. Just Lucky: I believe that your Chris Davis move falls into this category. Davis was a post hype prospect at that point and no one expected much. He probably went undrafted in most leagues, but you had a spot to fill and he was there. Same for Encarnacion. He was a decent player in Cincy, but nothing like what we think of him now. Must be something in that Canadian water... Speaking of Canada, I had a similar stroke of luck with the Ragin' Canajun Erik Bedard back in 2007. I scooped him up on the waiver wire a week before the season started. He went on to strike out 221 that season and lead that particular league in scoring for pitchers. He was never that good again, but for one fleeting moment, greatness. I also had similar luck with in an in-season grab for Carlos Gonzalez in 2011. In that case I was just looking to upgrade from Torii Hunter and CarGo's floor represented Hunter's ceiling. I rode to the penthouse with Gonzalez that year only to be stuck wallowing in the basement for several years to come as I continued to count on his greatness.

3. Scouting, Patience & Dedication: This is the most difficult route to using the waiver wire. It is so difficult because of the waiver wire moves 1 & 2. You can have a guy on your radar since spring training, keep tabs on him as he gets called up, starts seeing regular AB's, finally seems poised for a break-out and WHAM! Billy's Baseballers read his name on Scott White's Start'em/Sit'em and snatches him up. Not to mention how hard it is to keep tabs on all the fringe players of all 30 teams. I can go into Triple-A and a little Double-A depth for the Red Sox and Triple-A for the Twins, but for everybody else? Bitch, please. There's only so much time in the day. On top of that, you can only follow a name for so long before you get jumped.

There is however one owner in one of our leagues who is a waiver wire master. He doesn't always know which teams are NL or AL and he doesn't know who any of the "hot" prospects are. He's also been routinely criticized for his draft picks, team names, and chat room banter, but he wins more than anybody else. His secret? All he does is look at numbers. He doesn't know the names. I'm not sure he even knows the teams half the time, but he when he uses the waiver wire it works. Can you guess who it is?


Erik Bedard in the mid 00s was like Guns N Roses around Appetite for Destruction.  Heralded, hyped, dangerous, beloved.  Then, it all came crashing down rather spectacularly and quickly.  Maybe he can try to resurrect his career as a Knuckleballer and go for a Chinese Democracy type of thing

Sure, we all know that owner you're describing.  There's something to be said for a cold, by the numbers approach.  It removes emotion from the process.  We all know the owners who reach for guys who are on their favorite teams.  Sammy Watkins went in the 3rd round of a fantasy football draft I was in last year.  Third.  Round.  Mind boggling.  Sticking to the numbers avoids stuff like that.  However, an owner who isn't keeping up on the story beyond the numbers is ultimately damaging himself.  For example, had you taken that approach with Adam Wainwright this year, would you not have spent close to $35 for him in an auction league?  Paying for last years stats while ignoring what other data about aging pitchers tells us?  This same approach sparked the infamous "Jake Arrieta over Cabrera and Stanton pick" that we discussed a few posts back.  The guy wanted pitching so he took it, regardless of what the other numbers about the value of hitters say.  When we talk about "all he does is look at numbers" it's highly dependent on what numbers he or she is looking at.  

Interesting confluence of ideas here- I am going to the Pawtucket Red Sox/Buffalo Bisons game next week.  I am quite excited to see Rusney Castillo and Blake Swihart live, and possibly Henry Owens or Bryan Johnson if the matchups align.  How does one handle in person viewings of prospects, or major league players, and balance them with stats?  How does one keep expectations in line from both a fantasy and real life perspective?  If Castillo hits 3 bombs, am I going to be TOO excited?  We all know about small sample sizes, but we're human beings and emotion factors in. It would be hard to shake watching a 3 HR performance.  As Maya Angelou once said "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel."  

I'd like to think that's the first time Maya Angelou has been quoted in a fantasy baseball blog. 

Uncle Bones

A more talented writer than you or I may be able to create an entire baseball blog using Maya Angelou quotes and references. I think I would call it "I know why the caged bird is way off base" and it would likely tread such a fine line of racial and cultural appropriateness that mortal men would find too exhausting for recreational work. So instead we can relish in the quote, feel smart for a minute, and then get back to infantile task at hand...

As much as I'd love to get into a "3 Kinds of People You Find At a Minor League Baseball Game" diatribe, I'll focus on the experience more specific to your point. For your situation, understanding the narrative of the organization and the season is crucial to the enjoyment of the experience. With that being said, its very important to understand that you are watching one game of a very long season between players who have a wider variance in talent than you might find at the major league level. In other words anything can and will happen and it probably doesn't mean squat.

One example (and there are many) that best illustrates this point is the 2013 that Chris "Return of the Mack" Colabello spent at Triple-A Rochester. That season Colabello hit .352 with an OPS of 1.066 to go along with 24 HR's and 76 RBI's in 391 PA's. He also took home the hardware for International League MVP. It was a nice story and he helped the Red Wings make the playoffs (coincidentally where I also saw Clay Buchholz pitch on a rehab assignment). Any one who saw that season would have thought that Colabello was on track for big things, except that he was 29 that season and it was his first year at Triple-A after kicking around independent ball for 8 YEARS. He did take down the Emilo Bonifiacio Award for Early Season Excellence in 2014, but has struggled so much that he got a hero's welcome when he returned to Rochester later that same season.

Other things that you might see at a minor league baseball game:

Trevor Bauer giving up 6 runs in 2 IP
Daniel Bard walking 5 straight batters
Phil Humber throwing a 1 hit complete game shut-out
Will Middlebrooks smacking line drives all over the field
Sal Fasano's spectacular mustache
Grady Sizemore going 0-4
A 19 year old Bryce Harper being booed by a Tuesday in April crowd of roughly 1,500
6 pitcher combing for a no-hitter that started on May 8th & ended on July 21st
A player in your starting fantasy baseball roster that you had no idea had been sent to the minors

My advice, separate what you know about baseball from what secret you hope to discover for fantasy baseball. Your understanding of the narrative will greatly enhance your viewing experience  because you will understand who you are watching and why. However, to try and glean a competitive edge in a fantasy baseball league from 4 AB's or 6 IP's against competition of questionable quality? You'll make yourself crazy. You'll trick yourself into seeing things that aren't there. And probably worst of all, you'll miss out on the enjoyment of watching players today that will be all but unaccessible by as soon as even the end of the summer.

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